This Day in History: The first casualty in the American Revolution
On this day in 1770, a conflict begins in Boston. By the next day, an 11-year-old boy was dead, shot by a British sympathizer. Some say that Christopher Seider was the first casualty in the conflict that would become the American Revolution.
Seider was the son of German immigrants. His parents originally settled in Maine, but then they moved to Massachusetts. The young boy was sent to work for a widow in Boston. The move meant that he could earn money, but potentially he was getting an education as well.
Unfortunately, Seider moved to Massachusetts just as tensions were rising between Great Britain and her American colonies. The British Parliament had enacted the much-hated Townshend Acts, which were intended to establish Parliament’s authority to tax the colonies. The Acts caused such turmoil that British soldiers were sent to Boston in 1768, allegedly to keep the peace.
You can imagine that Bostonians viewed matters a bit differently. The merchants of Boston were soon united in a nonimportation agreement, protesting the British policy. But one local merchant, Theophilus Lillie, would not participate in the boycott.
On February 21, his home was tarred. On the 22nd, the Sons of Liberty hung a sign over his shop—“IMPORTER.” The sign effectively labeled him as a British sympathizer.
A crowd soon gathered, basically picketing Lillie’s shop and taunting his customers. Seider happened to be walking by, and he was soon participating in the protest.
Lillie’s neighbor, Ebenezer Richardson, came to Lillie’s defense. He tried to take the sign down, but the crowd pursued him and threw stones. Reportedly, Seider was among those throwing stones. Richardson soon ran to his home, where he grabbed his musket. He began to shoot blindly into the crowd. One of his shots hit Seider, dealing a fatal blow.
Governor Hutchinson later described the mob’s reaction: “[T]he first thought was to hang him up at once and a halter was brought and a sign post picked upon, but one who is supposed to have stirred up the tumultuous proceedings took great pains and prevented it.” In the end, Richardson was delivered to authorities instead. But Bostonians remained outraged by the death of the young boy.
Seider’s funeral was a mournful affair. Samuel Adams organized the service, which was attended by more than 2,000 people. The Boston Gazette described “His tragical Death & the peculiar Circumstances attending it had touch'd the Breasts of all with the tenderest Sympathy, a few only excepted, who have long shewn themselves to be void of the Feelings of Humanity.” For his part, John Adams said that his “Eyes never beheld such a funeral.”
Unfortunately, matters would get even worse during the first week of March. Naturally, you have to stay tuned for the second half of the story.
Logistical note for those who care:
As you can see from the tombstone, Seider’s name was spelled a few different ways. He is usually described as an 11-year-old boy, even though his tomb says he was 12. There is some question about his actual birthday, but there is a record of his baptism on March 18, 1759. Historian J.L. Bell (cited below) thus speculates that he was born in early March 1759. That would have made him a few days shy of his 11th birthday when he was killed.
Alex R. Goldfeld, The North End: A Brief History of Boston’s Oldest Neighborhood (2009)
Benjamin H. Irvin, Samuel Adams: Son of Liberty, Father of Revolution (2002)
J.L. Bell, Christopher Seider: household servant, schoolboy? (Boston 1775 blog; June 26, 2006)
J.L. Bell, Christopher Seider: Shooting Victim (Boston 1775 blog; May 24, 2006)
Rex v. Richardson: Editorial Note (Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2)
Robert Allison, The Boston Massacre (2006)