I recently had to do a project for an organization I belong to which involved selecting an historical event from a list of educational resources, which provided a lesson plan for students to learn about the event, as well as instructions on how to examine and discuss certain elements of the story.
For reasons I cannot explain, I chose the one entitled, “The Unhappy Disturbance on King Street (The Boston Massacre 1770).”
The basic goal was to have students learn details about the incident, have them assess the information provided for facts, evidence, and relevance, and learn that propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”
There are three parts; the telling of the story that sets up the atmosphere which led up to the actual event, details of the “massacre,” and the engraving done by Paul Revere three weeks afterward which is described as “probably the most effective piece of war propaganda in American history.”
The story begins with, “So many people think that the Boston Massacre started with Captain Thomas Preston giving the order to fire…but March 5th 1770 was more than a culmination of Bostonians being tired of paying money for the quartering act, they were also tired of competing for jobs with the British soldiers who were trying to make ends meet since they were underpaid by the crown, and of course people of Boston were just tired of the British occupation. But the unfortunate incident on King Street on that particular day had to do with two boys.”
It goes on to explain that on February 22, 1770, eleven days before the event, a 10-year-old boy by the name of Christopher Seider was killed by a British soldier by the name of Ebenezer Richardson. Richardson was found guilty of murder, but was not hanged, and the colonists were outraged that he did not face immediate consequences.
On March 2 and 3, British troops and a band of Boston rope makers squared off in a series of street brawls that left one infantryman with a fractured skull. According to History.com, “By March 5, the city was awash with rumors that an even bigger confrontation was in the offing. British regulars spoke of their desire to get revenge on the townspeople, and a local minister reported that he heard many Boston men planned on “fighting it out with the soldiers.”
On the evening of March 5, Edward Garrick, a 13-year-old wig maker’s apprentice, began insulting a British soldier who was passing by. The soldier ignored the boy, but another soldier by the name of Private Hugh White, who had been standing guard in front of the State House, came to the other officer’s defense. When Garrick continued with insults, White attacked Garrick, hitting him in the head with the butt of his musket.
The townspeople were outraged and someone rang a fire bell which drew a crowd. Some boys started throwing snowballs at White. The scene escalated, with rope makers working nearby and other townspeople joining in. White was yelling for help, and British Captain Thomas Preston, who was well liked by the colonists, hesitated to send more troops into the fray, but he feared for Private White’s safety.
Seven or eight soldiers came to White’s aid, keeping the crowd, now numbering in the hundreds, at bay with their bayonets. Preston tried to keep the peace, as he did not want the soldiers firing at the people. Verbal attacks continued while the crowd continued to hurl snowballs, ice, rocks, and debris at the British troops.
Someone hurled a wooden club, striking and knocking down Private Hugh Montgomery, who when rising to his feet, raised his weapon and yelled, “Damn you! Fire!” before discharging his musket. The soldiers unleashed a volley of musket fire at that point.
Two bullets struck and killed Crispus Attucks, a former slave, and when all was said and done, a total of five men were dead. From the History.com site, “The city seemed on the brink of a general insurrection. Potential disaster was only averted when acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson addressed the people and gave his word that he would conduct a full investigation into the killings.”
Captain Preston and his men were taken into custody, and Governor Hutchinson withdrew the remaining British troops to Castle Island in Boston Harbor.
In the weeks following, Patriots and loyalists published competing narratives of the shootings, and Paul Revere created his now famous engraving depicting defenseless townspeople being gunned down, or “massacred,” by the soldiers.
Future president John Adams believed the British soldiers deserved a fair trial and represented them in court. His cousin, Samuel Adams, denounced the soldiers’ acquittals as a grave miscarriage of justice and helped organize “Massacre Day,” an annual day of mourning on March 5, keeping the incident fresh in the minds of the colonists.
The killings became a rallying cry in the early days of the Revolutionary War and “even John Adams would eventually acknowledge that “the foundation of American independence was laid” the night shots rang out in Boston.”
I found the similarities between the events of 1770 and those we are seeing today both fascinating and intriguing. Mainstream media has been accused of “fake news” (propaganda), major differences in political ideologies, unrest in the streets, and things coming to a head during the riot at the Capitol on January 6.
“Fake news” has apparently been around for a long time and it’s probably not going away. We need to be smart enough to recognize it and choose our sources wisely. These days, when it seems like so many want to to erase our country’s rich history, it’s more important than ever not only to remember it, but to learn more.
Many interesting details of the incident have been left out for the sake of brevity.
Learn more about the Boston Massacre:
Originally published on Citizen Stringer March 5, 2021, title edited.