Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Boston Massacre was an event that occurred on Monday, March 5, 1770 that helped spark the American Revolution. Tensions caused by the military occupation of Boston increased as soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians. John Adams quoted that on the night of the Boston Massacre, the foundation of America was laid.
A young apprentice named Edward Gerrish accosted an officer on the night of March 5 in King Street for a payment due his master. When he became vocal, a British sentry, Private White, left his post outside the customs house to club the boy. Gerrish returned soon after with a group of boys who pelted White with snowballs, ice, and trash.
The commotion brought the Officer of the Day, Captain Thomas Preston, who came to the soldier's aid with a corporal and eight other soldiers. The mob grew in size and continued throwing things at the British soldiers.
In all the commotion, Captain Preston's order of "Don't Fire" was likely misinterpreted, and as the parties closed, the soldiers did fire. In this action, five Americans died, including one Crispus Attucks, an African-American and traditionally the first-known casualty of the American Revolution (more recent evidence discounts this claim, however). Six more were injured. The event was illustrated by an engraver named Paul Revere who lived nearby. Revere incorrectly depicted the event as occurring in close quarters, with no snow on the ground, with Crispus Attucks as being white, and with the British commander behind his lined-up troops. With irony, the sign over the Customs House was made to read "Butcher's Hall."
Christian Remick, who colored the engraving, incorrectly depicted the event as happening during the day by adding a bright blue sky (although a quarter moon was present).
The post-"massacre" trial was held in a civilian court with a jury of colonials and John Adams acting as the defense attorney. Six soldiers were found not guilty, and two more -- the only two proven to have fired -- were found guilty of manslaughter, which was punished by branding the thumbs. Their officer, Captain Thomas Preston, was acquitted when the jury was unable to determine whether he had ordered the troops to fire. The jury's decisions suggest that they believed that the soldiers had been provoked and their use of force was not totally unreasonable.
Samuel Adams dubbed the event "the Boston Massacre" and used it for propaganda purposes. He argued that the significance lay not in the number of deaths, but in the involvement of ordinary working Americans in an important revolutionary event. Following the funerals of the five men, which was the largest gathering ever on the North American continent at that time, Bostonians gathered at the Old South Church to demand that the British troops be removed from the city.
The event was celebrated as Massacre Day until 1783, when the celebration was switched to the Fourth of July.
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