Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Traitor in my Family Tree?

Boston Massacre

On this date, 22 February, in 1770 a mob had gathered outside of Theophilus Lillie’s shop in Boston to protest his importation of British goods. This was during the “Intolerable Acts” when the folks in Boston decided to stop drinking tea and buying British goods, rather than pay the intolerable taxes on imported goods.  While reading about this incident in history, I was struck by the name of the shopkeeper and (thank you internet!)  I was researching his genealogy to find a link to my LILLIE ancestors of Reading, Massachusetts.  I wasn’t finding any links.

As I read further, I learned that the man who lived next door to the shop in the story was named Ebenezer Richardson.  He tried to disperse the crowd by firing bird shot into the crowd, which was mostly young boys and teenagers.  One teen was injured, and a 10 year old German boy named Christopher Sneider was killed.  Again, being a genealogist, I stopped at the name of Ebenezer Richardson.  I had a long line of Ebenezer Richardsons in my family tree, from the town of Woburn outside of Boston. It only took me a minute to confirm that one of these cousins in my tree was the same Ebenezer Richardson whose shot out his bedroom window foreshadowed the Boston Massacre, which took place soon after on 5 March 1770. 

Who was Ebenezer Richardson?  Well, it turns out that his hot temper which led to this incident was not the first time he had displayed tawdry behavior.   In 1752 his wife’s sister gave birth to his child.  He married his own sister-in-law in Boston in January 1754 (his wife didn’t die until 1782).   

Ebenezer Richardson, upon fleeing Woburn, went to work for the British as an informer in Boston.  When he was found out, the British made him a Boston customs officer. His job was to collect the new  taxes from the hated Stamp Act and Townshend Acts. 

After the little Sneider boy died,  two thousand people attended his funeral.  On 20 April 1770 Richardson was found guilty of murder by a Boston jury. I’m not surprised- he was a very unpopular figure in Boston and rumored to be tarred and feathered.  The British judges thought the sentence unfair and didn’t sentence him to hang, and London sent a pardon.  The British also found him a new job in 1773 in Philadelphia.  But the good folks of Boston “informed” on Richardson and told the people of Philadelphia his story, including the scandal with his second wife.  He fled to London.

No more is known of Ebenezer Richardson.  Did he die in London?  Change his name?

Ebenezer Richardson, son of Timothy Richardson and Abigail Johnson, was born on 31 March 1718 in Woburn, Massachusetts.  He married first to Rebecca Fowle about 1740.  She was the widow of Phineas Richardson (she was the second cousin once removed of Phineas, and the second cousin twice removed of Ebenezer).   He married second to Kezia Fowle, sister to Rebecca and widow of Thomas Henshaw.   I have no further information on Kezia, and Rebecca died on 6 November 1782 in Woburn, long after the scandal.

The two Fowle sisters, Rebecca and Kezia, are my 1st cousins 8 generations removed.  Their parents, John Fowle and Elizabeth Prescott are my 8th great uncle and aunt.  John’s parents, James Fowle (1643 – 1690) and Abigail Carter (1648 – 1718) are my 8th great grandparents.

Ebenezer Richardson is further removed from me.  He is my 3rd cousin, 8 generations removed.  His great grandparents, John Richardson and Elizabeth Bacon, are my 9th great uncle and aunt. His 2x great grandparents, Samuel Richardson (1602 – 1658) and Joanna Thake (1606 – 1666), are my 9th great grandparents.  Interestingly, Elizabeth (Bacon) Richardson’s grandparents, Michael Bacon (1579 – 1648) and Alice Blower (1681 – 1648), are my 11th great grandparents.

For more about this story:

Don't miss Part Two of this blog post:

The Richardson Memorial: Comprising a Full History and Genealogy of the Posterity of these Three Brothers, Ezekiel, Samuel and Thomas Richardson, by John Adams Vinton, 1876, pages 242-244, page 265.

J.L. Bell, “Ebenezer Richardson Custom’s Informer”, Boston 1775, posted May 22, 2006, ( accessed 22 February 2018).

J. L. Bell, “Ebenezer Richardson as Cause of the American Revolution”, Boston 1775, posted April 9, 2015, ( accessed 22 February 2018).

My RICHARDSON "Surname Saturday" post:

My FOWLE "Surname Saturday" post:

The image above is from Paul Revere of Boston. The print was copied by Revere from a design by Henry Pelham for an engraving eventually published under the title "The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre," of which only two impressions could be located by Brigham. Revere's print appeared on or about March 28, 1770. -, Public Domain,


To Cite/Link to this post:  Heather Wilkinson Rojo, “A Traitor in my Family Tree?”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 22, 2018, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. There were so many people surnamed Richardson in Woburn that they get mixed up. I think the Rebecca (Fowle) (Richardson) Richardson died in 1753, after her sister Kezia (Fowle) Henshaw gave birth and before Kezia married Ebenezer Richardson. There's no divorce on the record, and Ebenezer turned over guardianship of Rebecca's parents in that period. I think the Rebecca Richardson who died in 1782 is therefore someone else.

    The Vinton genealogy fogs up the already confusing situation with Ebenezer Richardson and the Fowle sisters, perhaps deliberately. Several years ago I wrote an article for the N.E.H.G.S.’s New England Ancestors magazine trying to sort things out and discussing Ebenezer's movements. That's no longer online for free, alas, but it could be helpful with more details.

    1. I found your article in "New England Ancestors" magazine by NEHGS, Volume 6, starting on page 22. I'll check it out ASAP. Thanks for the tip! (and, yes, lots of Richardsons in Woburn)

  2. Heather, so cool! I had not done research on Abigail Carter, daughter of Capt. John Carter, my 8th great-grandfather. Thank you.

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  4. Hi, I’m a Brit livening in the U.K. and a distant cousin of Ebenezer Richardson. I guess it all depends on which side of the fence you are on. Was he a traitor or a British Patriot? From the American perspective, he was definitely on the “other side”, but as an employee of the Crown, he was doing his job as his employer required. I get that he won’t be seen as anything other that an informer or “stooge of the British state”, but King George III approved a pardon for him and Parliament gave him compensation in April 1774. It could be argued that as Independence was not obtained until 4 July 1776, he was actually compliant with the laws and legislation in force in Massachusetts at the time… But I won’t go there. “Vive la difference!” as the French say. It is wonderful to have a member of my family involved in US History and be so well documented. It took me 5 years to track down his pardon, and it’s a fantastic piece of history. I don’t see any benefit it claiming him as a villain or hero. What’s done is done and one of the other members of the Richardson family rowed Paul Revere across the Charles River. Nobody talks about that though! :-)

    1. I'd like to hear about the Richardsons who rowed Paul Revere across the Charles!

  5. Here’s the reference to Thomas Richardson rowing across the Charles River from the Paul Revere website;