Granary Burying Ground (Tremont Street)

Founded in 1660, the Old Granary Burial Ground cemetery served as the final resting place for numerous prominent historical figures from the American Revolution and individuals like Phillis Wheatley’s masters John and Susanna Wheatley. Christopher Snider was an adolescent who was equally important to the American Revolution and Phillis Wheatley, and who was buried in the cemetery. On a February afternoon in 1770, a mob of adolescent boys attacked a Boston merchant for removing an effigy of a fellow loyalist. The merchant, Ebenezer Robinson, fled to his home in the North End, where he grabbed his musket and proceeded to fire into the unruly mob. One of his musket balls struck eleven-year-old Christopher Snider, killing him. The boy’s death marked the first Boston casualty in the tension between Great Britain and her American colonies. Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem, “On the Death of Mr. Snider, Murder’d by Richardson,” memorializing Snider as a hero of the Patriots’ cause and vilifying Richardson as a heartless murderer.

“In heavens eternal court it was decreed
How the first martyr for the cause should bleed
To clear the country of the hated blood
He whet his courage for the common good.”
(“On the Death of Mr. Snider, Murder’d by Richardson,” ll. 1-4)

The poem betrays Wheatley’s true patriotic sentiments and her support for the anti-British efforts of the patriots. The strong pro-patriot opinions Wheatley expresses in this poem have caused historian William Henry Richardson to label her a “Whig-minded American slave girl.” As a slave in the Wheatley house, Phillis Wheatley would have been privy to many of the tragic events of February and March 1770. In his interpretation of the poem, Richardson notes that Wheatley references Snider’s funeral procession that began in the North End, where he fell, and ended at the Old Granary Burial Grounds on today’s Tremont Street. King Street served as the main thoroughfare through Boston and Wheatley may have been a spectator or at least been within earshot of the mass of mourners passing on their way toward the burying ground.

“I have lately met with a great trial in the death of my
mistress, let us imagine the loss of a Parent, Sister or Brother the tender
ness of all these were united, in her, — I was a poor little outcast &
stranger when she took me in, not only into her house but I pre
sently became, a sharer in her most tender affections, I was treated by her
more like her child than her servant, no opportunity was left unim
prov’d, of giving me the best of advice, but in terms how tender! how

(“Letter to Obour Tanner, Death of Mistress,” ll 2-7)

The Old Granary Burying Ground also served as the final resting place of Susannah Wheatley. Mrs. Wheatley was Phillis’ mistress; Phillis felt that also served the role of a mother. In a letter written to a friend—slave—with whom she wrote frequently, Obour Tanner, Phillis shows the magnitude of their relationship and her appreciation of Susannah. In many ways, Phillis idolized Susannah for the piousness and tenderness that she bestowed upon Phillis. Whatever the reasons, Susannah and Phillis’ relationship was unorthodox and it enabled Phillis to become the first African American women poet to be published.

Carretta, Vincent. Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Richardson, William Henry. Phillis Wheatley. Boston: The Old South Association, 1990

Wheatley, Phillis. Complete Writings. Edited by Vincent Carretta. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.