Boston Massacre 1770 - History

Boston Massacre 1770 - History

Five colonists were killed by British Troops in Boston on March 5th 1770. The event was precipitated by taunts against British soldiers in Boston. The British responded with force and fired their muskets at the Americans, killing 3 instantly and wounding 11. Two of the wounded soon died. The death of the colonists, in what became known as the Boston Massacre, inflamed American opinion against the British and was one of the most significant events leading up to the Revolution.

From the moment the British decided to send troops to Boston it was only a matter of time before British troops were likely to clash with the colonists. That day came on March 5th 1770. In that early evening a British sentry was guarding the custom house on King Street, (what is today "State Street" in downtown Boston.) Colonists began to taunt the sentry. Soon a crowd grew. With the crowd growing, the Officer of the Day, Captain Thomas Preston, ordered seven or eight soldiers under his command to support the sentry. Preston soon followed. By the time the additional troops arrived the crowd had grown to between 300 and 400 hundred men. The ever-growing crowd continued to taunt the British soldiers whose muskets were loaded. The crowd then began pelting the sentries with snowballs.

A colonist knocked one of the soldiers down. As the soldier got up, he fired his musket, and then yelled "Damm you, fire". There was a pause and then the British soldiers fired on the colonists. Three Americans-- rope maker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and an African American sailor named Crispus Attucks died instantly. Samuel Maverick, struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd, died a few hours later in the early morning of the next day. Thirty-year-old Irish immigrant Patrick Carr died two weeks later.

This event quickly became known as "the Boston Massacre". Thanks to the efforts of Boston engraver, Paul Revere, who copied a drawing made by Henry Pelham, the illustration of the above events soon made its way throughout the colonies. The illustration stirred the anger of Americans towards the British. Captain Preston and four of his men were arrested and charged with manslaughter.

The soldiers were tried in open court, with John Adams acting as one of the Defense Attorneys. Preston was found "not guilty", as it became clear it was unlikely that he gave the order to fire. The other soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter and punished by having their thumbs branded.


Boston Massacre

As a means of generating income for colonial administration, Parliament in 1767 passed the Townshend Acts, which placed duties on paper, lead, paint, and tea imported into the colonies. A boycott engineered by the Americans angered the imperial authorities. Customs officials repeatedly asked for military backing, in the hope that a show of force would enable them to collect duties from reluctant colonists. In October 1768, those pleas were answered and the first soldiers were posted in Boston. Eventually, about 4,000 redcoats, equal to one-fourth of the city's population, were deployed. Bostonians resented the presence of "foreign" soldiers in their city, but many common workers shared an additional concern. The British soldiers were so poorly paid that many had to find part-time jobs in order to meet their basic needs. In so doing, the redcoats were taking jobs needed by the colonists. Incidents between citizen and soldier were frequent. The most incendiary was the so-called "Boston Massacre" of March 5, 1770. On that day, a single sentry was on duty at the Customs House on King Street, present-day State Street. An argument broke out between the soldier and a local merchant, who was struck with the butt of a musket during the confrontation. A crowd assembled quickly and began pelting the sentry with a variety of materials — stones, oyster shells, ice, and chunks of coal. Tensions were further heightened when the bells of the city’s churches began to toll, the traditional means of summoning help in fighting fires. Reinforcements under Captain Thomas Preston were rushed in to relieve the beleaguered sentry. The mob taunted the soldiers, daring them to fire, while remaining somewhat secure in the widely held knowledge that the soldiers could not discharge their weapons within the city without prior authorization from a civil magistrate. At this juncture, someone in the crowd hurled a wooden club at the redcoats. Private Hugh Montgomery was struck and fell to the ground. As he regained his footing, someone — Montgomery, another soldier, or someone in the jeering mob — yelled, “Fire!” The redcoats did so. Preston, who clearly had not given the order, ended the firing and tried to restore order. By that time, however, three colonists lay dead and two others mortally wounded six others would later recover from their wounds. The Boston Massacre was, of course, not a “massacre,” in the classic sense. Samuel Adams and other propagandists, however, immediately capitalized on this incident, using it to fan colonial passions. Paul Revere assisted the effort by issuing one of his most famous engravings, possibly plagiarized, depicting the American version of the event. In response to these tensions, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson ordered that the British soldiers be withdrawn to Castle Island, giving the colonists a much-celebrated victory and indicating the rudderless nature of British policy. A combined funeral for the slain was held a few days later and the procession was said to have been joined by 10,000 people. Later, 35-year-old John Adams risked the disapproval of his friends and neighbors by defending the British soldiers in a highly publicized trial. Historians tended for many years to regard the Boston Massacre as a watershed event. American opinion was radicalized by skillful propaganda, which moved many former moderates to outspoken opposition to British policies. More recent scholars, however, have found evidence of a more discerning Boston public that was appreciative of British restraint and disapproving of provocative mob actions. Evidence of the latter view was found in the relative quiet that descended on the community after the funeral. Further unpopular British actions would have to occur before a larger portion of the populace would embrace the radical view.

NOTE: According to most accounts, the first colonist to fall from the British volley was Crispus Attucks, a mulatto sailor. Little is known about his life, but some evidence exists indicating that he may have been a runaway slave nearly a quarter century earlier. Attucks' body lay in state for several days in Faneuil Hall, then was buried in a common grave with the other four victims.

The Declaration of Independence

The Boston Massacre was a street fight that occurred on March 5, 1770, between a "patriot" mob, throwing snowballs, stones, and sticks, and a squad of British soldiers. Several colonists were killed and this led to a campaign by speech-writers to rouse the ire of the citizenry.

"The Bloody Massacre" engraving by Paul Revere. Note that this is not an accurate depiction of the event.

The presence of British troops in the city of Boston was increasingly unwelcome. The riot began when about 50 citizens attacked a British sentinel. A British officer, Captain Thomas Preston, called in additional soldiers, and these too were attacked, so the soldiers fired into the mob, killing 3 on the spot (a black sailor named Crispus Attucks, ropemaker Samuel Gray, and a mariner named James Caldwell), and wounding 8 others, two of whom died later (Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr).

A town meeting was called demanding the removal of the British and the trial of Captain Preston and his men for murder. At the trial, John Adams and Josiah Quincy II defended the British, leading to their acquittal and release. Samuel Quincy and Robert Treat Paine were the attorneys for the prosecution. Later, two of the British soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter.

The Boston Massacre was a signal event leading to the Revolutionary War. It led directly to the Royal Governor evacuating the occupying army from the town of Boston. It would soon bring the revolution to armed rebellion throughout the colonies.

Note that the occupation of Boston by British troops in 1768 was not met by open resistance.

Boston Massacre 1770 - History

On the night of March 5, 1770, members of the British Army killed five civilian men in Boston. This incident is known as the Boston Massacre, and is also called the Boston Riot. Aside from the lives lost, can you guess what this incident resulted to? If you are guessing fear among Colonists, then you are incorrect. But if you guessed unrest among them, then your guess is certainly correct.

The Boston Massacre, also known as “The Bloody Massacre in King Street” or the “State Street Massacre”, is a huge event that has been told and retold so many times that there are a number of inconsistencies about the actual event, during and after the incident.


Boston was a difficult city to live in. In the 1760’s, it was one of the first colonies that openly showed its dislike for British rule. In 1768, British troops were sent to Boston to enforce the Townshend Acts. It was an act made to raise the revenues collected in the colonies to pay for the governors and judges. It also made it possible to impose tax on the whole colony. When the troops came in Boston in 1768, they were not surprised to meet a resistance. Imagine having a British soldier for every American. That isn’t really a good thing as far as the Colonists were concerned. This alone made the British more unpopular to Colonists living in Boston.

Trigger Happy?

On February 22 before the Boston Massacre, a German boy named Christopher Seider was shot dead by a customs service employee, Ebenezer Richardson, in an attempt to ward off the attacks to his house. He was considered the first person to ever die from the conflict between Colonists and Englishmen. His killer was convicted of murder but was later freed by royal pardon and given a new job at the custom services. The boys funeral was attended by a large group of people, all of whom felt a major grievance against the British Parliament.

Versions of what really happened?

Eleven days after the death of Christopher Seider, the Boston Massacre happened. It is said that it started when a group of men taunted a standing sentry guard of the house of the city customs. British soldiers saw what was happening and fired at the group of men. After that, it is said that the army fired in all directions, ultimately killing 5 people and wounding 6. There were some who believed that four of these men died on the scene and a man was pronounced dead two days later. Some believed that there were 3 who died on the scene, 2 who died later. Many would say that it wouldn’t matter whether they were dead on the scene or later, but it probably matters to those who died and their families.

Others believe that it started when an apprentice of wigmaker, Edward Gerrish, called out to Captain Lieutenant John Goldfinch that his master’s bill has not yet been paid. Still, there were others who believed that it was the young wigmaker himself who insulted a regular named Hugh White. It was also believed that Captain Preston ordered a free-for-all after the massacre.


It is interesting that the Boston Massacre incident was called a massacre at all. The Boston Massacre was a fight that both sides took part in, and this is the reason why the massacre isn’t a massacre at all. It was not a massacre, but people felt that the term would ignite the emotions of the Colonists that would compel them to join the patriots.

What really happened that resulted to the Boston Massacre, none of the historians could agree upon. There are different descriptions and narrations of the incident that it has become impossible for anyone to now know what really happened on March 5 of 1770. Sure, the Colonists have had their part in wrong doings, but however you look at it, the British acted quite harshly.

A Witness

Paul Revere began selling prints of the Boston Massacre incident. It is not known whether he was there to even know about the details of the event, but the interpretation and the detailed map of the bodies was believable enough to be used in a trial court against the British soldiers. Many people believed that he had experienced it first-hand.

What happened in the court is still a mystery too. All in all, it has been said that Captain Thomas Preston and nine others were convicted of murder and two were acquitted. But some versions of this story include having two regulars being charged with manslaughter instead of murder. There were also four who had been suspected to have shot from the window of the house of the city customs. Some others say that Preston and six of his men were cleared of the charges with only two charged with manslaughter.

Paul Revere was an American patriot, and he had been living long enough in Boston to see and know that his fellowmen (as well as he) were being tyrannized by the British. When the Boston massacre happened, he has put his talents to good use by making his sentiments known. He used the Boston Massacre to rally his countrymen, and make them realize that it is not right to be oppressed in a country that is your own. Paul Revere’s engraving became the first influence that formed an anti-British sentiment across the new nation.

The Boston Massacre is one of the many reasons why the thirteen colonies of Britain in America united against the British Monarchy and a war for freedom ensued. There were more than a handful of reasons why the Colonists felt that they shouldn’t be treated as the British treated them, and there are more than enough enthusiasm and response from many patriots in the colonies.

Boston Massacre, March 5th, 1770

Boston Massacre is a lithograph from J. H. Bufford’s (1810- 1874) lithography company in Boston, based on an illustration by W. L. Champney. This version of the Boston Massacre has one major difference from previous renditions of the event: it includes Crispus Attucks and portrays him as a central figure of the event. It is possible that, because this print was published in the 1850’s during the abolitionist movement, artists may have been more sensitive to representing blacks in their art.

Crispus Attucks (ca. 1723-1770) was the first casualty of the American Revolution. On the evening of March 5, 1770, a confrontation between soldiers and a group of townspeople resulted in five dead and six wounded. Attucks, of African and Native American descent, grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, and was said to be a runaway slave who found work and spent many years as a sailor and rope maker in Boston. He, along with other local sailors and rope makers, felt particularly threatened by British soldiers and sailors who would often compete for part-time jobs with the locals during off-duty hours. This competition lead to a fight on March 2, 1770, between British soldiers and local rope makers, which helped fuel tensions that lead to the massacre a few days later. (1) Colonists, in general, were very agitated with the increased taxes put on them by the British government, as well as the increased presence of British troops in town. Tensions between the colonists and the British troops built to a point that made confrontation inevitable. (2)

The confrontation on March 5, 1770 that became known as the Boston Massacre, began when a large group of locals started taunting British soldiers with snowballs, stones, and clubs. At the head of this group was Attucks. Several British soldiers came to the rescue of the soldiers being taunted and open fired on the crowd. It is unclear whether Attucks attacked a soldier first, but he ended up being the first fatality from bullet wounds. Two others, Samuel Gray and James Caldwell, also died during the incident. Two others, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr died days later as a result of their injuries. Six others were wounded. (3)

Artist: W. L. Champney, who’s first name was probably William, was an illustrator, from Boston, who did some illustrations for books and magazines. (4)

(4) Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957. pg. 118.

Sons of Liberty

The Sons of Liberty were a group of colonial merchants and tradesmen founded to protest the Stamp Act and other forms of taxation. The group of revolutionists included prominent patriots such as Benedict Arnold, Patrick Henry and Paul Revere, as well as Adams and Hancock.

Led by Adams, the Sons of Liberty held meetings rallying against British Parliament and protested the Griffin’s Wharf arrival of Dartmouth, a British East India Company ship carrying tea. By December 16, 1773, Dartmouth had been joined by her sister ships, Beaver and Eleanor all three ships loaded with tea from China.

That morning, as thousands of colonists convened at the wharf and its surrounding streets, a meeting was held at the Old South Meeting House where a large group of colonists voted to refuse to pay taxes on the tea or allow the tea to be unloaded, stored, sold or used. (Ironically, the ships were built in America and owned by Americans.)

Governor Thomas Hutchison refused to allow the ships to return to Britain and ordered the tea tariff be paid and the tea unloaded. The colonists refused, and Hutchison never offered a satisfactory compromise.

Boston Massacre 1770 - History

The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770 when British soldiers in Boston opened fire on a group of American colonists killing five men.

The Boston Massacre by Unknown

Prior to the Boston Massacre the British had instituted a number of new taxes on the American colonies including taxes on tea, glass, paper, paint, and lead. These taxes were part of a group of laws called the Townshend Acts. The colonies did not like these laws. They felt these laws were a violation of their rights. Just like when Britain imposed the Stamp Act, the colonists began to protest and the British brought in soldiers to keep order.

What happened at the Boston Massacre?

The Boston Massacre began the evening of March 5, 1770 with a small argument between British Private Hugh White and a few colonists outside the Custom House in Boston on King Street. The argument began to escalate as more colonists gathered and began to harass and throw sticks and snowballs at Private White.

Soon there were over 50 colonists at the scene. The local British officer of the watch, Captain Thomas Preston, sent a number of soldiers over to the Custom House to maintain order. However, the sight of British soldiers armed with bayonets just aggravated the crowd further. They began to shout at the soldiers, daring them to fire.

Captain Preston then arrived and tried to get the crowd to disperse. Unfortunately, an object thrown from the crowd struck one of the soldiers, Private Montgomery, and knocked him down. He fired into the crowd. After a few seconds of stunned silence, a number of other soldiers fired into the crowd as well. Three colonists died immediately and two more died later from wounds.

Site of the Boston Massacre by Ducksters

The crowd was eventually dispersed by the acting governor of Boston, Thomas Hutchinson. Thirteen people were arrested including eight British soldiers, one officer, and four civilians. They were charged with murder and put in jail awaiting their trial. British troops were removed from the city as well.

The Old State House Today by Ducksters
The Boston Massacre took place just outside
of the Old State House

The trial of the eight soldiers began on November 27, 1770. The government wanted the soldiers to have a fair trial, but they were having difficulty in getting a lawyer to represent them. Finally, John Adams agreed to be their lawyer. Although he was a patriot, Adams thought that the soldiers deserved a fair trial.

Adams argued that the soldiers had the right to defend themselves. He showed that they thought their lives were in danger from the mob that had gathered. Six of the soldiers were found not-guilty and two were found guilty of manslaughter.

The Boston Massacre became a rallying cry for patriotism in the colonies. Groups like the Sons of Liberty used it to show the evils of British rule. Although the American Revolution would not start for another five years, the event certainly moved people to look at British rule in a different light.

Boston Massacre Engraving by Paul Revere

Boston Massacre Timeline

The Boston Massacre was an event that occurred in Boston during the American Revolution. It took place on the evening of March 5, 1770 during a protest in front of the Custom House in Boston, Massachusetts. The massacre was one of many events believed to have caused the American Revolution.

It is important to know the timeline of the massacre because it helps to put the event into context so we can understand why and how it happened.

The following is a timeline of the Boston Massacre:

  • On February 22, a 11-year-old boy named Christopher Seider is shot and killed by Ebenezer Richardson, a British customs official, after Richardson tried to stop a group of school boys from throwing rocks at the shop of a loyalist merchant. One of the rocks strikes Richardson and the crowd chases him home where he fires his musket out the window and strikes Seider. The shooting sparks outrage in Boston.
  • On February 26, Seider’s funeral is held at Faneuil Hall. Around 2,000 people follow Seider’s casket during the procession, which starts at Faneuil Hall, goes down around the Liberty Tree near Boston Common, back to the Old State House and then to the Granary Burying Ground where the boy is laid to rest.
  • On March 2, a British soldier from the 29 th Regiment, Patrick Walker, is walking past John Gray’s ropewalk when one of the workers asks him if he wants a job. When he replies yes, the man jokes that he can clean his outhouse. A fight breaks out between the men, Walker flees and then returns several times with 20 and then 30 British soldiers but they are chased away by the rope workers each time.
  • In the afternoon on March 3, another fight breaks out between three British soldiers and a group of rope workers at Archiebald McNeil’s ropewalk.

Boston Massacre, illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne, circa 1895
  • On March 4, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Carr of the 29 th Regiment orders a search of Gray’s ropewalk for a missing sergeant that Carr suspects may have been murdered there but finds nothing. Rumors begin to swirl that trouble is brewing between the soldiers and rope workers and several fights break out between the two groups throughout the city.
  • On the morning of March 5, a handbill reportedly signed by the soldiers of the 14 th and 29 th Regiment is posted throughout Boston warning the “rebellious people of Boston” that the soldiers were joining forces to “defend themselves against all who shall oppose them.”
  • At 3pm on March 5, a crowd of 300 townspeople gather at the Liberty Tree.
  • Around 6pm – 7pm on March 5, small groups of three to six townspeople are seen walking the streets of Boston armed with clubs.
  • At 7pm on March 5, a group of townspeople gather around Hugh White, a British sentry standing guard outside the Custom House, and begin throwing snowballs and ice at him. White warns the group to leave him alone and a man in a red cloak approaches the group, speaks to them and they then cross the street and keep their distance.
  • At 8pm on March 5, a crowd of men and boys armed with shovels, sticks and swords gather in Dock Square where some of them break into Faneuil Hall and tear apart a butcher’s stall to make clubs out of the wood.
  • At 8:30pm on March 5, the crowd in Dock Square has grown to 200 to 300 men and an unknown man in a red cloak and white wig begins to whip the crowd into a frenzy before the crowd splits up into three groups, of about 100 people each, and march off in different directions. One group heads to the main barracks where the 29 th Regiment are housed. Unable to break through the gates or taunt the soldiers into coming out of the barracks, the crowd eventually moves on to King Street.
  • In front of the Custom House, the crowd begins to harass White again and he retreats to the steps of the Custom House for safety.
  • At 9pm on March 5, the Brattle Street Church bell begins to ring and people spill out into the street looking for a fire.
  • In the North End, a group of 25 to 30 men, including Crispus Attucks and Partrick Keaton, respond to sound of the bell and join the crowd in front of the Custom House. Attucks is carrying two clubs and hands one to Keaton who throws it in the snow.
  • William Jackson, an importer and British sympathizer, rushes to the tavern where Captain Thomas Preston is lodging to tell him what’s happening.
  • Preston rushes to the main barracks and gathers Corporal William Wemms and six privates, Hugh Montgomery, James Hartigan, William McCauley, John Carroll, William Warren and Matthew Kilroy, who form two lines and march down King Street to the Custom House.
  • Wemms leads the soldiers through the crowd to the steps of the Custom House while the crowd throws snowballs, ice and oyster shells at them.
  • Knowing that the soldiers are forbidden to fire their weapons until they have read the Riot Act to crowd, the crowd begin to taunt the soldiers to fire their guns.
  • A colonist named Benjamin Burdick, armed with a club and a broadsword, taunts Private Montgomery who pushes him back with his bayonet and Burdick pushes away the bayonet with his sword which hits the gunlock.
  • At that exact moment, Montgomery is struck by a piece of wood thrown by someone in the crowd.
  • As Montgomery staggers, Crispus Attucks grabs for Montgomery’s bayonet but Montgomery recovers his footing, raises his gun and fires. At the same moment, another soldiers fires his gun as well.
  • Attucks is struck by two musket balls in the chest and another person in the crowd, Samuel Gray, has his head partially taken off by one of the musket balls. They both fall dead in the street.

The Boston Massacre, illustration published in the Pictorial History of the United States, circa 1877
  • Preston responds by yelling “Why did you fire?” at the soldiers at which point the other soldiers hear the word “fire” and three of them fire into the crowd as well.
  • One of the musket balls hits sailor James Caldwell, who is walking across King Street, in the back and he falls dead in the street.
  • The crowd begins to move in on the soldiers but they fire again. Robert Patterson and merchant Edward Payne are struck in the arm, apprentices Christopher Monk and John Clark are also hit and Patrick Carr, who is across the street in Quaker Lane, is struck in the hip. Another musket ball ricochets off a building and hits apprentice Samuel Maverick in the chest. Two other muskets balls hit tailor John Green and apprentice David Parker in the legs.
  • Governor Thomas Hutchinson hurries from his home near North Square to King Street where he reprimands Preston for allowing his soldiers to fire on the crowd and orders him to take the soldiers back to the barracks.
  • Hutchinson makes his way for the Old State House and go upstairs to the council chamber where he steps out on the balcony, surveys the scene and orders the crowd to go home. He also sees the soldiers outside the guardhouse aiming at the crowd and orders the soldiers to go inside.
  • On the morning of March 6, Samuel Maverick dies of his wound. Captain Preston surrenders and Wemms, the six privates and Hugh White are arrested.
  • On March 8, a funeral procession is held for Crispus Attucks, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell and Samuel Gray. The individual processions start from various homes of the victim’s family or friends in Boston, except for Crispus Attucks’s procession which starts from Faneuil Hall, and converge on King Street before continuing on to Main Street (modern-day Washington Street), down to the Liberty Tree, onto Boston Common and then to the Granary Burying Ground where they are all laid to rest in one grave.
  • On March 10, Preston publishes a letter thanking the Boston public for the manner in which he was treated on March 5.
  • Between March 12 – 15, depositions are taken defending the seven British soldiers.
  • On March 12, a town meeting is held during which James Bowdoin, Joseph Warren and Samuel Pemberton are appointed to write a report on the Boston Massacre.
  • On March 13, a grand jury indicts Thomas Preston, William Wemms, and the seven privates in the murders of the Boston Massacre victims.
  • On March 14, Patrick Carr dies of his wound.

Obituary of Patrick Carr circa 1770
  • On March 16, customs commissioner John Robinson sails from Boston, Mass to London, England carrying the depositions and Preston’s account of the massacre.
  • Between March 13 – 19, justices of the peace, Richard Dana and John Hill, take depositions from 96 witnesses while Colonel Darlympe, deputy customs collector William Sheaffe and Bartholomew Green cross-examine the witnesses. From the depositions, Bowdoin, Warren and Pemberton write an official town report on the event, titled Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, Perpetrated in the Evening of the Fifth Day of March 1770, By Soldiers of the 29 th Regiment. The report blames the soldiers as well as the custom commissioners for the violence.
  • On March 19, the report is accepted during a town meeting and copies are ordered so it can be sent to influential men in England such as Parliament member Isaac Barre, former governor Thomas Pownall, and Benjamin Franklin, who is representing the colonial assemblies in London.
  • On March 19, a grand jury indicts Ebenezer Richardson in the death of Christopher Seider and charges George Wilmot as his accomplice.
  • In mid-late March, Engraver Henry Pelham creates a drawing of the Boston Massacre, titled The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, which depicts Captain Preston with his sword raise in command while his soldiers fire in unison into a crowd of peaceful, unarmed civilians. In the window of the Custom House a puff of smoke is depicted, suggesting a customs commissioner also fired on the crowd.
  • Pelham presented his drawing to silversmith Paul Revere who creates a new engraving, titled The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, on March 5 th 1770 by a party of the 29 th Regt, which depicts essentially the same image but with slight variations, such as the words “Butcher’s Hall” written across the front of the Custom House and a gun with a cloud of smoke sticking out of the building’s window.
  • On March 29, Pelham writes to Revere and accuses him of copying his drawing.
  • On April 1, Captain Andrew Gardner sails from Boston to England carrying the official report on the Boston Massacre. Upon reaching England, the news of the Boston Massacre is widely reported in the British newspapers.
  • On April 20, the trial of Ebenezer Richardson and George Wilmot for the murder of Christopher Seider begins and ends the same day.
  • On April 21, Richardson is found guilty and Wilmot not guilty.
  • On April 28, Preston’s account of the Boston Massacre is published in a London newspaper, the Public Advertiser, under the title Case of Captain Preston of the 29 th Regiment.
  • In May, an anonymous author in London produces a pamphlet, titled A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England, which includes the fight at Gray’s ropewalk and draws on depositions from the soldiers, townspeople and also containes Andrew Oliver’s account of a March 6 th meeting of the Governor’s Council in which a plan is discussed to try and remove the troops and customs commissioners.
  • On June 18, British newspaper reports of Preston’s account of the Boston Massacre reach Boston, Mass and are reprinted in the local papers.
  • On September 7, the Massachusetts General Court bring charges against Preston, Wemms and the seven privates.
  • In October, the Governor’s Council launch an investigation into Oliver’s account and decide that he misrepresented their March 6 th meeting and committed a breach of trust by sending the minutes of their meetings to London. The council sends the report to their own agent in England seeking action against Oliver.
  • On October 24, the trial of Captain Preston begins at the Queen Street Courthouse in Boston.
  • On October 27, the closing arguments in Preston’s trial are heard.
  • At 8am on October 30, Captain Preston is acquitted of all charges after the evidence fails to establish whether he gave the order to fire.
  • On November 27, the trials of the remaining soldiers begin at the Queen Street Courthouse.
  • On December 3, the closing arguments in the soldier’s trial are heard.
  • On December 5, six of the soldiers, William Wemms, John Carroll, William McCauley, William Warren, Hugh White and James Hartigan, are found not guilty and two soldiers, Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy, are convicted of manslaughter since they were the only soldiers that witnesses saw firing. To prevent Montgomery and Kilroy from being hanged, they plead the benefit of the clergy, a medieval provision which claimed clergymen were outside the jurisdiction of secular courts, but since the defense could only be used once the accused had to be branded on the thumb.
  • On December 14, Kilroy and Montgomery were brought back to the court, where they read a passage from the Bible and are branded on the hand with the letter “M,” for manslaughter, with a hot iron.
  • The soldiers return to their regiment, which is now stationed in New Jersey, and Preston sails for England.
  • On the evening of March 5, on the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre, a commemorative lecture is held at the Manufactory House, bells toll between 9pm and 10pm and Paul Revere illuminates his windows with scenes from the massacre, which depicts images of a wounded Christopher Seider and the wounded Boston Massacre victims.
  • On March 5, an even larger commemoration is held at the Old South Meeting House. A pamphlet, titled A Monumental Inscription on the Fifth of March, is published that day which mentions that Ebenezer Richardson has still not been hanged for his crime and includes Revere’s engraving of the massacre.
  • On March 9, Governor Hutchinson pardons Ebenezer Richardson. Richardson flees Boston, with an angry mob in pursuit, but he escapes unharmed and never returns to Boston.
  • On March 5, the annual Boston Massacre commemoration is held at the Old South Meeting House and Dr. Joseph Warren delivers the lecture that evening after John Adams declined an invitation to do so.
  • On March 5, the annual commemoration is held at the Old South Meeting House and John Hancock delivers the lecture that evening.
  • On March 5, the annual commemoration is held at the Old South Meeting House and Dr. Joseph Warren delivers the lecture that evening.
  • On March 5, the annual commemoration is held in Watertown, because Boston is occupied by the British army due to the Siege of Boston, and Peter Thatcher delivers a lecture on Dr. Joseph Warren’s death at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775.
  • On March 16, the Siege of Boston ends and the British army leave Boston.
  • On March 5, the annual commemoration is held in the Old Brick Meeting House because the Old South Meeting House was badly damaged by the British army, who turned it into a riding school, during the Siege of Boston. All future Boston Massacre commemorations are held at the Old Brick Meeting House.
  • On March 5, a town meeting votes to move the annual Boston Massacre commemoration from March 5 to July 4 to celebrate national independence. The Boston Massacre begins to fade from the public’s memory.
  • An African-American scholar named William Cooper Nell publishes his book, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, which discusses Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre and sparks a renewed interest in the historical event.
  • On March, the African-American community in Boston holds its first annual Crispus Attucks Day rally at Faneuil Hall.
  • A marker dedicated to the Boston Massacre is placed on the corner of State and Exchange Street on what is believed to be the exact spot where Crispus Attucks fell dead.
  • On November 14, a dedication ceremony is held for a newly constructed Boston Massacre Monument on Boston Common.
  • The Boston Massacre marker on the corner of State and Exchange Street is removed to make way for construction on the Boston subway and the marker is relocated across the street near the site where James Caldwell was killed.
  • The Boston Massacre marker is removed again due to an urban renewal project and is relocated to a traffic island in front of the Old State House.
  • The Boston Massacre marker is removed again in order to upgrade the State Street subway station and is relocated to its current location at the intersection of Congress, Devonshire and State Streets.

If you want to read more about the American Revolution, check out this article on the best books on the American Revolution.

The Boston Massacre - 1770

All of the colonies objected to the British soldiers and the regulations that were continually being imposed on the colonial public. However, the opposition in Boston, Massachusetts was the most significant.

As a result, in 1768 the British landed a large number of troops in the city. The soldiers arrived to enforce regulations and to keep control of the city.

Naturally, this caused an enormous amount of tension between the colonists and the British soldiers. It was only a matter of time before a conflict would arise.

In 1770 a few colonials confronted a lone British sentry. The colonists were looking for trouble. First they made verbal threats against the soldier, and then they began to harass the soldier by throwing objects. More soldiers arrived to assist the soldier who was being harassed. Eventually, the disturbance caused a larger crowd to gather and soon the colonists became an unruly mob.

The confrontation got out of control the soldiers were outnumbered and feared for their safety. Out of panic, the soldiers fired their weapons into the crowd. Five Americans were killed in the skirmish. The conflict became known throughout the colonies as the Boston Massacre.

Defending the Enemy: John Adams and the Boston Massacre of 1770

Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, copied from an earlier engraving by Henry Pelham (March 1770). © Public Domain.

Next week marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, one of the key milestones on the road to the American Revolution.

On the evening of 5th March 1770, in a snowy Boston, eight British soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston confronted a crowd of Bostonians, who had gathered to protest outside the Custom House. Ignoring Preston’s command to disperse, the angry mob closed around, throwing snowballs and oyster shells at them.

When one of the missiles struck Private Montgomery, he discharged his musket after yelling to his compatriots, ‘Damn you, fire!’ Accounts vary as to what happened next but they all end with the troop firing into the crowd. As the smoke cleared three people lay dead and several others wounded, two of whom later died of their injuries.

Colonial America contains numerous documents that provide fascinating insights into the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, including the proceedings of the subsequent trial of the soldiers and their defence by an unlikely advocate.

In wake of the events of 5th March, the colonists’ outrage compelled the government to arrest Preston and his men on the charge of murder, accusing the soldiers of ‘being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil and their own wicked hearts’.

In the months before their trial, a media battle was waged between loyalists and patriots as to who was to blame for the incident. Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the event for example characterised the soldiers as ‘Like fierce barbarians grinning o’er their Prey’ and depicted them lined up in front of ‘Butchers Hall’.

The trial of William Wemms, James Hartegan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Matthew Killroy, William Warren, John Carrol, and Hugh Montgomery, 27 Nov 1770. Image © The National Archives London, UK. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Such was the animosity levelled at the soldiers no lawyer dared to come forward to defend them. Ultimately however aid came from a surprising quarter in the unlikely figure of John Adams, a patriot and one of Boston’s most respected attorneys (and a future President of the United States). Adams had no sympathy for the British government and was a strong opponent of the Stamp Act and any form of taxation without representation. Yet he believed that the accused were innocent of the charge of murder and deserved a fair trial.

Adams firstly secured the acquittal of Captain Preston on the grounds that the men under his command had fired without orders. In the following trial of Preston’s men in November 1770, Adams pleaded that the soldiers had acted in self-defence and asked the jury to consider themselves in the shoes of the soldiers and whether any reasonable man would not have concluded that they were in danger of their lives when surrounded by a hostile crowd chanting, ‘Kill them!, Kill them!’ The arguments of Adams led to six of the soldiers being found not guilty whilst Montgomery and one other received the lesser verdict of manslaughter.

Although vilified at the time, Adams later reflected that his defence of the British soldiers had been ‘one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my Country’, having upheld the principles of justice and the right to a fair trial regardless of any predilection. As Adam said in his closing statement at the trial:

Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

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Watch the video: The Boston Massacre Trial 1770. Triumph of the Rule of Law