10AHMP: The Roaring Thunder of Rage: Local Reaction to the Boston Massacre & the Limited Coverage it Receives in Textbooks
In this podcast, learn the minimal amount of information that is generally taught in school about the Boston Massacre. Then, hear the mounting rage evident in the town of Boston following the events of March 5, 1770.
What was the reaction to the Boston Massacre by colonists who were already angered by increasingly tyrannical British rule? What transpired in the minutes, days, and weeks that followed the Boston Massacre? What passion do you feel as you hear about “the innocent blood crying to God from the Streets of Boston?” And who asked that question of Bostonians in 1770? We will explore these questions in this episode.
Let’s begin with a quote:
“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.” As I have researched the Boston Massacre over the past several weeks, I have repeatedly read the opinion, primarily by contemporary authors, that it was not really a pivotal event which changed the opinion of many in the colonies toward the need for greater autonomy or even perhaps sparked the idea of the need for independence from Britain. However, I can think of few people 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. As we will discuss in a future episode, Adams not only spent the better part of the year representing the soldiers involved in the Massacre, but he did so for little remuneration and a great amount of grief!
As you know, I strongly believe that we must educate ourselves about the Founding and our Founding Documents, and then pass this information along to others. In particular, we must educate the children of this nation because of the minimal amount of information which they are taught about the subject during the course of a public education. Don’t believe me? Think about what the children you known have learned about the event that Adams referred to as the “seeds of the congregation.”
First, let me read to you from the Scott Foresman textbook: Our Nation: History Social Science for California. I should mention that in the grade where the children spend the most time discussing the Founding Period out of any of the three years in which US History is the focus of the Social Science curriculum…. By the way, were you aware that there are only three years in the K-12 instructional curriculum in which US History is the focus? That, is a point you will hear me talk about repeatedly. The subtitle for the section that focuses on the Massacre is entitled “Tension in Boston Turns Violent.” The text reads as follows: “The growing number of British soldiers in the colonies led to tension between soldiers and colonists. In Boston angry words and violence between soldiers and colonists became common. Finally, on the evening of March 5, 1770, things got out of control. A crowd gathered during an argument between a British soldier and a colonist. The crowd shouted insults at the troops, then surrounded them and began throwing snowballs, rocks, and oyster shells at the soldiers. The British fired into the angry crowd. An African American named Crispus Attucks was the first of five colonists who were killed. The event became known as the Boston Massacre.” The Massacre is again mentioned, and correctly described, in an excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica, as a “climax of a series of brawls [fights] in which local workers and sailors clashed with British soldiers quartered [housed] in Boston. Harassed by a mob, the troops opened fire. Crispus Attucks, a black sailor and former slave, was shot first and died along with four others.” I should at that the excerpt is found in a text book which is part of a writing assignment. Two sentences were later dedicated in the text to John Adams’ representation of the soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trial.
Now, allow me to read you the account of the Boston Massacre from the eighth grade textbook by Glencoe entitled: The American Journey. “On March 5, 1770, tensions between the redcoats and Bostonians reached a peak. That day a crowd of colonists began insulting soldiers and throwing stones, snowballs, oyster shells, and pieces of wood at the soldiers. ‘Fire you bloodybacks, you lobsters,’ the crowd screamed. ‘You dare not fire.’ After one of the soldiers was knocked down, the nervous and confused soldiers did fire. Seven shots rang out, killing five colonists. Among the dead was Crisps Attucks, a dockworker who was part African, part Native American. The colonists called the tragic encounter the Boston Massacre. The Boston Massacre led many colonists to call for stronger boycotts on British goods.” So, from both of the books we have heard from so far, a child might gather that on that day the crowd just erupted violently. Sort of an unruly group which decided to begin insulting the soldiers because of tensions which arose from the Townshend Acts and the arrival of troops in their town as was discussed in the previous section in the textbook. The eighth grade book described the soldiers as “nervous and confused.” The soldiers only fired seven times. The reaction of the crowd was merely to call for stronger boycotts. Given what you learned in the previous podcast, you might be wondering, if the soldiers fired a mere seven times, how could there have been 5 deaths and multiple others who were injured as reported in the Boston Gazette?
Well, let’s move on to the AP US History textbook entitled “The American Pageant.” The Massacre is included in a section entitled “The Townshend Tea Tax and the Boston ‘Massacre.’” I have included the title because the word massacre is in quotes. The student might garner from the title, that perhaps it was not such a massacre after all. The paragraphs preceding and including the description of the Massacre read as follows: “British officials, faced with a breakdown of law and order, landed two regiments of troops in Boston in 1768. Many of the soldiers were drunken and profane characters. Liberty-loving colonists, resenting the presence of the read-coated ‘ruffians,’ taunted the ‘bloody backs’ unmercifully. A clash was inevitable. On the evening of March 5, 1770, a crowd of some sixty townspeople began taunting and throwing snowballs at a squad of ten redcoats. The Bostonians were still angry over the death of an eleven-year old boy, shot ten days earlier during a protest against a merchant who had defied the colonial boycott of British goods. Acting apparently without orders, but nervous and provoked by the jeering crowd, the troops opened fire and killed or wounded eleven citizens, an event that became known as – the Boston Massacre. One of the first to die was Crispus Attucks, described by contemporaries as a powerfully built run-away ‘mulatto’ and a leader of the mob. Both sides were in some degree to blame, and in the subsequent trial (in which future president John Adams served as defense attorney for the soldiers), only two of the red-coats were found guilty of manslaughter. The soldiers were released after being branded on the hand.” Hmmm, once again the soldiers were described as being “nervous” and “provoked.” This textbook seems to justify the British decision to quarter troops in the town of Boston during a time of peace. At least they described the colonists as “liberty-loving.” Although the AP US History textbook referenced an incident some ten days prior to the Massacre, which we will learn more about in the future, neither the eighth or the AP books mentioned there had been a weekend filled with hostilities, as we learned in the last edition of this podcast. The fifth grade book only mentions that fact as an excerpt to quote in a writing assignment. It certainly wasn’t mentioned in the section which a child is most likely to read word-for-word. The crowd was characterized as insulting “jeering” and “taunting” the soldiers. Neither book mentioned the actions of the soldiers which might have antagonized Bostonians. The books described the number of injuries, as well as the number of shots fired, differently. What was the point consistently mentioned in all of the books: it was the death of Crispus Attucks. Neither chose to mention that three seventeen year olds were killed or wounded. Interestingly, both seem to characterize it as a single incident and quickly moved onto another topic.
Do the contemporary sources of the time indicate that the incident quickly resolved and there was minimal, if any, reaction from the local community? Hardly! Let’s return to the Boston Gazette article that was focused on in the last podcast.
“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.
But so little intimidated were they, notwithstanding their being within a few Yards of the Main Guard, and seeing the 29th Regiment under Arms, and drawn up in King street; that they kept their Station and appeared, as an Officer of Rank expressed it, ready to run upon the very Muzzles of their Muskets.
The Lieutenant Governor soon came into the Town House, and there met some of his Majesty Council, and a Number of Civil Magistrates; a considerable Body of People immediately entered the Council chamber, and expressed themselves to his Honor with a Freedom and Warmth becoming the Occasion. He used his utmost Endeavors to pacify them, requesting that they would let the Matter subside for the Night, and promising to do all in his Power that Justice should be done, and the Law have its Course; Men of Influence and Weight with the People were not wanting on their Part to procure their Compliance with his Honor Request, by representing the horrible Consequences of a promiscuous and rash Engagement in the Night, and assuring them that such Measures should be entered upon in the Morning, as would be agreeable to their Dignity, and a more likely Way of obtaining the best Satisfaction for the Blood of their Fellow Townsmen. —- The Inhabitants attended to these Suggestions, and the Regiment under Arms being ordered to their Barracks, which was insisted upon by the People, they then separated, and returned to their Dwellings by One o’clock. At 3 o’clock Captain Preston was committed, as were the Soldiers who fired, a few Hours after him.
Tuesday Morning presented a most shocking Scene, the Blood of our Fellow Citizens, running like Water through King street, and the Merchants Exchange, the principal Spot of the Military Parade for about 18 Months past. Our Blood might also be tracked up to the Head of Long Lane, and through divers other Streets and Passages.
At 11 o’Clock the Inhabitants met at Faneuil Hall, and after some animated Speeches becoming the Occasion, they chose a Committee of 15 respectable Gentlemen to wait upon the Lieutenant Governor in Council, to request of him to issue his Orders for the immediate Removal of the Troops.
The Message was in these Words.
THAT it is the unanimous Opinion of this Meeting, that the Inhabitants and Soldiery can no longer live together in Safety; that nothing can rationally be expected to restore the Peace of the Town, and prevent further Blood and Carnage, but the immediate Removal of the Troops; and that we therefore most fervently pray his Honour that his Power and Influence may be exerted for their instant Removal.
His Honour Reply, which was laid before the Town, then adjourned to the Old South Meeting House, was as follows,
I am extremely sorry for the unhappy Differences between the Inhabitants and Troops, and especially for the Action of the last Evening, and I have exerted myself upon the Occasion, that a due Enquiry may be made, and that the Law may have its Course. I have in Council consulted with the Commanding Officers of the two Regiments who are in the Town. They have their Orders from the General at New York. It is not in my Power to countermand those Orders. The Council have desired that the two Regiments may be removed to the Castle. From the particular Concern which the 29th Regiment has had in your Differences, Col. Dalrymple, who is the commanding Officer of the Troops, has signified that the Regiment shall without Delay be placed in the Barracks at the Castle, until he can send to the General, and receive his further Orders concerning both the Regiments, and that the Main Guard shall be removed, and 14th Regiment so disposed, and laid under such Restraint, that all Occasion of future Disturbances may be prevented.
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. That is quite a percentage of the town. It is unclear if the word “voters” referred to all of the townspeople who happened at the meeting, the men who were at the meeting, or the male land holders who held the privilege of voting in local elections at that time.
Let’s return to the Boston Gazette article: “It was then moved and voted, John Hancock, Esq; Mr. Samuel Adams, Mr. William Molineux, William Philips, Esq; Dr. Joseph Warren, Joshua Henshaw, Esq; and Samuel Pemberton, Esq; be a Committee to wait on his Honor the Lieut. Governor, and inform him, that it is the unanimous Opinion of this Meeting, that the Reply made to a Vote of the Inhabitants presented his Honor in the Morning, is by no Means satisfactory; and that nothing less will satisfy, than a total and immediately Removal of all the Troops.
The Committee having waited upon the Lieut. Governor, agreeable to the foregoing Vote, laid before the Inhabitants the following Vote of Council, received from his Honor.
His Honor the Lieut. Governor laid before the Board a Vote of the Town of Boston, passed this Afternoon, and then addressed the Board as follows.
Gentlemen of the Council,
I lay before you a Vote of the Town of Boston, which I have just now received from them, and I now ask your Advice what you judge necessary to be done upon it.
The Council thereupon expressed themselves to be unanimously of Opinion, it was absolutely necessary for his Majesty Service, the good Order of the Town, and the Peace of the Province, that the Troops should be immediately removed out of the Town of Boston, and thereupon advised his Honor to communicate this Advice of the Council to Col. Dalrymple, and to pray that he would order the Troops down to Castle William.” The Committee also informed the Town, that Col. Dalrymple, after having seen the vote of Council, said to the Committee, That he now gave his Word of Honor that he would begin his Preparations in the Morning, and that there should be no unnecessary Delay until the whole of the two Regiments were removed to the Castle.
Upon the above Report being read, the Inhabitants could not avoid expressing the high Satisfaction it afforded them.
After Measures were taken for the Security of the Town in the Night, by a strong Military Watch, the Meeting was dissolved.”
Let’s stop again, and focus on the “Report of the Committee of the Town of Boston.” It is believed that Samuel Adams primarily authored this report. Contained within the report is a section that is fascinating for two reasons. Allow me to read it to you, and then we will discuss its significance. “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.” There were two very interesting aspects to that passage. First, it directly linked the Massacre to the conflict at Gray’s Ropewalks on March 2nd. Although the belief was stated that Captain Preston ordered the troops to fire on the townspeople, the report then went onto say “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.” So, 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? We will talk about that in a moment. For now, let’s return to the account in the Boston Gazette.
“The 29th Regiment have already left us, and the 14th Regiment are following them, so that we expect the Town will soon be clear of all the Troops. The Wisdom and true Policy of his Majesty Council, and Col. Dalrymple the Commander, appear in this Measure. Two Regiments in the midst of this populous City; and the Inhabitants justly incensed: 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.”
I cannot help but interject again. 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.
We will now hear about the funeral procession for the victims which appears to have been attended by a great number in the town. “Last Thursday, agreeable to a general Request of the Inhabitants, and by the Consent of Parents and Friends, were carried to their Grave in Succession, the Bodies of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, the unhappy Victims who fell in the bloody Massacre of the Monday Evening preceding!
On this Occasion most of the Shops in Town were shut, all the Bells were ordered to toll a solemn Peal, as were also those in the neighboring Towns of Charlestown, Roxbury, &c. The Procession began to move between the Hours of 4 and 5 in the Afternoon; two of the unfortunate Sufferers, viz. Messieurs James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, who were Strangers, borne from Faneuil Hall, attended by a numerous Train of Persons of all Ranks; and the other two, viz. Mr. Samuel Gray, from the House of Mr. Benjamin Gray (his Brother) on the North Side the Exchange, and Mr. Maverick, from the House of his distressed Mother, Mrs. Mary Maverick, in Union street, each followed by their respective Relations and Friends: The several Hearses forming a Junction in King street, the Theatre of that inhuman Tragedy! proceeded from thence through the Main street, lengthened by an immense Concourse of People, so numerous as to be obliged to follow in Ranks of six, and brought up by a long Train of Carriages, belonging to the principal Gentry of the Town. The Bodies were deposited in one Vault in the middle Burying ground: The aggravated Circumstances of their Death, the Distress and Sorrow visible in every Countenance, together with the peculiar Solemnity with which the whole funeral was conducted, surpass Description.
A Military Watch has been kept every Night at the Town House and Prison, in which many of the most respectable Gentlemen of the Town have appeared as the common Soldiers, and Night after Night have given their Attendance.
A Servant Boy of one Manwaring, the Tide waiter from Quebec, is now in jail, having deposed that himself, by the Order and Encouragement of his Superiors, had discharged a Musket several Times from one of the Windows of the House in King street, hired by the Commissioners and Custom House Officers to do their Business in; more than one other Person swore upon Oath, that they apprehended several Discharges came from that Quarter.
It is not improbable that we may soon be able to account for the Assassination of Mr. Otis some Time past; the Message by Wilmot, who came from the same House to the infamous Richardson, before his firing the Gun which killed young Snider, and to open up such a Scene of Villainy, acted by a dirty Banditti, as must astonish the Public.
It is supposed there must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.
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.
Had those worthy Patriots, not only represented by Bernard and the Commissioners as a Faction, but as aiming at making a Separation between Britain and the Colonies, had any Thing else in Contemplation than the Preservation of our Rights, and bringing Things back to their old Foundation — What an Opening has been given them?
Among other Matters in the Warrant for the annual Town Meeting this Day, is the following Clause, viz. “Whether the town will take any Measures that a public Monument may be erected on the Spot where the late tragically Scene was acted, as a Memento to Posterity, of that horrid Massacre, and the destructive Consequences of Military Troops being quartered in a well regulated City.”
Well, there seems to certainly been a bit of detail, not only about the Massacre itself, but in what sounds like a tumultuous reaction from the community! It seems like those who minimally describe the Boston Massacre to a paragraph or two cannot possibly convey the level of distress experienced by those in Boston.
Let’s go back for a moment to a reference at the end of the article to which stated that the Boston Massacre was worse than an incident at St. George Field. This was a particularly important comparison for 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.”
Imagine yourself sitting in the pew and hearing the following:
“we have seen the gloomy time when our brethren were murdered before our eyes, and our most public streets were deeply dyed with innocent blood. How affecting, unutterably affecting, to see our fellow citizens shot to death—their garments rolled in blood, and corpses wallowing in gore, upon our Exchange, the place of general concourse, where our most respectable inhabitants meet every day! But such a scene has been acted—yea the blood of the slain is but now washed from the pavements.
A NOBLE spirit, indeed has appeared on this occasion, not only in securing the presumed murderers that they may be brought to trial; but insisting that all the troops should be removed from among us.
FROM this violent out-breaking, and innumerable disorders that might be mentioned, the whole world may be convinced of the infinite impropriety of quartering troops in a well-regulated city under a notion of assisting the civil magistrate, or strengthening government. I pray God we may never behold a like appearance on a like pretence! It is time for that magistrate to resign, who cannot depend on the assistance of his neighbours and fellow-citizens in the administration of justice. And that government which rejecting the foundation of the law, would establish itself by the sword, the sooner it falls to the ground the better, that in its stead another might be established, more agreeable to the nature of man, and consistent with the great ends of society.”
We have yet to hear Captain Preston’s description of the days following the Massacre, as well as the more lengthy descriptions that both the colonists and the British produced in support of their view of those events near the Boston harbor. Then there are the fascinating Fifth of March Orations given in the years following the Massacre, as well as John Adams’ representation of the soldiers at their trial.
However, next week, we will take a break from this topic and discuss a unique and profoundly astute example of leadership given to us by one of the Founding Fathers.
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.
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