The Boston Massacre
Background facts and information: British troops had been stationed in Boston since 1768 following events prompted by the Townshend Acts of 1767. The posting of the soldiers to Boston had been ordered due to civil unrest in the city. The newly appointed Customs Officers at Boston had seized a sloop called the Liberty that was carrying a cargo of Madeira wine and towed her under the guns of a warship which was in Boston harbor. The people of Boston managed to seize one of the war-ship's boats, which they burnt. Two regiments of troops were sent to Boston to maintain order. The Boston Massacre was the climax of a series of brawls in which gangs of local workers and sailors clashed with British soldiers quartered in Boston.
The Boston Massacre - Tensions in Boston
The situation in Boston was extremely tense. The British troops, Redcoats had been stationed in Boston for over eighteen months. The British soldiers had arrived in Boston on September 28, 1768 and were quartered in various public places throughout the city. Their very presence was a constant reminder of Britain attempting to dominate the American colonies. Two men played very different roles were especially prominent in Boston at this time. The men were Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, and Samuel Adams, patriot and the man of the people, and cousin of John Adams who became the second President of the United States. Click the following links for a short biography and fast facts about Samuel Adams and Thomas Hutchinson.
The Boston Massacre - Military Presence and Mobs in Boston
The heavy military presence in the town lead to the Boston Massacre was the result of British enforcement of the Townshend Acts of 1767. There were 4,000 British troops to the population of Boston which numbered about 20,000 residents at the time of the Boston massacre. Mob demonstrations protesting the Townshend Acts were common, some were spontaneous and some were organized.
The Boston Massacre - Clash at John Gray's Ropewalk, March 4, 1770
The day before the Boston Massacre incident on March 4, 1770 some Bostonians had clashed with British troops at John Gray's Ropewalk in the Fort Hill district of Boston. The clash involved dozens of soldiers and dozens of ropemakers. One of the British soldiers involved in the fighting at the John Gray's Ropewalk was Matthew Kilroy. Kilroy had argued with Samuel Gray at Gray's Ropewalks. Matthew Kilroy would later be convicted of manslaughter at the Boston Massacre trial for shooting Samuel Gray.
The Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770
The Boston Massacre incident occurred on the evening of March 5, 1770. A British soldier called Private Hugh White was on guard at the sentry box in front of the Customs House on King Street in Boston. A British officer called Captain Goldfinch was near the sentry and being taunted by several citizens for not paying a barber's bill. Private White, who had been involved in the skirmish at John Gray's Ropewalk, struck a young teenager called Edward Garrick with the butt of his rifle for insulting Captain Goldfinch. A crowd of over fifty people gathered and began harassing the two soldiers. The British soldiers realized that the situation was about to explode and called for help.
Their calls for help were answered by 8 soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston. The crowd continued to harass the group of soldiers taunting them with insults. The crowd grew in number to over 200 people. They became bolder and started to throw snowballs, mud, ice, coal and oyster shells at the redcoats. A soldier named Private Montgomery was hit in the face by a stick. Private Montgomery was enraged, raised his musket and fired into the crowd killing Crispus Attucks. Other soldiers fired on the crowd. Private Kilroy shot and killed a man called Samuel Gray. A black man named Crispus Attucks was shot and fell dead with several bullets lodged in his chest and head. Three other colonists killed in the volley of fire were called Patrick Carr, Samuel Maverick, and James Caldwell. Crispus Attucks, along with Samuel Gray and James Caldwell, died "on the spot" during the Boston Massacre. Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr died from their wounds afterwards. Six other Bostonians were wounded during the Boston Massacre. The crowd, shocked at the events of the Boston Massacre disbanded and the soldiers returned to the barracks.
Picture of Crispus Attucks who was killed during the Boston Massacre
Thomas Hutchinson and the Boston Massacre
The royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson pleaded for calm in Boston. After talking to people who had been at the scene of the Boston Massacre he knew that he had to take action. Hutchinson decided that there was sufficient evidence of 'probable cause' to refer the Boston Massacre to a grand jury. He arranged for the sheriff to issue arrest warrants for the arrest of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. The redcoats were found and placed in jail. He arranged for Doctor Benjamin Church to conduct an immediate autopsy on the body of Crispus Attucks and appointed County coroners Robert Pierpoint and Thomas Crafts Jr. to conduct an inquest into the deaths of the other four victims of the Boston Massacre. Thomas Hutchinson then started to prepare reports and gathered dispositions of the massacre to be sent to Great Britain. Following the autopsy the body of Crispus Attucks was carried to Faneuil Hall, where it lay in state until Thursday, March 8, when he and the other victims were buried together as heroes in the same grave site in the Granary Burying Ground. The funeral of the victims was the occasion for a great patriot demonstration attended by Samuel Adams and his cousin John Adams. The funeral procession consisted of 12,000 people first made a symbolic trip to the Liberty Tree, which was a famous elm tree that stood near Boston Common. The Boston Liberty Tree had become a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of Britain during the Stamp Act protests.
The Thomas Hutchinson Mansion
in Fleet Street, Boston
Picture of Thomas Hutchinson
The Boston Massacre Trials - The Guilty soldiers claim "benefit of clergy"
The guilty soldiers of the Boston Massacre, Kilroy and Montgomery, returned to court nine days after their trial, on December 14, 1770, for sentencing - which should have been the mandatory death penalty. However, according to English common law, felons convicted of some crimes, not affecting the king, were entitled to the 'benefit of clergy' for the first offence. The benefit of clergy was originally a provision by which clergymen could claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried instead in an ecclesiastical court under canon law. Eventually, it was extended to first-time offenders who could receive a more lenient sentence. Kilroy and Montgomery entered a claim and were granted 'benefit of clergy' to avoid the death sentence for their part in the Boston Massacre. But before they were released they had to be branded on their thumb by red hot iron bearing the letter "M" for manslaughter. Felons were only allowed to claim the 'benefit of clergy' once, a brand made it impossible to do otherwise. The sheriff of Boston, Stephen Greenleaf, undertook the duty of court branding the two Boston Massacre soldiers. Kilroy and Montgomery reportedly burst into tears before receiving the painful punishment. Kilroy and Montgomery were then released, discharged from the army and sent back to Britain following the tragic events of the Boston Massacre.