Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration

On March 5th, 1773 Dr Church wrote and gave the third annual oration commemorating the Boston Massacre at the Boston Town Meeting held at the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in Boston at that time. The previous two addresses were given by James Lovell, now largely forgotten but a prominent Whig who later was arrested by General Gage, and Dr Joseph Warren, Church's colleague and sometime rival. So large was the crowd gathered to hear Church's oration that both he and John Hancock, the moderator, could only get into the building by climbing in through a window. Whereas the previous two orations were well recieved, they were rather sedate. Church, however, gave the crowd a very different speech, fiery being perhaps too modest a word to describe it. With references to the political solutions of Brutus, Cromwell, and Ravillac (Ravaillac, the 17th century assassin of Henry IV of France),  it was received with thunderous applause and a demand that it be published, which it immediately was. The following excerpt from the the end of the oration provides a taste of what must have had that Boston crowd so moved and energized:

         The whole soul clamors for arms, and is on fire to attack the brutal banditti; we fly agonizing to the horrid aceldama*;we gaze on the mangled corpses of our brethren and grinning furies, gloating o'er their carnage, the hostile attitude of the miscreant murders, redoubles our resentment, and makes revenge a virtue.
          By heaven they die! Thus nature spoke, and the swollen heart leap'd to execute the dreadful purpose; dire was the interval of rage, fierce was the conflict of the soul. In that important hour, did not the stalking ghosts of our stern forefathers, point us to bloody deeds of vengeance? Did not the consideration of our expiring liberties, impel us to remorseless havock? But hark! The guardian God of New England issues his awful mandate. "Peace, be Still." Hushed was the bursting war, the lowering tempest frowned its rage away. Confidence in that God, beneath whose wing we shelter all our cares, that blessed confidence released the dastard, the cowering prey. With haughty scorn we refused to become their executioners, and nobly gave them to the wrath of heaven. But words can poorly paint the horrid scene. Defenceless, prostrate, bleeding countrymen -- the piercing, agonizing groans --the mingled moan of weeping relatives and friends -- these best can speak; to rouse the luke-warm into noble zeal, to fire the zealous into manly rage; against the foul oppression of quartering troops, in populous cities, in times of peace.

 And, of course, New England's best contemporary poet ended with this poem:

                  Thou who yon bloody walk shalt traverse, there
                  Where troops of Britain's King, on Britain's Sons,
                  Discharg'd the leaden vengeance; pass not on
                  E'er thou hast blest their memory, and paid
                  Those hallowed tears, which sooth the virtuous dead:
                  O stranger! Stay thee, and the scene around
                  Contemplate well, and if perchance thy home,
                  Salute thee with a father's honor'd name,
                  Go call thy Sons __ instruct them what a debt
                  They owe their ancestors, and make them swear
                  To pay it, by transmitting down entire
                  Those sacred rights to which themselves were born.

  * "Aceldama" refers to the field Judas Iscariot purchased with the money he received for betraying Christ and means "field of blood."

Old South Meeting House



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