On March 5, 1770, along King Street in Boston Massachusetts, a deadly riot occurred that led to a massacre. What escalated quickly to a chaotic and bloody slaughter began as a street brawl between a lone British soldier and American colonists. The conflict was the recipe for the American Revolution besides catalyzing anti-British sentiment. A squad of British soldiers was on King Street on a fateful day before a “patriot” mob began hurling sticks, stones, and snowballs at them. Speechwriters roused the ire of the citizenry as a result of the campaign ensuring the massacre that claimed the lives of several colonists.
Boston, Cradle of Revolution
Boston, Massachusetts was the focal point of radical sentiments and revolutionary ideas way before the event that went to history books as the Boston Massacre. The number of unemployed people in the city as poverty levels increased during a time when people endured years of adversity with British officials (Farah, 2019). The British rule became more onerous which spelled trouble with so many jobless youths competing for limited job opportunities.
The British colonists had imposed on the American colonies a number of hefty taxes prior to the Boston Massacre such as levies on lead, paint, paper, glass, and tea. The colonists instituted the Townshend Act, a law that gave rise to those taxes. These laws did not go well with the American people (Faktorovich, 2019). The masses felt that their freedom and rights had been taken away by the new taxation regulations. The British brought in soldiers to maintain law and order as the Americans began to stage protests following the imposition of the Stamp Act by the British.
In order to raise more revenues, the royal government enacted stringent regulations over its North American colonies after Britain had drained its coffers following a decade long war. Britain sent troops to impose the orders since disobedient colonists made in hard for the customs officials to collect the revenue (Zobel, 2019). The city was already on the verge of an uprising in 1768 with heightened tensions when the British soldiers arrived to enforce the stringent regulations. The city existed in a state of British military control over the next two years. Due to the color of their uniforms, one out of the men in Boston was an officer from the British military (a Redcoat). Numerous scuffles and skirmishes were experienced in sections of the city as irate youths and radical townspeople harassed the soldiers.
In general, three main factors led to the Boston Massacre. First, was the deteriorating relationship and trust between the Americans and British soldiers. The British army in many instances clashed with the Patriots and radical supporters. Soldier harassed and abused unarmed civilians while patriots cornered and individual soldiers and beat them up along street corners. The British soldiers were not wanted and Americans in Boston made it clear both in words and actions (Carr, 2018). There were not enough soldiers to maintain law and order following the withdrawal of half of the regiments. On the other hand, the Patriots were enough in number to keep the British Military in checks. The Townshend and Stamp Acts were the main reason for a revolt. The Acts built tension between the Americans, patriots, and the British soldiers as they did not agree and strife with the colonists.
Eruption of Violence
The city of Boston was host to Custom House that housed King’s money. The money was guarded by one soldier, Private Hugh White on the snowy, frigid evening of March 5, 1770. He was insulted and threatened for violence by an angry mob of colonists as he went by with his duties. As confrontations ensued, the soldier used his bayonet to strike a colonist. The colonists hurled at him stones, ice, and snowballs in retaliation (Holland, 2017). A mass of male colonists thronged king Street in the city as alarms were raised and bells rang often raising alert of an emergency or disaster such as a fire. The soldier was overpowered by the masses, fell down and requested for reinforcements.
There were fears that the rioting masses would break into Custom House and part away with the King’s Money. Coupled with responding to White’s plea, Captain Thomas Preston together with a contingent of soldiers arrived at the scene and positioned themselves in front of the Custom House in readiness to retaliate (Parkinson, 2018). The soldiers dared to shoot at the masses while colonialists pleaded with the soldiers not to fire at them in fear of the bloodshed that was inevitable. According to Captain Thomas, the colonists had hatched a plot to murder soldier White as they didn’t want him in the position he held at that time.
The protestors used clubs and sticks to strike the soldiers as violence escalated. A soldier fired his gun after a voice shouted ‘fire’. It is not clear whether the soldier fired intentionally or out of will (Holland, 2017). Following the sound of the first shot, other soldiers opened fire and indiscriminately shot at the protestors. At least five Americans lost their lives in the skirmishes and a dozen others injured.
Someone believed to be from the colonists sent a message that the colonists were ready and determined to defend themselves by ostensibly posting a handbill from the British soldiers. That night, rumors went around of soldiers planning to bring down the so-called Liberty Tree. Locals were charged by the rumors and thronged the streets of Boston (Minardi, 2018). A member from the crowd that night tried to force entry into the military base but was violently repulsed. The crowds pelted the military camps with snowballs that night as crowds swelled on the streets. The soldiers remained in their camps despite the warnings and alerts coming from city bells and alarms. A crowd of between 60-70 people got raged by the single sentry posted outside the Customs House and directed their anger to it (Parkinson, 2018). In an attempt to rescue the sentry, seven soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston penetrated the crowd fixed with bayonets. The crowd pelted the soldiers with oyster shells, stones, sticks, snowballs, and ice while at the same time taunting and daring them to shoot. The soldiers remained calm since the riot act had not been read to the colonists. They were allowed to open fire but to a crowd that has refused to disperse after the riot act has been read to them.
The patriot mob near the Customs House trapped one of the soldiers amidst the chaos and confusion. In his defense, other soldiers opened fire. Three members of the crowd were badly wounded and died on the spot. Eight others were severely wounded two of whom later succumbed to their injuries. Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting had occurred with the hope of preventing further violence. He ordered Capt. Thomas and his troops to retreat back to the camp where other soldiers were armed ready to combat the crowd (Minardi, 2018). All troops were ordered back to the barracks following an executive order made by the governor after he took to the Old State House. He brought the chaotic city to peace after promising that justice would be done, a declaration that calmed the swelling mob.
Four civilians, one officer, and eight British soldiers were arrested following the massacre. They were apprehended awaiting sentencing after being accused of homicide. The Governor ordered for the withdrawal of all British soldiers from Boston city. Two troopers were found liable of homicide while the rest were absolved. The colonies rallied for patriotism thereafter following the Boston Massacre. Activist groups used the massacre to show the cruelty and oppression by the British rule. The British rule was not portrayed in the same light following the massacre despite the fact that the American Revolution began five years later.
The Boston massacre was fueled by what Americans felt was harsh British rule. The British introduced harsh taxation laws and brought in soldiers to ensure they were being adhered to. The colonists felt that their rights had been infringed by the British soldiers. They resorted to the streets to fight for their rights. They attacked a British soldier prompting his colleagues to retaliate using live bullets. A couple of the protestors lost their lives while dozens got injured. It took the intervention of the governor to calm the situation after he promised justice would take course.
Carr, J. B. (2018). Eric Hinderaker. Boston’s Massacre. American Historical Review, 123(3), 941-942.
Faktorovich, A. (2019). Debunking the myth of the massacre in Boston. Pennsylvania Literary Journal, 11(1), 91-93.
Farah, P. (2019). Black lives and the Boston Massacre: John Adams’s famous defense of the British may not be, as we’ve always understood it, the ultimate expression of principle and the rule of law. American Scholar, 88(1), 34-43.
Holland, J. (2017). Boston’s Massacre. Library Journal, 142(2), 89-90.
Minardi, M. (2018). Boston’s Massacre. Journal of American History, 104(4), 1002-100.
Parkinson, R. G. (2018). Boston’s Massacre. Historian, 80(2), 391-392.
Zobel, H. B. (2019). What’s race got to do with it. American Scholar, 88(2), 3-5.
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