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Friday, April 14, 2017

The "Perhaps The Most Famous Engravings Ever" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Surfing through a few historical websites when I came across what has to be declared one of the most famous engraving in history.  While teaching high school graphic arts, one of the projects we attempted was making engravings.  At first we used copper plates and a metal stylus, but then shifted to plastic plates due to the cost of copper.  The procedure is known as "Intaglio" which means: a design incised or engraved into a material.  Intaglio is also said to be printing from a depressed surface.  Those students with some artistic ability usually enjoyed the project and were the most successful with the procedure.  
The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street by
Paul Revere dated 1770. Click to enlarge.
Well, as I was looking through the website I found an article about the Boston Massacre, known as the Incident on King Street.  Took place on March 5, 1770 in which British Army soldiers shot and killed people while under attack by what was said to be a mob of angry citizens.  To loyalists, this was not the Boston Massacre but "an unhappy disturbance."  It was depicted by others as a street fight between a "patriot mob, throwing snowballs, stones, and sticks and a squad of British soldiers.  Several colonists were killed by gunfire and this led to a campaign by speech-writers to rouse the ire of the citizenry.  
Parker Brown displaying the hand-copied engraving of Paul
Revere's famous rendering of the Boston Massacre.  As you
can see, it is engraved in a piece of copper plate.
The British troops weren't welcome in Boston and when British Captain Thomas Preston was attacked, additional soldiers were called into action and after being attacked again, fired into the mob, killing 3 on the spot (a black sailor named Crispus Attucks, rope maker Samuel Gray and mariner James Caldwell), and wounding 8 others, two of whom died later.  A town meeting was called demanding the removal of the British and the trial of Captain Preston and his men for murder.  Most were acquitted, but two soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter.  This fight, later called the Boston Massacre, was a signal event leading to the Revolutionary War.  This famous mob event was depicted in an engraving made by Paul Revere who had copied it from an engraving by Boston painter Henry Pelham.  It was hand-colored by Christian Remick and printed by Benjamin Edes. In the background of the engraving is Boston's Old State House.  Pelhem wrote to Revere accusing him of copying the work.  
Revere's pen and ink diagram plan
of King Street.
Revere did make a slight change when he added a fictional "Butcher's Hall" sign.  Paul Revere also presented an accurate view of the event in a pen-and-ink diagram plan of King Street.  At the time it was common for engravers to take designs wherever they found them without the original artist's permission.  Eventually the two settled their differences and Revere ended up making engravings for Pelham.  I realize that the main idea in the story on the site I was reading was the Boston Massacre, but for me, Revere's etching was just as important.  Without the etchings, history wouldn't have been the same.  As is today, a picture is worth a thousand words. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.
The Boston Massacre took place in front of The Old State House which is pictured here.  The building was the seat of British colonial Government from 1713 to 1776.
The Boston Massacre took place in front of the balcony, and the site is now marked by a cobblestone circle in the square.

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