March 5, 2013
BLOOD ON THE STREETS OF BOSTON, BUT A "MASSACRE"?, REALLY?
Boston, Massachusetts (JFK+50) 243 years ago today, on March 5, 1770, five Americans died at the hands of soldiers of the King here in the city of Boston.
That event has been called, at least in United States history, the Boston Massacre, or in the words of Paul Revere, "the Bloody Massacre."
It was Paul Revere who rendered a sketch of the Patriot view of the event which depicted Redcoats firing a volley into a crowd of seemingly innocent bystanders.
A fair question to ask is, of course, was this sketch accurate & another would be is the term "massacre" a reasonable description of the event?
The answer in both cases is NO.
Let's look at the second question first.
MASSACRE is defined as "the unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a large number of people."
While the event that occurred on King Street in Boston on March 5, 1770 might accurately be described as "unnecessary," evidence brought out at the trial of the British soldiers make it clear that the killings were neither of a large number of people nor indiscriminate.
Now, what about Paul Revere's sketch?
Based again on the court records, it is nothing more than a piece of Patriot propaganda intended to inflame anti-British feelings in the colonies.
Just as he was to prove on the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere was a man who got things done & his inaccurate illustration achieved its purpose.
"The Bloody Massacre"
by Paul Revere
Library of Congress Image
Now, for a little background of events leading up to March 5, 1770.
In September 1768, British troops arrived in Boston having been sent to quell the unrest in the city over Parliament taxation including the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765 & the Townshend Duties of 1767.
After having Redcoats on patrol in their city for a year and a half, Boston citizens were increasingly hostile. Other issues included these same soldiers competing for part time jobs with the colonials & the British Navy's practice of impressing American sailors.
On the evening of March 5, 1770, a young Boston apprentice shouted an insult at a passing British officer which resulted in a sentry hitting the civilian with the butt of his rifle.
Soon about 400 colonials closed in on the Customs House & some began "pelting the soldiers with snowballs & chunks of ice."
A British soldier was struck with a club & knocked to the ground he came to his feet & fired into the crowd....other Redcoats fired their muskets. The colonials fled with 3 of their number dead & 2 mortally wounded.
It all happened in less than 20 minutes.
Grave of the Victims
of the Boston Massacre
Old Granary Burying Ground
Photo by John White (1987)
A grand jury handed down indictments against Captain Thomas Preston & 6 of his soldiers. There were 2 trials, one for the Captain & the other for the soldiers.
The 1st trial, held at the Queen Street Courthouse from October 24-30, 1770, was prosecuted by Samuel Quincy & Robert Paine. Captain Preston was defended by John Adams, the future 2nd President of the United States, & Josiah Quincy.
The main question at Preston's trial was "Did he give the order to fire?."
Captain Preston testified that when he "heard (the mob) use the most cruel & horrid threats against the troops" & saw his sentry threatened by "clubs & other weapons," he sent 13 soldiers to protect the sentry & the Customs House.
Bayonets were fixed to keep the crowd back.
Preston testified that someone in the crowd yelled...
'Come on you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare....'
Standing in front of a semi-circle of his soldiers, at a position where the Captain himself would have been shot if he had given the order to fire, he observed one of his soldiers take "a severe blow with a stick" causing him to "step to one side & instantly fire....without orders."
Captain Preston himself was then struck by a club & other soldiers fired their muskets.
The evidence was clear, the trial records bear that out.
Captain Thomas Preston was found NOT GUILTY.
And at the trial of the accused British soldiers several weeks later, 4 of the 6 were also found NOT GUILTY.
The 2 other British soldiers were found GUILTY of manslaughter & sentenced to be branded on the right thumbs. They were Hugh Montgomery & Matthew Killroy.
"For the rest of his long life, John Adams maintained that his 'disinterested action' in defending the (British) soldiers was 'one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.'"
"Liberty! The American Revolution," by Thomas Fleming, Viking Press, 1997.
"The Boston Massacre, The British View, 1770," Eyewitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/
"The Boston Massacre Trials, An Account," by Doug Linder, 2001. www.law2.umkc.edu/
You Tube Video