Boston Massacre

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Boston Massacre
Part of the American Revolution
Boston Massacre high-res.jpg
This famous depiction of the event was engraved by Paul Revere (copied from an engraving by Henry Pelham), colored by Christian Remick, and printed by Benjamin Edes. The Old State House is depicted in the background. [1]
Location Boston, Massachusetts, British America
(now State Street, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.)
Coordinates 42°21′32″N71°03′26″W / 42.35879°N 71.05717°W / 42.35879; -71.05717 Coordinates: 42°21′32″N71°03′26″W / 42.35879°N 71.05717°W / 42.35879; -71.05717
DateMarch 5, 1770;249 years ago (1770-03-05)
Weapons Flintlock muskets, clubs
Non-fatal injuries
PerpetratorsBritish Army infantrymen

The Boston Massacre, known to the British as the Incident on King Street, [2] was a confrontation on March 5, 1770 in which British soldiers shot and killed several people while being harassed by a mob in Boston. The event was heavily publicized by leading Patriots such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. [3] [4] [5] British troops had been stationed in the Province of Massachusetts Bay since 1768 in order to support crown-appointed officials and to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation.

Boston Capital city of Massachusetts, United States

Boston is the capital and most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States. The city proper covers 48 square miles (124 km2) with an estimated population of 685,094 in 2017, making it also the most populous city in New England. Boston is the seat of Suffolk County as well, although the county government was disbanded on July 1, 1999. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area known as Greater Boston, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) home to a census-estimated 4.8 million people in 2016 and ranking as the tenth-largest such area in the country. As a combined statistical area (CSA), this wider commuting region is home to some 8.2 million people, making it the sixth-largest in the United States.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Paul Revere American silversmith

Paul Revere was an American silversmith, engraver, early industrialist, and Patriot in the American Revolution. He is best known for his midnight ride to alert the colonial militia in April 1775 to the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride" (1861).


Amid tense relations between the civilians and the soldiers, a mob formed around a British sentry and verbally abused him. He was eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who were hit by clubs, stones, and snowballs. They fired into the crowd without orders, instantly killing three people and wounding others, two of whom later died of their wounds.

The crowd eventually dispersed after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promised an inquiry, but they re-formed the next day, prompting withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder, and they were defended by future President John Adams. Six of the soldiers were acquitted; the other two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The men found guilty of manslaughter were sentenced to branding on their hand.

Thomas Hutchinson (governor) last civilian Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, historian

Thomas Hutchinson was a businessman, historian, and a prominent Loyalist politician of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in the years before the American Revolution. He has been referred to as "the most important figure on the loyalist side in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts." He was a successful merchant and politician, and was active at high levels of the Massachusetts government for many years, serving as lieutenant governor and then governor from 1758 to 1774. He was a politically polarizing figure who came to be identified by John Adams and Samuel Adams as a proponent of hated British taxes, despite his initial opposition to Parliamentary tax laws directed at the colonies. He was blamed by Lord North for being a significant contributor to the tensions that led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

Castle Island (Massachusetts) headland in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA

Castle Island is a peninsula in South Boston on the shore of Boston Harbor. In 1928, Castle Island was connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land and is thus no longer an island. It has been the site of a fortification since 1634, and is currently a 22-acre (8.9 ha) recreation site and the location of Fort Independence.

John Adams 2nd president of the United States

John Adams was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain, and also served as the first vice president of the United States. Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history including his wife and adviser, Abigail, and his letters and other papers are an important source of historical information about the era.

Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event heightened tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies, notably the colored engraving produced by Paul Revere (shown at top-right).

Thirteen Colonies British American colonies which became the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and the Floridas.


View of the Old State House, Boston, Massachusetts, the seat of British colonial government from 1713 to 1776. The Boston Massacre took place in front of the balcony, and the site is now marked by a cobblestone circle in the square (photo 2009). 2009 BostonMassacre site 3658174192.jpg
View of the Old State House, Boston, Massachusetts, the seat of British colonial government from 1713 to 1776. The Boston Massacre took place in front of the balcony, and the site is now marked by a cobblestone circle in the square (photo 2009).
Massacre site USA-Massacre Site0.jpg
Massacre site

Boston was the capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and an important shipping town, and it was also a center of resistance to unpopular acts of taxation by the British Parliament in the 1760s. [6] In 1768, the Townshend Acts were enacted in the Thirteen Colonies putting tariffs on a variety of common items that were manufactured in Britain and imported in the colonies. Colonists objected that the Acts were a violation of the natural, charter, and constitutional rights of British subjects in the colonies. [6] The Massachusetts House of Representatives began a campaign against the Acts by sending a petition to King George III asking for repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act. The House also sent the Massachusetts Circular Letter to other colonial assemblies, asking them to join the resistance movement, [6] and called for a boycott of merchants importing the affected goods. [7]

Province of Massachusetts Bay English/British possession in North America (1691–1776)

The Province of Massachusetts Bay was a crown colony in British North America and one of the thirteen original states of the United States from 1776. It was chartered on October 7, 1691 by William III and Mary II, the joint monarchs of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The charter took effect on May 14, 1692 and included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the direct successor. Maine has been a separate state since 1820, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are now Canadian provinces, having been part of the colony only until 1697.

Parliament of Great Britain parliament from 1714 to 1800

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved the separate English and Scottish parliaments in favour of a single parliament, located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, near the City of London. This lasted nearly a century, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate British and Irish Parliaments into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 1801.

Townshend Acts townshend

The Townshend Acts were a series of British Acts of Parliament passed during 1767 and 1768 and relating to the British in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program. Historians vary slightly as to which acts they include under the heading "Townshend Acts", but five acts are often mentioned:

Lord Hillsborough had recently been appointed to the newly created office of Colonial Secretary, and he was alarmed by the actions of the Massachusetts House. In April 1768, he sent a letter to the colonial governors in America instructing them to dissolve any colonial assemblies that responded to the Massachusetts Circular Letter. He also ordered Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard to direct the Massachusetts House to rescind the letter. The house refused to comply. [8]

Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire British Viscount

Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire, known as the Viscount Hillsborough from 1742 to 1751 and as the Earl of Hillsborough from 1751 to 1789, was a British politician of the Georgian era.

Secretary of State for the Colonies British Cabinet minister in charge of managing the United Kingdoms various colonial dependencies

The Secretary of State for the Colonies or Colonial Secretary was the British Cabinet minister in charge of managing the United Kingdom's various colonial dependencies.

Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet British colonial administrator

Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet was a British colonial administrator who served as governor of the provinces of New Jersey and Massachusetts Bay. His uncompromising policies and harsh tactics in Massachusetts angered the colonists and were instrumental in the building of broad-based opposition within the province to the rule of Parliament in the events leading to the American Revolution.

Boston's chief customs officer Charles Paxton wrote to Hillsborough for military support because "the Government is as much in the hands of the people as it was in the time of the Stamp Act." [9] Commodore Samuel Hood responded by sending the 50-gun warship HMS Romney, which arrived in Boston Harbor in May 1768. [10] On June 10, 1768, customs officials seized Liberty , a sloop owned by leading Boston merchant John Hancock, on allegations that the ship had been involved in smuggling. Bostonians were already angry because the captain of Romney had been impressing local sailors; they began to riot, [11] and customs officials fled to Castle William for protection. [12]

Stamp Act 1765 UK parliament act of 1765

The Stamp Act of 1765 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that imposed a direct tax on the British colonies and plantations in America and required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. Printed materials included legal documents, magazines, playing cards, newspapers, and many other types of paper used throughout the colonies. Like previous taxes, the stamp tax had to be paid in valid British currency, not in colonial paper money.

Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood British Admiral known particularly for his service in the American Revolutionary War and French Revolutionary Wars

Admiral Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood was a Royal Navy officer. As a junior officer he saw action during the War of the Austrian Succession. While in temporary command of Antelope, he drove a French ship ashore in Audierne Bay, and captured two privateers in 1757 during the Seven Years' War. He held senior command as Commander-in-Chief, North American Station and then as Commander-in-Chief, Leeward Islands Station, leading the British fleet to victory at Battle of the Mona Passage in April 1782 during the American Revolutionary War. He went on to be Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, then First Naval Lord and, after briefly returning to the Portsmouth command, became Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet during the French Revolutionary Wars.

HMS <i>Romney</i> (1762)

HMS Romney was a 50-gun fourth rate of the Royal Navy. She served during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in a career that spanned forty years. Five ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Romney. The origins of the name are from the town of New Romney, although it may be that the name entered the Royal Navy in honour of Henry Sydney, 1st Earl of Romney.

Daniel Calfe declares, that on Saturday evening the 3rd of March, a camp-woman, wife to James McDeed, a grenadier of the 29th, came into his father's shop, and the people talking about the affrays at the ropewalks, and blaming the soldiers for the part they had acted in it, the woman said, "the soldiers were in the right;" adding, "that before Tuesday or Wednesday night they would wet their swords or bayonets in New England people's blood."

—Excerpt from A Short Narrative, suggesting that the soldiers were contemplating violence against the colonists [13]

Given the unstable state of affairs in Massachusetts, Hillsborough instructed General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief, North America, to send "such Force as You shall think necessary to Boston", [14] and the first of four British Army regiments began disembarking in Boston on October 1, 1768. [15] Two regiments were removed from Boston in 1769, but the 14th and the 29th Regiments of Foot remained. [16]

The Journal of Occurrences were an anonymous series of newspaper articles which chronicled the clashes between civilians and soldiers in Boston, feeding tensions with its sometimes exaggerated accounts, but those tensions rose markedly after Christopher Seider, "a young lad about eleven Years of Age", was killed by a customs employee on February 22, 1770. [16] Seider's death was covered in the Boston Gazette , and his funeral was described as one of the largest of the time in Boston. The killing and subsequent media coverage inflamed tensions, with groups of colonists looking for soldiers to harass, and soldiers also looking for confrontation. [17]


This 19th-century lithograph by Henry Pelham is a variation of Revere's famous engraving, produced just before the American Civil War. It emphasizes Crispus Attucks, the black man in the center who became an important symbol for abolitionists. (John Bufford after William L. Champey, circa 1856) Boston Massacre, 03-05-1770 - NARA - 518262.tif
This 19th-century lithograph by Henry Pelham is a variation of Revere's famous engraving, produced just before the American Civil War. It emphasizes Crispus Attucks, the black man in the center who became an important symbol for abolitionists. (John Bufford after William L. Champey, circa 1856)

On the evening of March 5, Private Hugh White stood on guard duty outside the Boston Custom House on King Street (today known as State Street). A young wigmaker's apprentice named Edward Garrick called out to Captain-Lieutenant John Goldfinch, saying that Goldfinch had not paid a bill due to Garrick's master. Goldfinch had settled the account the previous day, and ignored the insult. [19] Private White called out to Garrick that he should be more respectful of the officer, and the two men exchanged insults. Garrick then started poking Goldfinch in the chest with his finger; the officer left his post, challenged the boy, and struck him on the side of the head with his musket. Garrick cried out in pain, and his companion Bartholomew Broaders began to argue with White which attracted a larger crowd. [20] Henry Knox was a 19-year old bookseller who later served as a general in the revolution; he came upon the scene and warned White that, "if he fired, he must die for it." [19]

An 1868 print by Alonzo Chappel showing a more chaotic scene than most earlier representations BostonMassacre byAlonzoChappel1878.png
An 1868 print by Alonzo Chappel showing a more chaotic scene than most earlier representations

As the evening progressed, the crowd around Private White grew larger and more boisterous. Church bells were rung, which usually signified a fire, bringing more people out. More than 50 Bostonians pressed around White, led by a mixed-race former slave named Crispus Attucks, throwing objects at the sentry and challenging him to fire his weapon. White had taken up a somewhat safer position on the steps of the Custom House, and he sought assistance. Runners alerted Captain Thomas Preston, the officer of the watch at the nearby barracks. [21] [22] According to his report, Preston dispatched a non-commissioned officer and six privates of the 29th Regiment of Foot to relieve White with fixed bayonets. [23] [24] The soldiers were Corporal William Wemms and Privates Hugh Montgomery, John Carroll, William McCauley, William Warren, and Matthew Kilroy, accompanied by Preston. They pushed their way through the crowd, and Henry Knox warned Preston, "For God's sake, take care of your men. If they fire, you must die." [ clarification needed ] Captain Preston responded "I am aware of it." [25] When they reached Private White on the custom house stairs, the soldiers loaded their muskets and arrayed themselves in a semicircular formation. Preston shouted at the crowd to disperse, estimated between 300 and 400. [26]

Boston Massacre grave marker in the Granary Burying Ground Boston massacre grave 20040930 105414 1.627x1068.jpg
Boston Massacre grave marker in the Granary Burying Ground

The crowd continued to press around the soldiers, taunting them by yelling "Fire!", by spitting at them, and by throwing snowballs and other small objects. [27] Innkeeper Richard Palmes was carrying a cudgel, and he came up to Preston and asked if the soldiers' weapons were loaded. Preston assured him that they were, but that they would not fire unless he ordered it; he later stated in his deposition that he was unlikely to do so, since he was standing in front of them. A thrown object then struck Private Montgomery, knocking him down and causing him to drop his musket. He recovered his weapon and angrily shouted "Damn you, fire!", then discharged it into the crowd although no command was given. Palmes swung his cudgel first at Montgomery, hitting his arm, and then at Preston. He narrowly missed Preston's head, striking him on the arm instead. [27]

There was a pause of uncertain length (eyewitness estimates ranged from several seconds to two minutes), after which the soldiers fired into the crowd. It was not a disciplined volley, since Preston gave no orders to fire; the soldiers fired a ragged series of shots which hit 11 men. [28] Three Americans died instantly: rope maker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks. [29] Samuel Maverick, a 17-year old apprentice ivory turner, [30] was struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd and died early the next morning. Irish immigrant Patrick Carr died two weeks later. [29] Apprentice Christopher Monk was seriously wounded; [31] he was crippled and died in 1780, purportedly due to the injuries that he had sustained in the attack a decade earlier. [32] [33]

The crowd moved away from the immediate area of the custom house but continued to grow in nearby streets. [34] Captain Preston immediately called out most of the 29th Regiment, which adopted defensive positions in front of the state house. [35] Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson was summoned to the scene and was forced by the movement of the crowd into the council chamber of the state house. From its balcony, he was able to minimally restore order, promising that there would be a fair inquiry into the shootings if the crowd dispersed. [36]



Hutchinson immediately began investigating the affair, and Preston and the eight soldiers were arrested by the next morning. [37] Boston's selectmen then asked him to order the troops to move from the city out to Castle William on Castle Island, [36] while colonists held a town meeting at Faneuil Hall to discuss the affair. The governor's council was initially opposed to ordering the troop withdrawal, and Hutchinson claimed that he did not have the authority to order the troops to move. Lieutenant Colonel William Dalrymple was the commander of the troops, and he did not offer to move them. [38] The town meeting became more restive when it learned of this; the council changed its position and unanimously ("under duress", according to Hutchinson's report) agreed to request the troops' removal. [39] Secretary of State Andrew Oliver reported that, had the troops not been removed, "they would probably be destroyed by the people—should it be called rebellion, should it incur the loss of our charter, or be the consequence what it would." [40] The 14th was transferred to Castle Island without incident about a week later, with the 29th following shortly after, [41] leaving the governor without effective means to police the town. [40] The first four victims were buried with ceremony on March 8; Patrick Carr, the fifth and final victim, died on March 14 and was buried with them on March 17 in the Granary Burying Ground, one of Boston's oldest burial grounds. [42]

Mr. John Gillespie, in his deposition, (No. 104) declares that, as he was going to the south end of the town, to meet some friends at a public house, he met several people in the streets in parties, to the number, as he thinks, of forty or fifty persons; and that while he was sitting with his friends there, several persons of his acquaintance came in to them at different times, and took notice of the numbers of persons they had seen in the street armed in the above manner [with clubs].… About half an hour after eight the bells rung, which [Gillespie] and his company took to be for fire; but they were told by the landlord of the house that it was to collect the mob. Mr. Gillespie upon this resolved to go home, and in his way met numbers of people who were running past him, of whom many were armed with clubs and sticks, and some with other weapons. At the same time a number of people passed by him with two fire-engines, as if there had been a fire in the town. But they were soon told that there was no fire, but that the people were going to fight the soldiers, upon which they immediately quitted the fire-engines, and swore they would go to their assistance. All this happened before the soldiers near the custom-house fired their muskets, which was not till half an hour after nine o'clock; and it [shows] that the inhabitants had formed, and were preparing to execute, a design of attacking the soldiers on that evening.

—Excerpt from A Fair Account, suggesting that the colonists planned the attack on the soldiers [43]

On March 27, the eight soldiers, Captain Preston, and four civilians were indicted for murder; the civilians were in the Customs House and were alleged to have fired shots. [44] Bostonians continued to be hostile to the troops and their dependents. General Gage was convinced that the troops were doing more harm than good, so he ordered the 29th Regiment out of the province in May. [45] Governor Hutchinson took advantage of the on-going high tensions to orchestrate delays of the trials until later in the year. [46]

Media battle

In the days and weeks following the incident, a propaganda battle was waged between Boston's Patriots and Loyalists. Both sides published pamphlets that told strikingly different stories, which were principally published in London in a bid to influence opinion there. The Boston Gazette's version of events, for example, characterized the massacre as part of an ongoing scheme to "quell a Spirit of Liberty", and harped on the negative consequences of quartering troops in the city. [47]

Henry Pelham's engraving copied by Paul Revere The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or The Bloody Massacre by Henry Pelham.jpg
Henry Pelham's engraving copied by Paul Revere

Henry Pelham was an engraver and half-brother of celebrated portrait painter John Singleton Copley, and he depicted the event in an engraving. Silversmith and engraver Paul Revere closely copied the image and is often credited as its originator. The engraving contained several inflammatory details. Captain Preston is shown ordering his men to fire, and a musket is seen shooting out of the window of the customs office, which is labeled "Butcher's Hall." [48] Artist Christian Remick hand-colored some prints. [1] Some copies of the print show a man with two chest wounds and a somewhat darker face, matching descriptions of Attucks; others show no black victim. The image was published in the Boston Gazette and circulated widely, and it became an effective anti-British editorial. The image of bright red "lobster backs" and wounded men with red blood was hung in farmhouses throughout New England. [49]

Anonymous pamphlets were published describing the event from significantly different perspectives. A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre was published under the auspices of the Boston town meeting, principally written by James Bowdoin, a member of the governor's council and a vocal opponent of British colonial policy, along with Samuel Pemberton and Joseph Warren. [50] It described the shooting and other lesser incidents that took place in the days before as unprovoked attacks on peaceful, law-abiding inhabitants and, according to historian Neal Langley York, was probably the most influential description of the event. [51] The account which it provided was drawn from more than 90 depositions taken after the event, and it included accusations that the soldiers sent by Captain Preston had been deployed with the intention of causing harm. [52] In the interest of minimizing impact on the jury pool, city leaders held back local distribution of the pamphlet, but they sent copies to other colonies and to London, where they knew that depositions were headed which Governor Hutchinson had collected. [53] A second pamphlet entitled Additional Observations on the Short Narrative furthered the attack on crown officials by complaining that customs officials were abandoning their posts under the pretense that it was too dangerous for them to do their duties; one customs official had left Boston to carry Hutchinson's gathered depositions to London. [54]

Hutchinson's depositions were eventually published in a pamphlet entitled A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance in Boston, [55] drawn mainly from the depositions of soldiers. Its account of affairs sought to blame Bostonians for denying the validity of Parliamentary laws. It also blamed the city's citizens for the lawlessness preceding the event, and claimed that they set up an ambush of the soldiers. [56] As it was not published until well after the first pamphlet had arrived in London, it had a much smaller impact on the public debate there. [55]


John Adams defended the soldiers, six of whom were acquitted. Johnadamsvp.flipped.jpg
John Adams defended the soldiers, six of whom were acquitted.

The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. 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. This however is no Reason why the Town should not call the Action of that Night a Massacre, nor is it any Argument in favour of the Governor or Minister, who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.

John Adams, on the third anniversary of the massacre [57]

The government was determined to give the soldiers a fair trial so that there could be no grounds for retaliation from the British and so that moderates would not be alienated from the Patriot cause. Several lawyers refused to defend Preston due to their Loyalist leanings, so he sent a request to John Adams, pleading for him to work on the case. Adams was already a leading Patriot and was contemplating a run for public office, but he agreed to help in the interest of ensuring a fair trial. [58] He was joined by Josiah Quincy II after Quincy was assured that the Sons of Liberty would not oppose his appointment, and by Loyalist Robert Auchmuty. [59] They were assisted by Sampson Salter Blowers, whose chief duty was to investigate the jury pool, and by Paul Revere, who drew a detailed map of the bodies to be used in the trial. [60] [61] Massachusetts Solicitor General Samuel Quincy and private attorney Robert Treat Paine were hired by the town of Boston to handle the prosecution. [62] Preston was tried separately in late October 1770. He was acquitted after the jury was convinced that he had not ordered the troops to fire. [63]

The trial of the eight soldiers opened on November 27, 1770. [64] Adams told the jury to look beyond the fact that the soldiers were British. He referred to the crowd that had provoked the soldiers as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish Jack Tarrs" (sailors). [65] He argued that the soldiers had the legal right to fight back against the mob and so were innocent. If they were provoked but not endangered, he argued, they were at most guilty of manslaughter. [66]

The jury agreed with Adams and acquitted six of the soldiers after 2½ hours of deliberation. Two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter because there was overwhelming evidence that they had fired directly into the crowd. The jury's decisions suggest that they believed that the soldiers had felt threatened by the crowd but should have delayed firing. [67] The convicted soldiers were granted reduced sentences by pleading benefit of clergy , which reduced their punishment from a death sentence to branding of the thumb in open court. [68]

Carr's deathbed account of the event is regarded as the most important piece of evidence exonerating the eight defendants of murder charges. He testified that the soldiers were provoked by the crowd and that they were very restrained toward the colonists, compared to their usual tactics against the people of his native country of Ireland. He claimed that the Boston mob began to throw dangerous projectiles, and that the soldiers fired their muskets in self-defense. The testimony of Samuel Hemmingway is reprinted below:

Q: Were you Patrick Carr's surgeon?
Samuel Hemmingway: I was.
Q: Was he [Carr] apprehensive of his danger?
SH: He told me… he was a native of Ireland, that he had frequently seen mobs, and soldiers called upon to quell them… he had seen soldiers often fire on the people in Ireland, but had never seen them bear half so much before they fired in his life.
Q: When had you the last conversation with him?
SH: About four o'clock in the afternoon, preceding the night on which he died, and he then particularly said, he forgave the man whoever he was that shot him, he was satisfied he had no malice, but fired to defend himself. [69]

Justices Edmund Trowbridge and Peter Oliver instructed the jury, and Oliver specifically addressed Carr's testimony: "this Carr was not upon oath, it is true, but you will determine whether a man just stepping into eternity is not to be believed, especially in favor of a set of men by whom he had lost his life". Carr's testimony is one of the earliest recorded uses of the dying declaration exception to the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence in United States legal code. [70]

The four civilians were tried on December 13. [71] The principal prosecution witness was a servant of one of the accused who made claims that were easily rebutted by defense witnesses. They were all acquitted, and the servant was eventually convicted of perjury, whipped, and banished from the province. [72]


Contribution to American Revolution

The Boston Massacre is considered one of the most significant events that turned colonial sentiment against King George III and British Parliamentary authority. John Adams wrote that the "foundation of American independence was laid" on March 5, 1770, and Samuel Adams and other Patriots used annual commemorations (Massacre Day) to encourage public sentiment toward independence. [73] Christopher Monk was the boy who was wounded in the attack and died in 1780, and his memory was honored as a reminder of British hostility. [33]

Later events such as the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party further illustrated the crumbling relationship between Britain and its colonies. Five years passed between the massacre and outright war, and Neil York suggests that there is only a tenuous connection between the massacre and the two. [74] [ clarification needed ] it is widely perceived as a significant event leading to the violent rebellion that followed. [75] [76] Howard Zinn argues that Boston was full of "class anger". He reports that the Boston Gazette published in 1763 that "a few persons in power" were promoting political projects "for keeping the people poor in order to make them humble." [77]


Massacre memorial on the Boston Common Boston Massacre Memorial - IMG 9560.JPG
Massacre memorial on the Boston Common

The massacre was remembered in 1858 in a celebration organized by William Cooper Nell, a black abolitionist who saw the death of Crispus Attucks as an opportunity to demonstrate the role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War. [78] Artwork was produced commemorating the massacre, changing the color of a victim's skin to black to emphasize Attucks' death. [79] In 1888, a monument was erected on the Boston Common in memory of the men killed in the massacre, and the five victims were reinterred in a prominent grave in the Granary Burying Ground. [80]

The massacre is reenacted annually on March 5 [81] under the auspices of the Bostonian Society. [82] [83] The Old State House, the massacre site, and the Granary Burying Ground are part of Boston's Freedom Trail, connecting sites important in the city's history. [80]

See also

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The SJC claims the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Americas, with a recognized history dating to the establishment of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature in 1692 under the charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disputes this, claiming to be eight years older.

Joseph Warren American doctor

Joseph Warren was an American physician who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in the early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as President of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Warren enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Warren participated in the next day's Battles of Lexington and Concord, which are commonly considered to be the opening engagements of the American Revolutionary War.

Granary Burying Ground cemetery

The Granary Burying Ground in Massachusetts is the city of Boston's third-oldest cemetery, founded in 1660 and located on Tremont Street. It is the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots, including Paul Revere, the five victims of the Boston Massacre, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine. The cemetery has 2,345 grave-markers, but historians estimate that as many as 5,000 people are buried in it. The cemetery is adjacent to Park Street Church and immediately across from Suffolk University Law School.

Old State House (Boston)

The Old State House is a historic building in Boston, Massachusetts, at the intersection of Washington and State Streets. Built in 1713, it was the seat of the Massachusetts General Court until 1798, and is one of the oldest public buildings in the United States. One of the landmarks on Boston's Freedom Trail, it is the oldest surviving public building in Boston, and now serves as a history museum operated by the Bostonian Society. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission in 1994.

Powder Alarm major popular reaction to the removal of gunpowder from a magazine by British soldiers under orders from General Thomas Gage, royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, on September 1, 1774

The Powder Alarm was a major popular reaction to the removal of gunpowder from a magazine by British soldiers under orders from General Thomas Gage, royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, on September 1, 1774. In response to this action, amid rumors that blood had been shed, alarm spread through the countryside to Connecticut and beyond, and American Patriots sprang into action, fearing that war was at hand. Thousands of militiamen began streaming toward Boston and Cambridge, and mob action forced Loyalists and some government officials to flee to the protection of the British Army.

Thomas Preston was a British officer, a captain who served in Boston in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He commanded troops in the Boston Massacre in 1770 and was tried for murder, but he was acquitted. Historians have never settled whether he ordered his men to fire on the colonists. Preston was originally from Ireland; his people were among the Protestants settled there.

<i>Boston Gazette</i>

The Boston Gazette (1719–1798) was a newspaper published in Boston, Massachusetts, in the British North American colonies. It began publication December 21, 1719 and appeared weekly. It should not be confused with the Boston Gazette (1803–16). The Rebirth of The Boston Gazette was in spring 2019.

Boston Tea Party political protest in Boston in the British colony of Massachusetts

The Boston Tea Party was a political and mercantile protest by the Sons of Liberty in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 16, 1773. The target was the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, which allowed the British East India company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by the Townshend Acts. American Patriots strongly opposed the taxes in the Townshend Act as a violation of their rights. Demonstrators, some disguised as Native Americans, destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company.

Isaac Davis (soldier) American gunsmith

Isaac Davis was a gunsmith and a militia officer who commanded a company of Minutemen from Acton, Massachusetts, during the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. In the months leading up to the Revolution, Davis set unusually high standards for his company in terms of equipment, training, and preparedness. His company was selected to lead the advance on the British Regulars during the Battle of Concord because his men were entirely outfitted with bayonets. During the American advance on the British at the Old North Bridge, Davis was among the first killed and was the first American officer to die in the Revolution.

Hutchinson Letters Affair

The Hutchinson Letters Affair was an incident that increased tensions between the colonists of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and the British government prior to the American Revolution. In June 1773 letters written several years earlier by Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, governor and lieutenant governor of the province at the time of their publication, were published in a Boston newspaper. The content of the letters was propagandistically claimed by Massachusetts radical politicians to call for the abridgement of colonial rights, and a duel was fought in England over the matter.

Samuel Adams American statesman, political philosopher, governor of Massachusetts and Founding Father of the United States

Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a politician in colonial Massachusetts, a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and one of the architects of the principles of American republicanism that shaped the political culture of the United States. He was a second cousin to his fellow Founding Father, President John Adams.

Private Matthew Kilroy was a soldier of the 29th Regiment of Foot who was present at the Boston Massacre. He killed one man and was found guilty of manslaughter.

Private Hugh Montgomery was a soldier of the 29th Regiment of Foot who was present at the Boston Massacre. He killed one man and was found guilty of manslaughter.

Massachusetts Convention of Towns

The Massachusetts Convention of Towns was an extralegal assembly held in Boston in response to the news that British troops would soon be arriving to crack down on anti-British rioting. Delegates from 96 Massachusetts towns gathered in Faneuil Hall to discuss their options. The more militant faction, led by James Otis Jr., Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, wanted to organize an armed resistance. The more conservative faction, led by convention chairman Thomas Cushing, preferred to lodge a written complaint. The conservatives won out, and the delegates endorsed a series of mild resolutions before disbanding.


  1. 1 2 Fischer, Paul Revere's Ride, 24.
  2. Antal 2013, p. 40.
  3. The Boston Massacre
  4. The American Past: A Survey of American History; Joseph Conlin p. 133
  5. Historical Dictionary of American Propaganda. Martin J. Manning, p. 33
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  7. Ross and McCaughey, From Loyalist to Founding Father, p. 94.
  8. Knollenberg, Growth, p. 56.
  9. Triber, A True Republican, p. 66.
  10. Knollenberg, Growth, p. 63.
  11. Triber, A True Republican, p. 63.
  12. Ross and McCaughey, From Loyalist to Founding Father, p. 93.
  13. A Short Narrative, p. 17.
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  15. Knollenberg, Growth, p. 76.
  16. 1 2 Knollenberg, Growth, pp. 76–78.
  17. Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, pp. 208–210.
  18. O'Connor, The Hub, p. 56.
  19. 1 2 Allison, The Boston Massacre, 11.
  20. Zobel, The Boston Massacre, pp. 185–186.
  21. Allison, The Boston Massacre, p. 12.
  22. Archer, As if an Enemy's Country, p. 190.
  23. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 194.
  24. Archer, As if an Enemy's Country, p. 191.
  25. Zobel, Boston Massacre, 195.
  26. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 196.
  27. 1 2 Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 197.
  28. Zobel, Boston Massacre, 198–200.
  29. 1 2 A Short Narrative, 11.
  30. Zobel, Boston Massacre, 191.
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  32. Allison, The Boston Massacre, x.
  33. 1 2 Miller, Origins of the American Revolution, p. 395.
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  35. York, "Rival Truths", p. 61.
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  37. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 205.
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  39. Bailyn, Ordeal, p. 159.
  40. 1 2 Bailyn, Ordeal, p. 161.
  41. York, "Rival Truths", p. 64.
  42. York, "Rival Truths", p. 66.
  43. A Fair Account, pp. 14–15
  44. York, "Rival Truths", pp. 59–60.
  45. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 228.
  46. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 229.
  47. York, "Rival Truths", p. 68.
  48. Triber, A True Republican, p. 80.
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  50. Walett, pp. 330–333.
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  53. York, "Rival Truths", pp. 73–74.
  54. York, "Rival Truths", p. 77.
  55. 1 2 York, "Rival Truths", p. 74.
  56. York, "Rival Truths", p. 75.
  57. Adams and Butterfield, Diary, p. 79.
  58. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 220.
  59. Zobel, Boston Massacre, pp. 220–221.
  60. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 268.
  61. Cumming, The Fate of a Nation, p. 24.
  62. York, "Rival Truths", p. 81.
  63. Zobel, Boston Massacre, pp. 243–265.
  64. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 269.
  65. Zinn, A People's History of the United States, p. 67.
  66. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 291.
  67. Zobel, Boston Massacre, p. 294.
  68. Zobel, Boston Massacre, pp. 285–286, 298.
  69. Boston Massacre Historical Society
  70. Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Bristol. Commonweslth v. Ralph Nesbitt. (SJC 9824) 452 Mass. 236 (2008)
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Further reading

Preceded by
Old State House
Locations along Boston's Freedom Trail
Site of the Boston Massacre
Succeeded by
Faneuil Hall