244th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre – 5 March 1770

Paul Revere - The Boston Massacre - 5 Mar 1770

Paul Revere – The Boston Massacre – 5 Mar 1770

[Source: Library of Congress, World Digital Library http://www.wdl.org]

Text: (top of print): “The BLOODY MASSACRE perpetrated in King-Street BOSTON on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th REG’T”

[Note: there is a gun firing into the crowd from inside the second-floor window of the building on the right of the print with a sign on the front of it saying “BUTCHER’S HALL”]

Text (bottom right of print): “Engrav’d Printed & Sold by PAUL REVERE BOSTON”)

[Note: Revere was not afraid to boldly sign this inflammatory piece of revolutionary propaganda, risking prosecution for inciting the citizens of Boston against British soldiers]

Poem (at bottom of print):

Unhappy BOSTON! See thy Sons deplore,

Thy hallow’d Walks besmear’d with guiltless Gore:

While faithless P—– n and his savage Bands, [*]

With murd’rous Rancour stretch their bloody Hands;

Like fierce Barbarians grinning o’er their Prey,

Approve the Carnage, and enjoy the Day.


If scalding drops from Rage from Anguish Wrung,

If speechless Sorrows lab’ring for a Tongue,

Or if a weeping World can ought appease

The plaintive Ghosts of Victims such as these;

The Patriot’s copious Tears for each are shed,

A glorious Tribute which embalms the Dead


But know, FATE summons to that awful Goal,

Where JUSTICE strips the Murd’rer of his Soul:

Should venal C—ts the scandal of the Land, [**]

Snatch the relentless Villain from her Hand,

Keen Execrations on this Plate inscrib’d,

Shall reach a JUDGE who never can be brib’d.


Killed. Six wounded; two of them (CHRISTR MONK & JOHN CLARK) Mortally ~

[Handwritten at bottom]: “Published in 1770 by Paul Revere


* “Preston” –   Captain Thomas Preston, who was put on trial for his role as commander of the troops who opened fire on the unarmed victims.

** “Courts” –   reference to the expected acquittal of Preston by the British colonial judge presiding over the trial; among the lawyers defending Preston were John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr.

There were two separate trials of the British soldiers and their commander, Captain Thomas Preston: Preston’s trial took place first, and was held  in Boston from 24 October 1770 to 30 October 1770.  The jury was stacked with pro-British Loyalists and the trial resulted (as Revere predicted in his enormously successful propaganda leaflet), in an acquittal.

Revere’s famous “Massacre” broadside was not the only engraving that he contributed to fan the flames of colonial outrage in the wake of the Massacre: he also produced a diagram of the murder scene – and it was presented by the prosecution at the trials.

Paul Revere Boston Massacre crime scene diagram

Paul Revere Boston Massacre crime scene diagram

[Source: Boston Massacre Historical Society,  The Unknown Diagram Made by Paul Revere]  The diagram, very difficult to interpret; shows the location of the five victims and the position of the soldiers at the time of the Massacre.  Attucks and Gray are shown in the lower left in Quaker Lane; Maverick is shown at the right, just in front of the soldiers, who appear to be lined up just in front of the buildings south of [Exchange?] Lane; Caldwell’s or Carr’s body is in the center, marked with a “C”.

After Preston was acquitted, the soldiers’ trial began; it ran from  27 November to 14 December 1770.   Six of the eight soldiers were acquitted outright; two were found guilty of manslaughter and faced the death penalty.  At the sentencing, their defense team requested that the two convicted soldiers be allowed to plead

“the Benefit of the Clergy”, which was a medieval legal device by which one could escape execution if one could prove he or she could read the Bible (which most people at the time – especially poor workers – could not do.  The pro-British judge granted the defense motion, and, after having recited Psalm 51  (known, back in the day – for obvious reasons – as “the neck verse”) they were allowed to avoid execution.  However, to prevent the two convicted soldiers from ever using the “benefit of the Clergy” defense again, they had the letter “M” branded on their thumbs by the Suffolk County Sheriff!  This might have assuaged the anger of the proto-revolutionaries of Boston just a bit, but when all was said and done, if they were not pleased at all with the outcome of the trials of the perpetrators of the Massacre, they were apparently forced by the change of popular opinion over the causes of the Massacre to do their best to conceal the fact.  It would appear that the trials had cast the citizenry who had accosted the British troops in a less than flattering light; instead of firing up the anger of the populace against the British government, as the revolutionaries had hoped, the long, drawn-out process of the trials of Preston and the soldiers had dampened the enthusiasm of the Bostonians for continued agitation against the representatives of the “legitimate authorities”.  Most likely the last words of Massacre victim Patrick Carr, relayed by the doctor who had treated his mortal wounds and introduced at the trial of the British soldiers who had shot him had quelled much of the anger felt by Bostonians:  “He told me…he was a native of Ireland, that he had frequently seen mobs, and soldiers called upon to quell them…he had seen soldiers often fire on the people in Ireland, but had never seen them bear half so much before they fired in his life… About four o’clock in the afternoon, preceding the night on which he died, […] he then particularly said, he forgave the man whoever he was that shot him, he was satisfied he had no malice, but fired to defend himself.” [Source:  Boston Massacre Historical Society,  The Summary of the Boston Massacre Trial, testimony of Dr. John Jeffries (surgeon who attended Patrick Carr at his deathbed)]   That is not the kind of testimony that fires revolutionary ardor in the hearts of those who are accustomed to respect the lawful authorities of the Crown.  The fusillade of shots fired by British soldiers during the Boston Massacre, horrible as it was, and though certainly “heard ’round the world” had  not created the necessary degree of colonial outrage that would be required to ignite the American Revolution.

Using the pseudonym “Vindex”, Samuel Adams wrote in the Boston Gazette of 10 December 1770:  “[W]hatever may be the sentiments of men of the coolest minds abroad, concerning the issue of this trial, we are not to doubt, but the Court, the Jury, the Witnesses, and the Council [sic] on both sides, have
conscienciously acquitted themselves: To be sure, no one in his senses will venture to affirm the contrary.” [Source: Fullbooks, The Writings of Samuel Adams, volume II]

Future second President of the United States John Adams, could, in 1773, write  without regrets about his successful defense of the British troops: “The Part I took in Defense of Captn. 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. Judgement of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Execution of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.” [Source: Boston Massacre Historical Society, “The Summary of the Boston Massacre Trial”, quoting Adams’ diary entry for 5 March, 1773]

  The revolutionary tide had not yet come in for the future Americans;  more than four long years would pass before the unquenchable revolutionary sparks would finally be struck at Lexington and Concord.



One response to “244th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre – 5 March 1770



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