Wheatley, Phillis

“the first martyr for the common good”

Black poet Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem about the four men killed by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre—a fifth died the next day— (see previous post). These men are considered to be the first martyrs to the American cause. But Wheatley wrote another poem about about a boy whom she called “the first martyr for the common good”. In “On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder’d by Richardson,” she gives an account of a boy named Christopher Snider (or Seider), killed two weeks before the Massacre.

Ebenezer Richardson was an informer for the British who passed along the names of Americans who were smuggling goods into the country without paying duties. On February 22, 1770, surrounded by an angry mob and fearing for his life, Richardson fired into the crowd killing Christopher Snider, a boy of eleven or twelve, the son of a German immigrant. Here is what Wheatley wrote.

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 Pois’nous breath
All are endanger’d to the shafts of death
The generous Sires beheld the fatal wound
Saw their young champion gasping on the ground
They rais’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 forbear.
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
By Richardson for ever 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.

Wheatley’s poem can be found HERE.

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