History Brief: The Boston Massacre


The Boston Massacre. Everything you need to
know. On the same day that Parliament repealed most
of the Townshend Acts, a bloody riot exploded in Boston. The arrival of British troops had
caused tensions to rise, and the relationship between Bostonians and Redcoats, as British
soldiers were called, had deteriorated so badly that one spark sent the city into chaos.
What was that spark? British soldiers in Boston, the most rebellious
city in the American colonies, had certainly been an unwelcome sight. Soldiers and civilians
cursed each other in the streets, and clashes were consistent and often violent. British
soldiers, finding themselves in a hostile environment, began viewing Bostonians as even
more rebellious than the Irish. They called Bostonians �Yankees� as an insult. A harsh fact that British soldiers experienced
was meager pay. Faced with such a poor salary, and boredom, many sought to take on a second
job. Male Bostonians resented the fact that the 600 soldiers stationed in the city were
competing with them for labor� and the attention of the ladies. On March 5, 1770, a lone British soldier stood
guard outside the customs house. It was a cold evening and he gazed out at the filthy
piles of snow and ice, patiently awaiting the end of his shift. A young colonist exited
a tavern, and he and the soldier exchanged insults. The drunken colonial approached the
soldier and poked him in the chest. The soldier retaliated by clubbing the man with the butt
of his rifle. As the colonist fell to the ground, he shouted
for help. Taverns emptied as colonists, many of them drunk, gathered around the lone guard.
Six more British soldiers rallied to provide support, and the seven men found themselves
surrounded by an angry mob that soon numbered in the 100s. Someone began ringing a church
bell, adding more noise and attention to the mayhem. The colonists began pelting the soldiers with
chunks of ice and snowballs. Crispus Attucks, a mulatto of Native American and African descent,
walked right up to within inches of a soldier�s bayonet and dared him to fire. A British officer
ordered the town magistrate to read the Riot Act, but he refused out of fear for his life. Someone in the crowd struck a soldier with
a club, sending him to the snowy ground. The man sprang to his feet and was struck a second
time. He raised his musket and pulled the trigger. The other soldiers took it as a signal
and fired into the crowd. A great screech came from the mob as bullets cut their way
through. Crispus Attucks and 4 other Bostonians fell dead, while six more were wounded. The
mob fled in all directions. For several hours, the city tinkered on the
brink of a bloodbath. Citizens were outraged, and Boston�s Sons of Liberty (all armed)
outnumbered the Redcoats 5 to 1. The colonists� rage subsided only after Lt. Governor Thomas
Hutchinson promised to try the soldiers for murder. The event became known as the Boston
Massacre. Paul Revere created an elaborate print titled
�The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street�, and the Sons of Liberty used it
as a powerful piece of propaganda. British troops were withdrawn from the city,
and those involved were put on trial for murder. Sam Adams was the driving force behind the
trial, and, in an odd coincidence, his cousin John Adams defended the seven soldiers. John
Adams argued that �emotions cannot override facts� and that the soldiers acted in self-defense.
They were found not guilty, but two had their thumbs branded for killing people in the crowd
�by accident�. All of the soldiers had to leave the American colonies for their own
protection.

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