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The "Boston Massacre"

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The Boston Massacre - print from an engraving by Paul Revere

Primary Sources

Eyewitness Accounts of the "Boston Massacre": British and American points of view

Anonymous Account of the "Boston Massacre"

The Trial of the British Soldiers Following the "Boston Massacre"

More Information

The Shoemaker and the Tea Party : Memory and the American Revolution
by Alfred F. Young

cover

On March 5, 1770 a mob of men and boys taunted a British soldier guarding the Boston Customs House. When other British soldiers came to his aid there was a confused conflict in which the British fired shots into the crowd. This quickly became known as the Boston Massacre. It was hardly a massacre,  but it became an episode which roused public opinion against the British.  Four Americans died and a fifth died four days later. Six were wounded.

Paul Revere used the incident to stir up the public's anti-British feelings. His made color prints from his engraving and distributed them around Boston. The prints did not paint an accurate picture of the event and in the modern age would be labeled as political propaganda. 

The Verdict

Captain Preston and eight soldiers were jailed and tried for murder. They were defended by John Adams (who later became the second President of the United States) and all but two were acquitted on grounds of self defense. Those two were convicted of Manslaughter, but claimed benefit of clergy. This means that they were allowed to make penance instead of being executed. To insure that they never could use benefit of clergy again they were both branded on the thumbs. The new country hoped to show that even these hated British soldiers could receive a fair trial, and a just punishment.

More on the trial

Errors in the print:

1. The print shows the British standing in a straight line firing at a peaceful crowd. In fact there was nothing organized about the episode and when the shots were fired both sides were involved in the free-for-all.

2. The incident took place at night, not during the day as the print suggests.

3. The print does not show the snow and ice on the ground which should have been there.

4. The man lying in the front is depicted as being white. But the figure is  most probably that of Crispus Attuks, a black man who was the first to fall. Certainly there is no black man in the picture.

The errors were undoubtedly deliberate, in order to present the Americans in the most sympathetic light possible, and the British in the most tyrannous.


Part of These United Colonies: The American War of Independence exhibit

The American Revolution

American Revolution Primary Sources

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