Library and Archives

The enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre

The enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre

Currently on display in the Old State House are artifacts that represent two hundred years of the enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre. Take a peek into the case in this post about one of those items, Joseph Warren's anniversary oration from 1772.

A Formal Introduction

A Formal Introduction

For just a few more weeks, the archives exhibit case in the Old State House will feature a display of letters of introduction. Nowadays, an introduction is easy to facilitate but in the 1700s and 1800s, the process was a bit more formal, at least for the upper class.

A new strike off an old plate: the 1970 version of Paul Revere's print

A new strike off an old plate: the 1970 version of Paul Revere's print

In 1970, the Imprint Society approached the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Archivist of the Commonwealth with a request to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Boston Massacre by releasing restrikes taken from Revere's original plate.

The archives: an invaluable resource for historians

The archives: an invaluable resource for historians

Archives are a very important resource for historians, with most if not all scholars undertaking archival research at some point in their lives. By looking through sources from the time, historians can often verify or confirm newfound ideas and arguments.

The Coroner's Report on Crispus Attucks

The Bostonian Society is preparing for one of its biggest events of the year, the Boston Massacre Commemoration and Reenactment.  This year, the event will occur on March 5 and will mark the 246th anniversary to the day.  In honor of this upcoming anniversary, we're sharing an important document from our collection that is associated with this event - the Coroner's Report on Crispus Attucks.  Little is known of Attucks, but he is remembered as one of the victims of the Boston Massacre. This document is the original coroner's jury report on the body of Crispus Attucks, who is referred to as Michael Johnson in the report.

1891.0056.005
A facsimile (copy) of the coroner's report is currently on display in the Colony to Commonwealth exhibit in the Old State House, but in 2003 the original was returned the archives.  After being on display for many years, the ink on the paper had started to fade as a result of being exposed to light.  To mitigate any further deterioration, the original is now kept in dark storage and only taken out for special occasions.  In previous years, the report has been on display around March 5, as a special way to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  This year, however, it will remain in storage, so writing about it our blog is a way to share its history while preserving its future.

When violence broke out in front of the Old State House on King Street, Attucks was the first casualty.  On March 12, 1770 the Boston Gazette and Country Journal published an account of the incident and described
Attucks as "a mulatto man, named Crispus Attucks, who was born in Framingham, but later belonged to New Providence and was here in order to go to North Carolina, also killed instantly; two balls entering his breast one of them in special goring the right lobe of the lungs, and a great part of the liver most horribly."  After lying in state for three days at Faneuil Hall, Attucks was buried at the Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston, along with the other victims of the Boston Massacre. 

The coroner's report was filed on March 6, 1770 - only one day after the Boston Massacre occurred.  The full text reads as follows:

"An Inquisition Indented, taken at Boston within the said county of Suffolk, the sixth day of March in the tenth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third by the Grace of God, of Great-Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Before Robert Pierpont, Gent. one of the Coroners of our said Lord the King, within the county of Suffolk aforesaid; upon the View of the Body of Michael Johnson [Crispus Attucks] then and there being Dead, by the Oaths of William Palfrey, William Flagg, William Crafts, Enoch Rust, Robert Duncean, William Baker Junior, Samuel Danforth, Benjamin Waldo foreman, Jacob Emmans, John McLane, William Fleet, John Wise, John How[illegible], Nathaniel Hurd

State Street Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770 (1890.0042)
By W.L. Champney, lithographed by J.H. Bufford

good and lawful Men of Boston aforesaid; within the Country aforesaid, who being Charged and Sworn to enquire for our said Lord the King, When by what Means and how the said Michael Johnson came to his death: Upon their Oaths do say, that the said Michael Johnson willfully and feloniously murdered at King Street in Boston in the County aforesaid on the Evening of the 5th instant between the hours of nine & ten by the discharge of a Musket or Muskets loaded with bullets, two of which were shot thro' his body by a party of soldiers [illegible] known then and there headed and commanded by Captain Thomas Preston of his Majesty's 29th Regiment of Foot against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King [illegible].

In Witness whereof, as well I the Coroner aforesaid, as the Jurors aforesaid, to this Inquisition have interchangeably put our Hands and Seals, the Day and Year aforesaid."

It was then signed by each member of the coroner's jury, and a square of paper was affixed next to each signature.

The coroner's report came to the Society as a donation in 1891 as part of the Leffingwell Collection.The Indictment of Captain Preston (MS0119/DC973.3113) was donated at the same time. Both of these documents are important additions to our archives, because they shed light on the aftermath of the events of March 5.

Though the coroner's report will remain in storage this March, another special document will be displayed.  Stop by the Old State House from March 4 - 7 for the rare opportunity to see Paul Revere's print The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

The Price of a Fire

MS0119/DC1482
Boston has endured many great fires in its nearly 400 year history, including a number of significant fires in the 1700s.  The Old State House (then known as the Town House) was damaged in fires in 1711 and 1747, and other fires in 1760 and 1787 destroyed buildings and altered Boston’s landscape. From fire buckets and fireman's helmets in our museum collection to Fire Society membership lists and appeal notices in our archives, Boston's fire history is well-represented in our collections. For the next three months, 18th-century documents related to Boston fires will be on exhibit in the library and archives display case in the Old State House. This examination of the fire-related materials in our collection was partly spurred on by a recent blog post by one of our Education Associates.

One of the documents on display is a 1762 petition submitted by William Price to the Boston Town Selectmen.  In the petition, Price references a fire that broke out in Williams’ Court on June 11, 1761.  As a means of preventing the fire from spreading to nearby dwelling houses and buildings, Honorable Judge Hutchinson, Colonel Joseph Jackson, and Captain Thomas Marshall ordered the “pulling down” (destruction) of a building in the court. William Price owned said building, and petitioned the court to reimburse him for the cost of it.  The two-story building, which measured 47 feet long by 16 feet wide, was valued at around 100 pounds.

A second page of this document indicates that the petition was acted upon on April 13, 1763, but unfortunately, there was not a notation or a follow-up document that provided the outcome of the petition.  I was curious to find out if Price received his reimbursement, so I turned to our library collection and located the Records of Boston Selectmen, which included meetings minutes from 1763.  In the April 13 session, I found an entry for William Price.  From the meeting minutes, I learned that after debate and questioning, the Justices of the Peace and the Town Selectmen did not grant the petition and William Price did not receive compensation for his property loss.

The Old State House is closed the first week of February, so be sure to stop by when we re-open on Saturday, February 6 to take a close look at this document.  These fire materials will be on display through April, but if you can't visit, follow along on our blog as we explore more of Boston's fire history.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Treating the fish to tea

MS0119/DC1013
There is a small exhibit case in the Society's library where I can display a rotating selection of items from our archival collection.  Our library is open by appointment, so the only individuals who get to see this featured document are researchers, staff members, and visitors to our library and administrative offices.  But thanks to the blog, I can share images and information about this featured item with friends near and far.

On December 16 we recognize the 242 year anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  Over the years, this important event in American history has been commemorated in many ways, including plaques, reenactments, poems, and songs – like “Tea Tax”, the lyrics of which are currently on display in our library.

According to our catalog, this broadside dates to circa 1862.  It published the lyrics to “Tea Tax” with a notation that it was “sung with unbounded applause at the Boston Theatre, by Mr. Andrews.”  While researching this song, I found some references to it being a "Yankee Comic Song." It certainly does not make light of the events that occurred on the evening of December 16, it does present the narrative in a lighthearted tone.  One part of the song describes dumping the tea into the harbor and goes, "And did'nt care a tarnal curse, for any King or Minister / We made a plaguy mess o'tea, in one of the biggest dishes / I mean, we steep'd it in the sea, and treated all the fishes."

If you look closely at the lyrics, you'll also be able to see that they point out locations in Boston that have changed since 1773, specifically that State Street was called King Street and that the bridge to Charlestown had not been built yet.

1899.0022
There are many reprints of this song in existence, the earliest dating to the 1830s.  In some of the broadsides the composer is listed as “a gentleman from Boston” and some state that the song was performed at the Federal Street Theatre, which was another name from the Boston Theatre. 

Besides this broadside, we do not have too many other Tea Party related artifacts in our collection.  But if you are in the area, be sure to stop by the Colony to Commonwealth exhibit at the Old State House to see one of our other important Tea Party artifacts - a vial of loose tea that was allegedly removed from the boots of Thomas Melvill after the Tea Party.  According to the story, Thomas found the tea on his boot when he returned home from the night's activity, and collected it to be saved.  The tea was then donated to the Society in 1899 by Miss Mary Melville, a descendant of Thomas. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager