The Boston Massacre Revisited

The Boston Massacre Revisited

A Story by David Kent

 By James Cotter

What We Knew that Just Wasn't So

Most of us probably learned at an early age that in 1770 a detachment of British soldiers opened fire upon a defenseless crowd of colonists in Boston without sufficient provocation, killing five innoc


ents, thereby expediting the American revolution—which, of course, was just and righteous.

Alas, it was not so. The reality was as follows: As a small group of British soldiers stood guard outside the Custom house, a young fellow named Edward Gerrish or Garrick—it is uncertain which is correct, if either—called out to one of the soldiers that he had not paid a bill. The bill had in fact been paid, as the young man undoubtedly knew, as he was apprenticed to the wigmaker who was owed the money. So the soldier ignored him. The apprentice left, but returned later with companions—moral support, perhaps—and repeated his accusations. The civilians began throwing snowballs and insulting the soldiers, and at length one of the troopers struck a civilian on the side of the head with a musket. Then someone began to argue with that soldier. The crowd began to grow.

And grow. In fact the event had been orchestrated--people began to show up from local taverns, and soon the soldiers found themselves confronted with a drunken mob later estimated to number from 300 to 400. Captain Thomas Preston, having watched things go from bad to worse, dispatched several more soldiers to aid the original two. As the relief column approached, the crowd moved in.

It should be noted that the crowd were well aware that the soldiers had orders not to fire their muskets without a magistrate's approval. Private Hugh Montgomery, having been clubbed to the ground, regained his footing and fired. (He later admitted that he had yelled "Damn you, fire!") Members of the mob were also shouting, tauntingly, "Fire!" To confuse matters further, nearby church bells had begun ringing, a common alert that a fire had started, which may have prompted some of the rioters to shout "Fire!" Disaster was inevitable.

The panicked soldiers fired into the mob, hitting 11 men, 5 of whom died. Paul Revere, among others, distorted the event by portraits showing another rifle being fired out the window of the customs building, showing Captain Preston ordering his men to fire (he did not, and would have been silly if he had, as he was standing in front of them at the time), and labeling the customs office "Butcher's Hall." The incident inspired a flurry of propaganda, which was deemed to be more important than fact in the minds of some.

At Preston"s trial, which used a jury from towns outside Boston to ensure some degree of impartiality, he was acquitted. In the trial of the other soldiers, 6 were acquitted, two were found guilty of manslaughter, and two were convicted of murder but had their sentences reduced to manslaughter when the lawyer for the soldiers—John Adams, later America's second president—utilized a loophole of English Common Law and had them prove to the judge that they could read from the Bible. The jurors felt, understandably, that the soldiers had felt threatened by the mob—a fact attested to by one of the 5 victims, Patrick Carr, in a deathbed statement to his doctor.

So, some of our grade-school teachers may have oversimplified a bit. Okay, more than a bit.

But if we didn't do some studying later, on our own, we would be undereducated, anyway.

This article brought to you By BreadStreet Investors' Union at

"Bringing Investors and Entrepreneurs Together for Profit"


© 2009 David Kent

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I did not know this part of historical mayhem, interesting read, well presented.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Thanks for the insight.

Posted 14 Years Ago

In addition to the facts that you mention, the soldiers had their backs to the Custom House. They were pinned in by the mob when they panicked and began to fire.

I love history... and this is about as factual as you can get with what really happened.

Posted 15 Years Ago

The Boston "massacre" was nothing more than a confused skirmish. Wounded Knee was a massacre. But 300 Lakota men, women and children made less impact than a few white men. And we "won" the west.

Posted 15 Years Ago

Wow, Thanks for the educated write. It was indeed very well written and informative.

Posted 15 Years Ago

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5 Reviews
Added on March 12, 2009
Last Updated on March 13, 2009


David Kent
David Kent

Las Vegas, NV

With 5 years in the business, and close to 10,000 Private Investors & lending Firms. Breadstreet seeks to bring small business back into the forefront of free living. We just seek to have fun,.. more..


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