Newspaper reports are not the only surviving descriptions of that day. Two men wrote letters to relatives in which they depicted the aftermath of the explosion.
These letters reveal the personal experiences of two witnesses of that day's events firsthand. Other personal refections on the explosion have long since disappeared. The fact that these letters were written by elite, white men likely explains why they have survived. Might people from other segments of society have remembered it differently? Or do tragedies like this transcend differences of race, status or gender when they take place?
The first letter (in four parts above) was written by Ebenezer Watson to his brother. Watson would later become the editor of the Connecticut Courant. After his death from smallpox in 1777, his wife took over production of the paper. Those events, however, were over a decade away in 1766.
Try reading the original document yourself. Do you notice any differences in the way that Watson writes compared to the way that most people write today? A transcription, or typed copy, of the document is also provided to help you as you read.
Compare this letter to the newspaper descriptions on the previous page. Are you surprised by the similarities in some of the language? Could Watson have written the newspaper piece?
Yet the letter is different in its emotional intensity. Where the newspaper neglects to engage with the scene of the explosion, Watson's letter is more vivid and unsettling.
The scene of the explosion, he states, was “too melancholy to be long dwelt upon,” perhaps “the most awful” accident “that ever happened in this part of the world.” Parents were “running confusedly about” as they looked for their sons; sisters ran through the crowd looking for their brothers, “ringing their hands,” looking with “despairing” eyes, and “not knowing whether they went or what they said or did.” The scene was littered with mangled bodies, bricks and dust intermingled with blood and limbs. People were “mash’d all to pieces” and some were “so burnt as to retain scarcely any representation of humanity about them.” Skulls were fractured, skin freed from faces, and eyes were dislodged. One child was so badly injured that his father did not recognize him.
Unable to describe his emotions fully, Watson used nature and the environment to express them for him. What do these references tell us about the ways that men expressed emotion in the late eighteenth century? What lessons did Watson take away from the events of that day?
Now turn to Benadam Gallup's letter (two parts with transcription, below). He was a member of the General Assembly from Groton in 1766 and wrote to his wife about the events that took place when the Stamp Act was repealed. Like Watson, his letter is split into two parts. The first was written before the explosion, while the second represents his attempt to describe what had taken place during the celebrations. How is his letter different from Watson's? How is it similar? What role might the recipients of these two letters (Watson's brother and Gallup's wife) have played in the tone that each author chose to use?