Definition of the Boston Massacre
The “Boston Massacre” is defined as an event that took place on March 5, 1770, when British troops fired into a mob, killing several colonists, including Crispus Attucks.
The Boston Massacre — Quick Facts
- The incident took place on March 5, 1770.
- A teenage boy named Edward Garrick insulted Captain John Goldfinch and then had words with Private Hugh White, which led to White hitting the boy in the head with his musket.
- A crowd gathered and started throwing things at the soldiers.
- Captain Thomas Preston was on duty and went to the scene with six privates.
- The commotion led to church bells being rung, which usually meant there was a fire. Boston citizens, including John Adams, ran to the scene.
- One of Preston’s men, Private Hugh Montgomery, fired into the crowd. It may have been accidental. Crispus Attucks was killed.
- Some of the other soldiers panicked and fired into the mob.
- Preston called out more troops and they took a defensive position in front of the Town House.
- Governor Thomas Hutchinson arrived on the scene and helped calm things down. He promised to conduct an investigation, but only if the crowd dispersed and went home. The mob broke up and order was restored.
- Samuel Adams called it the “Boston Massacre.”
This engraving by Paul Revere depicts the “Bloody Massacre” where British troops fired into the mob on the night of March 5. Image Source: Library of Congress.
The Boston Massacre — Important Facts and Details
British Troops Occupy Boston
Key Fact — Parliament sent British soldiers to Boston on October 1, 1768, to help tax collectors enforce the Townshend Acts, which were enacted in 1767.
- The people of Boston resented the presence of the British troops.
- The troops also conducted themselves poorly and antagonized the citizens.
- This led to both parties tormenting and harassing each other, which often led to fights and riots.
Although the number of British troops in Boston was reduced in 1769, the Redcoats continued to cause trouble:
- The British commanders paraded their men through the streets on a frequent basis.
- On Sundays, the troops would race their horses through the streets.
- The people accused the troops of taking jobs from them.
This illustration from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, published in 1865, depicts British troops entering Boston. Image Source: Archive.org.
The Battle of Golden Hill in New York City
Key Fact — The Battle of Golden Hill took place a few weeks before the Boston Massacre.
- In late January, two days of riots occurred in New York City, which was the result of resistance to the Quartering Act of 17675.
- The incident is known as the Battle of Golden Hill.
- In the riots, British soldiers attacked some citizens and wounded them. Some were severely injured, and there were rumors that one person was killed.
- Although the death has never been proven, the British did inflict serious wounds on some colonists, which may give the Battle of Golden Hill the distinction of being the “first bloodshed of the American Revolution.”
This painting by Charles MacKubin Lefferts depicts the Battle of Golden Hill in New York City. Image Source: New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.
The Death of Christopher Seider
Key Fact — Some consider Christopher Seider to be the first casualty of the American Revolution.
- About a month later, on February 22, a young boy named Christopher Seider was shot and killed by a Customs Official named Ebeneezer Richardson.
- Richardson fired into a crowd that was attacking his home, and, apparently, Seider happened to be nearby. The boy was hit twice. Once in the arm and once in the head.
- Doctor Joseph Warren conducted the autopsy and confirmed it was Richardson’s gun that fired the shots.
- 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 helped fuel the outrage of the people of Boston.
This illustration depicts the death of Christopher Seider. Ebeneezer Richardson is shown in the window above the store, with a gun. Image Source: Archive.org.
Events of the Night of March 5, 1770
- Resentment against the British troops in Boston grew to a climax on the evening of March 5, 1770, when a group of Bostonians began hassling a lone sentry guarding the Customs House.
- A crowd began to form as the confrontation between the sentry and the Bostonians continued.
- Captain Thomas Preston led seven soldiers from the Twenty-ninth Regiment to reinforce the sentry.
- The crowd began advancing on the soldiers and pelted them with sticks and snowballs.
- As hostilities escalated, a British soldier fired his musket into the crowd.
- Believing that Captain Preston had given the order to fire, other soldiers also fire into the crowd.
- Three Bostonians were killed immediately and two others died later from their wounds. Six others were wounded but survived.
- The first person shot and killed by the British soldiers was Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave of African-American descent. The others killed were Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr.
- Joseph Warren was called to the scene to tend to the wounded. Warren 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 even went so far as to call for armed resistance, “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.”
This illustration by Alonzo Chappel depicts the Boston Massacre. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Aftermath of the Boston Massacre
- The victims of the Boston Massacre were buried in the Granary Burying Ground.
- 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. Adams had successfully proved that the soldiers did not fire into the crowd until they were physically attacked
- 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.
Reaction to the Boston Massacre
- After the Boston Massacre, there was a lull in the unrest in Boston, partially because the British troops had been moved to Castle William in Boston Harbor.
- 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.
- Many of the Patriots toned down their involvement in political affairs. However, 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.
- Three years later, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which led to the Boston Tea Party and the Coercive Acts.
Legacy of the Boston Massacre
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.
A monument honoring the contribution of Crispus Attucks to the struggle for freedom was erected in Boston in 1888.
Today, the Boston Historical Society holds an annual reenactment of the Boston Massacre on the exact spot where it took place.