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Crispus Attucks: America's First Revolutionary War Casualty

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Who was the Revolutionary War’s first colonial casualty? A black seaman with Native American roots.

Crispus Attucks’ dramatic death made him a polarizing figure in 1770. On March 5th of that year, the infamous Boston Massacre claimed his life and left a legacy over which the emerging nation would soon struggle.

Attucks’ early days are largely clouded in mystery. It appears that his father, Prince Yonger, was an abducted West African while his mother likely hailed from New England’s native Wampanoag people (in whose language Attucks means “small male deer”). Crispus himself was born in Framingham, Massachusetts sometime around 1723. Though historians aren’t quite sure if he was birthed into slavery, there’s no doubt that young Attucks was quickly claimed by this “peculiar institution” or a similar form of dehumanizing servitude.

Attucks appears to have run off in 1750, as evidenced by a telling Boston Gazette advertisement which read, “Ran away from his Master William Brown of Framingham, on the 30th of Sept. last… A Molatto Fellow, about 27 Years of age, named Crispas [sic], 6 Feet two Inches high, short curl’d Hair, his Knees nearer together than common: had on a light colour’d Bearskin coat."

Ultimately, Attucks eluded re-capture and is believed to have worked as a Boston-based sailor and rope-maker. As such, he would have had plenty of reason to harbor anti-British grievances. To begin with, the Royal Navy had acquired a nasty habit of forcing Yankee sea-farers into its ranks. Furthermore, when they weren’t patrolling the coastline, nautical Brits often earned extra cash by competing with New England tradesmen for a variety of jobs.

This tense situation worsened by the day, and, before long, it exploded. When Boston’s Massacre broke out, Attucks—who stood near the front lines—became its first victim, though how he came to be there remains uncertain. Some witnesses claimed that, wielding a wooden staff, Attucks played ringleader and rallied this Massachusetts mob. Others believe he was merely standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, a mistake for which he received two bullets to the chest.

Lawyer and future President John Adams stood firmly in the former camp. While arguing on behalf of the redcoats who fired the shots, Adams denounced Attucks as one who “in all probability [caused] the dreadful behavior of that night." His “very looks,” Adams opined, were “enough to terrify any person.”

However, in dying, Attucks also earned his fair share of admirers. Local revolutionaries not only hailed him as a martyr, but, in defiance of the law at the time, buried him alongside the fray’s white victims within a common grave. The Crispus Attucks Monument (an ornate, statue-laden column) was erected in the Boston Commons 118 years later.

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This Just In
Pablo Neruda's Death Wasn't Caused by Cancer, Experts Conclude
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MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

Pablo Neruda—whose real name was Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto—died on September 23, 1973, less than two years after he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. The official cause of death was recorded as cancer cachexia, or wasting syndrome, from prostate cancer. But while Neruda did have cancer, new tests on his remains indicate that the left-leaning Chilean politician and poet didn’t actually succumb to the disease, according to BBC News.

It’s still unclear what, exactly, caused Neruda’s demise. But in a recent press conference, a team of 16 international experts announced that they were "100 percent convinced" that the author's death certificate "does not reflect the reality of the death,” as quoted by the BBC.

Neruda died in 1973 at the age of 69, less than two weeks after a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. Neruda, a Communist, was a former diplomat and senator, and a friend of the deposed politician.

In 2011, Manuel Araya, Neruda’s chauffeur, claimed that the poet had told him that Pinochet’s men had injected poison into his stomach as he was hospitalized during his final days, Nature reports. The Communist Party of Chile filed a criminal lawsuit, and Neruda’s remains were exhumed in 2013 and later reburied in 2016, according to the BBC.

Many of Neruda’s relatives and friends were reportedly skeptical of Araya’s account, as was the Pablo Neruda Foundation, according to The New York Times. But after samples of Neruda’s remains were analyzed by forensic genetics laboratories in four nations, Chile’s government acknowledged that it was “highly probable” that his official cause of death was incorrect.

And now, the team of scientists has unanimously ruled out cachexia as having caused Neruda’s death. “There was no indication of cachexia,” said Dr. Niels Morling, a forensic medical expert from the University of Copenhagen, as quoted by The Guardian. Neruda “was an obese man at the time of death. All other circumstances in his last phase of life pointed to some kind of infection.”

The investigating team says that their analysis yielded what might be lab-cultivated bacteria, although it could have also originated from the burial site or been produced during the body's decomposition process. Test results will be available within a year, they say.

[h/t BBC News]

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Art
Winston Churchill’s Final Painting Is Going to Auction for the First Time
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While serving as an influential statesman and writing Nobel Prize-winning histories, Winston Churchill also found time to paint. Now, The Telegraph reports that the final painting the former British prime minister ever committed to canvas is heading to the auction block.

The piece, titled The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, depicts the pond at Churchill’s home in Kent, England, which has been characterized as his “most special place in the world.” A few years after the painting was finished, he passed away in 1965 and it fell into the possession of his former bodyguard, Sergeant Edmund Murray. Murray worked for Churchill for the 15 years leading up to the prime minister's death and often assisted with his painting by setting up his easel and brushes. After decades in the Murray family, Churchill’s final painting will be offered to the public for the first time at Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art sale next month.

Winston Churchill's final painting.
Sotheby's

Churchill took up painting in the 1920s and produced an estimated 544 artworks in his lifetime. He never sold any of his art, but The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell shows that the hobby was an essential part of his life right up until his last years.

When the never-before-exhibited piece goes up for sale on November 21, it’s expected to attract bids up to $105,500. It won’t mark the first time an original Winston Churchill painting has made waves at auction: In a 2014, a 1932 depiction of his same beloved goldfish pond sold for over $2.3 million.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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