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What was the Boston Massacre?

On March 5th, 1770 a fight between British soldiers and colonial residents broke near the Customs House in Boston, five colonial residents were shot and killed by British soldiers. Bostonians called this bloodshed the Boston Massacre. Even though the event happened more than two centuries ago, people still debate whether the responsibility falls within the British soldiers or the colonial mob. Nevertheless, we all agree on its importance as it led to the fight for freedom.

Late night on Monday, March 5th a crowd gathered in front of the Customs House confronting eight British soldiers and their commander, Irishman Captain Thomas Preston. Forming a semi circle soldiers were armed with bayonets while the crowd dared them to shoot. The scene was full with tension. A man from the crow threw a club striking a soldier, immediately a shot was fired followed by a pause of about six seconds which in turn was followed by a round of shots. Several men were wounded, five deadly. The victims or the Boston Massacre were Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Coldwell and Crispus Attucks, who died immediately. Patrick Carr was wounded and died 9 days later.

Captain Preston was enraged that his men had fired without orders and commanded them to stop. Order was restored and the troops left the scene unharmed as the shooting had immobilized the crowd feeling powerless. As more British troops arrived at the scene, the situation was again becoming tense and violence seemed certain when Thomas Hutchinson made an appearance. He announced from the balcony of the Town House that he guaranteed that Preston and his men would be tried in court. The crowd seemed satisfied and dispersed.


Crispus Attucks was the first man shot in the Boston Massacre.


Fearing hostility against British troops, they were moved far from Boston to Castle William. It was a remarkable victory for Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty who now maintained civil order as they realized they had to battle for the minds of Boston’s residents.

Before the end of March a grand jury had indicted Captain Preston, his men and two customs men who had fired from a window in the Customs House. Samuel Quincy, an old friend of John Adams, was appointed as special prosecutor. JA along with assistant Josiah Quincy had agreed to take on the defendants’ case. The trial of Thomas Preston took place from October 24th to 30th and the trial of the British soldiers from November 27th to December 14th. Thomas Preston and six of the eight soldiers were acquitted.

Near the end of 1770 the Boston Massacre cases were closed and Parliament had repealed the Townshend Duties, except for the tax on tea. Troops retreated from the streets and peace was restored in the city of Boston.



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