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Eyewitness Account of the Boston Massacre (1770)


The so-called Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770 created the greatest schism to that date in the already stormy relationship between Great Britain and her Colonies. The contemporary account presented here by an anonymous author is typical of the time. The British are portrayed as villains, while the anger of the colonial mob is not mentioned at all; according to the account, some young boys throwing a few harmless snowballs touched off the "horrid murder." In fact, the conflict had been brewing for some time. In 1768, four regiments of British regulars were dispatched to Boston to protect the much-hated collectors of customs duties for the Crown. This action by the British crown enraged a population already deeply involved in fighting for the right to tax and govern themselves. In the aftermath of the massacre, British troops were removed from Boston. John Adams successfully defended the soldiers who had fired the shots that killed three Bostonians outright, including the rope-maker and former slave Crispus Attucks. But by the end of the short trial in late 1770, the event had already impressed itself as an outrage in the minds of innumerable colonists, heightening their fear and hatred of the British and their army, and moving the colonists ever more quickly down the path toward revolution.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Boston Massacre .

On Monday Evening the 5th current, a few Minutes after 9 O'Clock a most horrid murder was committed in King Street before the Customhouse Door by 8 or 9 Soldiers under the Command of Capt Thos Preston drawn of from the Main Guard on the South side of the Townhouse.

This unhappy affair began by Some Boys & young fellows throwing Snow Balls at the sentry placed at the Customhouse Door. On which 8 or 9 Solders Came to his assistance. Soon after a Number of people colected, when the Capt commanded the Soldiers to fire, which they did and 3 Men were Kil'd on the Spot & several Mortaly Wounded, one of which died next morning. The Capt soon drew off his Soldiers up to the Main Guard, or the Consequencis mite have been terable, for on the Guns fiering the people were alarm'd & set the Bells a Ringing as if for Fire, which drew Multitudes to the place of action. Levt Governor Hutchinson, who was commander in Chefe, was sent for & Came to the Council Chamber, w[h]ere som of the Magistrates attended. The Governor desired the Multitude about 10 O'Clock to sepperat & go home peaceable & he would do all in his power that Justice shold be don &c. The 29 Rigiment being then under Arms on the south side of the Townhouse, but the people insisted that the Soldiers should be ordered to their Barracks 1st before they would sepperat, Which being don the people sepperated aboute 1 O'Clock.—Capt Preston was taken up by a warrent given to the high Sherif by Justice Dania & Tudor and came under Examination about 2 O'clock & we sent him to Goal soon after 3, having Evidence sufficient, to committ him, on his ordering the soldiers to fire: So aboute 4 O'clock the Town became quiet. The next forenoon the 8 Soldiers that fired on the inhabitants was allso sent to Goal. Tuesday A. M. the inhabitants mett at Faneuil Hall & after som pertinant speches, chose a Committee of 5 Gentlemn to waite on the Levt. Governor in Council to request the immediate removeal of the Troops. The message was in these Words. That it is the unanimous opinion of this Meeting, that the inhabitants & soldiery can no longer live together in safety; that nothing can Ratonaly be expected to restore the peace of the Town & prevent blood & Carnage, but the removal of the Troops: and that we most fervently pray his Honor that his power & influence may be exerted for their instant removal. His Honor's Reply was. Gentlmen I am extreemly sorry for the unhappy difference & especially of the last Evening & Signifieng that it was not in his power to remove the Troops &c &c.

The Above Reply was not satisfactory to the Inhabitants, as but one Regiment should be removed to the Castle Barracks. In the afternoon the Town Adjourned to Dr Sewill's Meetinghouse, for Fanieul Hall was not large enough to hold the people, their being at least 3,000, som supos'd near 4,000, when they chose a Committee to waite on the Levt. Governor to let him & the Council Know that nothing less will satisfy the people, then a total & immediate removal of the Troops oute of the Town.—His Honor laid before the Council the Vote of the Town. The Council thereon expressed themselves to be unanimously of opinion that it was absolutely Necessary for his Majesty service, the good order of the Town &c that the Troops Should be immeditly removed oute of the Town.—His Honor communicated this advice of the Council to Col Dalrymple & desir'd he would order the Troops down to Castle William. After the Col. had seen the Vote of the Council He gave his Word & honor to the Town's Committe that both the Rigiments should be remov'd without delay. The Comte return'd to the Town Meeting & Mr Hancock, chairman of the Comte Read their Report as above, which was Received with a shoute & clap of hands, which made the Meeting-house Ring: So the Meeting was dessolved and a great number of Gentlemen appear'd to Watch the Center of the Town & the prison, which continued for 11 Nights and all was quiet again, as the Soldiers was all moved of to the Castle.

(Thursday) Agreeable to a general request of the Inhabitants, were follow'd to the Grave (for they were all Buried in one) in succession the 4 Bodies of Messs Saml Gray[,] Saml Maverick[,] James Caldwell & Crispus Attucks, the unhappy Victims who fell in the Bloody Massacre. On this sorrowfull Occasion most of the shops & stores in Town were shut, all the Bells were order'd to toll a solom peal in Boston, Charleston, Cambridge & Roxbery. The several Hearses forming a junction in King Street, the Theatre of that inhuman Tradgedy, proceeded from thence thro' the main street, lengthened by an immence Concourse of people, So numerous as to be obliged to follow in Ranks of 4 & 6 abreast and brought up by a long Train of Carriages. The sorrow Visible in the Countenances, together with the peculiar solemnity, Surpass description, it was suppos'd that the Spectators & those that follow'd the corps amounted to 15000, som supposed 20,000. Note Capt Preston was tried for his Life on the affare of the above Octobr 24 1770. The Trial lasted 5 Days, but the Jury brought him in not Guilty.

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