Boston Massacre

The "Boston Massacre" was a crucial event that helped propel the American colonies toward war and independence. The "massacre" occurred in March 1770 as a result of the volatile mix of angry American mobs and nervous British troops. In 1768, the ministry in London sent 4,000 regulars to the Massachusetts seaport city in order to quell the large and growing protests against the taxation policies of George III's government. The presence of soldiers, however, demonstrated to Americans that the ministry had lost control of the situation, and thus the soldiers' presence exacerbated (rather than calmed) an already tense situation.

Tensions exploded on March 5, 1770 when a mob surrounded a squad of British troops stationed outside the city's custom house. After being pelted with snowballs and other objects, one redcoat either fell or was pushed to the ground. Seeing a comrade falling, the other British soldiers in the squad opened fire. When the smoke cleared, 5 Americans - included Crispus Attucks, a runaway African-American slave from Frameingham, Massachusetts - lay dead and dying in the streets. Nine Americans were wounded. In its aftermath, British soldiers were withdrawn from the city, and the soldiers who fired into the crowd (as well as their commanding officer, Captain Thomas Preston) were charged with murder. All were eventually acquitted after a strong defense by the Boston patriot lawyer, John Adams.

Questions to pose in a lecture and/or class discussion on the Boston Massacre:

1. Who caused the Boston Massacre: Bostonians or British troops?

2. Why did the Boston Massacre lead to such an uproar throughout the British-Americans colonies? Was Paul Revere's famous engraving of the event the true source of the outrage?

3. What does John Adams's successful legal defense of the British troops charged in the killings reveal about the massacre and divisions within Boston's patriot movement?

4. Does the Massacre's impact indicate that American colonists were pushed toward revolution more by British actions rather than Americans' ideological opposition to British taxes?

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