A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Henry Pelham

"Thursday Morng. Boston, March 29, 1770. Sir, When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you copied it from mine and as I thought I had entrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of honour and justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you. But I find I was mistaken and after being at the great Trouble and Expence of making a design paying for paper, printing &c. find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expence I have been at, as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway. If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect upon and consider of one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty of."

Five years before Henry Pelham drew his map of Boston and surrounding towns during the first years of the Revolution, he waged his own battle with none other than patriot-in-waiting Paul Revere. In the days following the Boston Massacre, Pelham produced an image of the Boston Massacre, calling it “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power.” Featuring the familiar line of British soldiers firing upon unarmed townsfolk, Pelham’s engraving apparently so captured Revere’s imagination that he could not help pirating it (with slight changes)—and much to Pelham’s chagrin—bringing it to market before Pelham could even advertise his own print for sale. Although it is unclear what—if any—response Revere made to Pelham, it is clear that it is Revere’s image we see when we think of the Boston Massacre.

Although a talented artist in his own right, Henry Pelham is less well known than his older step-brother and fellow artist John Singleton Copley. Born in 1749 to the artist Peter Pelham and his third wife, Mary Copley, Henry attended Boston Latin School and had established himself as a portrait painter before the Revolution. Unfortunately, the conflict destroyed his business and Pelham, a Loyalist, left Boston in 1776, joining Copley and other members of his family in England. His letters to members of his family, held in the Public Record Office in London, were published by the MHS in 1914, and provide a glimpse of Boston in the early years of the conflict through the eyes of a Loyalist native son.

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