Open main menu

BOSTON MASSACRE, a riot in Boston, 5 March 1770, provoked by the British regiments quartered there. On Friday the 2d, some rope-makers started a war of insults with passing soldiers and on being challenged to a boxing match, used sticks instead, to which the soldiers retorted with cutlasses; several persons were hurt when the fray was stopped by outsiders. Early Monday evening the soldiers passing to their posts from the main guard, at the head of King (State) street, were met by a crowd armed with canes and sticks, who refused to make way and shouted insults; the soldiers were about to force a passage when an officer came up and ordered them into the yard, but the alarm-bell had called out the citizens; the hot-heads wished to assault the main guard, and apparently they and the boys set to harrying the sentinel in front of the custom-house opposite the main guard, who about 9 o'clock hit a specially annoying boy with the butt of his musket. The boy ran off and brought a crowd to the spot, headed by one Crispus Attucks (q.v., apparently a half-breed Indian), and pointed out the sentinel, at which they shouted, “Kill him! Knock him down!” The sentinel retreated up the steps and loaded his gun amid a shower of snowballs and other missiles; told Henry Knox, who was passing and counseled him not to fire, that he would if they touched him; leveled the gun and warned off the crowd, and called for help from the main guard across the street. A sergeant and seven men were sent to his help and he came down and took his place in line; soon afterward Col. Thomas Preston joined them, making 10 in arms. They loaded; the crowd jeered, hooted, taunted them as cowards, dared them to fire and closed about them; the soldiers drove them back with clubs and bayonets; Preston, in turn warned by Knox, rushed among his men, and either with or without his orders they fired, killing Attucks and two others and mortally wounding two more. The crowd fell back and Preston prevented the men firing again and rejoined the main guard. The drums beat to arms and the vicinity was soon thronged with divisions of soldiers and masses of enraged citizens. Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson quieted the tempest by having Preston bound over to trial, placing the implicated soldiers under arrest and inducing the officers to order the companies back to barracks; but the next day a town-meeting forced Hutchinson to have the regiments removed to the Castle in the harbor. Preston was tried in October and the soldiers in November before the Superior Court and defended by Robert Auchmuty, assisted by John Adams and Josiah Quincy, who took their futures in their hands from professional duty. Preston was acquitted, six soldiers were brought in not guilty and two found guilty of manslaughter, branded in the hand and discharged. There is much difference of opinion with respect to the massacre, some regarding it as a lawless affair and some as the “first act of the Revolution.” The day was annually commemorated in Boston until 1783, and in 1888 a monument was erected to the memory of the 10 victims. Consult Kidder, ‘History of the Boston Massacre’ (Albany 1870), and Winsor, ‘Memorial History of Boston’ (Vol. III, Boston 1880-81).