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The Boston Massacre expressed the people’s discontent at the kind of rules that the colonialists wanted to implement in America. It was also called the “the bloody massacre in the King Street” and “the state street massacre.” The street shooting that led to the loss of human lives was such a dramatic occurrence that caused the American Revolution. The massacre has sparked a lot of debate on the person or authority to be held liable for the bloody killing, whether it was the soldiers who violated the colony laws, which ruled out firing at the people, or the civilians who insulted the soldiers. Therefore, the research focuses on the background of issues leading to the confrontation, an account of the event, trial, and aftermath of the event, then a conclusion. Despite the position taken regarding an individuals views, the Boston Massacre is still considered a typical landmark of the American Revolution.
The Boston massacre occurred on 5th march, 1770 when the British regulars murdered five Bostonians in the confrontation that occurred on the King Street. Typically, the killings resulted from the tension that the appearance of the royal troops in Massachusetts had caused. Notably, the troop’s presence was to impose the tax burden that the Townshend Act had imposed in the area. Also, they were to restore the British law and order that was deteriorating in the region. As the America’s colonial power, Britain had to ensure that order was maintained and the people had to follow the laws to the latter.
The colonial master had to deal with the apparent difficulties that the soldiers had to go through. Notably, the soldiers kept on patrolling on King Street and were to maintain peace. Still, there was no abuse of any kind. Moment later, a crowd of people gathered at the street, but, was unarmed. The only notable thing is that they had sticks and were expressing distress at the perceived military roughness in the city. However, there was no call for firearms use.
Account of the events
The first troops from Britain reached Boston in 1768. Notably, their arrival triggered hostility between the soldiers implementing the Kings rule and the civilians in Boston. Indeed, it was the Boston Importers who ignored the custom duties that they were required to pay, who caused the trouble. Some of the Bostonians were not happy with the soldiers because they were implementing what the people regarded as impressments laws. Under such laws, the civilians could be seized forcefully and incorporated in the British Navy.
In discomfort to the rules, clashes began to arise between the civilians and the soldiers. A consequential fight erupted on 2nd March, 1770 between John Gray’s employees and the soldiers. One employee insulted a soldier, who invited fellow soldiers to retaliate the insult. The fight attracted a large crowd that had similar discomfort, at the manner in which the soldiers did their work. Therefore, the soldiers were forced to use the weapons in defense.
The second fight followed a disputed bill that a British officer had failed to settle his bill at a wig-maker shop, located at the King Street. The officer was confronted and forced to pay for the debt. Indeed, the confrontation attracted a large crowd that became hostile, leading to a heavy fight. As the fight continued, another confrontation ensued between Redcoats and the civilians. There was also a third crowd carrying clubs and matching towards the Dock Square. Soldiers tried to repel the crowd that turned violent.
Trouble was increasing all around the city and attracted a large crowd that jammed the King Street and became rowdy. The crowd started throwing coal chunks, snowballs and oyster shells at the soldiers. Then, the crowd was ordered to disperse, but turned deaf ears at the call. The crowd intensified their match towards the soldiers and one of them grabbed a soldier and banged him down. In response, the soldier unloaded the musket pointing at the crowd and started firing. Then the soldier shouted “fire”, and the others joined him in firing at the crowd. Despite firing, the large crowd did not retreat, but, matched to the soldiers. The soldiers continued to fire in response to the jostling crowd. At that time, five civilians died on the street and several others sustained serious injuries. The crowd did not give up due to their determination to fight and the soldiers did not wait. They loaded the guns once more and ready to open fire. This made the captain to shout, “Stop firing.”
The acting governor of the town, Thomas Hutchinson heard the shooting incident while at his home in North Square and rushed to the scene.He found the captain and the angry crowd still at the embattled street. He talked to the captain and asked him, “Do you know, sir, you have no power to fire on anybody of the people gathered, except you have a civil magistrate with you to give orders.” The captain replied, “I was obliged to, to save the sentry.” Then governor proceeded to the Town House, where he guaranteed the council members who had gathered that justice would take its course. He also assured the crowd that he would do all to ensure justice is done and asked them to remain calm.
According to Linder, the authority agreed that Captain Preston had to face trial separately from the other eight soldiers. However, the soldiers objected this in a letter that they wrote to the court. The letter stated that, the distressed prisoners begged to be let free to have their trial when Captain Preston’s case was being heard. This is because the soldiers carried out orders from the captain, and those who disobeyed the orders could be confined or shot.
Linder further stated that, the soldiers feared that Preston’s defense lay in refuting that he gave orders to fire, while the soldiers knew that their defense lay in making the claim that they strictly, followed their captain’s orders. The soldiers knew that if Captain Preston proceeded for trials first, their defense could be compromised. As a result, the conflict that occurred between Preston and the soldiers presented attorney John Adams with a dilemma because he had accepted to defend both parties. According to best practices, John should have made a decision to represent either the eight soldiers or Captain Preston, however, in the 1700s such kind of conflicts were viewed differently. Unfortunately, the soldiers’ plea to have a joint trial was denied without clarification.
Captain Preston was the first person to face trial for murder. The trial lasted for ten days, from October 24th to October 30th at the Queen Street Courthouse. Samuel Quincy who was the solicitor general and Robert Paine a prominent Boston lawyer led the prosecution. John Adams was assisted by Josiah Quincy in defending Preston. The issue during the trial was whether Preston ordered the soldiers to fire civilians.
Moreover, Linder asserted that Preston steadfastly denied that he ordered the soldiers to fire the civilians. Three defense witnesses supported Preston’s account in denying that he gave orders to fire the civilians while four witnesses supported the prosecution that, indeed, Preston gave the order. Calef Daniel was the only prosecution’s eyewitness whose statements were convincing. Daniel claimed that he was present at the firing, and in fact he heard one of the guns rattling. He said further that he turned around, and heard the officer who stood on the right order the soldiers to fire. The officer was wearing a yellow jacket, redcoat, a hat with silver lace, and an untrimmed coat. Daniel swore that he saw his face because the moon was shining
Sadly, copies of the trial do not exist even though the trial was written in shorthand. The testimony of Preston was surmised from the evidence that he gave during the advance trial. Preston submitted an account of how some people asked him if the guns were charged and he replied with a yes answer. Conversely, when the same people asked him if he intended to order his men to fire, Preston vehemently denied. Nevertheless, while Preston was still speaking with the civilians, one of the soldiers who had received a blow stepped aside on one side and fired. When Preston turned around to ask the soldier why he had fired, he (Preston) was also struck on the arm with a club. This prevented him from using the arm for sometime, he lamented had the blow found his head it could have destroyed it. He went on saying that the attack was carried out on the civilians by using snowballs and clubs; hence, his life was also in danger. As everyone struggled to get a haven, some of the civilians called on the soldiers to fire. Immediately about four soldiers fired sequentially during the confusion.
John Adams doubted the jurors’ minds, whether Preston ordered the soldiers to fire. The twelve man jury made deliberations for a few hours and finally acquitted Preston of all the charges that were labeled against him. After eight weeks, the soldiers faced trial. The witnesses testified on the clashes between military and civilians on what happened three days before the massacre as well as the events that took place during the night of the massacre.
From the prosecutor’s side, the most damning evidence was that of Samuel Hemmingway who stated that Private Killroy Samuel who had been identified earlier by another witness actually shot John Gray. Killroy could not miss an opportunity to fire the inhabitants because he always wanted to shoot civilians from the first time he arrived. The defense lawyers presented testimonies to support the theory that soldiers merely fired in self-defense. One of the defense witnesses called James Bailey presented a photograph of a rowdy gang. Bailey explained how the soldiers were pelted with chunks of ice and other crude objects. In addition, Bailey testified that he saw Attucks Crispus hit Private Montgomery using a cord wood stick. Adams questioned the jury if they could stand still in such a situation and allow the mob to knock their brains.
The Aftermath of Boston Massacre
According to Reid Philip, Captain Preston and the four men that were in the Custom House were indicted on the 27th of March. The government gave the soldiers a fair trial so as to prevent retaliation from the British as well as to avert alienation of the moderates from the patriots’ cause. In defending the soldiers, Adams argued that if the soldiers’ lives were in danger because of the Negroes, saucy boys, molattoes, jack tarr, and Irish teagues, then the law allowed the soldiers to fight the civilians.
Reid further says that John Adams blended eloquence and law in concluding his defense. He told the jury that this was a case of self defense. Justices Oliver and Trowbridge instructed the jury. Trowbridge told the Boston men that, malice distinguishes murder from every other homicide. On the other hand, Oliver asked Carr to determine whether a man who steps into eternity should not be believed, particularly in favor of those who he had lost his life to.
Finally, Reid documented that after the deliberations, the six soldiers were acquitted of all the charges, however, Montgomery and Killroy were found guilty for an offense of manslaughter. The two soldiers appeared in court on the 14th of December to give the reason for not being liable for the killings and not face death sentence, they invoked the benefit of clergy. Ultimately the soldiers’ punishment was turned into thumb branding from imprisonment. The jury’s decision was based on the belief that soldiers felt threatened by the civilians.
In summary, it is the people’s discontent that led to the resistance to the rules that the colonial masters wanted to impose on the people. However, the killing of the unarmed Protestants was regrettable. Thus, if the soldiers were provoked and no threat occurred in their lives, they were guilty for a charge of manslaughter. Finally, the judges’ verdict was inclined to one side, in support of the soldiers.
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