Since 1765 the people of Boston had been heading protests against British taxation, first against the Stamp Act and then in 1767 against the Townshend Acts. Citizens believed that Britain did not have the right to tax them because they did not elect their representatives in Parliament. Only the Massachusetts Assembly, whose members were elected every year, had the right to levy taxes on its citizens.
Riots and protests were common occurrences as well as attacks on tax officials. On October 1768 troops arrived in Boston requested by Governor Francis Bernard. The purpose of the 14th and 29th regiments was to protect government officials against mob attacks, restore order and reinforce collection of taxes.
Stamp Act protest against British taxation
Finding accommodation for 2,000 soldiers in a city of 16,000 was not an easy task. The expense, according to the Quartering Act of 1765, fell on the local legislature. The decision was made to send the troops to Castle Island; three miles away south from Boston but it was too far from where they were needed. Bernard moved its troops to Boston renting empty warehouse and wharfs as barracks. Residents felt violated by the imposed force of the soldiers and political activists wanted them and the Townshend taxes removed. Soldiers were permitted to take on part time jobs in their off-duty hours, these jobs were mostly in warehouses. Conflict arouse between them and unskilled local citizens.
Engraving “Landing of Troops, 1770” by Paul Revere
A group of merchants with the support of the Sons of Liberty had decided to boycott those products affected by the Townshend duties. During the morning of February 22nd a crowd had gathered to demonstrate in front of a merchant’s office suspected of breaking the boycott. Violence was imminent as the crowd shouted epithets at Ebenezer Richardson, an informer for the customs service. As the mob chased him he fired into the crowd killing eleven-year old Christopher Seider who died from a gunshot to his abdomen. Samuel Adams paid for his funeral and John Adams wrote: “My eyes never beheld such a funeral”. Tension was gradually rising between civilians and British soldiers and what happened on the night of March 5th , known as the Boston Massacre, was not entirely unanticipated.