AP®︎/College US History
- The Townshend Acts and the committees of correspondence
- Uproar over the Stamp Act
- The Boston Massacre
- The Boston Tea Party
- The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
- Taxation without representation: lesson overview
- Taxation without representation
The Boston Massacre
On March 5, 1770 an angry altercation between British soldiers and American colonists inflamed passions that would eventually lead to revolution.
- Boston, Massachusetts was a hotbed of radical revolutionary thought and activity leading up to 1770.
- In March 1770, British soldiers stationed in Boston opened fire on a crowd, killing five townspeople and infuriating locals.
- What became known as the Boston Massacre intensified anti-British sentiment and proved a pivotal event leading up to the American Revolution.
Boston, cradle of revolution
Even before the event that went down in history as the Boston Massacre, Boston, Massachusetts was a center of radical revolutionary ideas and sentiment. The colonists had endured years of conflict with British officials, and the number of people living in poverty and/or unemployed was growing in the city. With so many idle young men competing for work, there was bound to be trouble as British rule became more onerous.
After the Seven Years’ War had drained Britain’s coffers, the royal government imposed tighter controls over its North American colonies in order to raise revenues. When customs officials complained about the difficulties of collecting from disobedient colonists, Britain sent troops to impose order. The arrival of British soldiers in October 1768 heightened tensions in a city already on the edge of an uprising.
Over the next two years, Boston existed in a state of virtual British military occupation—one out of three men in the city was a Redcoat, a common nickname for British soldiers due to the color of their uniforms. Radical townspeople and idle young men harassed the soldiers, leading to numerous skirmishes and scuffles.
Engraving showing British soldiers in their trademark red uniforms.
The Boston Massacre
In March 1770, British officials ordered the removal of all occupants of the Boston Manufactory House—a halfway house for people living in poverty, those who were ill, and those who were homeless—so that a regiment of British soldiers could be garrisoned there. The Manufactory House’s homeless occupants put up a resistance, and the British backed down, but other confrontations ensued.
On March 5th, one such confrontation turned violent. As a mob of angry townspeople encircled a British sentry shouting insults and throwing rocks and sticks, nervous Redcoats opened fire into the crowd, killing five Bostonians and wounding several others. One of the victims was Crispus Attucks, a free sailor of African and Native American descent who has gone down in history as the first casualty of the American Revolution.
Local newspapers eulogized Attucks and the others as martyrs to British tyranny. Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, two of Boston’s most influential revolutionaries, proved adept propagandists. Revere is known for producing the most famous depiction of the incident—though in reality he merely copied the original engraving by young Boston-area artist Henry Pelham. The image was published in the Boston Gazette and circulated widely, stoking the flames of anti-British anger and revolutionary righteousness. Pro-British Loyalists promoted an alternate narrative, accusing agitators in the crowd of deliberately provoking the incident. Nevertheless, the radical narrative proved far more influential.
Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, showing an orderly line of British troops firing on unsuspecting American colonists.
The colonists did not want to give the British a pretext for retaliation, and so preparations were made to ensure a fair trial. A young lawyer named John Adams, despite his commitment to the revolutionary cause, agreed to defend the Redcoats, all but two of whom were acquitted.
Even though British troops were recalled from Boston, the incident inflamed hostilities and intensified revolutionary sentiment among the colonists. For the revolutionaries, the so-called massacre demonstrated the corrupting influence of standing armies and the tyranny of the British. It was a major signpost on the road to revolution; indeed, John Adams later claimed that the “foundation of American independence was laid” that fateful day of March 5, 1770.
What do you think?
Why do you think the incident in March 1770 happened in Boston and not somewhere else?
In your opinion, was the Boston Massacre truly a massacre? Who do you think was at fault for the incident?
How important was the Boston Massacre in the events leading up to the American Revolution?
Want to join the conversation?
- what would the bristish call this massacre(16 votes)
- It's called "The Incident on King Street" in the UK.(45 votes)
- do the British have any other names besides redcoats i mean do they do they(3 votes)
- not tories, tories are colonists who are still loyal to King George III. =P(3 votes)
- why did the boston massacure happen in boston not somewhere elese.(0 votes)
- The quartering act made for a volatile atmosphere and hostility of Bostonians against the British military presence as they were obligated to house British soldiers in their homes, a lot of the times at their expense. Also many of the most active and influential Revolutionaries were Bostonians, such as Sam Adams, and many propaganist efforts such as the printing of pamphlets took place there which made Boston a hotbed for pro-independence sentiment. These two factors (intense British military presence and strong anti-British political sentiments) made for an explosive mixture.(15 votes)
- Do the "Redcoats" still wear their red coats today?(3 votes)
- But camouflage is also used in the field.(0 votes)
- does anyone know the exact number of people wounded?(4 votes)
- 5 people were killed, and 6 six were injured.
(source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Massacre)(4 votes)
- Why did Paul Revere and Samuel Adams name the event the Boston Massacre(4 votes)
- It was called the Boston Massacre because that's what it felt like to the Americans. While the name is a little bit overblown, it was still a shooting of innocent people.(4 votes)
- Is the picture of the massacre above an accurate representation of what it looked like when it happened? If not then what did(4 votes)
- Why was John Adams so adamant that his defense of the offending soldiers was a good thing for the revolution? I personally don't think that what they did was all that bad; self-defense gets messy sometimes, and people who didn't have to die are killed. But Adams, a pro-revolution figure, din't have go so far as to defend them and jeopardize his political position to make that point clear.(2 votes)
- Actually my teacher dicussed this in class, if the men were tried and found guilty then Britain would have took notice and done something about it. However, if he just uses the Boston Massacre to make a statement to the people of America that Britain has gone too far without Britian facing any consequences thusfar, they could have more loyalists and neutralists turn to help them in the long run.(4 votes)
- did the townshed acts have anything to do with the colonists wanting the revolution(2 votes)
- Yes. Because the Townshend Act intensified the hostility between the British and the colonists, which later led to the Revolution.(3 votes)
- whats aminute man(1 vote)
- "Minute Man" is a nickname for the guerilla fighters on the rebel side during the early stages of the American Revolution. Since these irregular troops wore no uniforms, they could be called quickly into skirmishes and battles, "in only a minute". Compared to the trained and ably led British troops, they were much quicker to get to work.(4 votes)