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History

Christopher Snider's Role in the American Revolution
By Ken Anderson
Feb 22, 2004 - 7:35:00 PM

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Park Street Church, in Boston, is on the site of the old town granary where grain was kept before the American Revolution. The church itself dates back to 1809, and is the location of the first Sunday School in 1818. On July 4, 1829, William Lloyd Garrison gave his first public anti-slavery speech there. Two years later, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" was first sung at the Park Street Church by the church children's choir.
The Old Granary Burial Ground

The Old Granary Burying Ground is located on Termont Street, at the head of Bromfield Street in Boston.

At least 1,600 people are known to have been buried in the tiny graveyard behind the church as, in colonial Boston, old graves were often dug up to make way for new bodies, the spongy ground hastening deterioration.

Among those laid to rest in the Old Granary Burial Ground are Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin's parents, Crispus Attucks, and a woman by the name of Elizabeth Vergoose, thought to have been the prolific storyteller better known as Mother Goose.

A headstone marking the graves of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, and Christopher Snider.
Also buried at the Old Granary Burial Ground is Christopher Snider, a 12-year-old boy who may be considered the first martyr of the American Revolution.

Christopher was shot to death by Ebenezer Richardson, a Loyalist informer, eleven days before the Boston Massacre, which claimed the lives of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, and Patrick Carr, all of whom were laid to rest in the Granary Burial Ground.

While only five people were actually killed during the Boston Massacre, it marked the beginning of the end of British rule over the American colonies.

Christopher Snider was buried with the victims of the Boston Massacre, and they share a headstone.

A velvet pall was placed on Snider's coffin, which read:

The serpent is lurking in the grass.
The fatal dart is thorwn.
Innocence is nowhere safe.

The headstone commemorating the burial place of the victims of the Boston Massacre, including Christopher Snider, who died five days previous, reads as follows:

The Remains of
Samuel Gray
Samuel Maverick
James Caldwell
Crispus Attucks
and
Patrick Carr
Victims of the Boston Massacre
March 5th, 1770
Were here interred by order of the
Town of Boston

Here also lies buried the body of
Christopher Snider
Aged 12 years,
Killed February 22nd, 1770.
The innocent, first victim of the
struggles between the Colonists and
the Crown, which resulted in
INDEPENDENCE.

Placed by Boston Chapter S.A.R.
1906

 

Phillis Wheatley, the first black American poet, referred to Christopher Snider as "the first martyr for the common good" in her poem, entitled, "On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder'd by Richardson," which detailed the events of February 22, 1770:

 

In heavens eternal court it was decreed
Thou the first martyr for the common good
Long hid before, a vile infernal here
Prevents Achilles in his mid career
Where'er this fury darts his Poisonous breath
All are endanger'd to the shafts of death
The generous Shires beheld the fatal wound
Saw their young champion gasping on the ground
They raise'd him up but to each present ear
What martial glories did his tongue declare
The wretch appal'd no longer can despise
But from the striking Victim turns his eyes -
When this young martial genius did appear
The Tory chief no longer could forebear.
Ripe for destruction, see the wretches doom
He waits the curses of the age to come
In vain he flies, by Justice Swiftly chaced
With unexpected infamy disgraced
Be Richardson forever banish'd here
The grand Usurpers bravely vaunted Heir
We bring the body from the watry bower
To lodge it where it shall remove no more
Snider behold with what Majestic Love
The Illustrious retinue begins to move
With Secret rage fair freedom's foes beneath
See in thy corse ev'n Majesty in Death

-- by Phillis Wheatley, written in late February or early March, 1770.

What were the causes of the American Revolution, and what part did young Christopher Snider play in the events that were to follow?

The attachment of the American colonies to Britain was never closer than it was at the close of the French War. The colonists were proud of being descended from British ancestors, and enjoyed sharing the rights of subjects of England.

Sure, there were some grievances. The English navigation laws and trade monopolies bore heavily on colonial industry and commerce, but in other respects America may have been satisfied to remain under the governance of England.

So what happened to change that?

The usual answer is that England's attempts to tax the American Colonies was the cause of the American Revolution.

This is true in part only. The imposition of taxes was the occasion of the revolt of the Colonies, but its cause was that the whole history of the American Colonies meant independence. One might say that providence designed it.

First, the very origin of the American Colonies pointed to freedom as their birthright, as it was for the sake of liberty that the early colonists had left their homes to come to the New World. They had fled to the forests of America, facing danger and uncertainty rather than to endure oppression.

Second, the habits of the early settlers, as well as the circumstances in the history of their descendants, had led them to examine the principles of political liberty.

Third, the Colonies had suffered greatly from bad royal governors, the misconduct of which had taught the colonists to be wary of arbitrary power.

Thus, the whole of the early history of the American Colonies had been a gradual growing fit for freedom. The Colonies could not long be subject to Britain.

In the American Colonies, it was generally claimed that the power of making laws belonged, not to England, but to the Colonial Assemblies. While it was conceded that Parliament might regulate commerce, as it had done in the Navigation Acts, the colonists held that they alone had the right to control their own internal affairs.

Early in the colonization of America, the colonists had refused to be taxed by England. A string of colonial legislatures had denied England's claim to the right to tax the Colonies.

The French and Indian War had added largely to the already heavy debt of England, and the British government reasoned that, since the war had been made for the benefit of the Colonies, the Colonies should help to pay the debt. The English position was that, while it had not previously taxed the Colonies, it was not because Parliament lacked the right to do so.

The Colonists denied that Parliament had the right to impose taxes, and argued that their own losses and expenses in the war had been as heavy as they could bear.

The British government began by imposing duties on certain imported articles, and began a strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts, which resulted in an offensive system of prying and spying that irritated the colonists.

In 1764, Parliament made a law that it had a right to tax the Colonies. Parliament also recommended the passage of a "Stamp Act," which had been proposed by the prime minister, Greenville.

The Stamp Act provided that all deeds, notes, bills, and other legal documents were to be written on stamped paper, which was to be furnished by British revenue offices at fixed rates. This law, which was a heavy tax on almost every transaction in business, was passed by Parliament in the spring of 1765. It was to take effect on November 1st of the same year.

The news of the passing of the Stamp Act reached the American Colonies in April of 1765, causing great indignation and alarm.

Virginia was the first to speak out. The legislature of that colony was in session when when the news came, but the members of the body hesitated to say anything on the matter until Patrick Henry, one of Virginia's youngest legislators, came forward.
Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry made a powerful speech, proposing a series of resolutions that claimed for the people of Virginia all of the rights of born British subjects. His resolutions were passed by the legislature.

The news quickly spread. New York newspapers were quick to take it up, and the Massachusetts legislature proposed a convention, or congress, composed of committees of the various Colonial Assemblies, to be held in New York in October, a month before the Stamp Act was to go into effect. Samuel Adams proposed it.

About this time, the Sons of Liberty was formed, whose members vowed to resist the unjust measures of the British government. The Sons of Liberty made it their special business to harass the stamp officers, intended to encourage these officers to resign. Stamps were seized and burned.

The Assembly of Pennsylvania adopted resolutions in September which denounced the Stamp Act as unconstitutional, declaring that the Acts was contrary to the rights of its citizens.

Throughout the Colonies, public meetings were held to protest the Stamp Act. These events tended to mold public opinion in the Colonies, expressed in the sentiment that taxation without representation is tyranny.

The people of the principal colonial cities refused to import goods from Great Britain until the Stamp Act was repealed. Families willingly denied themselves the use of foreign luxuries, and trade with England was almost entirely stopped. Children in the streets learned the cry, "Liberty, property, and no stamps!"

In the midst of this excitement, the First Colonial Congress met in New York City on October 7, 1765, with nine colonies represented by 28 delegates. After three weeks of deliberation, Congress agreed upon a declaration of rights and a statement of grievances, which stated in strong terms the rights of the Colonies to be free from all taxes not levied by their own Assemblies. A petition to the King and to Parliament were sent.

When the Assemblies came to meet in the winter of 1765, they gave these proceedings their hearty approval.

When the day for implementation of the Stamp Act came, not a stamp was to be seen, and every stamp officer in Colonial America had resigned. The colonists had made the law of no effect. At the next meeting of Parliament, the Stamp Act was repealed.

At the repeal of the Stamp Act, much of the old feeling of brotherliness toward the mother country was temporarily revived. Trade was resumed.

However, the ordeal had brought about a great change in the colonists. Prior to this time, they had made a distinction between duties on imports, or external taxation, and internal taxation, such as that which would have been imposed by the Stamp Act. They had not previously objected to external taxation, balking only at internal taxation. Now they objected to all taxation, claiming that, because the Colonies were not represented in Parliament, it had no right to tax them at all.

The year that the Stamp Act was passed, Parliament had required the Colonies to furnish quarters and supplies to British troops that were sent amongst them.

Now, New York refused.

In 1767, Parliament passed an act putting a duty on tea and several other imports, establishing a board of revenue commissioners in America.

When this news reached the Colonies, unrest broke out anew. From the press, from the pulpit, and from the bodies of the legislature came a denouncement of the acts. The British reacted by trying to intimidate the colonists.

This did not succeed.

John Hancock
There was to be no turning back. British revenue officers seized a sloop belonging to John Hancock, a prominent merchant, for refusing to abide by the revenue laws. A riot followed.

At this time, General Gage was the commander of the British Armies in America. He sent two regiments from Halifax to Boston, arriving in September of 1768. The people of Boston were required, by law, to furnish quarters for these troops.

They politely refused.

The State House was then taken possession of by the British. The people of Boston were outraged, seeing soldiers parading in their streets, challenging them as they walked, and disturbing them even on the Sabbath. They soon came to hate the red-coats.

Parliament acted to further exasperate the Colonies. In February of 1769, Parliament censured the rebellious spirit of the Colonies and called on the King to to have those guilty of "treason" brought to England for trial.

This resulted in an indignant protest from the colonial legislatures. The Assemblies of Virginia and North Carolina protested so strongly that they were ordered dissolved by the royal governors.

The first outbreak was in New York, on January 17, 1770. British soldiers provoked the Sons of Liberty by cutting down their liberty pole. A riot followed, rapidly spreading from one colonial city to another.

By 1770, most of the citizens of Boston were refusing to pay import taxes on British products. Leading merchants banned together to ostracize anyone who continued to sell boycotted products.

A merchant by the name of Theophilus Lillie ignored the boycott. On February 22, 1770 Ebenezer Richardson a Loyalist and informer, tried to destroy an effigy that had been placed outside of Lillie's shop.

His actions caused a scene, provoking an angry mob to assemble against him. Seeking refuge in his home, he fired several shots from a window. Seeking to come to the aid of Richardson, a small guard of British soldiers, provoked by jeers, by taunts, and from rocks and snowballs being thrown at them, also fired upon the crowd.

One of these shots killed 12 year-old Christopher Snider.

The death of young Snider prompted a large funeral  parade, passing from the Liberty Tree to the cemetery. Posters were distributed throughout Boston, calling for his death to be avenged.

Anger over the death of Christopher Snider culminated five days later, on March 5th, in a similar incident five others were killed in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre.
The Boston Massacre

The scenes were probably not unlike that which we see as Israeli soldiers patrol the West Bank or other Arab-controlled areas.

The response among the colonists was reserved. Rather than retaliating for the massacre, they petitioned the governor to remove the troops from the city. Two of the British officers who fired upon Boston civilians were convicted of manslaughter, and all of the soldiers involved were returned to England.

Richardson was arrested and found guilty of murder, but was later pardoned by the King after spending two years in jail.

Theophilus Lillie wrote that the mobs of Boston were contrary to any law abiding governing body, and that he would rather be ruled by a single tyrant than a hundred.

The attempt by the British to raise revenue by taxation was a total failure, costing the English five hundred times the amount of revenue collected. The new duties were repealed in April, 1770.

Unfortunately for them, Parliament made one exception to this repeal, removing duties from all articles except tea, with the intention of asserting that it had the right to tax the Colonies. To the British government, it was a matter of principle. But it was the principle to which the colonists objected. The American people determined not to import any tea.

In 1773, Parliament allowed the East India Company to send their tea to America free from the English duties, requiring only that it pay the threepence a pound in America, thinking that that colonists would be willing to pay this small duty, since tea would then be cheaper in America than it was in Britain.

Britain misjudged the colonist's resolve. When the tea arrived at the various points, it was either sent back or locked up. In Boston, the people refused to allow the tea to land. At the same time, the English governor would not permit the ships to be sent back.

The dilemma was solved when a group of men, disguised as Indians, boarded the tea ships, emptying the tea into the harbor. This was accomplished quietly, without a riot, on December 16, 1773.
The Boston Tea Party

Britain determined to punish the city of Boston. An act was passed, in 1774, that closed the port of Boston and removed the customs house to Salem. Gage was appointed military governor over Boston, and the city was to be starved into compliance.

The Port Bill, which took effect in June of 1774, caused a great deal of distress in Boston. Bostonians, however, were cheered by the aid and sympathy of the rest of the Colonies, which felt that Boston was fighting its fight.

It was in the midst of these experiences that the colonists, for the first time, began to think of an organized, armed resistance.

The fight was on.


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