5 March 1770: The Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre by Paul Revere

The Boston Massacre by Paul Revere

A great deal of tension existed between the American colonies and the British government in the 1760s. In 1767 the Townshend Acts were passed by the British parliament in an attempt to enforce trade regulations and establish its right to tax the colonies.

The acts were unpopular with the colonists and customs officials felt they required military support to enforce them. British troops were deployed to police areas that were seen as becoming ungovernable, 3500 in Boston alone.

On 5 March 1770 a platoon of eight soldiers were sent to disperse an angry crowd that had gathered around an argument, between a soldier and a wig maker’s apprentice, over an unpaid bill. The crowd threw icy snowballs at the platoon, who panicked and opened fire.

Three civilians, Crispus Attucks, James Caldwell and Samuel Gray, were killed instantly at the scene. Two others, Patrick Carr and Samuel Maverick, died of their wounds later.

The soldiers were tried for murder but were successfully defended by future president John Adams in two trials. The trial of the platoon’s leader, Captain Preston, took place between 24 and 30 October 1770. The second trial between 27 November and 14 December 1770 was for the soldiers who fired the shots.

The popular opinion of the colonists was that the shootings were a deliberate act and an engraving by Paul Revere helped to promote this view. Prints of Revere’s engraving, showing defenceless civilians being fired upon by a line of British soldiers, were widely circulated. It was also reproduced on the front page of the Boston Gazette.

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