September 8, 2016

William Billings

Next to the entrance gate of the Central Burying Ground in the Boston Commons is a marker for William Billings:

William Billings Marker

About William Billings

William Billings was one of the first American-born composers. He was singing master who tutored music to many wealthy families in Colonial Massachusetts.

He created songs that help inspired those that were fighting in the American Revolution.

Unfortunately he couldn't capitalize on his work because the newly formed country didn't have a well-established copyright system in place. He spent his final days as a poor sick man.

When he died his family couldn't afford a grave marker. He is buried in an unmarked grave someplace in the Central Burying Ground.

Central Burying Grounds

The Central Burying Grounds did encounter an incident in 1895. A few graves accidentally unearthed during the initial construction of the MBTA Subway system.

The unearth bodies were moved to a single gravesite. This is likely where William Billings final resting place is.

There is a marker to indicate where the bodies were relocated:

Moved Grave Stone3
"Here were interred the remains of persons found under the Boylston Street Mall during the digging of the subway, 1895"

Misc Trivia about William Billings

  • Born October 7, 1746 and died September 28, 1800
  • William was blind in one eye, had a short leg and had Poland Syndrome. He enjoyed inhaling powdered tobacco.
  • Married Lucy Swan on July 26, 1774. Lucy died in Boston in 1795. (I Wasn't able to find her burial site)
  • They had nine children: Rachel, Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Adams, William, Lucy, Sarah, William, Peggy Dawes, Lucy
  • He was a music educator that full filled the need for to improve congregational singing in the Churches in the mid-1700s.
  • He was the best known and probably the most prolific composer in 18th century America.
  • Billings has been called "the first important American composer"
  • His friends included Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.
  • Due to non-existent Copyright laws at the time, Mr. Billings didn't get a lot of credit for his music.
  • William last job was a street sweeper in Boston.
  • If there was an American Top 40s music list during the post revolution era, the song 'Chester' would have been in the top 10.
  • Chester was sung in many churches during the American Revolution

You can find William Billings: Wake Evr'y Breath album on iTunes. His music is usually played around American Independent Day.

Listen to "Chester" on YouTube with Lyrics:

William Billing Most Well Known Songs

  • Chester
  • I am the Rose of Sharon
  • Africa
  • Creation
  • Wake Ev'ry Breath
  • Mourn, Mourn
  • Chesterfield

When visiting Boston

If you plan on visiting Granary Burying Ground or King's Chapel Burying Ground, you may want to include the Central Burying Grounds as part of your tour.

October 7th, 2016 marks his 270th birthday.

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