J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, April 04, 2020

The Mystery of Ebenezer Richardson’s Mother

A very long month ago, on the day we reenacted the Boston Massacre for its Sestercentennial, I stopped by the Edes and Gill print shop in Faneuil Hall.

Andrew Volpe was printing his recreation of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Massacre. As proprietor Gary Gregory said, this was the first time in centuries that image was being reproduced on an authentic eighteenth-century press. See an example here.

Volpe had colored some of the prints. I shared my theory about one of the fallen figures being painted with a darker face than othersjust how dark varies from copy to copy—to represent Crispus Attucks.

Gary told me about something I hadn’t come across pertaining to the fatal events of early 1770, and I’m still puzzling over it.

The 19 Dec 1771 Massachusetts Spy included this item referring to Ebenezer Richardson:
“Last Tuesday se’nnight died suddenly at Stoneham, Mrs. Abigail Richardson, mother of the noted Esquire Richardson, now under conviction of murder, and whose habitation is now, as it has long been, in Suffolk County goal. She has turned out a true prophetess, having often declared, that she should never live to see this ---famous fellow hanged, though she thought his tu---s in iniquity richly deserved it.”
That paragraph was printed within quotation marks, unlike most death notices. But there was no indication of what source printer Isaiah Thomas was quoting from. My only guess on what “tu---s” signified is “tutors.”

The 23 December Boston Evening-Post ran a shorter version of the same news:
DIED.]…At Stoneham, very suddenly, Mrs. Abigail Richardson, Mother of the noted Richardson, now in Goal here, under Conviction for the Murder of young Sneider. She has turned out a true Prophetess, having, ’tis said, often declared, “that she should never live to see him hanged.”
Other New England newspapers also echoed the Massachusetts Spy’s news.

Yet there’s no listing for Abigail Richardson dying in 1771 in the published vital records of Stoneham, nor the other nearby towns the Richardson family had links to.

However, J. A. Vinton’s The Richardson Memorial, a vast but not always accurate genealogy of the Richardson family, states that Ebenezer Richardson’s mother was born Abigail Johnson, widowed in 1735, and remarried in 1747 to “Dea. Daniel Gould, of Stoneham.”

And the Stoneham vital records do list this death under the name Gould:
Abigail, w[idow]. Dea. Daniel, Jan. ––, 1771, in her 65th y[ear].
The Stoneham records also confirm the marriage of Deacon Gould to “Mrs. Abigail Richardson of Woburn” in 1747. The Woburn records show an Abigail Johnson born in 1697 and one married to Timothy Richardson in 1717, data points that fit together. But that would make the widow Abigail (Johnson Richardson) Gould who died in January 1771 seventy-three years old, not sixty-four.

The next mystery is how this death in January 1771 relates to the Massachusetts Spy item from December. That quoted paragraph said Richardson’s mother had died “Last Tuesday se’nnight,” suggesting it was written in early 1771. Did that text take many months to reach Isaiah Thomas? Does quoting from an old letter explain why the newspaper put quotation marks around the old news?

It’s also notable that the letter referred to the woman by a previous surname, not Gould. Does that indicate the writer didn’t know Abigail (Johnson Richardson) Gould personally, but was passing on second- or third-hand information about her death? And if so, was that writer really privy to the woman’s comments about her son being hanged?

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