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, July 23, 2022

“Playing with a loaded Gun”

In the same 14 Dec 1772 issue of the Fleet brothersBoston Evening-Post that I mentioned yesterday, just above the rumors about Rhode Island, were two stories of firearms deaths.

Longtime Boston 1775 readers might remember when we discussed the pseudo-historian David Barton’s offhand claim that there were almost no firearms accidents in the Founding era. We found a lot.

Here are two more:
We hear from Springfield, that two Lads about 10 Years of Age, playing with a loaded Gun, one of them shot the other in the Groin, and mortally wounded him, so that he died within two Hours after.
The identical item had appeared in the Boston News-Letter on 10 December, pushing back the date of the event a few days. I looked in Springfield’s vital records for a death that matched this report and didn’t find one. It’s possible that the news came from Springfield but the boys lived in a nearby town. In any case, kids, don’t play with guns.

The Fleets went on to print:
We hear from East Hampton, on Long Island, that on Monday the 30th of November, being Training Day there, as the Company were discharging their Muskets, in order to break up, a young Man, named Osborne, thinking to make a louder Explosion than the rest, spat into the Muzzle of his Gun, & struck the Breech against the Ground, when she went off, and the whole Charge enter’d at his left Eye, and blow’d his Brains out; he expir’d in a few Minutes after.
Some internet research brought up not only the the name of this militiaman but his grave, shown above.

East Hampton, New York’s vital records state that on 30 Nov 1772 “Jedediah Osborn, Junr., was shot to Death.” The gravestone reads, per an issue of the New England Historic and Genealogical Register:
This Monument Erected
by Col. Gardner, Capt.
Mulford Lieut. Dayton &
their Soldiers, is in
Memory of Jedediah
Osborn, who was Kill’d
by the Discharge of his
Gun, Novr. 30th. 1772 in
the 21st. Year of his Age.
How sudden was my Death
Life is but fleeting Breath
The colonel was probably Thomas Gardiner. There were too many Mulfords and Daytons active in the Long Island militia in 1776, a year for which records are published, for me to name the other officers.

Whoever the officers were, it’s clear that they felt very bad seeing Jedediah kill himself, evidently just hoping for some fun. Some of those other men might also have been competing to make the loudest noise. This was the sort of militia training hijinks that Timothy Pickering warned about.

Also, though the story of Osborn’s death made the newspapers in neighboring states, the embarrassing circumstances were kept out of the official record and not carved in stone. Local tradition now says he was “a Revolutionary War soldier killed by friendly fire.” This may be the first time the newspaper item and gravestone are tied back together.

(The image of the Osborn gravestone above comes from B.S.A. Troop 298 via Find a Grave.)


Dan Mandell said...

Ewww. But it seems fair to say that Osborn WAS killed by friendly fire, unless he hated himself .

J. L. Bell said...

But he definitely wasn’t a Revolutionary War soldier, having died more than two years before the war began.