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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Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Map of the Massacre to Explore

I mentioned this in a comment a few days back, but thought it deserved more space.

The Boston Public Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts department has just made a digitized image of its overhead view of the Boston Massacre, credited to Paul Revere, available to everyone here.

The Town House (now called the Old State House) is at the upper center. The arc of circles at the right middle represents the soldiers in front of the Customs house.

As for the victims, they are laid out and labeled, with full sketches for the first four:
In addition, there’s one circle marked M without a number, a possible circle at upper right with neither number nor initial, and three victims without locations: Patrick Carr, John Green, and John Clark.

It might seem to make more sense for “4, G” to be John Green and one “M” or an unlabeled circle to be Samuel Maverick, but we know Maverick was shot at the back of the crowd where that “4, G” body is shown. Revere knew the Greenwood family in the North End, so he surely heard of the apprentice’s death on the morning of 6 March. On the other hand, he used the boy’s own initials, not the master’s, when he engraved a woodcut of four coffins for the Boston Gazette a few days later.

(For Charles Bahne’s analysis of this image in 2013, see this post.)

This diagram also labels the streets and alleys leading off of King Street, plus many of the shops and houses in that part of central Boston. We can thus get a sense of this neighborhood, with the homes of some high-powered businessmen like Edward Payne and Thomas Marshall, and shops that catered to them.

One theory suggests that Revere created this picture for use in one of the trials that followed the Massacre. There’s no mention of such a map in the court records, however, and we have unusually good documentation of those proceedings. Furthermore, by the time those trials started, Patrick Carr had died, so he should have been shown as well.

Another interesting detail is that some of the sketches of dying people resemble figures in Henry Pelham’s engraving of the Massacre, which we know Revere got his hands on and copied by the end of March. Did Pelham or Revere sketch miniature versions of the those figures on this view to create more drama than circles could impart?

7 comments:

G. Lovely said...

If I zoom in it's clear Attucks is labeled "A" and "5". There doesn't appear to be a victim "1", though one of the "M"s is unnumbered, the only victim who is, Perhaps the crossed out 5 was merely an error and does not represent any victim. If there is a possible key on the back as Charles Bahne suggested I wonder, might some recent imaging technology be able to detect it?

G. Lovely said...

The proposed key below is, of course, purely speculative, but it fits with the detailed information that appeared in "The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter" on March 8, 1770, listing the victims and their injuries. It assumes the closer the person was to the troops the more severe the injury, and that the unlabeled circle was the least severely injured. (Cole?)

Importantly the newspaper clearly states that John Green was wounded coming up Leverett's Lane, which was a portion of Quaker Lane (now Congress St.) thus making it likely, despite the drawing, that "4-G" is Green. Perhaps the drawing was just never finished, and the other figures never drawn despite more grievous wounds.

# Letter Name Wound
x M Samuel Maverick belly/back
2 G Samuel Gray head
3 C James Caldwell chest (2)
4 G John Green thigh
5 A Crispus Attucks chest (2)
5 x-out John Clark groin/hip
6 P Robert Patterson right arm
7 P David Parker thigh / no exit
8 P Edward Payne doorway
9 M Christopher Monk side/back
N.L N.L. Patrick Cole hip /side

G. Lovely said...

Sorry. One more thought.
In a deposition Patrick Carr (Cole)'s friend reported he took him after he was wounded into Fitch's Alley. The alley opposite the west side of the State house? If so, then Carr is likely the circle with the crossed out 5. If so, then the conjectural key is:

# Letter Name Wound
x M Samuel Maverick belly/back
2 G Samuel Gray head
3 C James Caldwell chest (2)
4 G John Green thigh
5 A Crispus Attucks chest (2)
5 Error Patrick Cole / Carr hip /side
6 P Robert Patterson right arm
7 P David Parker thigh / no exit
8 P Edward Payne doorway
9 M Christopher Monk side/back
N.L N.L. John Clark groin/hip

J. L. Bell said...

I don't think there's a 5 near the body labeled A. I think that's a 1 written like a J, as Revere did in other prints. (See the upper right corner of his troop landing image.) It’s also conceivable that Revere first did write that as a J because Attucks was first named as Michael Johnson. To make that numeral into a 5 seems to require using some of the figure's hand.

We have lots of eyewitness testimony putting Attucks and Gray up near the soldiers, some putting Caldwell and Monk in the middle of the crowd.

I think you're right about John Green at the left, despite the traditional identification of that figure as Samuel Maverick. One of the Ms must be Maverick; Dr. Richard Hirons, who treated him that night, said the boy told him he was shot “betwixt Royal Exchange Lane and the Town House, going up towards the Town House.”

As for the key on the back, I haven’t come across mentions of it in early descriptions of the drawing, so I wonder if the thought of one was simply later speculation. Protecting the back from sunlight and air would presumably preserve ink there rather than make it disappear.

Charles Bahne said...

Since I'm the one who raised the possibility of a key on the reverse of the document, let me expand on that subject.

For those who aren't aware of the provenance of this document, it was collected by Mellen Chamberlain, a noted historian and librarian of the late 19th century, and the librarian-in-chief of the Boston Public Library from 1878 to 1890. It was Chamberlain who mounted it on the brown board labeled "Paul Revere's Plan", and who then donated it to the BPL.

Here's a link to Chamberlain's own 1887 description of the plan -- look in the footnote at the bottom of page 47:
https://books.google.com/books?id=YLxYAAAAMAAJ

Elbridge Goss, in his 1891 biography "The Life of Colonel Paul Revere" (vol. 1, pp. 72-73) reprints the plan and the key with a comment that "The key to the letters in the streets, which was a part of the original drawing, is lost."
https://books.google.com/books?id=HEtgrZJmu9oC

It was a 20th-century writer, I forget who, that first suggested that the key had been on the reverse of the plan, and thus had been obscured when the plan was mounted on the board. That writer also suggested that the act of separating the original document from the mounting board might permanently destroy whatever was written on the back.

It is certainly true that some recent imaging technology might be able to detect the key, but there is a much easier way. If you follow the link that J.L. has thoughtfully provided,
http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/vh53x374w
you'll see that the BPL and Digital Commonwealth have provided three images of the document. They have, in fact, been able to separate the original from the mounting board, without causing damage.

The first image in their file is the front of the document, framed by the mounting board. The third image in their file is the reverse of the mounting board. And the second image in the file is the reverse of the original, undamaged document. If you look carefully at this second image, there is a faintly visible mirror image of the original plan, which has bled through the paper. And you can see some crease lines, which match the ones on the front of the document where it was once folded.

Otherwise, the back of the original document is completely blank. There is no key on it; there never was.

The key, if it ever existed, was on a different piece of paper.

Charles Bahne said...

According to "A Record of the Streets, Alleys, Places, Etc., in the City of Boston", published in 1910, Fitche's Alley was later known as Change Avenue. It was on the north side of King (State) Street, but east of Exchange Lane. On Revere's drawing, it would have been on the right side of King Street, but off of the bottom edge, below Col. Marshall's house.

J. L. Bell said...

In that footnote Chamberlain wrote that “Revere engraved a large folding picture of the massacre, which appeared in the official Short Narrative.” That appears to have been an error prompted by a single copy of the report with the famous engraving bound in at the front. I fear that he might have made other assumptions.