ERW Weekender: Boston Massacre: 250 Years and 1-Day Later

Crispus Attucks. Every American school child learned that name in a social studies or history class in grade school. On the night of March 5, 1770, Attucks, an African-American was one of the six Bostonians that was killed by British soldiers.

Known in American history as the “Boston Massacre” the tragic event was used as fodder by the Sons of Liberty and pro-revolutionary minded individuals to propel the colonies toward rupture with Great Britain.

Yet in the winding road to revolution, the British soldiers, from the individual sentry that stood guard at the Old State House in downtown Boston, to the six soldiers and non-commissioned officer that responded to the issue, were represented by John Adams in their subsequent trial. Adams would later become a signer of the Declaration of Independence, ambassador to Europe during the American Revolution, first vice president, and second president of the United States.

How did this night affect American history? Besides a simple few lines in an American school textbook or just the name highlighted above, who were the people on the front lines that night? On both sides.

The Old State House
(author’s collection)

Besides Crispus Attucks, who were the other four Bostonians that lost their lives that night? Does one remember that from their schooling? If not, the casualties are listed below.

Samuel Gray, a rope-maker was killed on the spot, 17-year old James Caldwell, a shipmate, was also slain on the night of March 5. Another 17-year old, Samuel Maverick would linger until the next morning before succumbing to his musket wound, the fifth victim was Patrick Carr, who survived a fortnight after his mortal wounding.

Some historians, including ones from the Boston Massacre Historical Society, rightfully claim a sixth victim of the Boston Massacre, Christopher Monk. He suffered a grievous wounding that caused a debilitating injury that he never recovered completely from. Only 17-years old as well on the night of March 5, the musket ball entered his groin and came out the opposite hip. Monk survived another decade before dying on April 20, 1780. Contemporaries, including Henry Pelham who did the initial engraving of the Boston Massacre that was the basis for Paul Revere’s much more famous rendition listed Monk as one of those mortally wounded.  

How about the soldiers that night? What were their names?

The men donning British redcoats and would be tried in court were Captain Thomas Preston, Captain John Goldfinch, Corporal William Weems, Lieutenant James Bassett, Private Hugh White, and Private Hugh Montgomery.

When the trial of the soldiers started in October 1770, one of the most poignant quotes, with major relevance to anyone teaching, writing, or sharing history, was uttered by Adams in defense of the British soldiery:

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

As the 250th of the American Revolutionary Era unfolds, this is a great time to look back and uncover those facts one again and see how they are still relevant today. Visit the sites, read the histories, and listen to the lectures. Otherwise, the Boston Massacre, like the other historical events may just be remembered as “dictums of our passions” and the “stubborn things” like facts, will continue to be obscured. Like the gun-smoke from British muskets 250 years ago today.

To plan your visit to the Old State House and the other sites attributed to the independence movement in Boston click here.

Also, pick up a copy of “A Single Blow” part of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series, which details some of the sites around Boston associated with this time period as well.

2 thoughts on “ERW Weekender: Boston Massacre: 250 Years and 1-Day Later

  1. Diane McVey

    John Adams statement that “Facts are stubborn things” relates to the emotional responses to events of the modern day that some would prefer to judge by emotions instead.


  2. Pingback: Review: John Adams Under Fire: The Founding Father’s Fight for Justice in the Boston Massacre Murder Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher | Emerging Revolutionary War Era

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