The Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre

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On the cold, snowy night of March 5, 1770, a mob of American colonists gathers at the Customs House in Boston and begins taunting the British soldiers guarding the building. The protesters, who called themselves Patriots, were protesting the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament that lacked American representation.

READ MORE: Did a Snowball Fight Start the American Revolution?

British Captain Thomas Preston, the commanding officer at the Customs House, ordered his men to fix their bayonets and join the guard outside the building. The colonists responded by throwing snowballs and other objects at the British regulars, and Private Hugh Montgomery was hit, leading him to discharge his rifle at the crowd. The other soldiers began firing a moment later, and when the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead or dying—Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell—and three more were injured. Although it is unclear whether Crispus Attucks, an African American, was the first to fall as is commonly believed, the deaths of the five men are regarded by some historians as the first fatalities in the American Revolutionary War.

READ MORE: 8 Things We Know About Crispus Attucks

The British soldiers were put on trial, and patriots John Adams and Josiah Quincy agreed to defend the soldiers in a show of support of the colonial justice system. When the trial ended in December 1770, two British soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter and had their thumbs branded with an “M” for murder as punishment.

The Sons of Liberty, a Patriot group formed in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Act, advertised the “Boston Massacre” as a battle for American liberty and just cause for the removal of British troops from Boston. Patriot Paul Revere made a provocative engraving of the incident, depicting the British soldiers lining up like an organized army to suppress an idealized representation of the colonist uprising. Copies of the engraving were distributed throughout the colonies and helped reinforce negative American sentiments about British rule.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

In April 1775, the American Revolution began when British troops from Boston skirmished with American militiamen at the battles of Lexington and Concord. The British troops were under orders to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington and to confiscate the Patriot arsenal at Concord. Neither missions were accomplished because of Paul Revere and William Dawes, who rode ahead of the British, warning Adams and Hancock and rousing the Patriot minutemen.

Eleven months later, in March 1776, British forces had to evacuate Boston following American General George Washington’s successful placement of fortifications and cannons on Dorchester Heights. This bloodless liberation of Boston brought an end to the hated eight-year British occupation of the city. For the victory, General Washington, commander of the Continental Army, was presented with the first medal ever awarded by the Continental Congress. It would be more than five years before the Revolutionary War came to an end with British General Charles Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.

What Was the Importance of the Boston Massacre?

The Boston Massacre was important because it helped reignite calls for ending the relationship between the American colonists and the British. It was also crucial in galvanizing colonial society against the British, which ultimately led to the Revolutionary War.

The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770. It was the result of a confrontation between British soldiers and American colonists. On this day, a group of colonists gathered at the Customs Office in Boston. An exchange of words ensued, reflecting the hostility between the British and the colonists.

The group of colonists started throwing snowballs and bottles at the growing number of British soldiers who were there to curb demonstrations against the Townshend Acts. The British soldiers reacted by opening fire on the colonists. This resulted in the death of five colonists.

The news about the massacre quickly spread throughout the colonies thanks to Sam Adams' Committees of Correspondence. The Committees of Correspondence portrayed the event as the murder of innocent people by a heartless British garrison and made the case that the British soldiers used excessive force against unarmed civilians. From that point on, confrontations between the colonists and the British became more antagonistic until war was finally declared.

Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770

By the beginning of 1770, there were 4,000 British soldiers in Boston, a city with 15,000 inhabitants, and tensions were running high. On the evening of March 5, crowds of day laborers, apprentices, and merchant sailors began to pelt British soldiers with snowballs and rocks. A shot rang out, and then several soldiers fired their weapons. When it was over, five civilians lay dead or dying, including Crispus Attucks, an African American merchant sailor who had escaped from slavery more than twenty years earlier.

Produced just three weeks after the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere&rsquos historic engraving "The Bloody Massacre in King-Street" was probably the most effective piece of war propaganda in American history. Not an accurate depiction of the actual event, it shows an orderly line of British soldiers firing into an American crowd and includes a poem that Revere likely wrote. Revere based his engraving on that of artist Henry Pelham, who created the first illustration of the episode&mdashand who was neither paid nor credited for his work.

Here are a few of the elements Paul Revere used in his engraving to shape public opinion:

The Boston Massacre - HISTORY

Account of the Boston Massacre
Digital History ID 1190

Annotation: On March 5, 1770, a 16-year-old barber's apprentice named Edward Garrick insulted Hugh White, a soldier of the 29th Regiment on sentry duty in front of Boston’s Customs House. The sentry gave the apprentice a knock on the ear with the butt of his musket and a jab with his bayonet. The boy ran off, and later returned with a sizable and unruly crowd, consisting chiefly of boys and youths. Someone rang the bells in a nearby church, drawing more people into the street. The sentry found himself confronting an angry mob. He stood his ground and called for the main guard. Six men, led by a corporal, responded. They were soon joined by the officer on duty, Captain John Preston (who was just twenty-years-old), with guns unloaded but with fixed bayonets. The crowd soon swelled to almost 400 men. They began pelting the soldiers with snowballs and chunks of ice. The soldiers loaded their guns. Instead of drawing back, the crowd dared the soldiers to fire their weapons. They reportedly said: "Come on you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare, God damn you, fire and be damned, we know you dare not." The soldiers fired, killing three men outright and mortally wounding two others. Six more men were wounded but survived. Among those killed were two apprentices.


It may be a proper introduction to this narrative, briefly to represent the state of things for some time previous to the said Massacre and this seems necessary in order to the forming a just idea of the causes of it. At the end of the late [French and Indian] war, in which this province bore so distinguished a part, a happy union subsisted between Great Britain and the colonies. This was unfortunately interrupted by the Stamp Act but it was in some measure restored by the repeal of it. It was again interrupted by other acts of parliament for taxing America and by the appointment of a Board of Commissioners, in pursuance of an act, which by the face of it was made for the relief and encouragement of commerce, but which in its operation, it was apprehended, would have, and it has in fact had, a contrary effect. By the said act the said Commissioners were "to be resident in some convenient part of his Majesty's dominions in America." This must be understood to be in some part convenient for the whole. But it does not appear that, in fixing the place of their residence, the convenience of the whole was at all consulted, for Boston, being very far from the centre of the colonies, could not be the place most convenient for the whole. Judging by the act, it may seem this town was intended to be favored, by the Commissioners being appointed to reside here and that the consequence of that residence would be the relief and encouragement of commerce but the reverse has been the constant and uniform effect of it so that the commerce of the town, from the embarrassments in which it has been lately involved, is greatly reduced….

The residence of the Commissioners here has been detrimental, not only to the commerce, but to the political interests of the town and province and not only so, but we can trace from it the causes of the late horrid massacre. Soon after their arrival here in November, 1767, instead of confining themselves to the proper business of their office, they became partizans of Governor Bernard in his political schemes and had the weakness and temerity to infringe upon one of the most essential rights of the house of commons of this province-that of giving their votes with freedom, and not being accountable therefor but to their constituents. One of the members of that house, Capt. Timothy Folgier, having voted in some affair contrary to the mind of the said Commissioners, was for so doing dismissed from the office he held under them.

These proceedings of theirs, the difficulty of access to them on office-business, and a supercilious behavior, rendered them disgustful to people in general, who in consequence thereof treated them with neglect. This probably stimulated them to resent it and to make their resentment felt, they and their coadjutor, Governor Bernard, made such representations to his Majesty's ministers as they thought best calculated to bring the displeasure of the nation upon the town and province and in order that those representations might have the more weight, they are said to have contrived and executed plans for exciting disturbances and tumults, which otherwise would probably never have existed and, when excited, to have transmitted to the ministry the most exaggerated accounts of them….

Unfortunately for us, they have been too successful in their said representations, which, in conjunction with Governor Bernard's, have occasioned his Majesty's faithful subjects of this town and province to be treated as enemies and rebels, by an invasion of the town by sea and land to which the approaches were made with all the circumspection usual where a vigorous opposition is expected. While the town was surrounded by a considerable number of his Majesty's ships of war, two regiments landed and took possession of it and to support these, two other regiments arrived some time after from Ireland one of which landed at Castle Island, and the other in the town.

Thus were we, in aggravation of our other embarrassments, embarrassed with troops, forced upon us contrary to our inclination-contrary to the spirit of Magna Charta-contrary to the very letter of the Bill of Rights, in which it is declared, that the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of parliament, is against law, and without the desire of the civil magistrates, to aid whom was the pretence for sending the troops hither who were quartered in the town in direct violation of an act of parliament for quartering troops in America and all this in consequence of the representations of the said Commissioners and the said Governor, as appears by their memorials and letters lately published.

As they were the procuring cause of troops being sent hither, they must therefore be the remote and a blameable cause of all the disturbances and bloodshed that have taken place in consequence of that measure….

We shall next attend to the conduct of the troops, and to some circumstances relative to them. Governor Bernard without consulting the Council, having given up the State House to the troops at their landing, they took possession of the chambers, where the representatives of the province and the courts of law held their meetings and (except the council-chamber) of all other parts of that house in which they continued a considerable time, to the great annoyance of those courts while they sat, and of the merchants and gentlemen of the town, who had always made the lower floor of it their exchange. They [the merchants] had a right so to do, as the property of it was in the town but they were deprived of that right by mere power. The said Governor soon after, by every stratagem and by every method but a forcibly entry, endeavored to get possession of the manufactory-house, to make a barrack of it for the troops and for that purpose caused it to be besieged by the troops, and the people in it to be used very cruelly….

The General Court, at the first session after the arrival of the troops, viewed it in this light, and applied to Governor Bernard to cause such a nuisance to be removed but to no purpose….

The challenging the inhabitants by sentinels posted in all parts of the town before the lodgings of officers, which (for about six months, while it lasted), occasioned many quarrels and uneasiness.

Capt. Wilson, of the 59th, exciting the negroes of the town to take away their masters' lives and property, and repair to the army for protection, which was fully proved against him. The attack of a party of soldiers on some of the magistrates of the town-the repeated rescues of soldiers from peace officers-the firing of a loaded musket in a public street, to the endangering a great number of peaceable inhabitants-the frequent wounding of persons by their bayonets and cutlasses, and the numerous instances of bad behavior in the soldiery, made us early sensible that the troops were not sent here for any benefit to the town or province, and that we had no good to expect from such conservators of the peace.

It was not expected, however, that such an outrage and massacre, as happened here on the evening of the fifth instant, would have been perpetrated. There were then killed and wounded, by a discharge of musketry, eleven of his Majesty's subjects, viz.:

Mr. Samuel Gray, killed on the spot by a ball entering his head. Crispus Attucks, a mulatto, killed on the spot, two balls entering his breast.

Mr. James Caldwell, killed on the spot, by two balls entering his back.

Mr. Samuel Maverick, a youth of seventeen years of age, mortally wounded he died the next morning.

Mr. Patrick Carr mortally wounded he died the 14th instant.

Christopher Monk and John Clark, youths about seventeen years of age, dangerously wounded. It is apprehended they will die.

Mr. Edward Payne, merchant, standing at his door wounded.

Messrs. John Green, Robert Patterson, and David Parker all danger- ously wounded.

The actors in this dreadful tragedy were a party of soldiers commanded by Capt. Preston of the 29th regiment. This party, including the Captain, consisted of eight, who are all committed to jail.

There are depositions in this affair which mention, that several guns were fired at the same time from the Custom-house before which this shocking scene was exhibited. Into this matter inquisition is now making. In the meantime it may be proper to insert here the substance of some of those depositions.

Benjamin Frizell, on the evening of the 5th of March, having taken his station near the west corner of the Custom-house in King street, before and at the time of the soldiers firing their guns, declares (among other things) that the first discharge was only of one gun, the next of two guns, upon which he the deponent thinks he saw a man stumble the third discharge was of three guns, upon which he thinks he saw two men fall and immediately after were discharged five guns, two of which were by soldiers on his right hand the other three, as appeared to the deponent, were discharged from the balcony, or the chamber window of the Custom-house, the flashes appearing on the left hand, and higher than the right hand flashes appeared to be, and of which the deponent was very sensible, although his eyes were much turned to the soldiers, who were all on his right hand.

What gave occasion to the melancholy event of that evening seems to have been this. A difference having happened near Mr. Grays ropewalk, between a soldier and a man belonging to it, the soldier challenged the ropemakers to a boxing match. The challenge was accepted by one of them, and the soldier worsted. He ran to the barrack in the neighborhood, and returned with several of his companions. The fray was renewed, and the soldiers were driven off. They soon returned with recruits and were again worsted. This happened several times, till at length a considerable body of soldiers was collected, and they also were driven off, the ropemakers having been joined by their brethren of the contiguous ropewalks. By this time Mr. Gray being alarmed interposed, and with the assistance of some gentlemen prevented any further disturbance. To satisfy the soldiers and punish the man who had been the occasion of the first difference, and as an example to the rest, he turned him out of his service and waited on Col. Dalrymple, the commanding officer of the troops, and with him concerted measures for preventing further mischief. Though this affair ended thus, it made a strong impression on the minds of the soldiers in general, who thought the honor of the regiment concerned to revenge those repeated repulses. For this purpose they seem to have formed a combination to commit some outrage upon the inhabitants of the town indiscriminately and this was to be done on the evening of the 5th instant or soon after as appears by the depositions of the following persons, viz.:

William Newhall declares, that on Thursday night the 1st of March instant, he met four soldiers of the 29th regiment, and that he heard them say, "there were a great many that would eat their dinners on Monday next, that should not eat any on Tuesday."

Daniel Calfe declares, that on Saturday evening the 3d of March, a camp-woman, wife to James McDeed, a grenadier of the 29th, came into his father's shop, and the people talking about the affrays at the ropewalks, and blaming the soldiers for the part they had acted in it, the woman said, "the soldiers were in the right" adding, "that before Tuesday or Wednesday night they would wet their swords or bayonets in New England people's blood"….

Samuel Drowne declares that, about nine o'clock of the evening of the fifth of March current, standing at his own door in Cornhill, he saw about fourteen or fifteen soldiers of the 29th regiment, who came from Murray's barracks, armed with naked cutlasses, swords, &c., and came upon the inhabitants of the town, then standing or walking in Coruhffl, and abused some, and violently assaulted others as they met them most of whom were without so much as a stick in their hand to defend themselves, as he very clearly could discern, it being moonlight, and himself being one of the assaulted persons. All or most of the said soldiers he saw go into King street (some of them through Royal Exchange lane), and there followed them, and soon discovered them to be quarrelling and fighting with the people whom they saw there, which he thinks were not more than a dozen, when the soldiers came first, armed as aforesaid. Of those dozen people, the most of them were gentlemen, standing together a little below the Town House, upon the Exchange. At the appearance of those soldiers so armed, the most of the twelve persons went off, some of them being first assaulted.

The violent proceedings of this party, and their going into King street, "quarrelling and fighting with the people whom they saw there" (mentioned in Mr. Drowne's deposition), was immediately introductory to the grand catastrophe.

These assailants, who issued from Murray's barracks (so called), after attacking and wounding divers persons in Cornhill, as abovementioned, being armed, proceeded (most of them) up the Royal Exchange lane into King street where, making a short stop, and after assaulting and driving away the few they met there, they brandished their arms and cried out, "where are the boogers! where are the cowards!" At this time there were very few persons in the street beside themselves. This party in proceeding from Exchange lane into King street, must pass the sentry posted at the westerly corner of the Custom House, which butts on that lane and fronts on that street. This is needful to be mentioned, as near that spot and in that street the bloody tragedy was acted, and the street actors in it were stationed: their station being but a few feet from the front side of the said Custom House. The outrageous behavior and the threats of the said party occasioned the ringing of the meeting-house bell near the head of King street, which bell ringing quick, as for fire, it presently brought out a number of inhabitants, who being soon sensible of the occasion of it, were naturally led to King street, where the said party had made a stop but a little while before, and where their stopping had drawn together a number of boys, round the sentry at the Custom House. whether the boys mistook the sentry for one of the said party, and thence took occasion to differ with him, or whether he first affronted them, which is affirmed in several depositions,-however that may be, there was much foul language between them, and some of them, in consequence of his pushing at them with his bayonet, threw snowballs at him, which occasioned him to knock hastily at the door of the Custom House. From hence two persons thereupon proceeded immediately to the main-guard, which was posted opposite to the State House, at a small distance, near the head of the said street. The officer on guard was Capt. Preston, who with seven or eight soldiers, with fire-arms and charged bayonets, issued from the guardhouse, and in great haste posted himself and his soldiers in front of the Custom House, near the corner aforesaid. In passing to this station the soldiers pushed several persons with their bayonets, driving through the people in so rough a manner that it appeared they intended to create a disturbance. This occasioned some snowballs to be thrown at them which seems to have been the only provocation that was given. Mr. Knox (between whom and Capt. Preston there was some conversation on the spot) declares, that while he was talking with Capt. Preston, the soldiers of his detachment had attacked the people with their bayonets and that there was not the least provocation given to Capt. Preston of his party the backs of the people being toward them when the people were attacked. He also declares, that Capt. Preston seemed to be in great haste and much agitated, and that, according to his opinion, there were not then present in King street above seventy or eighty persons at the extent.

The said party was formed into a half circle and within a short time after they had been posted at the Custom House, began to fire upon the people.

Captain Preston is said to have ordered them to fire, and to have repeated that order. One gun was fired first then others in succession and with deliberation, till ten or a dozen guns were fired or till that number of discharges were made from the guns that were fired. By which means eleven persons were killed and wounded, as above represented.

The Boston Massacre - HISTORY

The Boston Massacre
Digital History ID 114

Author: Deacon John Tudor

By the beginning of 1770 there were four thousand British soldiers in Boston, a seaport with only 15,000 inhabitants. On the evening of March 5, crowds of day laborers, apprentices, and merchant sailors began to pelt British soldiers with snowballs and rocks. A shot rang out, and then several soldiers fired their weapons when it was over, five civilians lay dead or dying, including Crispus Attucks, a mulatto merchant sailor. A firsthand account of the Boston massacre, by the Deacon John Tudor (1709?-1795), follows.

At a trial later that year, John Adams defended the soldiers in a belief that the men had a right to effective legal counsel. Convinced that America should not lose the moral advantage of showing that the soldiers could receive a fair trial, Adams also wanted to remind Bostonians of the "Dangers. which must arise from intemperate heats and irregular commotions." Adams obtained deathbed testimony from one of the five men who had been mortally wounded by the British soldiers, who swore that the crowd, not the troops, were to blame for the massacre. As a result of this testimony, all but two of the soldiers were acquitted and the worst punishment any of the soldiers received was a branding on the thumb.

On Monday Evening the 5th current, a few Minutes after 9 O'Clock a most horrid murder was committed in King Street before the Customhouse by 8 or 9 Soldiers under the Command of Capt[ain] Tho[ma]s Preston draw from the Main Guard on the South side of the Townhouse.

This unhappy affair began by Some Boys & young fellows throwing Snow Balls at the sentry placed at the Customhouse Door. On which 8 or 9 Soldiers Came to his assistance. Soon after a Number of people collected, when the Capt commanded the Soldiers to fire, which they did and 3 Men were Kill'd on the Spot & several Mortally Wounded.

The Capt soon drew off his Soldiers up to the Main Guard, or the Consequences might have been terrible, for on the Guns firing the people were alarm'd & set the Bells a Ringing as if for Fire, which drew Multitudes to the place of action.

Lieut. Governor [Thomas] Hutchinson, who was commander in Chief, was sent for & Came to the Council Chamber, w[h]ere some of the Magistrates attended. The Governor desired the Multitude about 10 O'Clock to separate & go home peaceable & he would do all in his power that Justice should be done &c.

The people insisted that the Soldiers should be ordered to their Barracks 1st before they would separate, Which being done the people separated about 1 O'Clock.

The next forenoon the 8 Soldiers that fired on the inhabitants were also sent to Jail.

Tuesday A.M. the inhabitants met at Faneuil Hall & after some pertinent speeches, chose a Committee of 15 Gentlemen to wait on the Lieut. Governor in Council to request the immediate removal of the Troops.

The message was in these Words. That it is the unanimous opinion of this Meeting that the inhabitants & soldiery can no longer live together in safety that nothing can Rationally be expected to restore the peace of the Town & prevent Blood & Carnage but the removal of the Troops: and that we most fervently pray his Honor that his power & influence may be exerted for their instant removal.

His Honor's Reply was. Gentleman I am extremely sorry for the unhappy difference & especially of the last Evening, & Signifying that it was not in his power to remove the Troops &c &c.

The Above Reply was not satisfactory to the Inhabitants, as but one Regiment should be removed to the Castle Barracks.

In the afternoon the Town Adjourned to Dr. Sewill's Meetinghouse [Old South Church] not large enough to hold the people, their being at least 3,000, some suppos'd near 4,000, when they chose a Committee to wait on the Lieut. Governor to let him & the Council Know that nothing less will satisfy the people than a total & immediate removal of the Troops out of the Town.

His Honor communicated this advice of the Council to Col Dalrymple & desir'd he would order the Troops down to Castle William. After the Col. had seen the Vote of the Council He gave his Word & honor to the Town's Committee that both the Regiments should be remov'd without delay.

Agreeable to a general request of the Inhabitants, were follow'd to the Grave in succession the 4 Bodies of Saml Gray, Saml Maverick, James Caldwell & Crispus Attucks, the unhappy Victims who fell in the Bloody Massacre.

On this sorrowful Occasion most of the shops & stores in Town were shut, all the Bells were order'd to toll a solemn peal in Boston, Charleston, Cambridge & Roxbery.

The several Hearses forming a junction in King Street, the Theatre of that inhuman Tragedy, proceeded from thence thro' the main street, lengthened by an immense Concourse of people, So numerous as to be obliged to follow in Ranks of 4 & 6 abreast and brought up by a long Train of Carriages.

The sorrow Visible in the Countenances, together with the peculiar solemnity, Surpass description it was suppos'd that the Spectators & those that follow'd the corps amounted to 15000, some supposed 20,000.

Note: Capt Preston was tried for his Life on the affare of the above October 24 1770. The Trial lasted 5 Days, but the Jury brought him in

Source: William Tudor, ed., Deacon Tudor's Diary. Boston: Press of W. Sooner, 1896.

The Boston Massacre: A Family History

251 years ago this March, British soldiers shot into a crowd and killed five civilians outside Boston’s Old State House on a blustery night in 1770. In her new book on the Boston Massacre, Serena Zabin, professor of history at Carleton College, offers a unique view of the British occupation of Boston highlighting that the British army at that time was a family institution with soldiers being accompanied by their wives and children, who lived side-by-side (and often in common cause) with their fellow Bostonians. How did this familial bond break in the violent events of the Boston Massacre that led to a bitterly fought American Revolution?

Please join us for this virtual Concord Museum Forum.

Professor Zabin’s new book Boston Massacre: A Family History is available from the Concord Bookshop.

Donations are encouraged to support the Concord Museum’s Education initiatives.


Description: This page describes the Boston Massacre and its causes and effects.

Type: Historical Profile or Biography Narrative

The Bloody Massacre - the Truth Behind Paul Revere's Iconic Woodcut of the Boston Massacre

Description: This article explains the actual story of The Bloody Massacre - a virulent example of propaganda (that Revere may have stolen) during the Revolutionary era.

Type: Historical Profile or Biography Narrative

Why did John Adams Defend the British Soldiers Accused in the Boston Massacre?

Description: This article discusses the trial of those accused in the Boston Massacre and explains why John Adams decided to defend them.

Type: Historical Profile or Biography Narrative

Boston Massacre Reading Comprehension

Description: This resource includes a historical passage and ten multiple choice questions. PASSAGE LENGTH: 534 Words LEXILE: 910

Type: Reading comprehension

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Boston Massacre Reading Comprehension - Online

Description: This resource includes a historical passage and ten multiple choice questions. It gives immediate feedback.

Type: Reading comprehension

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Boston Massacre Correct-me Passage

Description: This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about the Boston Massacre that has eight factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.

Boston Massacre Fact or Fiction - Online

Description: This fun activity requires students to read a Boston Massacre passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. The program gives immediate feedback.

Boston Massacre Fact or Fiction - Printable

Description: This fun activity requires students to read a Boston Massacre passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction.

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Boston Massacre United States Postage Stamp Coloring Page

Description: This is a coloring page featuring Paul Revere's famous "Bloody Massacre" woodcut.

Format: Printable Activity

Virtual History Teacher - Grading a Boston Massacre Test

Description: Students play the role of a virtual history teacher and must grade responses to three questions about the Boston Massacre. Each response is incomplete, and students must fill in the missing information in the "response" section. Students can use the Boston Massacre narrative for reference.

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Crispus Attucks Activities Bundle - All of the Crispus Attucks Printable Activities on this site

Description: This bundle is FREE for subscribers to MrN 365. It includes all seven printable activities on Crispus Attucks available on It is also available on Teachers Pay Teachers for $2.25. Click this link to purchase from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Type: Historical Profile or Biography Narrative

Crispus Attucks Biography

Description: This is a complete biography of Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the American Revolution

Type: Historical Profile or Biography Narrative

Crispus Attucks Reading Comprehension

Description: This Revolutionary War/American Revolution resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions. PASSAGE LENGTH: 360 Words LEXILE: 910

Type: Reading comprehension

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Crispus Attucks Cloze Reading - Online

Description: This online cloze reading exercise requires students to type the words from the word bank into the correct fields in the paragraph. It gives immediate feedback.

Crispus Attucks Correct-me Passage - Online

Description: This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about the life of Crispus Attucks that has eight factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.

Crispus Attucks Fact or Fiction

Description: This fun activity requires students to read a Crispus Attucks passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. The program gives immediate feedback.

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Crispus Attucks Fact or Fiction - Printable

Description: This fun activity requires students to read a Crispus Attucks passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction.

Format: Printable Activity

Crispus Attucks and Text Elements - Paragraph headings

Description: This printable activity requires students to match the five different headings to their correct paragraphs.

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Virtual History Teacher - Crispus Attucks Test

Description: Students play the role of a virtual history teacher and must grade responses to three questions about the life of Crispus Attucks. Each response is incomplete, and students must fill in the missing information in the "response" section. It's designed to reinforce the importance of elaboration. Students can use the Crispus Attucks biography for reference.

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Description: This is a complete biography about John Adams.

Type: Historical Profile or Biography Narrative

John Adams Reading Comprehension

Description: This resource includes a biographical passage and seven multiple choice questions PASSAGE LENGTH: 448 Words LEXILE: 1110

Type: Reading comprehension

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

John Adams Reading Comprehension - Online

Description: This Revolutionary War/American Revolution resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions. It gives immediate feedback. PASSAGE LENGTH: 448 Words LEXILE: 1110

Type: Reading comprehension

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Propaganda in Revolutionary America

Description: This activity requires students to examine the famous Paul Revere hyperbolic engraving depicting the Boston Massacre before the Revolutionary War. How was Paul Revere’s depiction of the Boston Massacre different from what really happened?

Type: Social Studies Prompt

Format: Printable Activity

Use as Assessment on Google Classroom.

Ms. Information Games - Causes of the Revolutionary War

Description: Ms. Information is traveling the country trying to re-write history with her false information! Can you stop her? She has traveled to Philadelphia change the story of the events leading to the Revolutionary War. Use your knowledge of these causes to foil her plan once and for all!

Famous Images in History Jigsaw Puzzle - Boston Massacre

Description: This awesome jigsaw allows students to make their own jigsaw pieces, or, allow the program to auto-cut pieces.

Boston Massacre Power Point Presentation

Description: This 14-slide power point presentation explains all about the Boston Massacre and its causes and effects. Perfect for American Revolution learning.

Format: Printable Activity

Not Boring Jeopardy - American Revolution Edition

Description: This is a "jeopardy" like game on the American Revolution.. It's super fun for classrooms, individuals, or small teams, totally customizable. Uncheck "teams take turns" to make it more exciting for kids.

The Boston Massacre: You be the judge!

This lesson is focused on the Boston Massacre. It will be taught in a sixth grade classroom in the American Revolution unit. It will be an opportunity for students to look at a historical event from multiple perspectives using corroborating evidence. It will include group work, whole class guided reading, and an individual assessment piece where they decide who is the “blame” for the event. The lesson will use primary sources that include pictures, newspaper articles, and testimonies and have students apply the historical thinking skills of sourcing, close reading, contextualizing, and corroborating to help interpret them.

Historical Background

In the early 1760s tension began to rise between the colonists and those remaining loyal to the British. This occurred as a result of several actions by the British. The Proclamation of 1763 that restricted movement of the colonists was resented. The colonists also did not like the fact that the British were controlling the colonial legislatures and that they did not have representation in Parliament. They also resented the power of colonial governors and the taxes that were levied on the m to offset the cost of the French and Indian War. The British sent soldiers to the colonies to keep order, especially to Massachusetts where there had been a lot of unrest. The soldiers were sent to help with the enforcement of the Townshend Acts of 1767. In 1768, there were 4,000 British troops in Boston when the population of Boston was only 20,000 at that time.

One night, on March 5, 1770 this tension ended up in an incident now called “The Boston Massacre”. There are numerous accounts of what happened that night. As a result of the incident, five civilians died. Three died that night and two others died later. The people who died were: Crispus Attucks, an African American, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick, and Patrick Carr. Some say the incident was a British response to a mob rioting while other contend the soldiers attacked the colonists who were just minding their own business. The event was popularized after Paul Revere made an engraving entitled “The Bloody Massacre in King Street”. He used it as propaganda to capitalize on colonial resentment of the British. Other historical accounts and the trial itself portray a different depiction of the events. Of the nine British regulars charged during the two Boston Massacre trials, two were found guilty and Preston and six other were acquitted.

By using various primary sources in an interactive setting, the students will use the historical thinking skills of sourcing, close reading, contextualization, and corroborating to understand different historical perspectives of a specific event.

Lesson Objective

Students will be able to identify and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of an event in United States history. (US1.1a) They will also be able to interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives. (USI.1d)



  1. Hook/Preview: The teacher will ask a dean about an incident that happened this year in 6th grade where there were different accounts of what happened. Share that with the students and ask them if they can think of any other instances where it is not always clear what happened.
  2. The students will look at four depictions of the Boston Massacre and answer the questions that accompany each one on the graphic organizer.
  3. Each group will only look at one picture at a time. Rotate pictures until they have seen all four and have them record answers on the graphic organizer. Ask the students: What are some differences in the pictures? What questions do you still have about this event?
  4. Read the two newspaper accounts together as a class. One is the Boston Gazette article and the other is an article from the London Chronicle. Ask the students: How are these accounts the same? How are they different? Have we learned anything new that we did not know from the pictures?
  5. Hand each pair an excerpt from the trial testimony. What point of view did their person have? Who do they think was at fault? What words did they use to make you think that? You may want to ask students to underline these “loaded” words as they read. Alternative: have students role play the witnesses and have the class be the jury.
  6. The student will debrief this lesson by having a student read the textbook account of the Massacre and have them compare what they talked about today with this account.
  7. Show the students the HBO John Adams clip how the trial proceeded and ask them whether they agree or disagree with the decision. How might different interpretations of the same event affect our understanding of history? What should we do, as students of history, to make sure multiple perspectives are considered?


Students will write a letter to the editor of a British or American newspaper that begins: “Dear _________________, I am writing to express my opinion about the events that occurred March 5, 1770 in Boston. I feel the blame rests solely on…..(student must then make an argument either way on who is to blame using information that they learned during the lesson). This letter will be graded on a four point rubric scale.

Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre was one of the events that led to the American Revolution. In 1770 in Boston, Massachusetts, a group of British soldiers shot their muskets into a crowd. Five colonists were killed.

The massacre happened at a time of tension between the American colonies and Great Britain. In 1767 the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts. These acts placed taxes on goods such as tea, paper, and glass. The taxes angered many colonists. They felt that the Townshend Acts were unfair because the colonies were not represented in Parliament.

British soldiers arrived in Boston in 1768 to keep order. On the night of March 5, 1770, a group of British soldiers were trying to quiet an angry mob. Colonists were shouting and throwing things at the soldiers. Captain Thomas Preston, the leader of the soldiers, did not order his men to shoot. But in the confusion the soldiers began firing into the crowd. One of the five men killed was a former slave named Crispus Attucks. He is remembered as one of the first people to die for American independence.

Only two of the British soldiers were found guilty of the killings, and they were not punished harshly. The massacre caused many colonists to speak out against rule by Britain.

Did You Know?

Crispus Attucks was the only victim of the Boston Massacre whose name is widely remembered.

How picturing the Boston Massacre matters

Maybe this painting looks familiar. A long row of red-coated soldiers. A cloud of gun smoke engulfing the street. Falling bodies.

Detail of a painting of the Boston Massacre on a mirror in the collection.

But not every depiction of the Boston Massacre puts an African American man at the center. Doing so asks for reflection, and not just because this painting is on a mirror. Tracing the ways this man and the massacre have been interpreted, starting from the moment the smoke cleared, can help us think about what the massacre means today—250 years later.

The full mirror with the painting seen in the detail above, made between 1857 and 1920.

On the evening of March 5, 1770, when cries came from the center of Boston that British soldiers were beating teenage boys who had been taunting them, the man at the center of the painting led an immediate community response.

The 47-year-old sailor, who called himself Michael Johnson and had escaped from slavery near Boston 20 years prior, gathered fellow seamen near the wharf. Sailors were particularly angry at British soldiers. They enforced the trade regulations that constrained shipping jobs, and they moonlighted where sailors might otherwise find work.

Johnson had his next voyage lined up. Nevertheless, he led his crew up the street toward the soldiers at the Custom House, yelling “Town-born, turn-out!” to rally other aggrieved locals. A crowd of about 50 arrived and started taunting the soldiers. Some waved clubs or pieces of firewood (it was dark out and eyewitnesses disagreed). Others threw snowballs or sticks.

In response, the soldiers leveled their muskets, tipped with bayonets, aiming to push the crowd back. Then a soldier fired, in reaction either to something thrown or to protestors who whacked the guns in an effort to stand their ground. More shots followed, two of which hit Johnson’s chest. He and four other protestors died. Several more were wounded.

In the immediate aftermath, the protest leader was remembered with the other victims as Michael Johnson, a name he chose for himself. But, starting about a week later, newspapers, the coroner, and witnesses started calling him by the name his enslaver gave him: Crispus Attucks.

Clipping from the Boston Gazette’s initial coverage of the Boston Massacre, published on March 12, 1770, naming Crispus Attucks among those killed.

Johnson’s enslaved name reflected both Native American and African American ancestry. He may have selected a new name to shed his enslaved past, or to avoid being tracked. Either way, it’s notable that when witnesses recognized him as the famously “large stout man” known in the area since his days in bondage, they reverted to using his enslaved name. But Johnson’s role in the massacre soon underwent other revisions.

In late March, Paul Revere published what is now the best-known surviving representation of the event. Revere’s print shows armed redcoats lined up and firing on unarmed, mostly well-dressed, civilians. This take was popular in America, resulting in many editions over time. In some versions, a man bleeds from two chest wounds on the far left of the crowd. Most surviving examples present this man, and the entire crowd, as white, though some rare hand-colored examples do darken Johnson’s face.

Paul Revere (after Henry Pelham), “The Bloody Massacre. ” (Boston: 1770). Notice the two wounds in the chest of the man on the ground, on the far left, and that his face is white. (Courtesy of Library of Congress) Paul Revere (after Henry Pelham), “The Bloody Massacre. ” (Boston: 1770). This rarer version of the image shows Johnson with a darker face. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Revere marginalized or even whitewashed Johnson in his illustrations to make the patriot movement appear orderly and law-abiding. In 1770 patriot leaders like Revere had not yet called for independence. They wanted the British government to adjust its policies, but they did not support actions that might threaten social order in the colonies. An armed crowd led by a formerly enslaved man was too radical for Revere.

John Adams shared Revere’s concerns. So he defended the soldiers at their trials in April, where he also tried to distance the protestors from the patriot movement by painting a certain picture of Johnson. In his closing argument, Adams described a “reinforcement coming down under the command of a stout mulatto fellow whose very looks was enough to terrify any person. What had not the soldiers then to fear?” Adams concluded. Seven of the nine soldiers were acquitted. The two convicted of manslaughter soon were allowed to leave Boston.

The details of the trial faded while Revere’s image continued to be reprinted, and Johnson remained on the margins of the massacre—as the museum’s 1832 edition of Revere’s print demonstrates.

The museum’s 1832 version of Revere’s print, published by Bostonian William Stratton, puts Johnson entirely into the shade of the crowd, so you cannot tell his racial identity or see his wounds.

The rise of the abolition movement in the 1840s and 1850s brought Johnson back to the center of depictions of the Boston Massacre. Abolitionists celebrated “Crispus Attucks” as an example of African Americans’ patriotism and desire for freedom.

The painting on the mirror in the museum’s collection is a simplified take on the best-known example of this interpretation, which emphasizes Johnson’s heroic martyrdom.

J. H. Bufford (after W. Champney), “Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770,” (Boston: 1856). Courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Society.

The mirror hung in a house belonging to a prominent white family in a Connecticut county known for abolitionism. As time passed, the painting may have inspired memories of white abolitionist ancestors or maybe discussions of African American civil rights. Since the mirror came to the museum in 1951, new representations of the massacre have continued to either illustrate the moment Johnson was shot or memorialize him in a classical bust for his sacrifice.

1998 United States one dollar coin. The bust is conjectural, as no image of Attucks survives from his lifetime. This take on Revere's print by African American artist William H. Thompson, from about 1945, foregrounds Johnson's death. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Should our memory of Johnson and the massacre continue to focus on the moment of murder? The tragedy resulted from aggressive policing, an issue that resonates today. The crowd responded to soldiers beating teenagers. Witnesses noted that only after they started “pushing with their guns” did Johnson and other protestors push back beyond taunts, snowballs, and maybe some sticks. Even more pointedly, as Adams suggested, the soldiers’ racist fear of Johnson at the front of the crowd may have triggered the shooting. As University of Virginia law professor Farah Peterson has put it, “A critical part of Adams’s strategy was to convince the jury that his clients had only killed a black man.”

But prominent conversations today about race and economic opportunity suggest concentrating on Johnson's leadership of an interracial yet predominantly white group of protesters, not just his tragic death. Risking his own recapture, despite having his next job lined up, Johnson’s actions ask us to remember his unselfishness—and the interracial support it garnered—at the forefront of a fight for jobs as well as against the tyranny of aggressive policing.

What does Johnson’s story make you picture?

Kenneth Cohen is an Edward and Helen Hintz Secretarial Scholar and a curator of American culture and politics.

Watch the video: The Boston Massacre. Road to the Revolution