The Boston Massacre
After the repeal of the Townshend Acts, British Parliament had stationed troops in several colonial towns to help keep order, which led to more trouble. Two infantry regiments (3,000-5,000 troops) and an artillery company (cannons) were sent to Boston. Resentful citizens watched as the soldiers in their bright red uniforms marched up King Street, with their drums and fifes playing, stopping in the middle of the Boston Common to set up camp.
Soon, insults and fights broke out between the citizens and the British soldiers. Boys ran after the British soldiers yelling, “Lobster’s for Sale” and “Lobster Backs,” making fun of the bright red uniforms of the British Military. Soldiers were ‘accidentally’ jostled off bridges and wharves and on the evening of March 5, 1770, this mounting tension exploded in the snow-covered streets of Boston.
An disorderly crowd of about four hundred men had collected in front of the Customs House, were eight British soldiers were standing guard. The men taunted and shouted insults at the eight guards. The crowd of men began to throw rocks, oyster shells, and chucks of ice. They threatened the guards with clubs and dared them to fire their muskets. Then someone, and it was and still is never clear who, actually did shout ‘Fire!’ The soldiers leveled their muskets and pulled their triggers firing into the crowd. When the smoke from the gunpowder cleared, five Bostonians lay dead on the frozen ground. One of the victims was Crispus Attucks, a sailor and former slave. Later, he was said to be the first black man to die in the Revolutionary War. It was said that 10,000 of the 16,000 of Boston’s population marched in the funeral procession for the five dead men. To avoid further trouble Britain pulled their troops out of Boston and stationed them in a nearby fort. The eight soldiers who had fired their muskets were arrested and tried for murder. John Adams, a scrappy little Massachusetts lawyer and a leading member of the Sons of Liberty, decided to defend the British soldiers in court. Adams disagreed with the presence of British troops in Boston but he believed that they were entitled to a fair trial. Many of the Bostonians were demanding that the soldiers be punished and during the trial rocks were thrown at Adams window and boys taunted him in the street.
In court Adams argued that the soldiers had defended themselves against a lawless mob. When the verdict came in six of the eight soldiers were acquitted, freed from all charges. The other two soldiers were branded on their thumbs and released. But that was not the end of it. John Adams has an older cousin named Samuel Adams who had led a resistance against the Stamp Act. Samuel Adams knew how to sway public opinion and he called the shooting at the Customs House, “The Boston Massacre” and had a good friend, Paul Revere, make a cooper engraving that showed British soldiers killing peaceful Bostonians. Paul Revere’s portrayal of the shooting was not accurate, but it was printed by the thousands and circulated around the colonies. It became one of the most powerful pieces of propaganda, or misinformation, that would help pave the way towards war.