The Boston Massacre is an important event in American history, which led up to the Revolutionary War. It has been thought of as one of the primary conflicts that enraged many colonists into considering rejecting Britain’s sovereignty, even though five years exist between the Boston Massacre and the official start of the war. The event refers to the 5 March 1770 conflict between colonists and British soldiers.
An angry mob, mostly protesting the Townshend Acts, gathered in front of the Old State House, which contained the Royal Governor’s council chamber. Colonists were also enraged at the increasing number of soldiers flooding into the colonies, and especially the fact that many soldiers were working for extremely low prices during the day, which cut out available jobs for colony residents. Resentment between colonists and the British Army was considerable, and insults were soon traded between soldiers sent to the Old State House to protect it, and the colonists.
One private, Hugh White, became overwhelmed and struck a young boy, Patrick Garrick, on the head with his musket. This further enraged the crowd and more people joined the fray. Eventually, the crowd of about 300-400 people was so daunting, British officers fired on the colonists, immediately killing three people, Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, and James Caldwell. Two more died from injuries sustained and in total eleven people were injured.
Ironically, at the time the “Boston Massacre” was occurring, Parliament had just voted to repeal the majority of the Townshend Acts, keeping only the tax on tea. Taxes on most other imports had been removed, and what was considered the most insulting portion of the Acts, the ability through writs of assistance to search any dwelling, land, or building suspected of containing smuggled goods was scrapped. Without means of direct communication with Britain, there was, of course, no way for anyone in the colonies to know of the repealed laws.
The Boston Massacre became the official title of the altercation, especially in newspapers reporting the attack and by those who were becoming increasingly tired of British rule. In a sense, the word Massacre was certainly hyperbole and newspapers screamed headlines of a massacre implying huge acts of violence for little cause. Truly, the violence, though murder can never be underestimated, was minimal given what the soldiers perceived as an imminent threat to their lives. The soldiers who fired were arrested and tried, but it’s also important to remember that a jury did not convict them, since the jury found the soldiers were justified in their actions.
Historians point to the Boston Massacre as an important turning point on the road to the American Revolution. It angered the people, creating in many a desire to rid the country of British rule. This anger was inflamed by accounts in newspapers, which labeled the incident a massacre, implying the slaughter of innocents, who in no way were responsible for the events. In defense of the soldiers, an angry mob hurling insults is always a frightening thing, and the soldiers had first tried to avoid conflict, before the blow to Garrick was struck.
Given the importance of the incident in leading to the Revolution, the Boston Massacre is reenacted yearly by The Bostonian Society. The reenactment takes place in the same location, at the front of Old State House. The building itself has become a popular tourist site and is a historical landmark on the Freedom Trail.