essay on the boston massacre

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Boston Massacre

By: Editors

Updated: August 11, 2023 | Original: October 27, 2009

essay on the boston massacre

The Boston Massacre was a deadly riot that occurred on March 5, 1770, on King Street in Boston. It began as a street brawl between American colonists and a lone British soldier, but quickly escalated to a chaotic, bloody slaughter. The conflict energized anti-British sentiment and paved the way for the American Revolution.

Why Did the Boston Massacre Happen?

Tensions ran high in Boston in early 1770. More than 2,000 British soldiers occupied the city of 16,000 colonists and tried to enforce Britain’s tax laws, like the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts . American colonists rebelled against the taxes they found repressive, rallying around the cry, “no taxation without representation.”

Skirmishes between colonists and soldiers—and between patriot colonists and colonists loyal to Britain (loyalists)—were increasingly common. To protest taxes, patriots often vandalized stores selling British goods and intimidated store merchants and their customers.

On February 22, a mob of patriots attacked a known loyalist’s store. Customs officer Ebenezer Richardson lived near the store and tried to break up the rock-pelting crowd by firing his gun through the window of his home. His gunfire struck and killed an 11-year-old boy named Christopher Seider and further enraged the patriots.

Several days later, a fight broke out between local workers and British soldiers. It ended without serious bloodshed but helped set the stage for the bloody incident yet to come.

How Many Died After Violence Erupted?

On the frigid, snowy evening of March 5, 1770, Private Hugh White was the only soldier guarding the King’s money stored inside the Custom House on King Street. It wasn’t long before angry colonists joined him and insulted him and threatened violence.

At some point, White fought back and struck a colonist with his bayonet. In retaliation, the colonists pelted him with snowballs, ice and stones. Bells started ringing throughout the town—usually a warning of fire—sending a mass of male colonists into the streets. As the assault on White continued, he eventually fell and called for reinforcements.

In response to White’s plea and fearing mass riots and the loss of the King’s money, Captain Thomas Preston arrived on the scene with several soldiers and took up a defensive position in front of the Custom House.

Worried that bloodshed was inevitable, some colonists reportedly pleaded with the soldiers to hold their fire as others dared them to shoot. Preston later reported a colonist told him the protestors planned to “carry off [White] from his post and probably murder him.”

The violence escalated, and the colonists struck the soldiers with clubs and sticks. Reports differ of exactly what happened next, but after someone supposedly said the word “fire,” a soldier fired his gun, although it’s unclear if the discharge was intentional.

Once the first shot rang out, other soldiers opened fire, killing five colonists–including Crispus Attucks , a local dockworker of mixed racial heritage–and wounding six. Among the other casualties of the Boston Massacre was Samuel Gray, a rope maker who was left with a hole the size of a fist in his head. Sailor James Caldwell was hit twice before dying, and Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr were mortally wounded.  

Boston Massacre Fueled Anti-British Views

Within hours, Preston and his soldiers were arrested and jailed and the propaganda machine was in full force on both sides of the conflict.

Preston wrote his version of the events from his jail cell for publication, while Sons of Liberty leaders such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams incited colonists to keep fighting the British. As tensions rose, British troops retreated from Boston to Fort William.

Paul Revere encouraged anti-British attitudes by etching a now-famous engraving depicting British soldiers callously murdering American colonists. It showed the British as the instigators though the colonists had started the fight.

It also portrayed the soldiers as vicious men and the colonists as gentlemen. It was later determined that Revere had copied his engraving from one made by Boston artist Henry Pelham.

John Adams Defends the British

John Adams and the American Revolution

It took seven months to arraign Preston and the other soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and bring them to trial. Ironically, it was American colonist, lawyer and future President of the United States John Adams who defended them.

Adams was no fan of the British but wanted Preston and his men to receive a fair trial. After all, the death penalty was at stake and the colonists didn’t want the British to have an excuse to even the score. Certain that impartial jurors were nonexistent in Boston, Adams convinced the judge to seat a jury of non-Bostonians.

During Preston’s trial, Adams argued that confusion that night was rampant. Eyewitnesses presented contradictory evidence on whether Preston had ordered his men to fire on the colonists.

But after witness Richard Palmes testified that, “…After the Gun went off I heard the word ‘fire!’ The Captain and I stood in front about half between the breech and muzzle of the Guns. I don’t know who gave the word to fire,” Adams argued that reasonable doubt existed; Preston was found not guilty.

The remaining soldiers claimed self-defense and were all found not guilty of murder. Two of them—Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy—were found guilty of manslaughter and were branded on the thumbs as first offenders per English law.

To Adams’ and the jury’s credit, the British soldiers received a fair trial despite the vitriol felt towards them and their country.

Aftermath of the Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre had a major impact on relations between Britain and the American colonists. It further incensed colonists already weary of British rule and unfair taxation and roused them to fight for independence.

Yet perhaps Preston said it best when he wrote about the conflict and said, “None of them was a hero. The victims were troublemakers who got more than they deserved. The soldiers were professionals…who shouldn’t have panicked. The whole thing shouldn’t have happened.”

Over the next five years, the colonists continued their rebellion and staged the Boston Tea Party , formed the First Continental Congress and defended their militia arsenal at Concord against the redcoats, effectively launching the American Revolution . Today, the city of Boston has a Boston Massacre site marker at the intersection of Congress Street and State Street, a few yards from where the first shots were fired.

After the Boston Massacre. John Adams Historical Society. Boston Massacre Trial. National Park Service: National Historical Park of Massachusetts. Paul Revere’s Engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The Boston Massacre. Bostonian Society Old State House. The Boston “Massacre.” H.S.I. Historical Scene Investigation.

essay on the boston massacre

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Course: US history   >   Unit 3

  • The Seven Years' War: background and combatants
  • The Seven Years' War: battles and legacy
  • Seven Years' War: lesson overview
  • Seven Years' War
  • Pontiac's uprising
  • Uproar over the Stamp Act
  • The Townshend Acts and the committees of correspondence

The Boston Massacre

  • Prelude to revolution
  • The Boston Tea Party
  • The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
  • Lexington and Concord
  • The Second Continental Congress
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Women in the American Revolution
  • The American Revolution
  • Boston, Massachusetts was a hotbed of radical revolutionary thought and activity leading up to 1770.
  • In March 1770, British soldiers stationed in Boston opened fire on a crowd, killing five townspeople and infuriating locals.
  • What became known as the Boston Massacre intensified anti-British sentiment and proved a pivotal event leading up to the American Revolution.

Boston, cradle of revolution

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Incredible Answer

American History Central

Boston Massacre — First Bloodshed of the American Revolution

March 5, 1770

The Boston Massacre was an incident in which British regulars fired into a group of Bostonians who were harassing them. It is generally considered one of the first acts of violence of the American Revolution.

Samuel Adams, Painting

Samuel Adams took advantage of the events that took place on the evening of March 5, 1770, and used it to his advantage in stirring up opposition to the British occupation of Boston. He called the incident “The Boston Massacre.”

Boston Massacre Summary

The Boston Massacre was a deadly altercation between British soldiers and a Boston mob that occurred on March 5, 1770, where the Redcoats fired on colonists, killing five and wounding six others. It was the culmination of resentment by the Boston citizenry toward British troops that Parliament had deployed in 1768 to enforce the Townshend Acts of 1767 . The incident on March 5 began when a small group of Bostonians started harassing a lone British sentry guarding the Customs House. When a crowd assembled and became more hostile, British reinforcements arrived on the scene to protect the sentry. The soldiers, under the command of Captain Thomas Preston, fired their muskets into the crowd. The first person killed was Crispus Attucks , an African-American who worked on the docks in Boston. In order to restore peace between the Redcoats and the colonists, Governor Thomas Hutchinson conducted an investigation and the soldiers were tried in court. They were defended by Founding Father John Adams and two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. In the years following the Boston Massacre, March 5 was observed as a holiday in Boston, and a memorial was held to commemorate the incident.

The Bloody Massacre, Engraving, Revere

Boston Massacre Causes and History

The causes and history of the Boston Massacre began long before the night of March 5, 1770. It is important to understand the Boston Massacre was not an incident that just happened one night, out of nowhere. There was a slow, steady buildup of tension between colonists living in Boston and British officials, especially Governor Francis Bernard , over British policies.

Sir Francis Bernard, Governor, Portrait

The Stamp Act Crisis in Boston and the Sons of Liberty

In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which imposed taxes on the colonies by requiring various types of documents to be printed on paper that included a stamp on it. The paper was printed in Britain, shipped to the colonies, and had to be purchased from authorized Stamp Distributors. The colonies were outraged when news of the Stamp Act arrived, and the so-called Stamp Act Crisis began. There were protests throughout the colonies. American merchants set up trade boycotts and refused to order products from Brittain and the colonial papers were full of articles that criticized the provisions of the act. The slogan, “No taxation without representation” became popular.

Stamp Act in Boston, Illustration

In Boston, a group formed that quickly gained a reputation for its harassment of British officials, which included physical violence and vandalism. Prominent members and associates of the group in Boston were Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, James Otis Jr., and John Hancock.

The group came to be called the Sons of Liberty , and similar groups were formed in other cities, including New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia. Throughout the summer and fall of 1765, the group was responsible for publicly threatening British officials if they enforced the provisions of the Stamp Act. The Sons also coordinated riots that included mobs attacking the homes of men like Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson .

On the morning of December 17, 1765, a broadsheet was posted throughout Boston that demanded Stamp Distributor Andrew Oliver appear at the Liberty Tree at noon and announce his resignation. Oliver did as was requested, although he read his resignation from the window of a house near the Liberty Tree because it was raining.

Parliament Repeals the Stamp Act and Passes the Declaratory Act

On March 18, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, primarily due to protests from British merchants who believed it would damage their prospects of doing business in the colonies. However, on that same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act , which declared Parliament had the “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”

The Declaratory Act made it clear the threat of Parliament levying taxes on the colonies was still viable. The Sons of Liberty in Boston did not disband when the Stamp Act was repealed, they continued to meet to discuss and plan resistance to British policies. They believed Parliament was going to continue to exercise its authority — which it gave itself — to levy taxes on the colonies.

King George III, Painting

The Townshend Acts

In 1767 and 1768, Parliament did exactly as the Sons of Liberty and prominent leaders like Samuel Adams expected, when it passed a series of acts for various purposes, including establishing a flow of revenue from the colonies to Britain, tightening control over the colonial governments, and paying the salaries of royal officials in the colonies.

Collectively, they are known as the Townshend Acts and they set up a system where the officials were obligated to support the taxes because the revenue generated from them paid their salaries. The five acts were:

  • The New York Restraining Act
  • The Townshend Revenue Act
  • The Indemnity Act
  • The Commissioners of Customs Act
  • The Vice-Admiralty Court Act

Charles Townshend, Portrait, Reynolds

The Liberty Affair

In order to help enforce the Townshend Acts, the American Board of Customs Commissioners was located in Boston. The Board of Customs played a key role in an incident with John Hancock and one of his ships. On May 9, 1768, a small ship owned by Hancock, the Liberty, arrived at the Port of Boston. It had come from Madeira, so the British Customs Officials expected the ship to be full of wine.

Initially, the Customs Officials said they could not inspect the ship’s cargo right away, because it was too dark. They said they had to wait until the morning of May 10. When the cargo of Liberty was inspected on the morning of May 10, Customs Officials found it was carrying less than 25% of what they expected. They informed the Customs Commissioners and said could not explain where the other 75% of the cargo went. They said they watched the ship all through the night of the 9th and did not see any cargo taken off the ship.

John Hancock, Portrait, Copley

On May 17, the HMS Romney , a British man-of-war, arrived in Boston Harbor. The ship was under the command of Captain John Corner. Corner sent press gangs onshore to force sailors into service on the Romney . Merchants and smugglers alike avoided Boston Harbor, for fear of losing crew members, and the mere presence of the Romney and Corner’s press gangs increased tension between the colonists and the British in Boston.

On June 9, the situation grew worse when Thomas Kirk, one of the Customs Officials who had inspected the Liberty , changed his testimony about what happened on the night of May 9. Kirk told Joseph Harrison, the Collector of the Port of Boston, that the Captain of the Liberty , John Marshall, had offered him a bribe and the Liberty was, in fact, smuggling Madeira wine. Harrison took the new information to the Board of Customs Commissioners. Harrison, along with other British officials, including Comptroller Benjamin Hallowell were warned by members of the Sons of Liberty to leave Hancock’s ship alone.

The warning was ignored, and on June 10, David Lisle, the Solicitor General to the Board of Customs, ordered the Liberty to be seized. Sailors from the Romney were sent to carry out the task.

A crowd gathered and some of them tried to convince the British officials to leave the Liberty alone, at least until John Hancock could arrive on the scene. The Harrison and Hallowell declined and a fight broke out while the sailors towed the Liberty away and moored it near the Romney.

Harrison and Hallowell fled the scene and disappeared. However, the crowd at the dock, which had grown to around 3,000 people, chased after them. When the crowd was unable to find them, they went to their homes and smashed in the windows. After that, they went back to the dock and pulled Harrisons’ personal boat out of the water. They dragged it through the street and stopped at the Liberty Tree, where they set it on fire and burned it to ashes.

The seizure of Liberty caused unrest in Boston because many people believed the action to be illegal. Rumors began to circulate that people from all around Boston were planning to go into town to “begin an insurrection.”

The people of Boston sent a letter to the colony’s agent — or representative — in London, Dennys De Berndt. The letter also placed the blame for the Liberty Affair on what Massachusetts believed were unconstitutional laws that imposed taxes for the purpose of raising revenue. It also compared the Customs Officers and Commissioners to thieves who stole from the people of Massachusetts.

The Customs Board of Commissioners also expressed concerns that an uprising was imminent in a letter it sent to London. The Commissioners accused the local assemblies of coordinating efforts to resist British policies. The Commissioners believed if there was an uprising in Boston it would spread to other colonies. The only way to stop that from happening was to send troops to Boston to occupy the town.

Governor Bernard also sent a detailed narrative of the incident with the Liberty , and the unrest that followed, to Lord Hillsborough, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Bernard urged Hillsborough to do something to help prevent an uprising because he believed the colonists were capable of insurrection.

Ultimately, John Hancock was taken to court by the Customs Commissioners. John Adams defended Hancock and won the case. However, Liberty was confiscated and the British used it in their own fleet. In July 1769, Liberty was involved in an incident off the coast of Rhode Island and burned by New Englanders.

British Troops Occupy Boston to Enforce the Townshend Acts and Restore Order

In order to restore order in Boston, prevent an uprising, and enforce the provisions of the Townshend Acts, British troops were sent to Boston to occupy the town. Governor Bernard had asked for troops as early as 1766 due to the unrest and his request was finally granted. The American Customs Board of Commissioners also asked for troops to help them enforce the Townshend Acts in the aftermath of the Liberty Affair. Ships carrying troops arrived on September 28, 1768. On October 1, the troops disembarked and were quartered at various locations throughout the town.

For several months, the monthly Boston Town Meeting discussed the problem of troops occupying the city during peacetime. During the meetings, the officials in Boston and Massachusetts questioned the legality of housing a standing army during a time of peace. They argued it was a violation of the Massachusetts Constitution, the and English Bill of Rights. They believed it would certainly be seen as illegal if it was done in London.

British Troops Enter Boston, 1768, Illustration

Joseph Warren Comes Into the Spotlight

In March 1769, the Boston Town Meeting adopted a petition to the King, asking for the removal of the troops. At the same meeting, Joseph Warren was appointed to a committee to clear the town from the false accusations that had been made, in regards to rebellion and loyalty to the Crown. The members of the committee were James Otis, Samuel Adams, Thomas Cushing , Richard Dana, Joseph Warren, John Adams, and Samuel Quincy.

John Adams was not as involved as some of the others during this time. He was more cautious about becoming too involved with the unrest. He wrote: “I was solicited to go to the Town Meetings and harangue there. This I constantly refused. My friend Dr. Warren the most frequently urged me to this: My Answer to him always was ‘That way madness lies.’. . . he always smiled and said, ‘it was true.’”

Joseph Warren, Portrait, Copley

Bernard Replaced and Some Troops Leave Boston

On July 21, 1769, Governor Bernard left Boston and returned to England. He was replaced by Thomas Hutchinson, a native of Massachusetts.

Soon after Bernard left Boston, two regiments — the 64th and 65th — were removed from the city. The 14th Regiment and 29th Regiment remained. Despite the reduction in the number of troops that were quartered in the city, the activities the troops indulged in made matters worse with the citizens of Boston. Some of the issues were:

  • British officers paraded their troops through the streets on a frequent basis.
  • On Sundays, the troops would race their horses through the streets.

On top of those things, off-duty soldiers were often employed by businesses in the city when they were off duty. The residents of Boston who needed jobs accused the soldiers of taking their jobs.

The people of Boston retaliated by insulting and teasing the troops, which would sometimes lead to arguments or even fights.

Thomas Hutchinson, Portrait

The Death of Christopher Seider

On February 22, 1770, a mob gathered outside the home of a Customs Official Ebeneezer Richardson. The people were upset that Richardson had broken up a protest in front of the shop owned by Theodophilus Lillie, a Loyalist merchant.

The crowd turned violent and threw rocks through the windows of Richardson’s house. One of them hit Richardson’s wife. When that happened, Richardson grabbed his gun and fired into the crowd. 11-year-old Christopher Seider was shot twice, once in the arm and once in the head.

Death of Christopher Seider, Illustration

After the boy died, his body was taken to Joseph Warren for an autopsy. Warren found the body contained, “eleven shot or plugs, about the bigness of large peas.”

Warren’s autopsy confirmed the boy was indeed killed by Richardson’s weapon. Some consider the boy to be the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Samuel Adams arranged for Seider’s funeral and a public display was made of what Richardson had done. An estimated 2,000 people attended the funeral at the Granary Burial Ground which fueled the outrage of the people of Boston.

Incident on March 2, 1770

On March 2, a British soldier, Private Patrick Walker, was walking along Gray’s Ropewalk in Boston, looking for a job. A Boston rope maker, William Green, asked Walker if he was looking for work. When Walker said he was, Green told him he could clean the public toilet. Walker was offended and told Green, “Empty it yourself.”

When the two exchanged heated words, Walker tried to hit Green. One of Walker’s employees knocked Green down. When Walker was able to get to his feet, he went to the barracks and gathered some friends. He returned to the scene with a handful of soldiers and they were looking for a fight.

When the rope makers saw them, they gathered to held defend Walker and then roughly 40 soldiers arrived on the scene. The crowd of rope makers included Samuel Gray and, possibly, Crispus Attucks. A full-scale riot broke out and the rope makers forced the British soldiers to return to their barracks.

Boston Massacre Takes Place on the Night of March 5, 1770

On the morning of March 5, the news of Christopher Seider’s death appeared in the Boston Gazette . That night, an altercation between a British soldier, Private Hugh White, and a 13-year-old boy, Edward Garrick exploded into violence.

The incident started when Garrick insulted Captain Lieutenant John Goldfinch. Goldfinch ignored the boy, but Private White, who was nearby at his post, demanded the boy apologize to Goldfinch. Garrick refused, and words were exchanged. Then Garrick poked Goldfinch in the chest, which led to White hitting the boy in the head with his musket. Garrick’s friend, Bartholomew Broaders, started arguing with White, which drew the attention of more people. The crowd grew and included Boston bookseller Henry Knox.

Henry Knox, Secretary of War, Portrait

The officer in charge of the night’s watch, Captain Thomas Preston, was alerted to the trouble and sent an officer and six privates to assist White. Preston ordered the troops to fix bayonets and went with them to the scene. By the time they arrived, the crowd had grown to more than 300 people.

The commotion and shouting led to the church bells being sounded, which usually meant there was a fire. More people came running to the scene, including John Adams.

The crowd started throwing snowballs, ice, rocks, and other things at the troops. Private Hugh Montgomery was hit with something and dropped his musket. When he picked it back up, he fired into the crowd, even though Preston had not given an order to fire. Montgomery’s discharge struck and killed Crispus Attucks . Within moments, the other troops panicked and fired into the crowd. When the shooting was over, five were dead, and six were wounded. Along with Attucks, the others killed by British fire were Samuel Gray, Patrick Carr, James Caldwell, and Samuel Maverick.

essay on the boston massacre

The crowd backed away and Preston called soldiers from the 29th Regiment out. The British took defensive positions in front of the Town House to protect themselves from the mob. Governor Hutchinson was called out to help restore order. Hutchinson promised the mob there would be an investigation into the incident, but only if the mob dispersed. The mob did break up.

During the melee, Warren was called to the scene to tend to the wounded. Later, he recalled the incident and wrote: “The horrors of that dreadful night are but too deeply impressed on our hearts. Language is too feeble to paint the emotions of our souls, when our streets were stained with the blood of our brethren, when our ears were wounded by the groans of the dying, and our eyes were tormented by the sight of the mangled bodies of the dead.”

Warren continued, and made it clear he believed that British troops firing on British citizens was a final straw, “To arms! we snatched our weapons, almost resolved, by one decisive stroke, to avenge the death of our slaughtered brethren, and to secure from future danger all that we held most dear.”

Samuel Adams dubbed the incident “The Boston Massacre.”

Boston Massacre Outcome

Before the mob broke up, the Patriot leaders sent express riders to neighboring towns to inform them of what happened. On the morning of March 6, people from the towns and countryside went into Boston and gathered at Faneuil Hall. According to Hutchinson, they were “in a perfect frenzy.”

A delegation of prominent city leaders was chosen to go to Governor Hutchinson and ask for the immediate removal of the troops. Warren was one of the members of the delegation, along with Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Hutchinson had the troops moved out to Castle William in the harbor.

A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre

A week later, the Boston Committee of Safety organized a committee, which included Warren, to investigate the incident. Warren wrote the report for the committee, which was called “A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston.” The report blamed Parliament for what happened because of the situation it had put the troops in.

The report said, “As they were the procuring cause of the troops being sent hither, they must therefore be the remote and blameable cause of all the disturbances and bloodshed that have taken place in consequence of that measure.”

The report was published as a pamphlet and included an appendix with 96 depositions. It was sent to Britain to ensure the government received the American viewpoint of what was happening in Boston.

Boston Massacre Trials

Captain Preston and his men were eventually tried in court for the accusations made against them in regard to the incident. John Adams defended them in court, along with Josiah Quincy, Jr., Sampson Salter Blowers, and Robert Auchmuty.

Preston’s trial started on October 24, 1770. He was found not guilty on October 30.

The trial of the eight soldiers from the 29th regiment started on November 27. The jury reached its verdict on December 5. Six of the soldiers were acquitted. Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy were found guilty of manslaughter. Montgomery and Kilroy were branded with the letter “M” — for manslaughter — on their hands, where the palm meets the thumb.

Repeal of the Townshend Acts

After the Boston Massacre, the situation calmed down in Boston, especially since the troops had been moved to Castle William.

On March 5, the same day the news of Christopher Seider’s death was printed in the Boston Gazette and the Boston Massacre took place, Lord North made a motion in the House of Commons to partially repeal the Townshend Acts.

On April 12, 1770, Parliament voted to repeal the taxes levied by the Townshend Acts, except for the tax on tea.

After the repeal of the Townshend Acts, many of the Patriots toned down their involvement in political affairs. However, Joseph Warren and Samuel Adams continued to write in the papers and warned people that it was only a matter of time before Parliament would start levying taxes and infringing on their rights again.

Boston Massacre Memorials

In the years following the Boston Massacre, May 5 was a holiday in Boston and a memorial was held to commemorate the incident. Each year, a prominent member of the community was chosen to deliver a speech, which would be printed in the papers.

Massacre Day 1772

In 1772, the committee that selected the speaker unanimously chose Joseph Warren. He delivered his speech at the Old South Church, and it marked the first time he spoke publicly before a large audience. An estimated 5,000 people were in attendance. Warren used the opportunity to give a passionate speech that criticized Parliament and he called on the people to defend their rights against oppressive British policies.

Warren’s speech was a huge success with the Patriot faction and was printed in the papers throughout the colonies.

Massacre Day 1775

In 1775, as March 5 approached, rumors spread through Boston that British officers were threatening violence against whoever delivered the Massacre Day speech. Once again, Joseph Warren delivered the speech from the pulpit at Old South Church. The church was so full that Warren had to use a ladder to climb in through a window a the back of the pulpit. Roughly 40 British officers were seated in the front rows and some of them were even on the steps leading to the pulpit. They intended to harass Warren during the speech. Warren’s friends, who were also in attendance and scattered throughout the church, feared for his life and were prepared to react at a moment’s notice to protect him.

Warren delivered the speech dressed in a white Roman toga, which was meant to be a symbol of liberty. His speech lasted for roughly 35 minutes. Warren delivered a speech that clearly laid out that Parliament had no right to tax the colonies without their consent and criticized it for the “baleful influence of standing armies in time of peace.” He pointed out that Britain had made a significant change in its colonials policies, starting with the Sugar Act, when it decided to pass legislation for the purpose of raising revenue.

One of the more famous quotes from his speech was, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Within six weeks, British troops marched to Concord, by way of Lexington, where they were met by Massachusetts Minutemen under the command of Captain John Parker . When Parker and his men refused to lay down their weapons — even though they were dispersing, as ordered by British officer Major John Pitcairn — a shot was fired. Within moments, British troops and American Minutemen were firing on each other and the War for Independence had begun.

Boston Massacre Significance

The Boston Massacre was an important event in American history because British troops fired on and killed American colonists. Because of that, it is commonly referred to as the “First Bloodshed of the American Revolution.”

Boston Massacre APUSH Notes and Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study the Boston Massacre,  Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the Colonial Era for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam .

Boston Massacre APUSH Definition

The Boston Massacre was a deadly confrontation between British soldiers and American colonists that took place in Boston, Massachusetts in March 1770. The incident led to the deaths of five colonists, including Crispus Attucks, and the wounding of six others. It is widely viewed as one of the key events in the American Revolution. The incident was sparked by tensions between the British troops and the colonists over a variety of issues, including the presence of the troops in Boston, the restrictions on trade and commerce, and the high taxes imposed on the colonists.

Boston Massacre Video for APUSH Notes

This video from the Daily Bellringer provides an overview of the Boston Massacre.

  • Written by Randal Rust

essay on the boston massacre

The Boston Massacre

essay on the boston massacre

Written by: Bill of Rights Institute

By the end of this section, you will:.

  • Explain how British colonial policies regarding North America led to the Revolutionary War

Suggested Sequencing

Use this Narrative with the Stamp Act Resistance Narrative and The Boston Tea Party Narrative following the Acts of Parliament Lesson to show the growing tensions between England and the colonies.

In late 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which taxed the colonists on purchases of British lead, glass, paint, paper, and tea. The British also headquartered customs officials in Boston to collect the new round of taxes and enforce trade regulations more stringently. The colonists could buy only British goods, and now those goods were hit with tariffs that meant there was no limit to Parliament’s taxing power, because the colonists were forbidden to manufacture many of their own goods.

Colonial reaction was swift. John Dickinson wrote in Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania that if Parliament succeeded in “taking money out of our pockets without our consent . . . our boasted liberty is but . . . a sound and nothing else.” Massachusetts sent other colonies a circular letter drafted by Samuel Adams denouncing the taxes. In Williamsburg, George Mason and George Washington followed the example of other colonies by creating an agreement not to import any British goods. Throughout the colonies, women held spinning bees, gatherings in their homes where they made homespun clothing as a symbol of republican simplicity to replace imported luxuries.

Bostonians protested the taxes in the streets, assembled at town meetings, and threatened customs officials, leading Royal Governor Francis Bernard to dissolve the assembly. The British also dispatched four thousand redcoats as a show of force to pacify the city. Many colonists considered the peacetime presence of this standing army, which their legislatures did not invite, a grave threat to their liberties and a gross violation of the 1689 English Bill of Rights. Its presence strained an already tense atmosphere. John Adams, cousin of Samuel Adams, wrote later that the troops’ “very appearance in Boston was a strong proof to me, that the determination in Great Britain to subjugate us was too deep and inveterate ever to be altered by us.” Fights erupted in taverns and streets as mobs of townspeople wielded insults, clubs, swords, and shovels against redcoats armed with bayonets.

On the morning of February 22, 1770, a crowd of hundreds threatened a merchant, Theophilus Lillie, who had violated the boycott of British goods. After Lillie’s neighbor, Ebenezer Richardson, rushed to his aid, the throng chased Richardson, who retreated inside his own house. The crowd lobbed taunts and rotten food. As his windows shattered, Richardson fired into the crowd, killing an eleven-year-old boy. The mob seized Richardson, beat him senseless, and nearly hanged him. Samuel Adams used the incident to portray the dead boy as a martyr to British tyranny and organized a funeral procession attended by thousands.

A few days later, near the customs house, a group of hostile boys insulted a young sentry who responded by smashing the butt of his musket into a boy’s head. The church bells tolled, bringing hundreds of citizens into the streets to pelt the sentry with snowballs, rocks, and ice. Captain Thomas Preston marched a few men out to relieve the sentry, forming a line and ordering the crowd to disperse. In the skirmishes that followed, one soldier was knocked down by a club; he rose and discharged his musket. The rest of the soldiers fired a volley that struck eleven Bostonians, instantly killing three and mortally wounding two more. Preston and his men were jailed that night, and the rest of the troops relocated to a fort in Boston harbor, narrowly averting a full-scale battle.

Patriot leaders seized on the “massacre” for a public relations victory. The British government – responsible for protecting its subjects’ rights to life, liberty, and property – in the years since the French and Indian War had seemed to seize colonists’ property and curtail their liberty; now its soldiers had taken their lives. Ten thousand mourners attended the funeral procession staged by Samuel Adams. Silversmith Paul Revere contributed an engraving showing bloodthirsty soldiers firing at innocent civilians; it was mostly propaganda but served to galvanize many colonists’ feelings about British oppression.

An engraving that depicts the Boston Massacre. At the top text reads

Why would Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre rouse colonists toward the Patriot cause?

John Adams, then a practicing lawyer, defended the British soldiers in court, an unpopular decision that nevertheless defined his stand for justice and the rule of law. Preston was judged not to have given an order to fire and was acquitted. Most of the soldiers were also acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. Adams had proved that in the colonies, the law was supreme. He staked his public reputation and Patriot credentials on the principle that the traditional rights of Englishmen were deserved by all, even hated British soldiers who had slain five colonists. His courageous act contributed to a relative calm that lasted a few years. Meanwhile, Parliament revoked the hated Townshend Acts, except, fatefully, the tax on tea.

Review Questions

1. Which of the following methods was not used by colonists to protest the Acts passed by Parliament after the French and Indian War?

  • Boycotting British imports such as textiles
  • Publishing written arguments in newspapers and pamphlets
  • Antagonizing British soldiers in the streets with verbal and physical attacks
  • Forming militia and securing funds to declare a war for independence

2. The Boston Massacre refers to

  • the period when mobs frequently wounded or killed British soldiers in the streets of Boston because the soldiers were viewed as symbols of British tyranny
  • the episode in which a Boston mob attacked British soldiers who then fired into the crowd, killing five colonists
  • the period when the British enforced the Stamp, Sugar, Tea, and Townshend Acts on the colonies
  • the funerals held for murdered colonists that thousands of Bostonians attended to demonstrate solidarity against the British

3. Which of the following provides an example of colonists participating in an economic protest against the Townsend Acts?

  • Well-known leaders like John Dickinson writing circular letters in protest
  • Women creating homespun clothes instead of purchasing imported goods
  • An organization called the Sons of Liberty burning effigies in public
  • Protestors dressing up like American Indians and dumping tea into the harbor

4. What was the effect of the Boston Massacre engraving and funeral procession in other colonies?

  • Patriots in other colonies interpreted the Boston event as a danger to all colonies.
  • Newspapers barely reported the events and few colonists took notice.
  • Loyalists were impressed by the successful actions taken by the British to regain control.
  • Immediate actions were taken to create an intercolonial body that would protest these actions.

5. What was John Adams’ intention when he defended the British redcoats involved in the Boston Massacre?

  • Adams was a fierce Loyalist who believed the crown had absolute authority in the colonies and desired to prove the redcoats had committed no crime.
  • Adams wanted each redcoat to suffer the consequences of his murderous actions.
  • Adams desired to prove that the colonists, regardless of their political rage, would always uphold the rule of law.
  • Adams longed for a position as a lawyer in Great Britain and knew this case could fulfill his dream.

6. Which of the following was Britain’s direct response to the Boston Massacre?

  • Passage of the Declaratory Act, reasserting British jurisdiction over the colonies
  • Closing of Boston Harbor in retaliation for colonial economic protest
  • Repeal of all Townsend Act taxes except the one on tea
  • Awarding of religious freedom to French-Canadian colonists under British rule

7. Which of the following best contextualizes the Boston Massacre?

  • British declared that each purchased paper item would require a stamp tax.
  • The Proclamation of 1763 prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • Rowdy colonists dressed as American Indians and poured East India Tea into the harbor.
  • British customs officials were headquartered in Boston to enforce the newly declared Townsend Acts.

Free Response Questions

  • Briefly summarize the interactions between the British government and North American colonists that led to the Boston Massacre.
  • Explain how John Adams’s defense of British troops in Boston demonstrated the strength of the rule of law in colonial America.

AP Practice Questions

“And thereupon the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties declare That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal; That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal; That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious; That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal; That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal; That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law.”

English Bill of Rights, 1689

1. The principle expressed in the English Bill of Rights that contributed most to the tensions in Boston was

  • the right of petition should not be denied
  • a standing army should not be kept among them during a time of peace
  • the king should not suspend or ignore laws
  • special courts should not be convened

2. Taken as a whole, the English Bill of Rights most clearly demonstrates the British belief in the principle of

  • due process
  • regal authority
  • the rule of law
  • the common good
“The mob still increased and were more outrageous, striking their clubs or bludgeons one against another, and calling out, come on you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare, G-d damn you, fire and be damned. . . . At this time I was between the soldiers and the mob, parleying with, and endeavouring all in my power to persuade them to retire peaceably, but to no purpose. . . . On this a general attack was made on the men by a great number of heavy clubs and snowballs being thrown at them, by which all our lives were in imminent danger, some persons at the same time from behind calling out, damn your bloods-why don’t you fire. Instantly three or four of the soldiers fired, one after another, and directly after three more in the same confusion and hurry. The mob then ran away, except three unhappy men who instantly expired, in which number was Mr. Gray at whose rope-walk the prior quarrels took place; one more is since dead, three others are dangerously, and four slightly wounded. The whole of this melancholy affair was transacted in almost 20 minutes. On my asking the soldiers why they fired without orders, they said they heard the word fire and supposed it came from me. This might be the case as many of the mob called out fire, fire, but I assured the men that I gave no such order; that my words were, don’t fire, stop your firing.”

Captain Prescott, Account of the Boston Massacre, 1770

3. The excerpt gives historians insight into the

  • likelihood that authors who opposed British policy exploited the event for political gain by omitting certain details
  • strict discipline was observed by all redcoats assigned to Boston even in tense situations
  • health care provided to those injured during conflict regardless of race or social status
  • nonviolent protest strategies colonists used to decry perceived British injustice

4. An important consequence of the account described in the excerpt was that the

  • British soldiers were acquitted on the grounds of self-defense
  • British soldiers were reprimanded in colonial courts and then executed
  • Colonial vigilantes took to the streets to silence any further discussion of the massacre
  • Colonial minutemen began stockpiling weapons for a retaliatory offensive

5. Which of the following best describes a reaction to the event described in the excerpt?

  • Colonists along the Atlantic seaboard realized the tense circumstances caused unnecessary death and vowed to restore order in their cities.
  • British parliament was so moved by the Captain’s words that it ordered his troops to escort the funeral for those unfairly slain.
  • Patriots used the event to galvanize citizens by producing images and rhetoric.
  • Imperial rivals, such as France and Spain, sent letters of caution to Great Britain encouraging it to reduce the force used in the colonies.

Primary Sources

“Biography of John Adams. The Boston Massacre.” American History. University of Groningen.

Chappel, Alonzo. Boston Massacre . Printed 1878 The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770.

Suggested Resources

Archer, Richard. As If an Enemy’s Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

McCullough, David. John Adams . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 . New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Zobel, Hiller B. The Boston Massacre . New York: Norton, 1970.

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Investigating Multiple Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

Inquiry Question 1: Although we don't know exactly what happened the night of March 5, 1770, what does the existing evidence from the Boston Massacre teach us about pre-Revolutionary America?

Inquiry Question 2: In what ways did people's political beliefs, social networks, and lived experience shape their understanding of the Boston Massacre?

The Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770

In 1768, British soldiers arrived in Boston, and lived alongside the colonists, sometimes paying to rent rooms in the colonists' houses. As British citizens, many colonists were angry to have armed regiments of the British military stationed in their city, but some colonists became friends with, and even married, soldiers.

The situation with the colonists and the soldiers grew tense and fights sometimes broke out between the two groups.  One of the worst skirmishes took place in Boston on March 5, 1770.  A crowd of angry colonists, some of them teenagers, gathered near several soldiers at the Custom House, where taxes on imported goods were paid.  The colonists shouted insults at the soldiers and began throwing rocks and snowballs at them.

As the crowd moved forward, the soldiers opened fire. Three colonists were killed on the spot, and two others died later.

Among the dead was a Black and Indigenous sailor from Massachusetts named Crispus Attucks.  Many people consider Crispus Attucks to be the first person killed in the fight for the colonies’ freedom.

Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith who was also a member of the Sons of Liberty, made a picture of the shooting and titled it The Bloody Massacre .  A massacre is the killing of many people who cannot defend themselves.  This event soon became known as the Boston Massacre, and gave energy to the colonists’ desire for independence from British rule.

The soldiers who were involved in the event were put on trial in Boston. They were defended by the lawyer John Adams, a future president of the United States. The British soldiers were acquitted of murder by a jury who determined that the soldiers had acted in self-defense.

Use our Image Comparison Tool  to compare visual representations of the Boston Massacre side-by-side. The tool contains a total of seven engravings, along with an 1801 painting that depicts the setting of the Boston Massacre, which took place in front of the old State House on State Street (then known as King Street).

For elementary students, use this slide deck to explore the sources.  

Download source set (Grades 8-12)

Customs : the government department that collects taxes on goods bought, sold, imported and exported. The “Customs House” was the building in Boston where the British government did this work, which also had a military protective presence.

Deposition : a formal recorded statement typically taken to be used in court. “Deponents” are individuals who have given this type of testimony under oath.

Propaganda : false, misleading, or biased ideas presented to an audience to gain support for a particular cause or leader. Propaganda can exist in many different forms: written, visual, verbal, etc.

Quarters : rooms that are provided for individuals to live in. In this case, “quarters” were provided for British soldiers and officers in Boston.

Regiment : a group of soldiers commanded by a colonel, who has supporting officers each in charge of smaller sub-groups of soldiers called companies. At this time, a standard British regiment had between 500-800 soldiers in it.

Siege : a military operation where an army tries to capture an area or town by surrounding it and stopping the movement of people / food / supplies.

Testimony : a formal recorded statement typically taken to be used in court.

Analysis Questions

Who is telling this account of the events surrounding the boston massacre, what is the relationship between the source creator and the events of the massacre, what purpose might have led to the creation of this source, for the two pamphlets: who is compiling these accounts and for what possible purpose, do you consider parts or the entirety of this account of the events surrounding the boston massacre to be reliable why or why not, how does this account of the events surrounding the boston massacre compare to the others you have viewed.

Created by MHS staff, Abigail Portu, and Kate Bowen

Engraving of many ships with red flags arriving at Boston's coast

View the image with a transcript of Revere's text

A view of part of the town of Boston in New England and British ships of war landing their troops. . . On Friday Sept 30 1768 the Ships of War, armed Schooners, Transports &c Came up the Harbor and Anchored round the town, their Cannon loaded a Spring on their Cables, as for a regular Siege.

British General Thomas Gage sent regiments of British troops to Boston following protests during which Bostonians destroyed government property and threatened the British-appointed Governor Francis Bernard with physical violence. The influx of 4,000 soldiers (plus families and support staff) into a city of 16,000 was seen by some Bostonians as a punishment, interpreting the British ships of war moored off Boston’s Long Wharf as a symbolic siege , and the parades of British regiments through city streets as a show of force. Others took pride in the display of British strength. At first, troops stayed on their ships. Then, they moved into tents on Boston Common. Finally, they were quartered in Faneuil Hall, or paid Bostonians to rent out space in their warehouses, spare rooms, or homes.

Citation: A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New England and Brittish [sic] Ships of War Landing Their Troops 1768 (Original engraving by Paul Revere, 1768) Facsimile print issued by Alfred L. Sewell (Chicago, 1868), Massachusetts Historical Society, . 

Handwritten diary page

Read an excerpt of Rowe's diary entries from March 5th and 6th, 1770.

5 March Monday Much snow fell too night… A Quarrell between the soldiers & Inhabitants… the 29th under the Command of Capt Preston fird on the People they killed five – wounded Several Others…Capt Preston Bears a good Character--he was taken in the night & Committed…the Inhabitants [of Boston] are greatly enraged and not without Reason

John Rowe was a politically active Boston merchant who maintained friendships with many patriots and loyalists. In his diary, Rowe recorded the years leading up to the Revolution, revealing frustration with perceived British overreach and skepticism about the violence the Sons of Liberty used to advance their cause. Rowe did not witness the Boston Massacre, but recorded what he heard and thought that night, and the next day.

Citation: John Rowe diary 7, 5-6 March 1770, pages 1073, 1076-1077, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Colored drawing depicting the King Street massacre; a group of British soldiers wearing red coats (right) face off against an unruly crowd an unruly crowd (left) wearing blue coats

Compare Revere's engraving side-by-side with other depictions of the Boston Massacre .

If scalding drops from rage, from anguish wrung If speechless sorrow, lab’ring for a tongue Or if a weeping world can ought appease The plaintive ghosts of victims such as these The patriot’s copious tears for each are shed A glorious tribute which embalms the dead…    The unhappy sufferers were Mesr’s Sam’l Gray, Sam’l Maverick, James Caldwell Crispus Attucks, & Patr. Carr Killed Six wounded; two of them (Christ’r Monk & John Clark) mortally.

Before the end of March 1770, Paul Revere created and published this engraving of the Boston Massacre based on the original drawing by Henry Pelham. This piece was printed throughout the colonies and remains one of the most famous images of the American Revolutionary Era. The scene is generally considered by historians to be historically inaccurate and instead a piece of propaganda against the British military. For example, Revere changed the sign for the “ Customs House” where the British government housed officials and conducted much of their business to read “Butcher’s Hall.”

Citation: The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment, Hand-colored engraving by Paul Revere, Boston, 1770, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Yellowed book page stained with age

Read the cover page in simplified language (Google slide)

A Short NARRATIVE OF The horrid Massacre in BOSTON, PERPETRATED In the Evening of the Fifth Day of March, 1770, BY Soldiers of the XXIXth Regiment ; WHICH WITH the XIVth Regiment Were then Quartered there ; WITH SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE STATE OF THINGS PRIOR TO THAT CATASTROPHE.

​​James Bowdoin, Samuel Pemberton, and Joseph Warren (all of whom were then Boston selectmen at the time and active members of the Sons of Liberty ) collected ninety-six depositions within two weeks of the Boston Massacre. They published this pamphlet as a narrative, followed by the first-hand accounts. Copies were sent to England and distributed throughout the colonies to share their perspective on the events of March 5, 1770.

Citation: A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston..., Edes and Gill (Boston, 1770), Massachusetts Historical Society, . 

Book page with hand written notes and torn binding

Read the cover page in simplified language (Google Slide)

A FAIR ACCOUNT OF THE LATE Unhappy Disturbance At BOSTON in NEW ENGLAND; EXTRACTED From the DEPOSITIONS that have been made Concerning it by PERSONS of all PARTIES

Led by Lieutenant Colonel William Dalrymple of the 29th Regiment , British officers collected thirty-one witness testimonies after the Boston Massacre and shipped them to England. London lawyer Francis Maseres used those testimonies to write the narrative of events featured in this pamphlet, providing King George III and the British people with their first perspectives of the event.

Citation: A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England,  printed for B. White (London, 1770), Massachusetts Historical Society, . 

Handwritten list of couples married by Rev. Mather Byles, Jr. organized by date

Read an excerpted transcript.

Mar. 27. Joseph Whitehouse, Jane Crothers, Boston

These two pages from the marriage register of Christ Church, also known as Old North Church, record the marriage of Jane Crothers, a witness to the Boston Massacre, to Joseph Whitehouse, a British soldier of the 14th regiment , on March 27, 1770. Crothers was one of only three women who testified in the trials of Captain Thomas Preston and his soldiers. Her testimony , which was supported by others, assisted in clearing Capt. Preston of the charge of ordering his soldiers to fire into the crowd. Crothers said, “I am positive the man was not the Captain.” Instead, she said an unknown man had made the order. Her marriage to a British soldier was not mentioned during the trial.

In addition to showing the social connections between British soldiers and Bostonians, this marriage register also documents the membership and marriages of free and enslaved Black people at Old North Church.

Citation: List of marriages officiated by Rev. Mather Byles, Jr., November 1768 - February 1773, Clark's Register, 1723-1851, pages 124a and 124b, Massachusetts Historical Society, .  

Download source set (grades 8-12)

Historical Context Essay  

Download source set with context and teacher directions (grades 3-5)

The Story of the Boston Massacre and the Legacy of Crispus Attucks Google Slides (grades 3-5)

Investigating Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

Background reading.

Investigating Perspectives on the Boston Massacre: Historical Context Essay

The Townshend Acts: Fall 1767

The Boston Massacre could not have happened if British soldiers were not stationed in the city. And the soldiers would not have been there if not for the Townshend Acts–and the distrust between colonists and the customs officials charged with collecting the taxes.

Following the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts on 29 June 1767. This time, the tax came in the form of a duty on imports–including paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea–into the colonies. British legislators hoped to avoid a repeat of the colonists’ furious reaction to the Stamp Act as they pondered how to generate revenue from the colonies and remind those colonies of Parliament's right to tax—and control—them. The Acts were named for Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was—as the chief treasurer of the British Empire—in charge of economic and financial matters. With the repeal of the Stamp Act, Great Britain believed it needed money to defray the expenses of governing the colonies in America. The Acts created a new Customs Commission and punished New York for refusing to abide by the Quartering Act of 1765. 

In a series of twelve letters from a “Farmer in Pennsylvania” , John Dickinson argued that colonists were being taxed unjustly since they lacked representation in Parliament, which was their right as British subjects. Angry Bostonians committed themselves to nonconsumption, in which they refused to buy imported goods, and then many Boston merchants came together to agree on a policy of nonimportation, in which they refused to import the taxed goods.

When the customs commissioners accused John Hancock of smuggling and seized his sloop, Bostonians organized a protest in which they stoned commissioners’ houses and burned a commissioner’s racing sailboat on Boston Common. Boston’s rowdy protests terrified the commissioners. 

By the fall of 1768, following a period of timidity and indecision by Governor Bernard, the commissioners finally felt that they had some support that could be trusted: four regiments of the British Army. General Gage (in Great Britain) had sent Governor Bernard a blank form he could use to call up two regiments from Halifax (in Canada), in addition to two regiments preparing to embark from Ireland. Bernard tried desperately to lay the blame for the request of troops elsewhere, knowing how deeply unpopular their arrival would be. (previous two paragraphs adapted from Serena Zabin's  The Boston Massacre: A Family History , p.39-40)

Troops Arrive in Boston: Fall 1768

When the 14th and 29th Regiments of the British Army landed in Boston Harbor in late September 1768 (Source 1) , the Governor’s Council wanted the Regiments housed in barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor (7 miles by land and 3 miles by sea from the city center) but the Governor and Generals wanted the regiments quartered in the heart of Boston. Ultimately, after long negotiations, the army agreed to pay locals for the rental of private rooms and empty warehouses. For example, John Rowe rented the military one of his warehouses. 

But how would colonists and soldiers get along with one another? The soldiers – some of whom arrived with their wives and children – were a varied group, with many different hopes, skill sets, and ideas.

Bostonians were a similarly varied group:

The “Sons of Liberty” was an informal network of men opposed to the Massachusetts Governor, but not all Bostonians were steadfast opponents of British power. In 1770, they were not sorted into tidy factions of loyalist and patriot; they did not yet conceive of those terms as necessarily distinct, not diametrically opposed. They were all Britons, although they did not all agree on the best way for Britain to rule. (Zabin, Introduction)

The Boston Massacre: 5 March 1770

By the winter of 1770, clashes between civilians and soldiers of the 14th and 29th regiments, the last troops remaining in Boston, had become more frequent. After a series of clashes between soldiers and workers at John Gray's ropewalks during the weekend of 2 March, many Bostonians predicted additional trouble was to come. On the evening of 5 March, a lone sentry posted in front of the Customs House – the site where officials tasked with collecting the Townshend duties worked in the daytime – was hassled by a group of teenagers. As the crowd swelled, Captain Thomas Preston led seven soldiers from the Twenty-ninth Regiment to reinforce the sentry, but he could not persuade the growing crowd to disperse. Amidst the noise and confusion, shots were fired; three civilians were killed instantly and two more were mortally wounded. Within hours of the episode, Captain Preston and his men were in jail, and townspeople immediately demanded that the troops be removed from Boston. Newspapers scrambled to report the news of the tumultuous week and its capstone event.

The Aftermath

Today, asking, “What really happened? Who yelled ‘fire’?” is a tempting, but ultimately futile question. Hundreds of accounts and witness testimonies recorded shortly after the shooting exist, so a lack of sources is not the issue. The problem arises when one begins to read the sources: In 1770, no one could agree on what happened that night either! The street was pitch-black; street lamps (lit with an open flame) would not be imported to Boston until the beginning of 1774. Observers were stationed on the street, on balconies, on doorsteps, and inside, peering through windows. People had different vantage points and obstacles blocking their line of sight. Moreover, people had different motivations, social relationships, and prior experiences that colored their perspectives that night.  The wealthy merchant John Rowe, who had been born in England and immigrated to Boston in his 20s, had also long protested British tax policies; however, he also frequently socialized with and entertained government officials and high-ranking members of the military. His diary entry the night of the Massacre expressed how conflicted he felt about the event (Source 2) . When Paul Revere hastily created his engraving The Bloody Massacre (Source 3) , based on an engraving by Henry Pelham, he had already spent years as a member of the Sons of Liberty, publicly protesting British tax policies and the military’s presence in Boston (like the Source 1 image). Jane Crothers, a working-class woman and parishioner at Old North Church who witnessed the Massacre on the street, testified in court that Captain Preston had absolutely not been the person to yell ‘Fire!’ Was she influenced by the fact that she married Joseph Whitehouse , a soldier in the 14th Regiment, three weeks after the soldiers shot and killed five men? (Source 6) 

Three Boston selectmen–all members of the Sons of Liberty–collected depositions from people who had witnessed the event itself, and also talked to people about interactions between soldiers and civilians in the days and weeks leading up to 5 March. They published a pamphlet entitled A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre (Source 4) in which they used the depositions they had collected to tell a story of the soldiers’ premeditated murder of unarmed colonists. The British military also collected their own set of witness depositions, which they sent back to England to be published in a competing pamphlet entitled A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance (Source 5). In each pamphlet, depositions make clear that Bostonians knew, worked with, lived beside, ang argued with the soldiers. Following the chaos of the snowy night on 5 March 1770, and the propaganda that followed in its wake, one thing was clear: some Bostonians may have liked–and even married–individual soldiers, but the presence of a standing army in Boston had to go. 

Works Cited

Zabin, Serena. The Boston Massacre: A Family History (2020)

Coming of the American Revolution: Boston Massacre (

Close Reading Questions

  • Which words/phrases in the title and/or caption of his engraving supports this reading?
  • How might the size and placement of British troops and ships in the engraving have caused viewers to support Paul Revere’s point of view about the arrival of the British troops?
  • What does this engraving add to your understanding of the Boston Massacre?
  • How does this engraving relate to Revere’s 1770 engraving of “The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street” (Source 3)?

View Source .

  • For whom does Rowe show sympathy in his description of the event? How do you know?
  • How might Rowe’s social and economic position in Boston society have affected his perspective on the event?
  • Do you find him credible? Why/why not?
  • According to Rowe, in his entry on March 6, 1770, what were the immediate causes of the Boston Massacre? How did Bostonians react to it?

View Source.

  • Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty. What elements of this engraving and caption would been compelling to the Sons of Liberty and their supporters?
  • Consider both imagery and the ways in which Revere describes the victims and their deaths/injuries.
  • What information does the title of this pamphlet give you about the events of March 5, 1770? What questions still need to be answered?
  • What was the creators’ point of view of the event? Which words best show their perspective?
  • What would you expect to learn from the narrative and depositions inside the pamphlet?
  • How does the title of this source compare to the pamphlet printed in London ( Source 5 )?
  • How does the title of this source compare to the pamphlet created from the pamphlet printed in Boston ( Source 4 )?
  • How does this record of the marriage between a Bostonian and a British soldier challenge ideas about the general relationship between the two groups in 1770?
  • How might Jane Crothers’ testimony in the trial of the soldiers have been affected by her as both a Bostonian and the wife of a soldier?
  • How is a source like a church record different to analyze than a written / spoken testimony or diary entry? How can it support or challenge other sources you examine when looking at a historical event?

Read a transcript .

Suggested Activities – Elementary

Propaganda in Colonial Massachusetts handout

Propaganda in Colonial Massachusetts – Google Slides

This activity uses these two primary sources:

A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston...

A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England

Activity Overview: These sources are designed to be used before the teaching of the Boston Massacre and serve as a “hook” to develop interest in the event.  The sources are both pamphlets, designed and printed by Patriots and British officials, and include recollections from people about the events of March 5, 1770.   The pamphlets were distributed in the colony prior to the trials of the British soldiers.  

This is designed to be a teacher-guided activity where students find sourcing information from the pamphlets and draw inferences about the creators’ purposes and points of view.

Using a Plot Diagram to teach historical events

The Story of the Boston Massacre – Google slides

Activity Overview: Using a Plot Diagram on your wall or bulletin board helps students see the path that a story follows from beginning to end.  It is also a great way to reinforce elements of a story by integrating English-Language Arts skills with historical content.  Using visuals on the Plot Diagram helps students, especially English Language Learners, to remember key details.  

A plot diagram contains 5 elements: Setting, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution. The Google slides show how a plot diagram can be used to teach the Boston Massacre.

The Boston Massacre Close Reading: Informational Text Handout

Activity Overview:

The Close Reading handout contains two options:

  • Students read and annotate an informational text to understand the context for and events of March 5, 1770.
  • Students read an informational text with vocabulary supports and then write a paragraph summarizing the Boston Massacre, using three vocabulary content words in their summary.

Annotating John Rowe's diary entry Handout

Activity Overview:  Students read excerpts of a Boston merchant's diary entries for March 5 and 6, 1770. Rowe did not witness the event, but writes brief descriptions of what happened the night of the event and the next day; how the townspeople reacted to the event, and how he personally felt about it. Rowe was neutral in the Revolution, and his sympathies for both the soldiers and the victims is evident. While they read, students annotate for the: setting, emotion words, and actions. This activity will help students to have a basic overview of what happened on March 5, 1770, and in its immediate aftermath, before they read conflicting witness accounts.

Witness Testimony excerpts and chart

Optional: Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre - YouTube (8-minute video featuring historical reinterpreters presenting witness testimony)

Activity Overview:  Working in groups, students read an excerpted testimony of one person who witnessed the Boston Massacre, taking notes on the witness’s identity. Then, they discuss whether the witness testimony supported the British soldiers or the Patriots, citing evidence for their claim. In  a share-out, students take notes on the testimonies other groups read.

The handout includes testimonies from five diverse witnesses: a free Black man; a white woman who married a British soldier three weeks after the Boston Massacre; a white nightwatchman; a white man who was neighbors with one of the British soldiers standing trial; and, an enslaved man whose enslaver was a member of the Sons of Liberty.

Suggested Activities – High School

To engage students in the topic, teachers can begin with either a “game of telephone” or a “quick sketch” to introduce students to the idea that not all primary sources are reliable or accurate.

Overview – A Game of Telephone: Come up with a selection of short phrases or statements. They can be funny or serious, related to history or not.

Have students sit or stand in a circle or straight line. They will need to be close enough so that whispering to the person next to them is possible, but not so close that other players can hear. The teacher should show or whisper the phrase to the first student, who will then relay what they heard to the next student and so forth until the final student has heard the phrase.

Students can only whisper the phrase once to the person next to them and cannot repeat it if the message was not remembered or not clear.

The last player then says what they believe the phrase to be out loud for all to hear. (For a large class, the students can be divided into two teams and each group can be given the same phrase to start and then compare which group was more accurate at the end.)

Discuss how the phrase does or does not change and the complexities of hearing and memory when it comes to repeating word for word phrases. How might this play out in history when it comes to major events? How might this play out in the modern day / in their own lives? How is this important when it comes to analyzing primary sources?

Overview – “Quick Sketch”: Select a famous historical photograph or painting.

Provide each student with a blank piece of paper and pen/pencill.

Display the image on the front board for all the students to see. Give students 60 seconds to look at the image, but do not let them draw yet.

Then, remove the image so they can no longer see it. Ask them to recreate the image on their paper (2-4 minutes).

Put the image back up on the board and discuss. What elements of the image did all/most students include? What elements were most commonly left out? Were there any elements of the image that students exaggerated, changed, or got wrong? How might memory and describing what someone saw play out in history when it comes to major events and how might it affect primary sources we analyze?

Historical Overview

Source 3: Paul Revere’s engraving, The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment (

Source 4: A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston... (

Source 5:   A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England (

Cover Art Handout

Activity Overview:  After reading the historical overview and analyzing Revere’s engraving alongside the two pamphlet covers, students will create cover art to accompany one of the two pamphlets.  Then, students explain why/how their image would support their chosen pamphlet.

“Deposition Excerpts” handout taken from:

  • A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston... and
  •   A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England 

Gallery Walk Worksheet

Gallery Walk Discussion Prompts

Teacher Prep: Read through the “Deposition Excerpts” document and select the excerpts to use with students to analyze the Boston Massacre. (Print-friendly versions of the quotes are available after the table in the document.)

Activity Overview: Students read the background historical overview and analyze the covers of Source 4: Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre and Source 5: A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston. Now, they are ready to dive into some of the depositions in the two pamphlets. For the gallery walk, display the selected excerpts around the room and provide students with the Gallery Walk Worksheet . Students will walk around the classroom analyzing the excerpts on their worksheet. Each of the documents gives information on a different part of the story and students will decide which perspective they believe is being supported by the document and which of the two pamphlets they believe the deposition was taken from.

At the end, students review correct answers and discuss (whole group) or write (individually) about one or more of the discussion prompts .

Boston Massacre Jigsaw Teacher Directions 

Deposition Excerpts - Jigsaw Handout

Boston Massacre Jigsaw: Student Directions

Boston Massacre Jigsaw: discussion prompts

Teacher Prep:

Choose and print deposition excerpts from the handout for students to use.

Activity Overview: Students work in groups to read excerpts from the two pamphlets containing depositions from the Boston Massacre. They then summarize the topic / issue and point of view expressed in their text set. Students will also address the credibility / accuracy of the sources they examined in their summaries. After 20 minutes, each group shares out with the whole class, and takes notes on one another’s text sets. Following the jigsaw, students can continue to discuss as a class or write individually on one or more of the discussion prompts.

“Expressing Our Opinions” Worksheet

Activity Overview: Students examine all of the ways voices and opinions are expressed today in comparison to the ways that existed in 1770 Boston. Before this activity, students should read the background historical overview. As homework, students research and think about the different ways they hear/look for news today. In class, students examine the primary sources in this set (teacher can choose which the sources) and fill out the Expressing Our Opinions Worksheet . The teacher should then facilitate a class discussion, think-pair-share, or small group discussion for students to explain their thinking and opinions.

Applicable Standards

Skill Standards Organize information and data from multiple primary and secondary sources

Analyze the purpose and point of view of each source; distinguish opinion from fact.

Evaluate the credibility, accuracy, and relevance of each source.

Argue or explain conclusions using valid reasoning and evidence

Content Standards Grade 3, Topic 6, Topic 6. Massachusetts in the 18th century through the American Revolution

Grade 5, Topic 2. Reasons for revolution, the Revolutionary War, and the formation of government

Grade 8. Topic 1. The philosophical foundations of the U.S. political system Topic 2. The development of the U.S. government Topic 4. Rights and responsibilities of citizens

US History 1, Topic 1. Origins of the Revolution and the Constitution

D2.His.4.3-5. Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives.

D2.His.11.3-5. Infer the intended audience and purpose of a historical source from information within the source itself.

D2.His.16.3-5. Use evidence to develop a claim about the past.

D2.His.6.6-8. Analyze how people’s perspectives influenced what information is available in the historical sources they created.

D2.His.10.6-8. Detect possible limitations in the historical record based on evidence collected from different kind of historical sources.

D2.His.4.9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.

D2.His.6.9-12. Analyze the ways in which the perspectives of those writing history shaped the history that they produced.

D2.His.10.9-12. Detect possible limitations in various kinds of historical evidence and differing secondary interpretations.

Use the Image Comparison Tool to compare engravings of the Boston Massacre in the MHS collections side-by-side.

Images include:

  • State Street, 1801 : James Brown Marston's painting depicts the site of the Boston Massacre, in front of the old State House (then known as the Town House). "King Street" was renamed "State Street" in 1784, following the end of the Revolutionary War.
  • Bingley engraving : Published by W. Bingley of London, it was based on Henry Pelham's original print and originally designed as the frontispiece for the pamphlet  A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. It was also sold separately.
  • Dilly engraving : Based on Henry Pelham's, this engraving was used as the frontispiece for the second edition of the pamphlet  A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre
  • Mullikan engraving : The clockmaker Joseph Mulliken based this image on Paul Revere's engraving, and printed it in Newburyport, MA.
  • Revere's 1772 woodcut engraving : Paul Revere based this image on his 1770 engraving; it was used in a broadside commemorating the Boston Massacre and was also printed in a 1772 Massachusetts almanac .  
  • 1835 Hartwell woodcut : Based on Paul Revere's 1770 engraving, this image was printed in various magazines in the 1830s and '40s.
  • 1856 Bufford lithograph : Unlike the earlier images that features all victims and bystanders as white, this lithograph centers Crispus Attucks, a Black and Indigenous man

Henry Pelham’s Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre (American Antiquarian Society)

Paul Revere based his engraving of the Boston Massacre on one done first by Henry Pelham (a Bostonian and future Loyalist). View Pelham’s original engraving at the AAS website.

Explore additional primary sources related to the Boston Massacre, and the earlier death of Christopher Seider, in this digital textbook produced by the MHS.

Perspectives on the Boston Massacre - Massachusetts Historical Society (

Examine materials from a variety of source types to learn more about the varying perspectives and experiences regarding March 5, 1770.

Massachusetts Historical Society | Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre (

In 2020, the MHS organized an exhibition featuring handwritten and published sources with compelling accounts of the confrontation, the aftermath, and the trials. This website is the digital companion to the physical exhibit.

Revolutionary Spaces is a museum based at the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre that explores connections between the past and present.

On-site programming includes a tour on the Massacre and Memory and an exhibit entitled “Framing Mass Killings.”

Digital resources include a video called “Political Violence: From the Boston Massacre to Today” and a blog post on “The Boston Massacre and Modern Police Violence.”

Old North Church

Illuminating the Unseen | The Old North Church  From the website of Old North Church: “Illuminating the Unseen is a video series produced by Old North Illuminated that studies the histories of Black and Indigenous peoples. Written and presented by our Research Fellow, Dr. Jaimie Crumley, the series dives into Old North’s archival documents to shine a light on those who have often been excluded in the church’s broader historical narrative.”

The Occupation of 1768 and the Threat to Boston | The Old North Church & Historic Site British soldiers arrived in Boston, MA in 1768 and departed in the spring of 1770. This article situates the Boston Massacre within the timeline of the British occupation, and examines the ways in which it did and did not influence the British Parliament to withdraw troops from the city.

Boston 1775 , a blog run by Massachusetts writer J.L. Bell, specializes in the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.

Find posts on Newton Prince , Jane (Crothers) Whitehouse , Joseph Whitehouse , and more.

Boston 1775: Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse’s Story about Capt. Goldfinch Learn more about Joseph Whitehouse, 14th Regiment soldier and husband to Bostonian Jane Whitehouse. What did Whitehouse tell his superiors about British soldiers’ experience with Boston’s townspeople, and why might some of his accounts seem unreliable?

Boston 1775: Newton Prince: London pensioner Following the outbreak of war in MA, how did Newton Prince’s testimony related to the Boston Massacre help him secure a pension as a Loyalist living in London?

"Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre" is an eight-minute video featuring reenactors reciting portions of actual depositions of people who witnessed the events on King Street the night of 5 March 1770. Although they all witnessed the happenings, they stood in different locations and their accounts are not consistent with one another.

The historical figures portrayed are: 

  • Captain-Lieutenant John Goldfinch of the 14th Regiment (the soldiers who fired their weapons came from the 29th Regiment)
  • Edward Garrick (or Gerrish), a young wigmaker’s apprentice
  • Edward Payne, a merchant who lived near the Custom House, Payne was shot by a soldier but survived (the MHS has the bullets that pierced his arm)
  • Newton Prince, a free Black man (a lemon merchant and pastry cook—about 35 years old)
  • Jane Crothers (she married a British soldier named Joseph Whitehouse soon after the shootings)
  • Charles Bourgate, a French Canadian indentured servant of Edward Manwaring
  • Elizabeth Avery, a maid who lived and worked in the Custom House

Read the script (the excerpted depositions) for each historical figure.

Questions or suggestions? Contact us at [email protected] .

Account of the Boston Massacre

Newspaper reporting on the Boston Massacre

An Account of a late Military Massacre at Boston, or the Consequences of Quartering Troops in a populous Town.

BOSTON March 12, 1770.

THE Town of Boston affords a recent and melancholy Demonstration of the destructive consequences of quartering troops among citizens in time of Peace, under a pretence of supporting the laws and aiding civil authority; every considerate and unprejudic'd Person among us was deeply imprest with the apprehension of these consequences when it was known that a number of regiments were ordered to this town under such a pretext, but in reality to inforce oppressive measures; to awe and controul the legslative as well as executive power of the province, and to quell a spirit of liberty, which however it may have been basely and even ridicul'd by some, would do honour to any age or country. A few persons among us had determin'd to use all their influence to procure so destructive a measure, with a view to their securely enjoying the profits of an American revenue, and unhappily both for Britain and this country, they found means to effect it.

It is to Governor Bernard, the commissioners, their confidents and coadjutors, that we are indebted as the procuring cause of a military power in this capital.—The Boston Journal of Occurrences printed in Mr. Holt's York Journal, from time to time, afforded many striking instances of the distresses brought upon the inhabitants by this measure; and since those Journals have been discontinued, our troubles from that quarter have been growing upon us: We have known a party of soldiers in the face of day fire off a loaded musket upon the inhabitants, others have been prick'd with bayonets, and even our magistrate assaulted and put in danger of their lives, where offenders brought before them have been rescued and why those and other bold and base criminals have as yet escaped the punishment due to their crimes, may be soon matter of enquiry by the representative body of this people.—It is natural to suppose that when the inhabitants saw those laws which had been enacted for their security, and which they were ambitious of holding up to the soldiery, eluded, they should most commonly resent for themselves—and accordingly if so has happened; many have been the squabbles between them and the soldiery; but it seems their being often worsted by our youth in those ren counters, has only serv'd to irritate the former.—What passed at Mr. Gray's rope walk, has already been given the public, and may be said to have led the way to the late catastrophe.—That the rope walk lads when attacked by superior numbers should defend themselves with so much spirit and success in the club-way, was too mortifying, and perhaps it may hereafter appear, that even some of their officers, were unnappily affected with this circumstance: Divers stories were propagated among the soldiery, that serv'd to agitate their spirits particularly on the Sabbath, that one Chambers, a serjeant, represented as a sober man, had been missing the preceding day, and must therefore have been murdered by the townsmen; an officer of distinction so far credited this report, that he enter'd Mr. Gray's rope-walk that Sabbath; and when enquired of by that gentleman as soon as he could meet him, the occasion of his so doing, the officer reply'd, that it was to look if the serjeant said to be murdered had not been hid there; this sober serjeant was found on the Monday unhurt in a house of pleasure.—The evidences already collected shew, that many threatnings had been thrown out by the soldiery, but we do not pretend to say there was any preconcerted plan; when the evidences are published, the world will judge.—We may however venture to declare, that it appears too probable from their conduct, that some of the soldiery aimed to draw and provoke the townsmen into squabbles, and that they then intended to make use of other weapons than canes, clubs or bludgeons,

Our readers will doubtless expect a circumstantial account of the tragical affair on Monday night last; but we hope they will excuse our being so particular as we should have been, had we not seen that the town was intending an inquiry and full representation thereof.

On the evening of Monday, being the 5th current, several soldiers of the 29th regiment were seen parading the streets with their drawn cutlasses and , abusing and wounding numbers of the .

A few minutes after nine o'clock, four youths, named Edward Archbald, William Merchant, Francis Archbald, and John Leech, jun. came down Cornhill together, and seperated at Doctor Loring's corner, the two former were passing the narrow alley leading to Murray's barrack, in which was a soldier brandishing a sword of an uncommon size against the walls, but of which he struck fire plentifully. A person of mean countenance armed with a large club bore him company. Edward Archbald admonished Mr. Merchant to take care of the sword, on which the soldier turned round and struck Archbald on the arm, then push'd at Merchant and pierced thro' his clothes inside the arm close to the arm pit and grazed the skin. Merchant then struck the soldier with a short stick he had, and the other person ran to the barrack and brought with him two soldiers, one armed with a pair of tongs the other with a shovel; he with the tongs pursued Archbald back through the alley, collar'd and laid him over the head with the tongs. The noise brought people together, and John Hix a young lad, coming up, knock'd the soldier down, but let him get up again; and more lads gathering, drove them back to the barrack, where the boys stood sometime as it were to keep them in. In less than a minute 10 or 12 of them came out with drawn cutlasses, clubs and bayonets, and set upon the med boys and young folks, who stood them a little while but finding the inequality of their equipment dispersed.—On hearing the noise, one Samuel Atwood, came up to see what was the matter, and entering the alley from dock square, heard the latter part of the combat, and when the boys dispersed he met the 10 or 12 soldiers aforesaid rushing down the alley towards the square, and asked them if they intended to murder the people? They answered Yes, by G—d, root and branch! With that one of them struck Mr. Atwood with a club, which was repeated by another and being he turned to go off, received a wound on the left shoulder which reached the bone and gave him much pain. Retreating a few steps Mr Atwood met two offcers and said, Gentlemen what is the matter? They answered, you'll see by and by. Immediately after those heroes appeared in the square, asking where were the boogers where were the cowards? But notwithstanding their fierceness to naked men, one of them advanced towards a youth who had a split of a raw stave in his hand, and said damn them here is one of them; but the young man seeing a person near him with a drawn sword and a good cane ready to support him, held up his stave in defiance, and they quietly passed by him, up the little alley by Mr. Silsby's to King Street, where they attacked single and unarmed persons till they raised much clamour, and then turned down Cornhill street insulting all they met in like manner, and pursuing some to their very doors.

Thirty or forty persons, mostly lads, being by this means gathered in King-street, Capt. Preston with a party of men with charged bayonets, came from the main guard to the Commissioner's house the soldiers pushing their bayonets, crying, Make way! They took place by the custom-house, and continuing to push, to drive the people off, pricked some in several places; on which they were clamorous, and, it is said threw snow balls. On this, the Captain commanded them to fire, and more snow balls coming he again said, Damn you, Fire, be the consequence what it will! One soldier then fired, and a townsman with a dudgel struck him over the hands with such force that he dropt his firelock; and rushing forward aimed a blow at the Captain's head, which graz'd? hat and fell pretty heavy upon his arm: However, the soldiers continued the fire, successively, till or 8, or as some say 11 guns were discharged.

By this fatal manœuvre, three men were laid dead on the spot, and two more struggling for life; but what shewed a degree of cruelty unknown to British troops, at least since the house of Hanover has directed their operations, was an attempt to fire upon, or push with their bayonets the persons who undertook to remove the slain and wounded!

Mr. Benjamin Leigh, now undertaker in Delph Manufactory, came up, and after some conversation with Capt. Preston, relative to his conduct in this affair, advised him to draw off his men, with which he complied.

The dead are Mr. Samuel Gray, killed on the spot, the ball entering his head and beating off a large portion of his skull.

A mulatto man, named Crispus Attucks, who was born in Farmingham, but lately belonged to New Providence and was here in order to go for North Carolina, also killed instantly; two balls entering his breast, one of them in special goring the right lobe of the lungs, and a great part of the liver most horribly.

Mr. James Caldwell, mate of Capt. Morton's vessel, in like manner killed by two balls entering his back.

Mr. Samuel Maverick, a promising youth of 17 years of age, son of the widow Maverick, and an apprentice of Mr. Greenwood, Ivory Turner, mortally wounded, a ball went through his belly, and was cut out at his back: He died the next morning.

A lad named Christoper Monk, about 17 years of age, an apprentice to Mr. Walker, Shipwright; wounded, a ball entered his back about 4 inches above his left kidney, near the spine, and was cut out of the breast on the same side; apprehended he will die.

A lad named John Clark, about 17 years of age whose parents live at Medford, and an apprentice to Capt. Samuel Howard of this town; wounded a ball entered just above his groin and came out at his hip, on the opposite side, apprehended he will die.

Mr. Edward Payne, of this town, merchant, standing at his entry door, received a ball in his arm, which shattered some of the bones.

Mr. John Green, Taylor, coming up Leverett's Lane, received a ball just under his hip, and lodged it in the under part of his thigh, which was extracted

Mr. Robert Patterson, a seafaring man, who was the person that had his trowsers shot through in Richardson's affair, wounded; a ball went through his right arm, and he suffered great loss of blood.

Mr. Patrick Carr, about 30 years of age, who work'd with Mr. Field, Leather-Breeches maker in Queen-street, wounded, a ball enter'd near his hip, and went out at his side.

A lad named David Parker, an apprentice to Mr. Eddy the Wheelwright, wounded, a ball enter'd in his thigh.

The people were immediately alarmed with the report of this horrid massacre, the bells were set a ringing, and great numbers soon assembled at the place where this tragical scene had been acted; their feelings may be better conceived than expressed; and while some were taking care of the dead and wounded, the rest were in consultation what to do in these dreadful circumstances.—But so little intimidated were they, notwithstanding their being within a few yards of the main-guard, and seeing the 29th regiment under arms, and drawn up in King-street; that they kept their station, and appear'd as an officer of rank express'd it, ready to run upon the very muzzles of their muskets.—The Lieut. Governor soon came into the Town House, and there met some of his Majesty's Council, and a number of civil Magistrates; a considerable body of people immediately enter'd the Council chamber and expressed themselves to his Honour with a freedom and warmth becoming the occasion. He used his utmost endeavoure to pacify them, requesting that they would let the matter subside for the night, and promised to do all in his power that justice should be done, and the law have its course; men of influence and weight with the people were not wanting on their part to procure their compliance with his Honour's request, by representing the horrible consequences of a promiscuous and rash engagement in the night, and assuring them that such measures should be entered upon in the morning, as would be agreeable to their dignity, and more likely way of obtaining the best satisfaction for the blood of their fellow-townsmen.—The inhabitants attended to these suggestions, and the regiment under arms being ordered to the barracks which was insisted upon by the people, they then separated and return'd to their dwellings, by one o'clock. At 3 o'clock Capt. Preston was committed, as were the soldiers who fir'd, a few hour after him.

Tuesday morning presented a most shocking scene, the blood of our fellow-citizens running like water thro' King-street, and the Merchant's Exchange, the principal spot of the military parade 

for about 18 months past. Our blood might also be track'd up to the head of Long-Lane, and thro' divers other streets and passages.

At eleven o'clock, the inhabitants met at Faneuil-Hall, and after some animated speeches, becoming the occasion, they chose a Committee of 15 respectable Gentlemen, to wait upon the Lieut. Governor in Council, to request of him to issue his orders for the immediate removal of the troops.

The Message was in these Words:

THAT it is the unanimous opinion of this meeting that the inhabitants and soldiery can no longer live together in safety; that nothing can rationally be expected to restore the peace of the town and prevent further blood and carnage, but the immediate removal of the troops; and that we therefore most servently pray his Honour, that his power and influence may be exerted for their instant removal.

His Honour's Reply, which was laid before the Town then adjourn'd to the Old South Meeting House, was as follows;

“I AM extremely sorry for the unhappy differences between the inhabitants and troops and especially for the action of the last evening, and I have exerted myself upon that occasion, that a due inquiry may be made, and that the law may have its course. I have in council consulted with the commanding officers of the two regiments who are in the town. They have their orders from the General at New-York. It is not in my power to countermand those orders. The council have desired that the two regiments may be removed to the Castle. From the particular concern which the 20th regiment has had in your differences, Col. Dalrymple, who is the commanding officer of the troops, has signified that regiment shall, with out delay, be placed in the barracks at the Castle until he can send to the General and receive his further orders concerning both the regiments; and that the main guard shall be removed, and the 14th regiment so disposed and laid under such restraint that all occasion of future disturbances may be prevented.”

The foregoing reply having been read and fully considered—the question was put, Whether there report be satisfactory? Passed in the negative, only 1 dissentient out of upwards of 4000 voters.

It was then moved and voted John Hancock, Esq; Mr. Samuel Adams, Mr. William Molineux, William Phillips, Esq; Dr. Joseph Warren. Joshua Henshaw, Esq; and Samuel Pemberton, Esq; be a Committee to wait on his Honour the Lieut. Governor, and inform him, that it is the unanimous Opinion of this Meeting, that the Reply made to a Vote of the Inhabitants presented his Honour in the Morning is by no means satisfactory; and that nothing less will satisfy, than a total and immediate removal off all the Troops.

The Committee having waited on the Lieut Governor agreeable to the foregoing Vote; laid before the Inhabitants the following Vote of Council received from his Honor.

His Honor the Lieut. Governor laid before the Board a Vote of the Town of Boston, passed this afternoon, and then addressed the Board as follows,

Gentlemen of the Council,

“I lay before you a Vote of the Town of Boston which I have just now received from them, and I now ask your advise what you judge necessary to be done upon it.”

The Council thereupon expressed themselves to be unanimously of opinion, “that it was absolutely necessary for his Majesty's service, the good order of the Town, and the Peace of the Province, that the Troops should be immediately removed out of the Town of Boston, and thereupon advised his Honor to communicate this Advise of the Council to Col. Dalrymple, and to pray that he would order the Troops down to Castle William.” The Committee also informed the Town, that Col. Dalrymple, after having seen the Vote of Council, said to the Committee, “That he now gave his word of Honor that he would begin his Preparations in the Morning, and that there should be no unnecessary delay until the whole of the two Regiments were removed to the Castle.

Upon the above Report being read, the Inhabitants could not avoid expressing the high satisfaction it afforded them.

After Measures were taken for the Security of the Town, in the Night by a strong Military Watch, the Meeting was Dissolved.

The 29th regiment have already left us, and the 14th regiment are following them, so that we expect the town will soon be clear of all the troops.

The wisdom and true policy of his majesty's council and Col. Dalrymple, the commander, appear in this measure. Two regiments in this populous city; and the inhabitants justly incensed: Those of the neighbouring towns actually under arms upon the first report of the massacre, and the signal only wanting to bring in a few hours to the gates of this city many thousands of our brave brethren in the country, deeply affected with our distresses, and to whom we are greatly obliged on this occasion—No one knows where this would have ended and what important consequences even to the whole British empire might have followed, which our moderation and loyalty upon so trying an occasion and our faith in the commander's assurances have happily prevented.

Last Thursday, agreeable to a general request of the Inhabitants, and by the consent of parents and friends, were carried to their grave in succession, the bodies of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell and Chrispus Attucks, the unhappy victims who fell in the bloody massacre of the Monday evening preceeding!

On this occasion most of the shops in town were shut, all the bel?s were ordered to toll a solemn peal, as were al? those in the neighbouring towns of Charlestown Roxbury, &c. The procession began to move between the hours of 4 and 5 in the afternoon; two if the unfortunate sufferers, viz. Mess. James Goodwell and Crispus Attucks, who were strangers, borne from Faneuil-Hall, attended by a numerous twain of persons of all ranks; and the other two viz. Mr. Samuel Gray, from the House of Mr. Benjamin Gray, (his Brother) on the north side exchange, and Mr. Maverick, from the house of his distressed mother Mrs. Mary Maverick, in Union street, each followed by their respective relations and friends: The several hearses forming a junction in King street, the theatre of that inhuman tragedy! proceeded from thence thro' the main-street, lengthened by an immense concourse of people, so numerous as to be obliged a follow in ranks of fix, and brought up by a long train of carriages belonging to the principal entry of the town. The bodies were deposited in one vault in the middle burying-ground. The aggravated circumstances of their death, the distress and sorrow visible in every countenance, together with the peculiar solemnity with which the whole funeral was conducted, surpass description.

A military watch has been kept every night at the town-house and prison, in which many of the most respectable gentlemen of the town have appeared as the common soldiers, and night after night have given their attendance.

A Servant boy of one Manwaring the tide-waiter from Quebec, is now in goal, having deposed that himself, by the order and encouragement of his superiors, had discharged a musket several times from one of the windows of the house in King-street, hired by the commissioners and custom house officers to do their business in; more than one other person declared upon oath, that they apprehended several discharges came from that quarter.—It is not improbable that we may soon be able to account for the assassination of Mr. Otis some time past; the message by Wilmot, who came from the same house to the infamous Richardson before his firing the gun which kill'd young Snider, and to open up such a scene of villainy acted by a dirty banditti, at must astonish the public.

It is supposed that there must have been a greater number of people from town and country at the funeral of those who were massacred by the soldiers, than were ever together on this continent on any occasion.

A more dreadful tragedy has been acted by the soldiery in King-street, Boston, New-England than was some time since exhibitted in St. George's field, London, in old England, which may serve instead of Beacons for both countries.

Had those we thy Patriots, not only represented by Bernard and the commissioners as a faction, but as aiming at meaning a separation between Britain and the colonies had any thing else in contemplation than the preservation of our rights, and bringing things back to their old foundation What an opening has been given them?

Among other matters in the warrant for the annual town-meeting this day, is the following clause, viz. “Whether the town will take any measures that a public monument may be erected on the spot where the late tragical scene was acted, as a me mento to posterity, of that horrid massacre, and the destructive consequences of military troops being quartered in a well regulated city?”

Boston Goal, Monday 12 th March, 1770.

Messieurs Edes and Gill,

PERMIT me thro' the channel of your paper, to return my thanks in the most publick manner to the Inhabitants in general of this town—who throwing aside all party and prejudice, have with the utmost humanity and freedom slept forth advocates for truth, in defence of my injured innocence, in the late unhappy affair that happened on Monday night last: And to assure them, that I shall ever have the highest sense of the justice have done me, which will be ever gratefully remembered by their much obliged, and obedient humble servant, THOMAS PRESTON.

Dec. 30. Letters from Dantzick inform us, that orders have been given by her imperial majesty to fit out another fleet of twelve ships of the fine with the utmost expedition, the command of which it is said, will be given to Mr. Kofmin, a Russian officer, who was educated in the British navy under the brave admiral Warren.

A bet of 100 guineas was yesterday evening made at a coffee-house not far from Charring cross, that the author of Junius would be in custody before the first of next February.

It was yesterday reported, that the author of the last Junius is known, and that proper measures were taking in order to come at his person.

A great man absolutely declared this week that Junius's last letter had operated totally different from its intentions; for that “thereby the ministry were now become immoveable.”

It is reported that a great Personage has within these few days, had the real name of Junius, with the intelligence properly authenticated, sent by an anonymous hand, through the channel of the common post.

A certain very popular nobleman, and a great officer in the law department, have of late had several conferences on the subject of the Middlefex petition.

The national debt of this and our sister kingdom, Ireland, seems to terrify several among the moneyed men, who, in our present distractions, with so heavy a burthen, do not think their property over-safe in the public funds, especially in case of another war as expensive as the last.

It is said, that should the advice of Lord Catham be taken on an important subject, Mr. Wilkes will certainly take his seat without a dissolution of parliament.

A correspondent remarks that Junius, in all his letters never once shewed he wanted a head, till his last long laboured epistle, in which he struck at the supreme head both in church and state.

We hear that a petition from Mr. Wilks will be presented to the House of Commons, at the beginning of the ensuing sessions, desiring the house to examine the several parts of his former petition which have not as yet been enquired into: such as the evasion of the Habeas Corpus; the close commitment of their member for three days, with out the permission of seeing any person but his jailors; although charged only with a misdemeanour the breach of privilege, by serving a member of parliament with a subpœna; the counter notices signed Summoning Officer, sent to several of his jury only the day before the trial; and the papers seized under the general warrant, produced as evidence on his trial.

We are assured, from undoubted veracity, that the present state of the nation will undergo a very serious consideration at an ensuing meeting.

It is said that a noble Lord, who lately matched a certain cast-off Dutchess is, in the jockey-phrase already sick of the lay, and would willingly pay forfeit.

From the 15th of November to the 22d instant inclusive, the East India company have entered for their outward bound trade, of the woollen manufacture and other home commodities, to the amount of 213,000l. and as yet not near half of the? are freighted.

This is a drawing of a blank, open journal and a quill.

Mercy Otis Warren: "Look Over the Theatre of Human Action"

John locke - excerpts from the second treatise on government, "an enlightened people, with respect to our political interests", you may also like.

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History Resources

essay on the boston massacre

The Boston Massacre

By elizabeth berlin taylor, introduction.

In this lesson, students will be asked to learn the disputed and agreed-upon facts of the Boston Massacre in small groups and then discuss them and propose a website definition of the Massacre as a class. This lesson should not only provide students with an opportunity to look at disparate representations of so-called historical facts surrounding a very famous event that preceded the American Revolution, but will also teach them to deliberate with their classmates in a cordial fashion.

On the night of March 5, 1770, American colonists attacked British soldiers in Boston, which resulted in the soldiers firing on the crowd and killing five of the colonists. This event became known as the Boston Massacre, a rallying point for colonists against the stationing and quartering of British troops throughout the colonies, and against the Townshend Acts, which the British soldiers were deployed to enforce. Many different accounts of this encounter are extant as John Adams successfully defended the British soldiers in court and thus had to depose numerous witnesses.

Primary Sources

"The Bloody Massacre," by Paul Revere (PDF)

Deposition of Theodore Bliss , Boston Massacre Historical Society

Captain Thomas Preston’s Account of the Boston Massacre , Boston Massacre Historical Society

" The Soldiers Trial: October 24 to 30, 1770: Selected Testimony ," The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, Famous Trials Project

Summation of John Adams , The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, Famous Trials Project

Anonymous Account of the Massacre , The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, Famous Trials Project

Secondary Source

Library of Congress "America’s Library" site for kids, which gives a brief overview of the Boston Massacre.

Essential Question

What really transpired on the night of March 5, 1770?

  • Students will be able to read and understand primary documents that are key to understanding the Boston Massacre and the ensuing trials of the British troops and their captain.
  • Students will be able to identify similarities and differences between primary source documents.
  • Students will be able to discuss the Boston Massacre as a class to decide what they think actually occurred.
  • Students will be able to propose and vote on a definition for the Boston Massacre for a history website for elementary school students.

Motivation: Give students five minutes to read over the information at the "America’s Library" site. After that time, ask students to close their computers, or, if using a print copy, collect that copy. Ask students to remember as many details about the Massacre as they can from the site. The teacher should record the facts on the board as they are announced by the students so that they are visible to the entire class.

After the motivation has provided a basic understanding of the events of the Boston Massacre, inform the students that for the rest of the class they are going to be history detectives and decide what they think really happened in the Boston Massacre.

Project the famous Paul Revere engraving "The Bloody Massacre," and ask students a variety of questions about what they see:

  • What do you see in this engraving?
  • How are the colonists portrayed?
  • How are the British soldiers portrayed?
  • According to this engraving, who is at fault in this Massacre? How do you know?

As students identify that the engraving seems to put the British soldiers at fault for the Boston Massacre, the teacher will inform them that they are going to read a variety of other documents and decide if Paul Revere was conveying the truth about the circumstances of the event.

Put students into eight groups of four. The members of each group will analyze the same document, as the primary sources are fairly challenging reading. Give each group a packet that includes copies of one of the following: the Deposition of Theodore Bliss, Captain Thomas Preston’s Account of the Boston Massacre, the Summation of John Adams, and the Anonymous Account of the Massacre. Students will read and analyze their group’s document, noting at the bottom of the handout five of the described events.

Students will jigsaw so that they will be in a new group in which each member reads a separate article. The students will fill in the attached worksheet that asks them to find events that were discussed in more than one source. Also, students will write a summary of what they think took place during the Boston Massacre. Each group will choose a spokesperson who will read a brief explanation to the class of what they think happened.

The teacher will request the input of up to three of the groups and then summarize the work that was done in that period.

(This can also be an optional extension of the prior lesson.)

Students will briefly review the facts that they think are true about the Boston Massacre, referring to their previously read articles and the worksheet they completed with their second group.

The teacher will then pose the question, "If we were going to make a website for elementary school students about the Boston Massacre, what should the site say?" The class will decide this question by having a whole-class discussion.

Each student will get two popsicle sticks. When the student wishes to speak, he or she will raise her stick and then turn it in as he or she speaks. Thus, each student will have at most two opportunities to speak during the discussion. The teacher will need to guide the discussion by asking the following questions (and by recording the answers where they can be seen by the entire class):

  • Can we agree as a class upon what actually happened during the Boston Massacre?
  • What seems certainly to be true? Why?
  • What might be true?
  • What do you think is certainly untrue? Why?
  • How should we write our definition for a website?
  • What should we include and what should we omit?

The teacher should stress that the goal of the class is to come up with a well-written and historically accurate definition of the Boston Massacre for a website.

Debrief the discussion. What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of that method of decision making in a piece of writing? Was it hard to come up with a definition? Are you pleased with the definition you wrote?

Students can create a podcast about the Boston Massacre that uses the class definition. Another extension would be to have students create a website on the American Revolution and use the class definition as a page in the site.

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The Boston Massacre Essay Example

The evening of March 5, 1770, an uproar happened in Massachusetts known as the Boston Massacre. The occasion brought about the passing of five American colonists. Do every one of the occasions that happened equivalent to a genuine "massacre" however? The Boston town discharged a paper titled, "A Short Narrative of the Horrific Massacre." Afterward, everybody knew about it as the Boston Massacre however it was anything but a massacre by any means. This essay will talk about the historical backdrop of what occurred in advance, the occasion of the Boston Massacre and the contention of why it isn’t really a massacre. The Boston Massacre is seen with overpowering bias and numerous inconsistencies in records exist, the "Boston Massacre" is better characterized as a massacre over a genuine riot. The Soldiers were incited to flame upon the group, and the genuine extent of the incitement could be a lot more prominent than a considerable lot of the Patriotic observers testified. Numerous inconsistencies exist in the proof, and without appropriate confirmation, one must accept the Soldiers and the Captain to be innocent until demonstrated guilty.

The "massacre" began with the British troops shooting at colonists. People who name this as a massacre are just seeing one side of a two-sided story. The Boston Massacre was not a slaughter, yet a shared uproar. The nearness of the British Soldiers was not invited by the Bostonians for quite a while and it made the British feel undermined, driving them to act in self-protection. The settlers were vexed for some time because of the British organizing new taxes on tea, glass, paper, paint, and lead. About five years prior to the riot, the general population of Boston had been challenging British tax collection with both the Stamp Act and after that against the Townshend Acts. These occasions that happened may have foreshadowed the "massacre." During the morning of February 22nd, 1770 viciousness radiated all through Massachusetts due to boycotting items influencing the Townshend obligations.  As the crowd shouted hurtful slurs at Ebenezer Richardson, an informer for the customs service, he fired into the crowding killing an eleven-year-old boy who died from a gunshot to this abdomen. John Adams wrote, “My eyes never beheld such a funeral.” It was obvious tension was rapidly rising between Bostonians and British soldiers, leading up to the night of March 5th.

The day of the Boston Massacre is simply the most imperative day in light of the fact that the day itself clarifies why it was anything but a massacre. Now, the settlers were angry with the British since they were attempting to implement the Townshend Act. There was a misguided judgment the British were the first to begin the showdown. This was false because the colonists began tossing things at the troopers. For example rocks, sticks and snowballs. Clearly the British were irritated by this, however, Captain Thomas Preston gave a request to his fighters and instructed them not to flame. For a weird reason, his words were misheard and every one of the officers began firing into the group of colonists. Five passings were recorded. A contention discussed with the Boston Massacre is that individuals thought about whether the officers terminated without order. This was settled when Captain Preston gave his announcement of what he saw.

Captain Preston's record makes reference to how he saw the crowd of Bostonians beginning to shape and after that, they started harassing his troopers. He says he advised his group to overlook the comments yet the assaults started to get increasingly horrendous and the Bostonians continued to get progressively forceful. Rather than utilizing just verbal activities, they began tossing rocks and snowballs. Now, Captain Preston advised the group to arm their weapons and be set up to discharge on his directions. The British soldiers felt undermined as though they expected to ensured themselves. Somebody yelled out to flame yet it was not Captain Preston, it was Teddi DeCanio. The soldiers started firing while Captain Preston shouted and requested answers from his fighters. The officers were befuddled too and told the Captain they thought he requested them to shoot. This uproar was trailed by the British troops promptly prosecuted.

The main question that basically all observers of this topic wonder is whether Captain Preston requested his soldiers to fire. There is proof on either side, and this makes much debate. Witnesses, for example, Robert Goddard, Isaac Pierce, Daniel Calef, and the soldiers at the Massacre guarantee that the Captain gave such requests. Robert Goddard guaranteed that “Immediately [Captain Preston] said Fire upon which the Soldiers stood for a short space. The officer then said ‘Damn your Blood fire.’” We can find William Wyatt supporting this with his quotation, "[Captain Preston] then said Damn your bloods fire..." We can discover William Wyatt supporting this with his citation, "[Captain Preston] then said Damn your bloods fire..." On the opposite side of the story, James Woodall resistant cases that "I am sure [Captain Preston] did not give the word fire."

Matthew Murray likewise states that "I heard no order given." While little can be decisively decided without having been at the Massacre, it very well may be resolved that such uproar would not happen in a tranquil circumstance where the fighters basically began shooting on the group. All things considered, one can conclude from the events that there was absolutely a riot occurring. In court, the jury found two of the men and Captain Preston not liable but rather the other two officers were discovered liable of homicide. The Bostonians gave a few proclamations off what happened contradicted to Captain Preston's announcement. After the jury found the two men liable of the acts then it was clear what the fact of the matter was. 

Concluding every one of the certainties, the occasion occurred on March 5, 1770, was a long way from a massacre and increasingly like a riot. The certainties state how the Bostonians never acknowledged the British. With them not being acknowledged, it made the British feel uncomfortable. The Bostonians assaulted the soldiers verbally and physically on a few events before the riot named the Boston Massacre, which drove the British to act in self-protection.

The wild crowd played a part as they exclaimed fire which made the British wrongly fire. Toward the finish of the preliminary, it was demonstrated the Bostonians began the immense riot. John Adams, attorney for the British soldiers, had extraordinary fulfillment when on preliminary. He was quoted as he looked back at the trials as saying, “The part I took in defense of Captain Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this Country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the verdict of the jury was exactly right.”

Despite the fact that the testimony introduced at the trial is biased towards the British, it very well may be added that the word riot is more suitable for the occasions taken place that night. Whatever the reason for the riot, the occasions of the Boston Massacre were totally vital as they molded the United States of America. Observing the occasions of the Boston Massacre is to demonstrate a troublesome assignment for our age as it will for who and what is to come. Just by being at the site of the riot might one be able to have precisely concluded the occasions of the night.

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The Boston Massacre, Research Paper Example

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In many ways the infamous Boston Massacre is significant landmark in the historical development of the United States of America along the lines of its quest to break the shackles of royal British imperial dominance. Notwithstanding the relevance of this historical event, the real facts of the actual incident have been subsumed in a thick cloud of varied and often divergent details. One fact that remains undisputable in the midst of the many accounts is that American lives were lost on that fateful day; whether justifiably or unjustifiably is yet another case by itself (Davidson 1941). In this brief essay, I will make a strenuously diligent effort to skim through all the historical details covering this historic event. From this point, I will endeavor to make a case for my own position based on evidence of which account I believe is reasonably authentic in its documentation of the facts of the incident.

The general facts around the events of the Boston Massacre is that on the fateful day of March 5, 1770 a rowdy crowd of Boston citizens came into a confrontation with British military servicemen stationed in the city resulting in the outbreak of violence claiming the lives of the victims of that day. Indeed, all this took place at a time when British colonial influence was significantly waning in influence in most parts of her colonies including Boston. The cold relationship thus created the most fertile grounds for the escalation of the tragedy that this essay is discussing. It is worthy of note that like most historical accounts with a egalitarian flavor, the account of the Boston Massacre is rather regrettably shrouded by the biases of the narrators. For instance, from the position of the adherents of the Sons of Liberty, a common inclination in retelling the story behind the Boston Massacre is that the occupying British colonial authorities are viewed as foes that bare the brunt of responsibility for all the unfortunate consequences of events that preceded and culminated into the violent deaths of the citizens of Boston. Meanwhile, what is clear is that these accounts fall short of chronicling the contributory role of the angry mob in sparking the violent explosion that turned out very sour.

Putting this in perspective, the story can still be told in its tentative form. A group of teenagers are alleged to have embarked on a wild rumor mongering spree about how they had been manhandled by soldiers of the British army on duty post at the city’s custom office. Whilst some report that the teenage boys were attacked by the soldiers without any provocation, others contend that the boys were actually involved in howling snowballs and other objects at the soldiers on guard. Indeed, as stated in the preceding paragraphs the relationship between the British colonial authorities and the indigenes of Boston had already been stretched beyond its elastic limit in other words the nature of the existing friction was such that it was so highly combustible that the slightest ignition could set the whole place ablaze and that is precisely what happened on that fateful day.

Events following the unfortunate massacre set the stage for a new showdown of the colonial resolve of the people Boston and how this has grown to direct the course of American history over the years. With the death of the five citizens of Boston during the riots, there was a popular clarion call for justice for the souls of the victims of the shooting tragedy—indeed a retributive justice system in which the British soldiers involved were already tried in the court of public opinion and duly convicted on the grounds of emotionally charged sentimental evidence available (Hiller 1970). But the reverberating is if indeed the accused soldiers were really guilty of the charges brought against them or they were only been innocent lambs used to appease an angry lion?

Suffice to take a closer look at the deeper dimensions of the case and how it amounts to criminal liability or not on the part of the soldiers. Attorney John Adams in representing the accused soldiers put up a strong counter argument to exonerate the soldiers accused of murder from any wrong doing and therefore the leading officer Captain Preston was discharged and acquitted (Wroth et al 1965). The trial and events surrounding all that transpired did invariably work to worsen the prejudice position of the British colonists against the British crown and in some instances is said to have subtly contributed in triggering the revolution (Miller n.d; Schlesinger 1958).

With this foundation laid, this essay will proceed to highlight what this writer believes to be the most convincing and authentic account of the remote and immediate factors that contributed to the angry explosion that has become known as the Boston Massacre. My conclusion is based on the veracity of the facts presented in each of the historical reports giving. My task here is to filter facts from fiction and propaganda. Naturally, the possibility of distortion and misrepresentation of facts as witnessed in the scores of reports available indicate that the possibility of the nationalist sentiments of the day warping objectivity cannot be dismissed.

After reading the several accounts available today, I remain convinced that the work of Miller (n.d.) carries more convincing facts beyond the superficial heresy historical reports that are available today. My first conviction stems from the understanding that her reports are the reflection of an eye witness account of the Charles Scribner’s sons. These are built on tentative facts gathered from the testimonies of from both prosecution and defense witnesses called during the trial of Captain Thomas Preston, the British officer who was in command of the soldiers involved in the shooting incident. It is also very convincing because the statements of witnesses from both sides were taken strictly under oath, besides attorneys from both sides of the case also had the ample opportunity to cross examine all persons parading as witnesses. To this end there is conscientious effort in filtering out the grains from the chaff by way of leaving an unadulterated historical account of the facts as they are.

As alleged by some reporters, the Boston teenage boys who spread the rumors of manhandling by the British sentinel claim there was little or provocation at all. This proves to be untrue as gathered from the testimonies in court.

The soldier in his sentinel box was reportedly taunted by these youngsters to a point where his reaction was to reprimand them with his musket. The city mob was drawn to the tax office where the sentinel was stationed in apparent protest of the allegation of manhandling of the teenage boys by the soldier. Sensing danger, the young soldier called for reinforcement, which was led by Captain Thomas Preston and eight other soldiers.

In reading through most of the accounts presented, it can clearly be seen that the point of divergence in the reporting of the Boston Massacre begins from the point of the arrival of Captain Thomas Preston’s reinforcement squad. Contrary to the reports that Captain Thomas Preston ordered his men to open fire on the mob, the court evidence indicates that the decision to open fire was arbitrarily taken by a soldier who was hit by an object from the mob. The court evidence also establishes that indeed objects had been hurled at the soldiers. Instinctively, the firing was a reflex response of self-defense against an angry mob. Moreover, the soldiers did not spontaneously open fire on the mob as that will be the conventional process in obedience to a superior command. In this case, the shots came independently and irregularly. The British service men reputed for their level of discipline will definitely be better disciplined in their response to an order from a superior as opposed to what is being alleged. In the light of all this, self-defense was clearly the motive behind the reaction of the soldiers who in retrospect may be accused of acting disproportionately. Nevertheless, there was no better way to respond to an angry and violent mob within the rudiments of military standards during those days (Dirk, 1977).

Davidson, Philip.  Propaganda and the American Revolution, 1763–1783 . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

Dickerson, Oliver M., ed.  Boston under Military Rule, 1768–1769: As Revealed in a Journal of These Times . Boston: Mount Vernon Press, 1936.

Hoerder, Dirk. Crowd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1765–1780. New York: Academic Press, 1977.

Miller Laura. Paul Revere’s Account of His Ride (1775): An entry from Charles Scribner’s Sons’ Dictionary of American History, n.d.

Schlesinger, Arthur M.  Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764–1776 . New York: Knopf, 1958.

Wroth, L. Kinvin, and Zobel, Hiller B., eds.  The Legal Papers of John Adams , vol. 3. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

Zobel, Hiller B.  The Boston Massacre . New York: Norton, 1970.

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Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective

The Boston Massacre

  • Michael Kraemer

On the night of March 5, 1770, a man and a British sentry exchanged heated words in Boston, Massachusetts. Within minutes, three people lay dead in the snow and several others were injured, two fatally. This event, popularly referred to as the “Boston Massacre,” was a turning-point in relations between American colonists and British authorities, and provided one of the sparks that would ignite the American Revolution.

Written by Michael Kraemer. Narration by Dr. Nicholas B. Breyfogle. Video production by Cody Patton, Laura Seeger, and Dr. Nicholas B. Breyfogle.

Home — Essay Samples — History — Boston Massacre — The Role of the Boston Massacre in American History


The Role of The Boston Massacre in American History

  • Categories: American History Boston Massacre John Adams

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Published: Sep 1, 2020

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Sheriff Had Cause to Take Maine Gunman Into Custody Before Shootings

An interim report from a commission investigating the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, found that the gunman’s weapons could and should have been removed.

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A view of a two-lane road set among trees. A restaurant sits on the left-hand side of the road.

By Jenna Russell

A commission investigating the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, concluded on Friday that local law enforcement officers should have taken the gunman into custody and seized his weapons before he killed 18 people on Oct. 25.

The decision to instead give the shooter’s family responsibility for removing his weapons was “an abdication of law enforcement’s responsibility,” the commission wrote in its 30-page interim report, intended to provide early findings to legislators who are weighing several proposals for changes to the state’s laws, spurred by the events.

The local sheriff’s department had “sufficient probable cause” to take the gunman, Robert R. Card II, into custody and remove his weapons because of a “likelihood of serious harm,” the commission said in its report .

The seven-member Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston has held seven public meetings since last November , collecting testimony from Mr. Card’s Army Reserve supervisors, local and state police officers, as well as survivors and family members of the victims. The panel has pressed witnesses for details of their actions in the months leading up to the shooting, when the gunman displayed increasingly erratic and paranoid behavior, convinced that people he did not know were calling him a pedophile.

Concerned Army Reserve colleagues and supervisors intervened during the summer before the shooting, sending Mr. Card for a mental health evaluation at a hospital in New York. But subsequent attempts to check on his mental health, and take away his weapons, were unsuccessful, raising questions about the adequacy of law-enforcement communications and follow-up, and of the state’s “yellow flag” law , which allows for the removal of weapons from people deemed to be a risk.

“Robert Card Jr. is solely responsible for his own conduct, and he may have committed a mass shooting even if the guns he possessed in September 2023 were removed from his house,” the report found. “Nevertheless, there were several opportunities that, if taken, may have changed the course of events.”

Officials from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department told the commission that a deputy, Sgt. Aaron Skolfield, attempted to conduct a welfare check on Mr. Card at his home in September, after his release from the psychiatric hospital, but he was not at home or did not answer the door. Sgt. Skolfield told the commission that as a result, he could not have established probable cause to seek a yellow flag order, because he had not “laid eyes on” Mr. Card.

But the commission determined that the sergeant should have known that he could establish probable cause using the “collective knowledge” of all the officers who had been involved in the investigation, including an Army Reserve supervisor who had received a text message from one of Mr. Card’s friends saying that he feared the troubled Army Reservist would “snap and do a mass shooting.”

“A plan to intervene and take Mr. Card into protective custody should have been undertaken,” the commission wrote.

Alternatively, the commissioners said, law enforcement officers had “more than sufficient information” to pursue criminal assault charges against Mr. Card after the erratic behavior and threats reported by his friends and colleagues in the weeks and months before the shooting, and that officers could have sought an arrest warrant to take him into custody.

The commission further faulted the sheriff’s department for failing to assign another deputy to follow up on the concerns after Sgt. Skolfield went on leave on Sept. 18.

Officials from the sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

The county’s own review of the department’s actions, conducted last year by a Maine attorney , found that officers did not have grounds to take Mr. Card into custody.

The commission stopped short of recommending specific changes to the “yellow flag” law, noting that the process it sets up can be “cumbersome” but also that the law had been used successfully in other cases it reviewed.

“An officer needs to have knowledge of the process, use all the resources the officer has to gather the necessary information, and have the dedication and persistence to follow through with the investigation and the process,” commission members wrote.

Authorities said that Mr. Card, 40, shot and killed 18 people and wounded 13 others at two popular recreation venues, a bowling alley and a bar where members of a local cornhole league had gathered. After a two-day manhunt, he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The victims included a 14-year-old boy and his father, a 76-year-old youth bowling coach and his wife, and four well-known members of Maine’s small, tight-knit Deaf community.

Survivors of the massacre offered tearful testimony before the commission about living with panic attacks and survivor’s guilt, and struggling to explain the shooting to their children.

In the wake of the violence, legislators have considered changes to Maine’s gun laws, which have long been shaped by the state’s strong traditions of gun ownership and hunting. Bills currently under consideration would require background checks for some private gun sales and add a 72-hour waiting period on firearms purchases.

Another proposal would update the state’s “yellow flag” law to add a new legal option for law enforcement officers, allowing them to take dangerous people into custody after obtaining a protective custody warrant signed by a judge.

Unlike “red flag” laws in some states that allow families to petition a judge directly to take weapons away from people who are deemed a danger to others or themselves, Maine’s “yellow flag” law involves a longer, more complex process. Three entities — the police, a mental health clinician and a judge — must agree that an individual is a danger before firearms can be taken away.

Under the current law, the commission said, local authorities could have used evidence collected from multiple law enforcement and civilian sources to make a case that Mr. Card was a threat.

The commission plans to hold additional hearings before issuing its final report. It has not yet heard testimony about trauma to Mr. Card’s brain that was documented by scientists in a recent autopsy report, similar to that seen in the brains of veterans exposed to repeated weapons blasts. The evidence of brain damage has raised questions about whether Mr. Card’s experience as a grenade instructor affected his mental health.

Mr. Card, who had been a grenade instructor in the Army Reserve and was exposed for years to thousands of skull-shaking blasts on the training range, showed signs of significant damage to the white matter that forms the wiring deep in the brain, according to the report from Boston University’s C.T.E. Center, a laboratory that has documented chronic traumatic encephalopathy , or C.T.E., in athletes.

A family member of one of the victims said he was grateful for the work the commission had done already.

But Leroy Walker, 75, who lost his son Joseph Walker, 57, in the shooting, said the report’s findings came as little surprise to him.

“They found what I thought they would find,” he said. “I’m glad they’ve taken the time to do it, because as I understand it, it’s the same thing all of us have felt in our hearts here in the city.”

Jenna Russell is the lead reporter covering New England for The Times. She is based near Boston. More about Jenna Russell


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  1. Boston Massacre 1770


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