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The Boston Massacre: A Perspective

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On March 5, 1770, a minor incident of scuffle between few young colonists and British Army regulars turned in to major incident and led to killing of five men. The killing of these men was in fact the culmination of tensions that had been brewing up for quite some time since positioning of the Royal troops amidst the citizens on the pretext of enforcing law and order. The men killed in the incident were neither the freedom fighters nor men of repute and standing in the society, but the killing incident resulted in extreme unpopularity of British rule and paved the way for start of American Revolution to end the British dominance and rule in America. The paper discusses the reasons for calling this incident of street rage as "The Boston Massacre" and attempts to highlight the reasons that turned this minor incident in to a spark to ignite the war of American Revolution. The paper also ponders over the justification of terming this incident as first battle of American Revolution.

The Dreadful day

Monday, the March 5 of 1770, Private Hugh White of the 29th Regiment was the standing guard at Custom House sentry box on King Street. This sentry post assumed greater significance than other posts as the Custom House was responsible for securing the King's taxes and other duties. Consequently, duty at this post was also riskier view heightened tensions after appearance of Royal troops amidst the citizens at Massachusetts in 1768. Daily brawls and scuffle between the citizens and the troopers never allowed the situation to calm down and fire of hatred was simmering, waiting for a flash point. The unfortunate events on March 5, 1770 finally led to a flash point creating a situation that brought a major change in the history of the country. On the fateful day, the gathered crowd at Custom House sentry box was taunting the Private White for Captain Goldfinch, an officer of the 29th Regiment, for not paying his bills to local merchants. In response to the insults, Private White hit a teenager by the name of Edward Garrick with the butt of his gun. More number of people joined the brawl and started challenging Private White Captain Goldfinch to fight. As the crowd began to get larger, the British Officer on duty, Captain Thomas Preston, realized that sensitivity of the volatile situation. He immediately rushed to the Custom House to prevent any harm to his men or destruction of guard post. The crowd also prevented the Captain and his men to retreat to their barracks and started challenging them to draw their weapons and fire at them. Captain Preston tried to disperse the crowd while crowd kept on yelling at them to "Fire and be damned". In the mean time, Captain Preston kept on persuading his men not to fire. The situation completely went out of hand when someone from crowd threw a stick that hit Private Montgomery in his face. Enraged Montgomery fired his musket directly into the crowd. For a moment, all was quiet, and then the crowd surged forward towards the soldiers who were standing in a semicircular formation. Feeling threatened, the soldiers opened fire. The firing lasted for some time and it is not clear for how long. Eyewitnesses reported firing time anywhere between few seconds to about twenty minutes.

Three persons died on the spot, two were mortally injured, and six were wounded. A black man named Cripus Attuck, a native of Frainghan, Massachusetts fell dead on the spot with several injuries in his chest and head. Other people who died in the incident were Samuel gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr. In the aftermath, under public pressure and outcry, Governor Hutchinson arrested the soldiers and promised the people that there would be a trial. Most of the lawyers in the town refused to defend the soldiers; finally, John Adams and Josiah Quincy took up the task of defending the soldiers. The jury for the trial did not have any representation from the town of Boston. Captain Preston and his eight soldiers were tried separately in September 1770. John Adam proved that the soldiers fired in self-defense. This led to acquittal of six soldiers and Captain Preston. The court pronounced the two soldiers named Montgomery and Kilroy guilty of manslaughter. The guilty soldiers were sent back to England with minor punishment of branding on the hand.

Backdrop of Boston Massacre Incident

Before we dwell further in to this issue, it is appropriate to understand the events preceding this incident. This will help us in comprehending the sensitivity of prevailing conditions due to various laws imposed by the British rulers on the American colonists.



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