9 5MAHMP Two Sides to Every Massacre. British and Colonial Portrayals of the Boston Massacre, and Crucial Information not Often Taught in Schools.
What is a crucial piece of information about the Boston Massacre that you probably never learned about in school? What happened during that incident on Kings Street?, and how was the incident described differently by a colonial newspaper and a British officer? We will explore all of these questions in this episode.
In my mind, this episode is illustrative of the lack of depth regarding the US Founding that is taught in the public school system. If mentioned at all, the Boston Massacre is glossed over in a single paragraph in most text books. At best, it is depicted as a riot with dire consequences that occurred on March 5th, 1770. Yet, the primary sources we will learn from today all view it as a continuation of conflict that began on March 2nd.
As we learned in the last episode, there was an increasing amount of tension in Boston because the Quartering Act of 1765 allowed for troops to be housed on property owned by colonists. It should be noted that we are not talking about just a few troops in the city mind you. There were approximately 4000 troops in a town with only about 15,000 residents. A city filled with patriots such as Samuel Adams and James Otis, colonists who were angry that soldiers often took away jobs by seeking part-time employment, as well as others who feared being forced to serve on British ships because of the “impress service” instilled by the Parliament was a town waiting to boil over.
Now, let’s learn about the information that I referenced above. You have probably never heard about it, but your entire perspective of the Boston Massacre may change when you understand that the crowd was not just standing around biding their time. The colonists on that street, and the British soldiers who engaged them, had been involved in street brawls several days. Listen to the deposition of Private Patrick Walker of the 29th Regiment about what happened to him on March 2, 1770.
In his deposition, Private Walker stated: “That about the latter end of February Last, Deponant having Occasion to go by the Ropewalkes in Boston, he was assaulted, knocked Down, trod under feet, Cut in several places, and Very much bruised, without any Provocation Given, by about twelve of the Inhabitants of Boston, (supposed Rope makers) and Left in Danger of his Life.” Puportedly, one of the rope makers, named William Green, asked Walker if he was looking for part-time work. When Walker answered in the affirmative, Green hurled vulgar insults at him which escalated into a fight.
Nicholas Feriter, one of the rope makers, had a very different description of the same incident. As he recalled, “about half past 11 o’clock, A.M., a soldier of the 29th Regiment came to Mr. John Gray’s ropewalks, and looking into one of the windows, said, by God I’ll have satisfaction! with many other oaths; at the last he said he was not afraid of any one in the ropewalks. I stept out of the window and speedily knock’d up his heels. On falling, his coat flew open, and a naked sword appeared.”
Regardless of how it started, a fight between dozens of rope makers and soldiers quickly ensued. Testimony was even taken from a nine year old apprentice, named Peter Slater, who had taken part in the brawl! A Justice of the Peace, named John Hill, testified that he saw soldiers walking to and from the ropewalks from their barracks. At one point, he saw 30 to 40 soldiers return to the ropewalks with clubs and weapons. Although he tried to intervene, he saw them knock down a ropemaker and beat him with their clubs. One of the soldiers attempted to club him. Although he avoided the blow, he felt sure that it would have killed him if the soldier had been successful.
The fighting continued the next day which would have been March 3rd, and John Gray, himself, whose brother was the provincial treasurer, met with officers from the 29th Regiment. It was agreed that Green would be dismissed in exchange for the soldiers agreeing to remain off of Gray’s property. It was hoped that the situation would calm down. How wrong they were!
On the night of March 5th an event occurred. Just what happened depends upon your perspective. The British referred to is as “The incident on King’s Street.” Bostonians, and others in the American Colonies, referred to it as “The Boston Massacre.”
On that evening, James Caldwell, Samuel Gray, and Crispus Attucks were gunned down. Samuel Maverick died the next day, and Patrick Carr died two weeks later as a result of the same incident. A sixth man, Chrstopher Monk, was shot in the abdomen, and suffered for more than ten years before his death. The incident began when a crowd formed around John Goldfinch and a young man, Edward Garrick, accused Goldfinch of not paying a bill. The situation quickly escalated, and Hugh Montgomery fired the first shots into the crowd.
But these were not just a collection of people on a street. They were a group of colonists and British soldiers. Samuel Gray worked at the rope walk where the fighting broke out on March 2nd. He was known to be a street “brawler.” Crispus Attucks, was a fugitive slave who had worked as a merchant seaman for more than 20 years. James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick, and Christopher Monk were all 17 years old. Caldwell was a sailor. Maverick was having dinner at a friend’s house when the bells indicating a fire had broken out. It seems that his participation in the incident was accidental. Patrick Carr was a leatherworker. John Goldfinch was actually Captain John Goldfinch and Hugh Montgomery was Private Montgomery.
In order to truly understand the difference in the two perspectives of this situation, I read extensive excerpts from an article in the Boston Gazette about the night of March 5th, as well as the testimony of the British officer in charge of the troops, Captain Thomas Preston in the full length edition of this episode of American History for the Modern Patriot. Unfortunately, there is not time in this limited edition to review the entire document and testimony, so I would encourage you to have a listen to the full length edition.
However, you can gain a great deal of insight just by hearing the opening paragraph from each of the primary sources.
The account in the Boston Gazette began “The Town of Boston affords a recent and melancholy Demonstration of the destructive Consequences of quartering Troops among Citizens in a Time of Peace, under a Pretense of supporting the Laws and aiding Civil Authority” whose true purpose was to “enforce oppressive Measures, to awe & control the legislative as well as executive Power of the Province, and to quell a Spirit of Liberty”
The Captain’s statement began: “IT is Matter of too great Notoriety to need any Proofs, that the Arrival of his Majesty’s Troops in Boston was extremely obnoxious to it’s Inhabitants. They have ever used all Means in their Power to weaken the Regiments, and to bring them into Contempt, by promoting and aiding Desertions, and with Impunity, even where there has been the clearest Evidence of the Fact, and by grossly and falsely propagating Untruths concerning them.”
How differently was the night of March 5th, depicted? Well, both accounts cited an ongoing history of conflict between the soldiers and colonists. However, The Gazette reported “several Soldiers of the 29th Regiment were seen parading the Streets with their drawn Cutlasses and Bayonets, abusing and wounding Numbers of the Inhabitants.” Captain Preston stated that colonial militia members had arrived in the town for the specific purpose of attacking the soldiers. Both accounts noted the captain had been struck with a club, and both reporting hearing the words “damn you, fire.” However, the colonial account stated that the captain ordered the soldiers to fire, but the Captain stated he had never ordered the men to load their weapons. He also contended that the soldiers began firing out of confusion. There was so much confusion that the captain thought John Gray, himself, had been killed. However, what they both agreed on was the people of Boston had been and were increasingly angered that troops had been quartered in their midst.
What happened after the confrontation had ended we will explore that in the next edition of American History of the Modern Patriot.
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, 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.