I happened to be in Boston today on this 237th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Tonight there will be reenactors from The Massachusetts Council of Minutemen and Militia and His Majesty's 5th Regiment of Foot standing in for the angry mob of Bostonians and the handful of British Grenadiers that confronted each other that night long ago. Boston 1775 has been providing excellent daily play-by-play and historical commentary this last week on this pivotal event in the build up to America's War of Independence.
I passed the Granary Burying Ground, where a monument erected in the early 20th century lists the names of those killed in the "massacre", and stood on the circle of paving stones on a tiny traffic island before the Old State House that marks the spot where these five men were martyred. The name of Crispus Attucks is well known in American History. Attucks, a sailor who probably was of both African and Native American ancestry, was later immortalized by poet John Boyle O'Reilly as "the first to defy, the first to die" in the cause of American Liberty - though that distinction rightly belongs to Christopher Seider, an 11-year-old shot by a custom's official the week before the "Massacre." The names of the other four slain - Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell and Samuel Maverick - are all but forgotten, and so as I waited for my business meeting to get underway I did a quick Internet search to see what I could learn about these other victims of the Boston Massacre.
I found one promising lead right away in the Maverick Family Genealogy Forum at Genealogy.com, but something about one of the historic references under discussion for Samuel Maverick struck me as out of place:
"Recently discovered at the Univ of MA Rare Doc. Library the diary of Jack Paget Flashman
'I saw Samuel Maverick and Atucks leading a large number of angry yelling men into the Commons area. At the same time, I saw a small squad of soldiers pushing through the crowd to join a sentry in front of the Commons House. Edward Garrick was shouting at the sentry and becoming the center of the crowd's attention.'"
One of the benefits of being broadly and eclectically read is that I was able to spot the flaw in this primary source that fans of a certain genre of historical fiction may recognize but the family researchers in this genealogy forum unfortunately did not. The name of the "diarist" was simply too good to be true. The only "Paget-Flashman" connection of which I am aware is that great fictional creation of George MacDonald Fraser, the celebrated Victorian Anti-Hero Harry Flashman. The great conceit of the Flashman novels is that Harry Flashman, a bullying character in Tom Hughes classic Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), was actually a real person who manages to fool the public into believing him a great hero while in reality whoring, shirking and miraculously surviving some of the greatest military debacles of the Victorian Age. Flashman is a bawdy romp and also great history, but Flashman himself, I am sorry to say, is no more real than that nice fellow in the red suit who brings all the presents on Christmas Eve. So it seemed to me that "Jumping" Jack Paget Flashman couldn't have any more basis in fact.
And indeed, The Jack Flashman Collection turns out to be an elaborate hoax, an homage to Frasier's character purporting to contain the diary of Flashman's great grandfather, a slaver in the triangle trade in the 1750s. The idea that it was discovered when a storage box fell off a shelf at the University of Massachusetts Rare Documents Library and injured a student is exactly the Flashman spirit. The "so-called" diary entries for the Boston Massacre is also pure Flashy, although the language is distinctly not of the 18th century:
"The bells continued to toll. I crossed the street to address Garrick and tried to convince him to stop the rebel nonsense and help put out the fire. His reply was "This is the fire, you fool." That’s when I realized that there was no fire, but the signal was being used to turn out citizens to add to the drunken mob. As the mob taunted the soldiers several in the crowd yelled "fire!, fire!". My blood ran cold as I realised that citizens trying to get assistance to answer the tolling of the fire alarm might be misunderstood as attempting to inflame the soldiers to discharge their weapons. Damn clever those instigators. I turned from the soldiers and tried to push my way through the crowd, not wanting to be in the middle of the fight. But the drunken mob pressing forward yelling at the soldiers slowed my progress."
Imitation is the best form of flattery, but the joke here is on unassuming genealogists taken in by a clever Flashman Fan in a clear case of Caveat emptor. I'll break the regretable news to the Maverick descendants after I post. I imagine they must feel like those metalheads in the 1980s who thought that Spinal Tap were a real British band, or finding out that the Easter Rabbit doesn't lay Cadbury eggs. You didn't know that? Sorry...