The Boston massacre took place on March 5, 1770, but the atmosphere of anger and hostility that pervaded the port city of Boston began two years before. Following passage of the Townsend Acts of 1767 establishing the American Board of Customs Commissioners, five experienced customs agents were stationed in Boston. Customs agents received a percentage of the taxes collected as their compensation, hence, they were very conscientious in their efforts to curtail smuggling activity and collect taxes due the Crown.
On May 9, 1768 the sloop Liberty, belonging to John Hancock arrived at Boston harbor and tied up at Hancock’s wharf. The sloop was carrying a shipment of Madeira wine. Two “tidewaiters” (customs inspectors) boarded the sloop to secure it, awaiting inspection. There are several versions of what happened next. One version was that Hancock’s crew held the tidewaiters in the Captain’s cabin while the crew unloaded the cargo without paying the duty. Another is simply that they were prevented from inspecting the cargo until the next day. At the hearing, the tidewaiters’ original testimony was that they remained on board all night and no cargo was removed. No mention was made of their being forcibly detained. One of the tidewaiters later changed his testimony, however, and Hancock was charged with smuggling.
At any rate, when the Customs Commissioners arrived the next morning they found only 25 cases of wine in the hold, a fraction of the cargo capacity of the sloop. The sloop was seized on suspicion of smuggling. According to one eyewitness account… “The sloop was now seized by the officers of the customs for a violation of the revenue laws. A crowd of citizens quickly gathered at the wharf, and as the proceedings went on, a part of them, of the lower order, became a mob under the lead of Malcolm, a bold smuggler. The collector (Harrison) and the controller (Hallowell) were there to enforce the law. The former thought the sloop might remain at Hancock's wharf with the broad arrow upon her (a mark designating her legal position); but the latter had determined to have her moored under the guns of the war- vessel (Romney, of sixty guns), and had sent for her boats to come ashore. An exciting scene now occurred, which Mr. Bancroft has described as follows:”
An angry shouting match is then described between the customs officials, the master of the Romney, and the crowd that had gathered. The account continues…
“A mob, led by Malcolm, followed the custom-house officers, pelted them with stones and other missiles, and broke the windows of their offices. The mob seized a pleasure-boat belonging to the collector, and after dragging it through the town, burned it on the Common. Then they quietly dispersed. The commissioners were unhurt, but greatly alarmed. They applied to the governor for protection, but he, as much frightened as they, told them he was powerless. They finally fled to the Romney, and thence to Castle William, nearly three miles southeast of the city, where a company of British artillery were stationed. They were in no real danger in the city, but they were playing a deep game to deceive the ministry.”
The mob eventually dispersed with no one being injured, but the customs office suffered major damage. The sloop Liberty was commandeered for use by Customs Officials and was burned by an angry mob in a Rhode Island port the following year. Charges against Hancock were ultimately dropped.
As a result of this incident, the Customs Commissioners became so concerned for their safety they requested military protection. General Gage agreed and ordered five regiments of troops to Boston. Altogether, 700 soldiers were sent to Boston under the command of Lt. Colonel William Dalrymple. When Colonel Dalrymple and Governor Bernard attempted to billet troops in the homes of citizens, the Boston Council flatly refused. Rather than assigning the troops to Castle William, a short three miles outside of town, where there was plenty of room, Governor Bernard designated empty factory buildings and other miscellaneous buildings throughout Boston as quarters for the troops.
Paul Revere, a local engraver, silversmith, Minuteman, Sons of Liberty member, and chief Boston propagandist for the patriot opposition, issued an engraving of the landing of the British Troops. His description accompanying the engraving read…"[the troops] formed and marched with insolent parade, drums beating, fifes playing, and colours flying, up King Street. Each soldier having received 16 rounds of powder and ball."
The pervasive presence of 700 rowdy, brawling and sometimes drunken troops throughout the city angered the residents and added to the resentment already felt against the customs commissioners. For the next eighteen months, Boston was an occupied city. The troops treated the residents with insolence and arrogance, posting sentries in front of public offices, engaging in street fights with town boys, and using the Boston Commons as a campsite, parade ground and site for disciplining unruly soldiers.
On February 12, 1770, a group of boys was protesting in front of a local shop selling imported goods from England. Ebenezer Richardson, a customs employee tried to break up the protest. Later the young crowd, joined by some adults, mobbed Richardson’s house, throwing stones and breaking his windows. One of the stones struck Richardson’s wife. He attempted to scare the young mob away with his musket, firing a load of birdshot from his window. The shot struck an eleven-year-old boy named Christopher Seider, in the chest. He died later that same day. His death and the emotional funeral that followed set the stage for the massacre three weeks later. Richardson was convicted of murder for the incident but was later pardoned.
On the evening of March 5, a confrontation took place between a young Boston man and the sentry standing guard at the customs building. The argument escalated and ended with the guard striking the man on the side of his head with the butt of his musket. The young man, Edward Garrish, left and returned with a number of his friends. The disturbance drew a crowd, which swelled, to three or four hundred people, mostly young men and boys. As the crowd grew, it became angrier and began to pelt the soldier, Private Hugh White, with snowballs, ice and small objects. White left his post and took shelter from the flying missiles by the Customs House stairs with his back to a locked door. The Officer of the Day, Captain Thomas Preston, watching the event from nearby, sent a detachment of seven or eight soldiers to rescue White.
The soldiers formed a semi-circle around White and for the first time, loaded their muskets. The crowd continued their taunting, advancing to within inches of the soldier’s bayonets; Hurling insults and curses while continuing a barrage of snow, ice, stones and sticks at the troops, and taunting them by daring them to fire. Finally, someone struck one of the soldiers with a club, knocking him to the ground. When he got up, he fired his weapon into the crowd. According to witnesses, he also yelled at his fellow soldiers, “Fire! Damn you, why don’t you fire?” Soon a volley of shots rang out, and when the smoke cleared, eleven citizens lay on the ground, five of them dead or dying, six more less seriously wounded.
The following morning in a town meeting with Vice-Governor Hutchinson, Samuel Adams demanded that the troops be withdrawn from Boston. After some heated negotiations, the Governor agreed and all the troops were ordered to Castle William. Adam’s role in getting the hated troops out of town made him even more popular with Bostonians, and gave him the credibility needed to convince them of the need to form and train militias for defense against any new troops that might be sent. The aftermath of the Boston Massacre also resulted in Governor Bernard being recalled and replaced by his Vice- Governor, Thomas Hutchinson.
Captain Preston and twelve of the soldiers were placed under arrest immediately after the incident and charged with murder. Samuel Adams encouraged his twenty-four year old cousin, John Adams to defend the accused, which he did. Preston was acquitted along with six of his troops. Charges were dismissed against four others for lack of evidence and two were convicted of manslaughter. The two convicted were branded on their thumbs with the letter “M” and released. John Adams’ law practice suffered as a result of his defending the “lobster backs”. However, his reputation recovered and he went on to be the first Vice-President and second President under the future new government.
Adams seemingly accepted the case on principle and because Samuel encouraged him to, not for the money. His fee from the case amounted to a total of only eighteen guineas. Adams recorded in his diary, the personal anguish he experienced from trying the case, and the pride he felt in doing so…
"The part I took in defense of captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently.”
If Paul Revere was not a participant in the mob action that led to the massacre, it is evident that he was present. He drew a map of the scene showing the location of the bodies. The drawing was later used as evidence in the trial of Preston and the soldiers, and a famous, though embellished engraving by him, depicting the shooting, became a best seller throughout the colonies.
The Tea Act of 1773
Prior to 1773, the British Government effectively took control of the East India Company in an effort to prevent its economic collapse. Part of the agreement with the company required it to pay 400,000 pounds per year to the Crown as part of a leaseback arrangement on lands in the East Indies. England also required the company to first ship all its tea destined for any of the British colonies to England to be taxed and then reshipped to its final destination.
The Tea Act was an effort to undercut the price of tea smuggled into the colonies, by giving the company an exclusive monopoly and allowing it to ship tea directly to the colonies rather than the round about way through English ports. This eliminated part of the taxes paid to England and reduced the transportation cost to the company, greatly reducing the price of tea in the colonies. However, the low-cost tea could only be sold through selected merchants loyal to the Crown, giving special merchants unfair advantage over other merchants. The move was also seen by the colonies as further effort to control the economic life of the colonies and extract taxes from them without their approval.
In protest, the ports of New York and Philadelphia turned away all ships carrying the low-cost tea, refusing to allow them to dock and unload their cargoes. However, Governor Hutchinson would not allow the ships to be turned away from the Boston Port, demanding that they be unloaded and the taxes paid. His actions led to the famous Boston Tea Party.
For more than a decade, from the end of the French and Indian War until the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Revolutionary War, the British Parliament consistently misread the nature and resolve of the American people. While the disconnect between the English government and the colonies, and the dissatisfaction with British Government policy was universal throughout the colonies, the hotbed of resistance centered around the area of Boston and involved a patriot group called the Sons and Daughters of Liberty.
When we think about the revolutionary era we normally remember the Virginia patriots like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry and Randolph. However, from the beginning of serious resistance until the outbreak of the war, the three most prominent figures in the revolutionary movement were Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere. We have considered the legislative actions by the British Parliament that prodded the colonists to the point of revolt. However, the events that led directly to war, were the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the battles of Lexington and Concord. Adams, Hancock and Revere were involved in all three.
E-mail address email@example.com
Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."