Every so often, a character takes up residence in a writer’s mind and refuses to leave until his story is told. That’s what happened to me with my latest novel, One Small Spark. I really had no intention of writing another middle grade historical, but an eleven-year-old boy who lived in Boston in the 1760s had a different idea.
This is how I got to know Christopher Seider.
I’d learned in elementary school that Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolution, so imagine my surprise when I found out that I’d been mistaken for more than fifty years. It happened one evening while I was channel surfing and came across a program on National Geographic titled Legends and Lies: The Patriots. I’m not sure what it was about the show that caught my attention, but I put down the remote and settled in to watch it. The storyline focused on the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Boston was in crisis. Part of the population wanted to break away from England , but not enough were actually willing to take up arms. The colonists were engaged in a boycott of British goods that was taking its toll on the English economy. Samuel and John Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, and some other patriots had formed a secret society known as the Sons of Liberty to try to foment anti-British sentiment. They recruited a gang of boys to harass merchants who broke the boycott and vandalize their businesses. British soldiers were occupying the city because of the unrest, which added to the colonists’ outrage.
Enter young Christopher Seider. The son of poor German immigrants, Christopher was working as a servant in the home of Grizell Apthorp, a wealthy widow. On a cold February day, Christopher had joined a gang of boys who were demonstrating against a local merchant named Theophilus Lillie. Lillie had spoken out against the non-importation boycott and became the target of the Sons of Liberty, who enlisted some of the neighborhood ruffians to teach him a lesson. No one is certain why Christopher was present in the protest. Was he a political ally, a curious kid, or just someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? While his motive is lost to history, his decision turned out to be deadly.
Ebenezer Richardson, a man of ill-repute and a known British informant, tried to intervene on Lillie’s behalf. The gang followed him home and began pelting his house with snowballs and rocks. When an upstairs window broke, Richardson fired his musket into the crowd, injuring one boy and mortally wounding Christopher. When news of this tragedy began to spread, the colonists were enraged. The Sons of Liberty saw this as a perfect opportunity to promote their cause. Newspapers throughout the colonies recounted in heart-breaking detail the final moments of Christopher’s life. When Christopher was laid to rest in the Granary Burying Ground, over two thousand Bostonians attended his funeral. Speeches were made by local dignitaries touting the bravery of the little lad. More than 500 schoolboys walked in a procession behind his coffin, which bore a velvet drape with a Latin inscription that read, “The serpent lurks in the grass. The fatal dart is thrown. Innocence is nowhere safe.” written in Latin. By the time the sun set on February 26, 1770, the colonists were ready to take the final step toward armed revolt. A week later, five Bostonians, including Crispus Attucks, were killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre, and the American Revolution was underway.
When I clicked off the television, I was amazed that I’d never heard of Christopher Seider. How could someone so pivotal to our country’s past become lost to history? When I went to bed that night, Christopher whispered to me in my dreams, and I knew then I’d have to tell his story.
The next day, I began my research and discovered that, while there were accounts of Christopher’s death and mentions of him in some history books, no one had written a book about him. Since he was the perfect age for a middle grade novel, I decided to write for that audience. This led to a thorny problem. I knew I couldn’t make Christopher the focal character because he would eventually be killed, and that’s not something that would sit well with younger readers. After thinking about this for a few days, I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a boy who became his friend. I thought Christopher would like that. And as I wrote, the Christopher Seider in my head began to come to life on paper. When I finally typed The End, I could almost see Christopher jump from my head into my pages. I hope his story will be an inspiration to young readers, and I’m glad that they won’t have to wait fifty years (like I did) to meet this important young man.
Jackie is currently a columnist for The Island Reporter in St. Petersburg. She is a member of the Florida Writers Association, the Bay Area Professional Writers Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Several of her stories have been included in Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. She lives on Treasure Island with her husband, John, and two noisy macaws and enjoys reading, walking on the beach, boating, and visiting her three children and six grandchildren in New Jersey. Jackie has been a featured speaker at schools, book clubs, women’s clubs, and libraries and writes a blog featuring Florida writers (www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com.She can be reached through her website: http://www.jackieminniti.com.
Website URL: http://www.jackieminniti.com
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