March 5, 1770, up to 500 protesters gathered in front of the Customs House on King (now State) Street. Dock workers and merchants chanted “Shoot and be damned” at nine British soldiers, the 29th Regiment stationed in Boston to enforce the Townshend Acts. Captain Preston, leading the regiment, ordered his solders not to shoot. But the assembling crowd grew increasingly hectic. They threw snowballs, and supposedly a stick hit one of the Privates. He shot his musket.
A volley of shots followed, killing Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Patrick Carr, and Christopher Monk. This came to be known as The Boston Massacre.
The victims were tradesmen of different sorts. Attucks worked as a merchant seaman for more than 20 years, after having escaped from slavery. Gray worked as a rope maker, and he was known as a hearty street agitator and brawler. Maverick was just passing through the protest when the shooting began, and he apprenticed (it’s believed) for a carpenter. Caldwell was a sailor on the brig “The Hawk,” importing rum and molasses from the West Indies. Carr was an Irish immigrant and leather worker who reportedly said on his deathbed that he did not blame the soldiers because they were so brutally harassed. Monk died ten years after the incident from a shot above the groin that left him severely disabled.
Myths and legends about this event spread quickly in its aftermath, ignited in part by an engraving created by Paul Revere. The broadside print distributed widely, fomenting revolutionary ideas. It included this poem:
Unhappy Boston! See thy sons deplore,
Thy Hallow'd Walks, besmear'd with guiltless Gore:
While faithless — and his savage Bands,
With murd'rous Rancour stretch their bloody Hands;
Like fierce Barbarians grinning o'er their Prey,
Approve the Carnage, and enjoy the Day.
The British occupation of Boston began in 1768. Samuel Adams and other prominent locals agitated against the Crown. The Massacre was one of the major triggers that set off the Revolution.
Boston courts convicted two British soldiers for killing the protesters. By the end of March, a grand jury indicted eight British regular soldiers and Captain Thomas Preston for discharged weapons in downtown Boston. Nine months later they were tried. Two soldiers were convicted, Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Killroy. Their thumbs were branded, and they were discharged from the army.
John Adams defended the soldiers. He wrote on the third anniversary of the Boston Massacre: “Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country . . . As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right. But it is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.”
The information for this article was compiled from bostonmassacre.net, crispusattucksmuseum.org and thefreedomtrail.org/trail-sites/boston-massacre-site