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Boston Massacre Essay, Research Paper

Boston Massacre

In my report I will be discussing the Boston Massacre. I will be looking at the Boston Massacre from three different perspectives. These perspectives are from such people as Boston colonists Samuel Adams; Tom Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor and Acting Governor in 1770; and Captain Preston and his troops. I will also hold some depositions from people who were actually close or at the massacre. I will be showing the differences on how all three felt about the situation.

Due to great burden from the different acts that brought many unwanted taxes from the British government, the Boston citizens were greatly irritated. The colonists felt as if they were prisoners in their own land. The merchants had the ability of holding meetings in the State House, as the property of it was in the town; but they were deprived of that right by mere power. Governor Bernard, soon after by every stratagem and by every method but a forcibly entry, endeavored to get possession of the manufactory-house, to make a barrack of it for the troops. This purpose caused it to be besieged by the troops, and the people in it to be used very cruelly. Everywhere they turned they saw guards. Judging from this, the townspeople concluded that the town was to be favored, by the Commissioners being appointed to reside there and that the consequence of that residence was the relief and encouragement of commerce. The reverse was the constant uniform effect of it; so that the commerce of the town, from the embarrassments from which is was involved, was greatly reduced. The townspeople had become partisans of Governor Bernard in his political schemes; and had the weakness and temerity to infringe upon one of the most essential rights of the house of commons of the province-that of giving their votes with freedom, and not being accountable therefore but to their constituents. These guards were quartered in the city to discourage demonstrations against the Townshend Acts. These guards would frequently question and harass people just passing by. Many redcoats were in search of different off-duty jobs, which meant they would be taking away jobs from the Boston laborers. Many times when the soldiers left their barracks and were walking about the town, they carried large clubs, for the purpose of assaulting the people. Minor clashes between citizens and soldiers were common occurrences in Boston following the arrival of troops. Boston soon became the hotbed of anti-British sentiment, but it also was the garrison of several thousand British troops a sure recipe for conflict. All through the long winter of 1769, soldiers and citizens had clashes in street brawls and tavern fights.

Many would say that the colonists had every right to be mad and irritated. The soldiers were just taking commands from the country that they are defending and fighting for, so the soldiers thought they were just doing the right thing. But we all know that they went to extremes by the frequent wounding of persons by their bayonet cutlasses, and the numerous instances of bad behavior in the soldiery. This also led the colonists to conclude that England did not send those troops over for their well being, but they were there for the benefit of England. Once again, they were only taking orders from England. The horrid massacre in Boston, perpetrated in the early evening of March 5, 1770, by soldiers of the twenty-ninth regiment which with the fourteenth regiment were then quartered there, a crowd of laborers began throwing hard packed snowballs at soldiers guarding the Customs-house. Irritated beyond the ability to remain patient the sentries acted against express orders and fired on the crowd, killing five and wounding eight, one of which died a few days later. The names of some of the people who were either wounded or killed are; Mister Samuel Gray killed on the spot by a ball entering his head. Crispus Attucks, a mulatto, killed on the spot, by two balls entering his breast. Mister James Caldwell killed on the spot, by two balls entering his back. Mister Samuel Maverick, a 17-year-old youth, was mortally wounded, he died the next morning. Mister Patrick Carr mortally wounded; he died in the fourteenth instant. Chris Monk and John Clark, two teenagers about 17, were dangerously wounded, it was apprehended that they would die, but they did not. Mister Edward Payne, a merchant, who was standing at his door at the time the guns were fired was wounded. Messengers John Green, Robert Patterson, and David Parker were all dangerously wounded. The actors of this dreadful tragedy were a party of soldiers commanded by Captain Preston of the twenty-ninth regiment. There were depositions in this affair, which mention that several guns were fired at the same time from the Customhouse. Benjamin Frizell, on the evening of March fifth, having taken his station near the west corner of the Customhouse on King Street was a witness to the shooting. He declared, among other things, that the first discharge was only of one gun, the next of two guns, upon which he, the deponent thought he saw a man stumble. The third discharge was of three guns, upon which he saw two men fall. Immediately after was discharged five guns, two of which were by soldiers on his right, the other three were discharged from the balcony, or the chamber window on the balcony. Gillam Bass, being on King Street at the same time declared that they posted themselves between the Customhouse door and the west corner of it. In a few minutes they, the soldiers, started to fire upon the people. Two or three shots were from a really high place where he believes must have come from the balcony windows. A few more men also declared the same thing. Mister Drowne, who also testified, recalled that “the violent proceedings of this party, and their going into King Street, quarrelling and fighting with the people whom they saw there, was immediately introductory to the grand catastrophe.” The most important factor from these testimonies is that they all agreed that they saw some of the shots coming from the higher balcony windows. This proved that those soldiers were at no danger, but still took it upon themselves to shoot at the innocent citizens who were carrying on activities of their daily living. The morning after the massacre, a town meeting was held at which a very great number of freeholders and inhabitants of the town attended. It was now time for the town to speak up against the soldiers and their actions. William Newhall declared that on Thursday night the first of March, he met four soldiers of the twenty-ninth regiment, and that he remembered them saying that; “there were a great many that would eat their dinners on Monday next, and should not eat any on Tuesday.”

The outrageous behavior and the threats of the said party occasioned the ringing of the meetinghouse bell near the head of King Street. The townspeople were deeply impressed and affected by the tragedy of the preceding night, and were unanimous in the following opinion; if the troops should remain any longer in the town, their safety would continue to be compromised. This led them to chose a committee of fifteen gentlemen to wait upon his Honor the Lieutenant Governor on Council, and requested him to issue his orders for the immediate removal of the troops. The message to his Honor from the townspeople was in these words: “That it is the unanimous opinion of the meeting that inhabitants and soldiery can no longer live together in safety. That nothing can rationally be expected to restore the peace of the town and prevent further blood carnage, but the immediate removal of the troops; and that we, the townspeople, therefore most fervently pray his Honor, that his power and influences may be exerted for the instant removal. His Honor’s reply was laid before the town adjourned from the old south meeting house, can be summarized in the following manner. “Gentlemen, I am extremely sorry for the unhappy differences between the inhabitants and the troops, and especially for the action of last evening, and I have exerted myself upon the occasion, that a due inquiry may be made, and that the law may have its course. I have in council consulted with the commanding officers of the two regiments who are now in town. They have their orders from the General at New York, and it is not in my power to countermand those orders. The Council has desired that the two regiments be removed to the Castle. From the particular concern with the 29th regiment has had in your differences, Colonel Dalrymple, who is the commanding officer of the troops, has signified that the regiment shall without delay be placed in the barracks at the castle. When he can send the General and receive his further orders concerning both the regiments, and the main-guard shall be removed, and the 14th regiment so disposed, and laid under such restraint that all occasions of future disturbances may be prevented. The committee took everything that he had said into consideration but was not to sure if it was satisfactory. Upon a vote, it was determined that the response was not satisfactory, and as a result they made a new committee to tell the Governor that it was unanimous that they thought what he said was not good enough and that they wanted all of the troops out. His Honor laid before the Board a vote of the town of Boston, passed on this same afternoon, and then addressed the Board as follows:

“Gentlemen of the Council,

I lay before you a vote of the town of Boston, which I have just now received from them, and now I ask your advice what you judge necessary to be done upon it.” The Council then expressed that they were unanimous in the following opinion; “that it was absolutely necessary for his Majesty’s service, for the good order of the town, and the peace of the province, that the troops should be immediately removed out of the town of Boston. This council thereupon advised his Honor to communicate this advice of the Council to Colonel Dalrymple, and to pray that he would order troops down to Castle William. Samuel Adams was the strongest antagonist Thomas Hutchinson had to face. He was a complete democrat with great democratic will. He was a great “watchdog” of the rights and privileges granted to the colonies. Samuel Adams observed that the removal of the troops was in the slowest order, taking eleven days, when it had taken only forty-eight hours to land them. Adams certainly believed that the soldiers were guilty of murder and were not blameless, as his letters to the newspapers and other public activities showed this belief.

Captain Preston was the first of the accused to be placed on trial. He testified that at approximately nine; some of the guards came to him and informed him that the town inhabitants were assembling to attack the troops. He was also told that the bells were ringing as a signal for that purpose and not for fire, and the beacon intended to be fired to bring in the distant people of the country. He was questioned to see if he had told his troops to fire. He answered that he was soon informed by a townsman of their intention. Their intention was to carry off the soldier from their post and probably murder him. Many articles were being printed about him and questioning him and his credibility as to whether he had said to fire or not. After trying to find favor with the people of Boston, which did not go to well, Preston tried to persuade the British at home that he was not responsible for the tragedy. Preston testified that he didn’t tell the soldiers to fire and he asked them why they did. He testified that some observer asked if he intended to order his men to fire. He answered that by no means did he intend to fire. He also said that if he gave the men the orders to fire, it would have proved that he was no officer. He then said that they answered his questioning by saying that they heard someone say fire and figured it was Preston who ordered it. He recalled that when he asked them why they fired without orders, they said that they heard the word fire and supposed that it came from him. He, Preston, said that this might be the case as many of the mob called out fire, but he said he assured the men that he gave no orders; that his orders were: “don t fire, stop your firing.” He then continued to say that he was far from intending death of any person that he suffered the troops to go to the spot where the unhappy affair took place without any loading in their pieces, and that he never gave them any order for loading them. Someone swore that they heard him tell them to load them, and that he yelled at them for not firing on the first command. To this accusation, he said that whether fire or do not fire, they could not say; and the others that heard the word fire, could not say that it came from him. Preston further responded by saying that people are so bitter that they will say anything to condemn him and his men so they all will die. He interjected that so bitter and inveterate are many of the malcontents here that they are industriously using every method to fish out evidence to prove it was a concerted scheme to murder the inhabitants. Preston was out in jail, awaiting trial. Many believed Preston to be a man of integrity, which later gained him acquittal for the charge of manslaughter. According to testimony in the second trial, Montgomery fired the first shot. This shot allegedly occurred after he had his gun knocked out of his hands by a severe blow with a stick. He retrieved it, stepped to one side, and instantly fired point blank. The other shots, approximately three or four, followed erratically, one after another, and directly after three more in the same confusion and hurry.

The soldiers were also put on trial. Here was their great defense, “Instead of that hospitality that the soldier thought himself entitled to, scorn, contempt, and silent murmurs were his reception. Almost every countable man lowered with a discontented gloom, and scarce an eye but flashed with indignant fire. How stinging was it to be stigmatized as the instrument of tyranny and oppression! How exasperating to be viewed as aiding to enthrall his country! Could that spirit which had braved the shafts of foreign battle endure the keener wounds of civic battle?” Quincy did a valiant attempt at trying to defend the soldiers and trying to get them acquitted. Quincy made the colonists appear to be outlaws and antagonists. He made the colonists out to be the people that started the conflict and were responsible for the consequences. He argued that the colonists had stolen guns and were ready to take the upper hand on them. They were however, reacting to the situation. John Adams another defense attorney, in his closing remarks to the jury, said the killings were justified and he blamed the violence on the immigrant and black men. He called the crowd on King Street a mob and a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and mulattos, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs. Two soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter and, after claiming benefit of clergy, had their thumbs branded. The rest, including the officer, were acquitted. The incident was skillfully exploited by the American Patriot Samuel Adams to create an anti-British sentiment in the colonies.

As you can see different people perceived the Boston Massacre in different ways. We had Samuel Adams and the colonists, who believed that the troops shouldn’t have been harassing them, and that they had no right to shoot and kill any of the Bostonians of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. We then had the Lieutenant Governor, who represented Britain. He had a very eager heart and came to means with the colonists by agreeing with them and went in their favor of getting rid of the troops. Finally we had Preston and his troops, who testified that they were truly not responsible for the killings of those people. Everyone had different views on the event, but then again, this is no different from today, about two and a half centuries later with differences in so may parts of the world. It is important to remember though that the Boston Massacre was the first step to the inevitable Revolutionary War where the colonists would gain their independence from Britain and create the United States of America, a nation that would change the world forever.


The Annals of America. (1968). Chicago, Illinois: William Benton.

“Anonymous Account of the Boston Massacre.” USA: Boston Massacre. [http://odur.let.rug.nl] [ usa/D/1751-1775/bostonmassacre/anon.htm] (March 6, 1999).

“Boston Massacre.” Boston Massacre. [http://www.wfu.edu] [ macicw01/1770bostmass.htm] (March 7, 1999).

“Boston Massacre: The poor, not the elite, began the American Revolution.” The true story of the American Revolution. [http://www.mcs.com] [ jdav/league/religion/PT.rel.33html] (March 7,1999).

“Captain Thomas Preston’s Account of the Boston Massacre.” USA: Preston, Boston Massacre. [http://odud.let.rug.nl] [ usa/D/1751- 1775/bostonmassacre/prest.htm] (March 6,1999).

Cushing, Harry Alonzo (Ed). (1968). The Writings of Samuel Adams. New York:

Octagon Books, Inc.

Galvin, John R. (1976). Three Men of Boston. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell


Lebaree, Benjamin W. (1979). Colonial Massachusetts: A History. Millwood, New

York: kto Press.

Nash and Jeffrey (fourth edition), The American People. [Addison Wesley Longman, Inc]

“Prelude to Revolution: The Boston Massacre.” American History Online-Activity: The Boston Massacre. [http://longman.awl.com] [history/activities_4_2_htm] (March 7, 1999).

WARS-American Revolution-Boston Massacre. Boston Massacre.

[http://www.usahistory.com] [wars/massacre.htm] (March7, 1999).

Zobel, Hiller B. (1970). The Boston Massacre. NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

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