10 QCAHMP The Roaring Thunder of Rage: Local Reaction to the Boston Massacre & the Limited Coverage it Receives in Textbooks
How is the Boston Massacre often portrayed in textbooks? What was the reaction to the Boston Massacre by colonists who were already angered by increasingly tyrannical British rule? What transpired the days, and weeks that followed the Boston Massacre? How was the Massacre linked to an incident in St. George’s Field in England. We will explore these questions in this episode.
Who do you think made the following statement:
“How slightly soever historians may have passed over this event, the blood of the martyrs, right or wrong, proved to be the seeds of the congregation. Not the battle of Lexington or Bunker’s Hill: not the surrender of Burgoyne or Cornwallis, were more important events in American history, than the battle of King-street, on the fifth of March, 1770.” Although contemporary authors often minimize the importance of the Boston Massacre, who was in a better position to voice an opinion of the import of the event than the author of this quote. It was none other than John Adams…the man who represented the soldiers on trial for their actions in the events of March 5th.
In the comprehensive version of this podcast, I compared how the Massacre was covered in the 5th, 8th, and AP social science textbooks which have been used by my children. I would encourage you to listen to that discussion because it is startling what and how little they actually teach about an event that was of such great import to the people of Boston and in the Colonies as a whole. There were inconsistencies in the accounts of what transpired, how many were injured, and none of them mentioned the conflict that was discussed in the ninth episode of American History for the Modern Patriot. What all three focused on was that Crispus Attucks, a man of African descent, was included in those who were killed.
The article in the Boston Gazette which was detailed in the 9th edition of American History for the Modern Patriot describes the aftermath of incident differently from how contemporary commontators might have you think: Instead it said:
“The People were immediately alarmed with the Report of this horrid Massacre, the Bells, were set a Ringing, and great Numbers soon assembled at the Place where this tragical Scene had been acted; their Feelings may be better conceived than expressed; and while some were taking Care of the Dead and Wounded, the Rest were in Consultation what to do in those dreadful Circumstances.”
The article went on to describe a meeting of the town the next day which included “animated speeches” and a committee of men that were selected to call upon Governor Thomas Hutchinson and demand the immediate removal of the troops from the town. Although the good Lutenient Governor voiced his concern, he lamented that he had no power to overrule the orders to station the troops as issued by a British General.
The Gazette article noted that in another meeting “The foregoing Reply having been read, and fully considered — the Question was put, Whether the Report be satisfactory? Passed in the Negative (only 1 Dissentient) out of upwards of 4000 Voters.”
Let me stop for a moment to remind you that the town of Boston had approximately 15,000 inhabitants at the time, and 4,000 “voters” were counted at that meeting. However the term “voters” was defined, that is quite a percentage of the town.
Another committee which included John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Dr. Joseph Warren was created to inform Hutchinson of the town’s vote and their dissatisfaction with his reply. The committee later reported to the town that Hutchinson asked what should be done, and they unanimously replied remove the troops from Boston. They reported that Hutchinson had asked Colonel Dalrymple, the commander of the two regiments in Boston, to move the troops to Castle William which is an island outside of the town. Dalrymple agreed.
A report from the committee was then prepared most likely by Samuel Adams. “Report of the Committee of the Town of Bosto.” It contains a section that is fascinating for two reasons. It begins: “On Friday the 2d instant, a quarrel arose between some soldiers of the 29th, and the rope-maker’s journeymen and apprentices, which was carried to that length, as to become dangerous to the lives of each party, many of them being much wounded. This contentious disposition continued until the Monday evening following, when a party of seven or eight soldiers were detached from the main guard- under the command of Captain Preston, and by his orders fired upon the inhabitants promiscuously in King street, without the least warning of their intention, and killed three on the spot; another has since died of his wounds, and others are dangerously, some it is feared mortally, wounded. Captain Preston and his party now are in jail. An inquiry is now making into this unhappy affair; and by some of the evidence, there is no reason to apprehend that the soldiers have been made use of by others as instruments in executing a settled plot to massacre the inhabitants.” Did you notice that the report directly linked the Massacre to the conflict at Gray’s Ropewalks on March 2nd. Also, that report, which can be found on my website and was dated March 12, used the phrase “massacre.” Probably not so coincidentally, the famous etching by Paul Revere was issued on that date.
Within one week, a subsection of the committee signed a more detailed report entitled “A short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre” which was reprinted and quickly distributed throughout the colonies and sent on to Britain. Why did that committee of patriots so quickly refer to the incident on King’s Street as a massacre? After noting that one regiment had left and the second was to follow. Listen to what comes next: “Those of the neighboring Towns actually under Arms upon the first Report of the Massacre, and the Signal only wanting to bring, in a few Hours, to the Gates of this City, many Thousands of our brave Brethren in the Country, deeply affected with our Distresses, and to whom we are greatly obliged on this Occasion — No one knows where this would have ended, and what important Consequences even to the whole British Empire might have followed, which our Moderation and Loyalty upon so trying an Occasion, and our Faith in the Commander Assurances, have happily prevented.”
. Note that the angst of the town had swept to outside of Boston, and the report indicated that thousands of armed colonists were waiting to come to the aide of those in the town. I am sure this was not lost on the British, and it is not unreasonable to assume that this may have been an example which contributed to the idea of banning the importation of powder and other munitions in 1774.
The funeral procession for the victims was described in great detail and thought to have been one of the largest gatherings in the history of the Colonies. The level of distress in that article cannot possibly be conveyed in a few paragraphs in a text book. The Gazette article also said “A more dreadful Tragedy has been acted by the Soldiery in King street, Boston, New England, than was some time since exhibited in St. George Field, London, in Old England, which may serve instead of Beacons for both Countries.”
The comparison at St. George Field was a particularly important to Samuel Adams, and his friends, in the colonies. In 1768, a similar incident had occurred in an area of London known as St. George’s Fields. At that time, a crowd of somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand people came together to protest the incarceration of John Wilkes. Wilkes, a member of the House of Commons, who was highly critical of King George III, had recently been convicted of libel. Soldiers, who claimed to have been incited by the crowd, opened fire and killed seven people. Both Adams and John Hancock were inspired, if not in awe of Wilkes, but Benjamin Franklin described him as an outlaw. It is not a far stretch of the imagination that Samuel Adams immediately associated the incident on King’s Street with that which occurred at St. George’s Field.
In another interesting comparison, a famous fiery sermon of protest had been given by Dr. John Free in Oxford after the St. George’s Field massacre. Similarly, John Lathrop, a pastor in Boston, delivered an equally famous sermon just days after the Boston Massacre entitled: “Innocent blood crying to God from the streets of Boston.” Again, excerpts of that sermon were read in the full length version of this podcast
Needless to say, the Boston Massacre was truly a pivotal event for many in Boston and in the Colonies. Of course, things would deteriorate further as more of the Intolerable Acts were passed.
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, vigilant, and engaged in the political process. Visit my website, www.bingoforpatriots.com, with more than 500 pages of documents, products, and information designed to motivate the modern patriot.