Most people with an interest in the American Revolutionary War have heard of the Boston Massacre, in which Captain Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment of Foot, commanding a contingent of British soldiers, fired into a crowd, or a mob depending on one’s point of view, harassing/threatening a guard outside the Customs House. Both sides in the growing dispute between Britain and its colonies rapidly turned the event, which occurred 250 years ago, to their political ends. Several books have been written about the massacre and tried to sort fact from propaganda, at least in the context of revolutionary Boston. In their latest book, John Adams Under Fire: The Founding Father’s Fight for Justice in the Boston Massacre Murder Trial, Dan Abrams and David Fisher tackle the trials of Captain Preston and his soldiers that followed. Continue reading “Review: John Adams Under Fire: The Founding Father’s Fight for Justice in the Boston Massacre Murder Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher”
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.Continue reading “ERW Weekender: Boston Massacre: 250 Years and 1-Day Later”
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Kevin Pawlak
Every quest for liberty has its first martyr. Two-hundred and fifty years ago this evening, the cause of American liberty gained its first five when British soldiers fired on a crowd of Bostonians in an event immortalized as the Boston Massacre.
The first to fall at the end of the British muskets was Crispus Attucks, a mariner of mixed African and Native American heritage. Bostonians paraded Attucks’ remains alongside the four other victims to a common grave but Attucks’ popularity did not grow until the next century when abolitionists used him as a symbol of patriotism. Abolitionists emphasized and stretched Attucks’ role. To supporters of abolition, Attucks was a household name.Continue reading ““The First Blood Spilt to Freedom”: Dangerfield Newby, the Boston Massacre, and Crispus Attucks 250 Years Later”
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Katie Turner Getty
“Fire! Fire! You dare not fire!” “Cowardly rascals!” “Lobsters!”
Shouts pierced the icy stillness of the night as a raucous crowd gathered in Boston’s King Street on the night of March 5, 1770. With their voices carrying through the wintry air all the way to Long Wharf, the crowd hurled insults at eight British soldiers and their captain. The soldiers’ muskets rattled as snowballs, oyster shells, and chunks of ice lobbed by the unruly crowd rained down upon them.
The soldiers shot eleven townspeople that night. Three died in the snow where they stood. Two more would later die from their wounds. The remaining six would survive. All of the victims were male.
Documentary evidence shows that the crowd in King Street on the night of the Boston Massacre was overwhelmingly male. The crowd was variously described as “mostly boys and youngsters”, “near 200 boys and men”, “a parcel of Rude boys”, and “chiefly consisting of boys and lads”. Continue reading “Women Speaking Softly: Female Voices of the Boston Massacre”
The city of Boston, Massachusetts is steeped in American Revolutionary War history. The city has designed an entire trail–the “Freedom Trail”–a footpath that leads interested visitors around the city to the areas of most importance.
Yet, some history, is just, literally, stuck right on the walls of Boston. On the side of a modern office building, is situated the plaque below:
One of the 56 men that affixed his signature to the Declaration of Independence, Paine was born in Boston on March 11, 1731 and was actually given a middle name, a family tribute. His family legacy was well-established in the colonies and Paine himself was counted as an early advocate for the patriotic cause.
Yet, like the more famous John Adams, Paine also was a lawyer and dedicated to the law and order. He was the second attorney, along with the aforementioned Adams, to represent the British soldiers in the “Boston Massacre” trial. He continued to hope for reconciliation, hoping when he ventured to the Second Continental Congress, that the resolve of the colonies would bring the British Parliament to negotiate. On that same vein, Paine also put his signature on the Olive Branch Petition–the final attempt by the colonies to reach King George III and give their side of the story. When the king outright rejected the petition and did not even lay eyes on the document, Paine saw there was no hope and firmly planted himself in the camp of those clamoring for independence.
He became a vocal and valuable member of the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. Returning to Massachusetts near the end of 1776, he became the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives the following year. In 1780 he was a member of the committee that drafted the state constitution and as attorney general he prosecuted members of Shays’ Rebellion in 1787.
His last public role was a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1790 until his retirement in 1804. He was 83 years old when he died in the house that the plaque mentions. He was buried in the Granary Burying Ground in his native Boston, Massachusetts.
Another great patriot of the American cause, whose last house where his last days were spent, has a lasting memorial for those to discover. So, many historical treasures are just hanging there, waiting to be discovered in Boston.
The night was chilly, snow laid on the streets and walks of Boston, and the cold air kept people bundled up around the port town of Massachusetts colony.
Yet, the cold air could not dampen was the seething resentment a growing number of Bostonians were feeling toward the occupying British military. Minor brawls and exchanges had taken place in the various taverns and around the bustling harbor; common places where alcohol and/or hard work created short tempers.
However, on this night, March 5, 1770, outside the Custom House on King Street a British redcoat infantrymen, the sentry, kept his post. Private Hugh White, whose shift it was to stand guard, would have noticed the approach of Edward Garrick, who had come calling for a British officer who owed Garrick’s boss money for his wig services. Unbeknownst to Garrick, the apprentice, the debt had been paid, so no response from the field officer was forthcoming.
A response from White was forthcoming, who admonished the young man to have a more respectful tone when speaking to an officer in His Majesty, the King’s service. Garrick did not take too kindly to this tone and responded with an insult of his own toward White.
This prompted White to leave his post and literally knock some sense into Garrick by way of a musket strike to the side of the head. Garrick yelped in agony and a companion took up the verbal barrage toward the British soldier.
The cacophony created by the yelling of insults and as the colonial version of a game of telephone spread the message about what was transpiring at the Customs House. Church bells were rung, a telltale sign that something was afoot, led to the crowd surging past 50 in number by the evening.
White, prudently, had left his post and retreated up onto the steps of the Customs House summoned a runner (messenger) to race to the local barracks for extra manpower.As was custom, there was an officer of the watch, in this case, Captain Thomas Preston and seven soldiers responded.
En route, Henry Know, destined to become chief of artillery for the Continental Army in the American Revolution urged Preston, “For God’s sake, take care of your men, if they fire, you must die.”
Against this sage advice, shouts of “Fire” were emanating from the crowd, which had also resorted to throwing snowballs and spitting in the direction of the red-coated soldiers. Other derogatory names for British soldiers, like “lobsterbacks” which took into account the red uniforms adorned by the British infantry were also heard being shouted.
The British soldiers, with loaded muskets, and Captain Preston reached White’s station, the British officer ordered the large crowd to disperse. Preston had taken a position in front of his soldiers and had told a member of the crowd that his soldiers would not fire unless ordered.
No order was ever given.
Shortly after Preston spoke those words to a Bostonian, a foreign object hurtled toward Private Hugh Montgomery and knocked the infantryman off his feet. His musket clattered onto the steps. Standing up, Montgomery reportedly yelled “Damn you, fire!” and pulled the trigger of his musket. The accompanying “bang” reverberated in the square.
And then there was a pause of an uncertain length.
This silence was broken by the staccato of other muskets being fired. A few rounds belched forth from the British soldiers. Screams and shouts along with deafening echo of the discharge of black-powder muskets in an enclosed city square mixed with the sickening thud of lead impacting bone and body.
All told, eleven colonists were hit from the volley fire. Three were killed outright; Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks. One more, Samuel Maverick, who was struck by a ricocheting round would die later that same evening. One more, a recent immigrant from Ireland, Patrick Carr, would succumb to his wounds a fortnight later.
In the immediate aftermath, Preston would call the majority of his unit, the 29th Regiment of Foot to the scene. With the mob spilling out of the Customs House Square, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, the acting governor, was able to temporarily restore a semblance of tranquility with the promise that a fair trial of what transpired that March 5th evening would happen.
The trial would be a major event for the city of Boston, but, that was in the near future. With the shots fired and the citizens struck, the burgeoning independence movement had a rallying point. Lives were lost that night, but, the events that followed would, to the proponents of American independence, make them martyrs for the cause.