Background of the American Revolution
Following an incident in Boston, the selectmen of the town order a report sent to England.
I have been in constant panic, since I heard of troops assembling in Boston, lest the madness of mobs, or the interference of soldiers, or both, when too near each other, might occasion some mischief difficult to be prevented or repaired, and which might spread far and wide—Benjamin Franklin.
Report of the Committee of the Town of Boston.
Containing a Narrative of the Late Massacre.
Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770.
At the Town Meeting held on the 19th of March, 1770, by Adjournment
THE aforementioned Report was read and considered, whereupon Voted Unanimously, That the same be accepted, and that it be immediately printed, and the Committee are desired to transmit copies thereof, as soon as possible, to the following gentlemen, viz.: the Right Honorable Isaac Barré, Esq., one of his Majesty’s most Honorable Privy Council, Thomas Pownall, Esq., late Governor of the Massachusetts, William Bollan, Esq., Agent for his Majesty’s Council, Dennys DeBerdt, Esq., Agent for the House of Representatives, Benjamin Franklin, Esq., LL.D., and Barlow Trecothick, Esq., a member of Parliament for the city of London.
William Cooper, Town-Clerk.
A short Narrative of the horrid Massacre in Boston, perpetrated in the evening of the Fifth Day of March, 1770, by Soldiers of the XXIXth Regiment; which with the XIVth Regiment were then quartered there: with some observations on the State of Things prior to that catastrophe.
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 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. For the particulars on this head, see the state of the trade not long since drawn up and transmitted to England by a committee of the merchants of Boston.
The residence of the Commisssioners 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.
These particulars of their conduct his Majesty’s Council of this province have fully laid open in their proceeding in council, and in their address to General Gage, in July and October, 1768; and in their letter to Lord Hillsborough of the 15th of April, 1769. 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.
But we shall leave them to their own reflections, after observing, that as they had some months before the arrival of the troops, under pretence of safety to their persons, retired from town to the Castle, so after the arrival of the troops, and their being quartered in the town, they thought proper to return; having answered, as they doubtless thought, the purpose of their voluntary flight.
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 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; which extraordinary proceedings created universal uneasiness, arising from the apprehension that the troops under the influence of such a man would be employed to effect the most dangerous purposes; but failing of that, other houses were procured, in which, contrary to act of parliament, he caused the troops to be quartered. After their quarters were settled, the main guard was posted at one of the said houses, directly opposite to, and not twelve yards from, the State House, (where the General Court, and all the law courts for the county were held), with two field pieces pointed to the State House. This situation of the main guard and field pieces seemed to indicate an attack upon the constitution, and a defiance of. law; and to be intended to affront the legislative and executive authority of the province.
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. Disgusted at such an indignity, and at the appearance of being under duresse, they refused to do business in such circumstances; and in consequence thereof were adjourned to Cambridge, to the great inconvenience of the members.
Besides this, the challenging the inhabitants by centinels 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. *
* The inhabitants instead of making application to the military officers on these occasions, chose rather to oppose the civil authority and the laws of the land to such offenders; and had not the soldiery found means to evade legal punishments, it is more than probable their insolence would have received a check, and some of the most melancholy effects of it been prevented.
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 dangerously 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, altho’ his eyes were much turned to the soldiers, who were all on his right hand.
Gillam Bass, being in King street at the same time, declares that they (the party of soldiers from the main guard) posted themselves between the Custom-House door and the west corner of it; and in a few minutes began to fire upon the people: Two or three of the flashes so high above the rest, that he the deponent verily believes they must have come from the CUSTOM-HOUSE windows.
Jeremiah Allen declares, that in the evening of the 5th day of March current, being at about nine o’clock in the front chamber in the house occupied by Col. Ingersoll in King street, he heard some guns fired, which occasioned his going into the balcony of the said house. That when he was in the said balcony in company with Mr. William Molineux, junr., and John Simpson, he heard the discharge of four or five guns, the flashes of which appeared to be to the westward of the centry-box, and immediately after, he the deponent heard two or three more guns and saw the flashes thereof from out of the house, now called the CUSTOM-HOUSE, as they evidently appeared to him, and which he the said deponent at the same time declared to the aforesaid Molineux and Simpson, being then near him, saying to them, (at the same time pointing his hand towards the Custom-House), there they are out of the custom-house.
George Coster, being in King street at the time above-mentioned, declares that in five or six minutes after he stopped, he heard the word of command given to the soldiers, fire; upon which one gun was fired, which did no execution, as the deponent observed; about half a minute after two guns, one of which killed one Samuel Gray, a ropemaker, the other a mulatto man, between which two men the deponent stood, after this the deponent heard the discharge of four or five guns more, by the soldiers; immediately after which the deponent heard the discharge of two guns or pistols, from an open window of the middle story of the CUSTOM-HOUSE, near to the place where the centry-box is placed, and being but a small distance from the window, he heard the people from within speak and laugh, and soon after saw the casement lowered down; after which the deponent assisted others in carrying off one of the corpses.
Cato, a negro man, servant to Tuthill Hubbart, Esq., declares that on Monday evening the 5th of March current, on hearing the cry of fire, he ran into King street, where he saw a number of people assembled before the Custom-House; that he stood near the centry-box and saw the soldiers fire on the people, who stood in the middle of said street; directly after which he saw two flashes of guns, one quick upon the other, from the chamber-window of the CUSTOM-HOUSE; and that after the firing was all over, while the people were carrying away the dead and wounded, he saw the Custom-House door opened, and several soldiers (one of whom had a cutlass), go into the Custom-House and shut the door after them.
Benjamin Andrews declares, that being desired by the committee of inquiry to take the ranges of the holes made by musket balls, in two houses nearly opposite to the Custom-House, he finds the bullet hole in the entry-door post of Mr. Payne’s house (and which grazed the edge of the door, before it entered the post, where it lodged, two and a half inches deep) ranges just under the stool of the westernmost lower chamber window of the CUSTOM-HOUSE.
Samuel Drowne, towards the end of his deposition (which contains a pretty full account of the proceedings of the soldiers on the evening of the 5th instant), declares, that he saw the flasheS of two guns fired from the CUSTOM-HOUSE, one of which was out of a window of the chamber westward of the balcony, and the other from the balcony; the gun (which he clearly discerned), being pointed through the ballisters, and the person who held the gun, in a stooping posture withdrew himself into the house, having a handkerchief or some kind of cloth over his face.
These depositions show clearly that a number of guns were fired from the Custom-House.—As this affair is now inquiring into, all the notice we shall take of it is, that it distinguishes the actors in it into Street-Actors and House-Actors; which is necessary to be observed.
What gave occasion to the melancholy event of that evening seems to have been this. A difference having happened near Mr. Gray’s 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 first 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.
Mary Brailsford declares, that on Sabbath evening the 4th of March instant, a soldier came to the house of Mr. Amos Thayer, where she then was. He desiring to speak with Mr. Thayer, was told by Mrs. Mary Thayer, that her brother was engaged, and could not be spoke with. He said, your brother as you call him, is a man I have a great regard for, and I came on purpose to tell him to keep in his house, for before Tuesday night next at Twelve o’clock, there will be a great deal of bloodshed, and a great many lives lost: and added, that he came out of a particular regard to her brother to advise him to keep in his house, for then he would be out of harm’s way. He said, “your brother knows me very well; my name is Charles Malone. He then went away.—Of the same import, and in confirmation of this declaration, are the depositions of Mary Thayer and Asa Copeland, who both live with the said Mr. Thayer, and heard what the soldier said as above-mentioned. It is also confirmed by the deposition of Nicholas Ferriter.
Jane Usher declares, that about 9 o’clock on Monday morning the 5th of March current, from a window she saw two persons in the habit of soldiers, one of whom being on horseback appeared to be an officer’s servant. The person on the horse first spoke to the other, but what he said, she is not able to say, though the window was open, and she not more than twenty feet distant; the other replied, he hoped he should see blood enough spilt before morning.
Matthew Adams declares, that on Monday evening the 5th of March instant, between the hours of 7 and 8 o’clock, he went to the house of Corporal Pershall of the 29th regiment, near Quaker-Lane, where he saw the Corporal and his wife, with one of the fifers of said regiment. When he had got what he went for, and was coming away, the corporal called him back, and desired him with great earnestness to go home to his master’s house as soon as business was over, and not to be abroad on any account that night in particular, for the soldiers were determined to be revenged on the ropewalk people; and that much mischief would be done. Upon which the fifer (about 18 or 19 years of age), said, he hoped in God they would burn the town down. On this he left the house, and the said Corporal called after him again, and begged he would mind what he said to him.
Caleb Swan declares, that on Monday night, the 5th of March instant, at the time of the bells ringing for fire, he heard a woman’s voice, whom he knew to be the supposed wife of one Montgomery, a grenadier of the 29th regiment, standing at her door, and heard her say, it was not fire; the town was too haughty and too proud; and that many of their arses would be laid low before the morning.
Margaret Swansborough declares, that a free woman named Black Peg, who has kept much with the soldiers, on hearing the disturbance on Monday evening the 5th instant, said, the soldiers were not to be trod upon by the inhabitants, but would know before morning, whether they or the inhabitants were to be masters.
Joseph Hooton, junr., declares, that coming from the South-end of Boston on Monday evening the 5th of March instant, against Dr. Sewall’s meeting he heard a great noise and tumult, with the cry of murder often repeated. Proceeding towards the town-house he was passed by several soldiers running that way, with naked cutlasses and bayonets in their hands. He asked one of them what was the matter, and was answered by him, by God you shall all know what is the matter soon. Between 9 and 10 o’clock he went into King street, and was present at the tragical scene exhibited near the Custom-House; as particularly set forth in his deposition.
Mrs. Mary Russell declares, that John Brailsford a private soldier of the fourteenth regiment, who had frequently been employed by her (when he was ordered with his company to the Castle, in consequence of the murders committed by the soldiers on the evening of the 5th of March), coming to the deponent’s house declared, that THEIR regiment were ORDERED to hold themselves in readiness, and accordingly was ready THAT EVENING, upon the inhabitants firing on the soldiery, to come to the assistance of the soldiery. On which she asked him, if he would have fired upon any of the inhabitants of this town. To which he replied, yes, if he had orders; but that if he saw Mr. Russell, he would have fired wide of him. He also said, it’s well there was no gun fired by the inhabitants, for had there been, WE should have come to the soldiers’ assistance.
By the foregoing depositions it appears very clearly, there was a general combination among the soldiers of the 29th regiment at least, to commit some extraordinary act of violence upon the town; that if the inhabitants attempted to repel it by firing even one gun upon those soldiers, the 14th regiment were ordered to be in readiness to assist them; and that on the late butchery in King street they actually were ready for that purpose, had a single gun been fired on the perpetrators of it.
It appears by a variety of depositions, that on the same evening between the hours of six and half after nine (at which time the firing began), many persons, without the least provocation, were in various parts of the town insulted and abused by parties of armed soldiers partrolling the streets; particularly:—
Mr. Robert Pierpont declares, that between the hours of 7 & 8 in the same evening, 3 armed soldiers passing him, one of them who had a bayonet gave him a back-handed stroke with it. On complaint of this treatment, he said the deponent should soon hear more of it, and threatened him very hard.
Mr. Henry Bass declares, that at 9 o’clock, a party of soldiers came out of Draper’s alley, leading to and from Murray’sbarracks, and they being armed with large naked cutlasses, made at every body coming in their way, cutting and slashing, and that he himself very narrowly escaped receiving a cut from the foremost of them, who pursued him.
Samuel Atwood declares, that 10 or 12 soldiers armed with drawn cutlasses bolted out of the alley leading from Murray’s barracks into Dock-square, and met the deponent, who asked them if they intended to murder people? They answered, “Yes, by God, root and branch;” saying, “here is one of them;” with that one of them struck the deponent with a club, which was repeated by another. The deponent being unarmed turned to go off, and he received a wound on the left shoulder, which reached the bone, disabled him, and gave him much pain. Having gone a few steps the deponent met two officers, and asked them, gentlemen, what is the matter? they answered, you will see by and by; and as he passed by Col. Jackson’s he heard the cry, turn out the guards.
Capt. James Kirkwood declares, that about nine of the clock in the evening of the fifth day of March current, he was going by Murray’s barracks: hearing a noise he stopped at Mr. Rhoads’s door, opposite the said barracks, where said Rhoads was standing, and stood some time, and saw the soldiers coming out of the yard from the barracks, armed with cutlasses and bayonets, and rushing through Boylstone’s alley into Cornhill, two officers, viz. Lieuts. Minchin and Dickson, came out of the mess house, and said to the soldiers, my lads, come into the barracks and don’t hurt the inhabitants, and then retir’d into the mess house. Soon after they came to the door again, and found the soldiers in the yard; and directly upon it, Ensign Mall came to the gate of the barrack yard and said to the soldiers, turn out, and I will stand by you; this he repeated frequently, adding, kill them! stick them! knock them down; run your bayonets thro’ them, with a great deal of language of like import. Upon which a great number of soldiers came out of the barracks with naked cutlasses, headed by said Mall, and went through the aforesaid alley; that some officers came & got the soldiers into their barracks, and that Mall, with his sword or cutlass drawn in his hand, as often had them out again, but were at last drove into their barracks by the aforesaid Minchin and Dickson.
Mr. Henry Rhoads’s declaration agrees with Captain Kirkwood’s.
Mr. Matthias King, of Halifax, in Nova Scotia, declares, that in the evening of the fifth day of March instant, about nine o’clock, he was at his lodgings at Mrs. Torrey’s, near the town pump, and heard the bells ring and the cry of “Fire;” upon which he went to the door and saw several soldiers come round the south side of the town-house, armed with bayonets, and something which he took to be broadswords; that one of those people came up almost to him and Mr. Bartholomew Kneeland; and that they had but just time to shut the door upon him; otherwise he is well assured they must have fell victims to their boundless cruelty. He afterwards went into the upper chamber of the said house, and was looking out of the window when the drum and the guard went to the barrack, and he saw one of the guards kneel and present his piece, with a bayonet fixed, and heard him swear he would fire upon a parcel of boys who were then in the street, but he did not. He further declares that when the body of troops was drawn up before the guard house (which was presently after the massacre), he heard an officer say to another, that this was fine work, and just what he wanted; but in the hurry he could not see him, so as to know him again.
Robert Polley declares, that on Monday evening, the 5th instant, as he was going home, he observed about ten persons standing near Mr. Taylor’s door; after standing there a small space of time, he went with them towards Boylston’s alley, opposite to Murray’s barracks; we met in the alley about eight or nine armed soldiers; they assaulted us, and gave us a great deal of abusive language; we then drove them back to the barracks with sticks only; we looked for stones or bricks, but could find none, the ground being covered with snow. Some of the lads dispersed, and he, the said Polley, with a few others, were returning peaceably home, when we met about nine or ten other soldiers armed: one of them said, “Where are the sons of bitches?” They struck at several persons in the street, and went towards the head of the alley. Two officers came and endeavored to get them into their barracks; one of the lads proposed to ring the bell; the soldiers went through the alley, and the boys huzzaed, and said they were gone through Royal Exchange lane into King street.
Samuel Drowne declares that, about nine of the clock of the evening of the fifth of March current, standing at his own door in Cornhill, he saw about 14 or 15 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 Cornhill, 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 above-mentioned, being armed, proceeded (most of them) up the Royal Exchange lane into Kingstreet; 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 centry 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 the 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 centry at the Custom-House. Whether the boys mistook the centry 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 snow balls 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 snow balls 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 or 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.
* Since writing this narrative, several depositions have appeared, which make it clear that the centry was first in fault. He overheard a barber’s boy saying, that a captain of the 14th (who had just passed by) was so mean a fellow as not to pay his barber for shaving him. Upon this the centry left his post and followed the boy into the middle of the street, where he told him to show his face. The boy pertly replied,” I am not ashamed to show my face to any man.” Upon this the centry gave him a sweeping stroke on the head with his musket, which made him reel and stagger, and cry much. A fellow apprentice asked the centry what he meant by this abuse? He replied, “Damn your blood, if you do not get out of the way I will give you something;” and then fixed his bayonet and pushed at the lads, who both ran out of his way. This dispute collected a few persons about the boy, near the Custom-House. Presently after this, the party above-mentioned came into King street, which was a further occasion of drawing people thither, as above related.—See deposition of Benja. Broaders and others.
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.
These facts, with divers circumstances attending them, are supported by the depositions of a considerable number of persons, and among others of the following, viz.:—Messrs. Henry Bass, Samuel Atwood, Samuel Drowne, James Kirkwood, Robert Polley, Samuel Condon, Daniel Usher, Josiah Simpson, Henry Knox, Gillam Bass, John Hickling, Richard Palmes, Benjamin Frizzel, and others, whose depositions are in the Appendix.
Soon after the firing, a party from the main guard went with a drum to Murray’s and the other barracks, beating an alarm as they went, which, with the firing, had the effect of a signal for action. Whereupon all the soldiers of the 29th regiment, or the main body of them, appeared in Kingstreet under arms, and seemed bent on a further massacre of the inhabitants, which was with great difficulty prevented. They were drawn up between the State House and main guard, their lines extending across the street and facing down Kingstreet, where the town-people were assembled. The first line kneeled, and the whole of the first platoon presented their guns ready to fire, as soon as the word should be given. They continued in that posture a considerable time; but by the good providence of God they were restrained from firing.
That they then went into Kingstreet with such a disposition will appear probable by the two following depositions.
Mrs. Mary Gardner, living in Atkinson street, declares, that on Monday evening the 5th of March current, and before the guns fired in King street, there were a number of soldiers assembled from Green’s barracks towards the street, and opposite to her gate; that they stood very still until the guns were fired in Kingstreet; then they clapped their hands and gave a cheer, saying, this is all that we want. They ran to their barrack, and came out again in a few minutes, all with their arms, and ran towards Kingstreet.
William Fallass declares, that (after the murder in Kingstreet) on the evening of the 5th instant, upon his return home, he had occasion to stop opposite to the lane leading to Green’s barracks, and while he stood there, the soldiers rushed by him with their arms, towards King street, saying, this is our time or chance: and that he never saw men or dogs so greedy for their prey as those soldiers seemed to be, and the sergeants could hardly keep them in their ranks.
These circumstances, with those already mentioned, amount to a clear proof of a combination among them to commit some outrage upon the town on that evening; and that after the enormous one committed in King street, they intended to add to the horrors of that night by making a further slaughter.
At the time Capt. Preston’s party issued from the main guard, there were in King street about two hundred persons, and those were collected there by the ringing of the bell in consequence of the violences of another party, that had been there a very little while before. When Captain Preston had got to the Custom-House, so great a part of the people dispersed at sight of the soldiers, that not more than twenty or thirty then remained in King street, as Mr. Drowne declares,* and at the time of the firing not seventy, as Mr. Palmes thinks.**
* See his Disposition.
** See his Disposition.
But after the firing, and when the slaughter was known, which occasioned the ringing of all the bells of the town, a large body of the inhabitants soon assembled in King street, and continued there the whole time the 29th regiment was there under arms, and would not retire till that regiment, and all the soldiers that appeared, were ordered, and actually went, to their barracks: after which, having been assured by the Lieutenant-Governor, and a number of the civil magistrates present, that every legal step should be taken to bring the criminals to justice, they gradually dispersed. For some time the appearance of things were dismal. The soldiers outrageous on the one hand, and the inhabitants justly incensed against them on the other: both parties seemed disposed to come to action. In this case the consequences would have been terrible. But by the interposition of his Honor, some of his Majesty’s council, a number of civil magistrates, and other gentlemen of weight and influence, who all endeavored to calm and pacify the people, and by the two principal officers interposing their authority with regard to the soldiers, there was happily no further bloodshed ensued; and by two o’clock the town was restored to a tolerable state of quiet. About that time, Capt. Preston, and a few hours after, the party that had fired, were committed to safe custody.
One happy effect has arisen from this melancholy affair, and it is the general voice of the town and province it maybe a lasting one—all the troops are removed from the town.—They are quartered for the present in the barracks at Castle-Island; from whence it is hoped they will have a speedy order to remove entirely out of the province, together with those persons who were the occasion of their coming hither.
In what manner this was effected, it is not foreign from the subject of this narrative to relate.
The morning after the massacre, a town-meeting was held; at which attended a very great number of the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town. They were deeply impressed and affected by the tragedy of the preceding night, and were unanimously of opinion, it was incompatible with their safety that the troops should remain any longer in the town. In consequence thereof they chose a committee of fifteen gentlemen to wait upon his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, to request of him to issue his orders for the immediate removal of the troops.
The message was in these words:
That it is the unanimous opinion of this meeting that the inhabitants and soldiery can no longer live together in safety; that nothing can rationally be expected to restore the peace of the town and prevent further blood and carnage, but the immediate removal of the troops; and that we therefore most fervently pray his Honor, that his power and influence may be exerted for their instant removal.
His Honor’s reply, which was laid before the town then adjourned to the old south meeting-house, was as follows:
I am extremely sorry for the unhappy differences between the inhabitants and troops, and especially for the action of the last evening, and I have exerted myself upon that occasion, that a due inquiry may be made, and that the law may have its course. I have in council consulted with the commanding officers of the two regiments who are now in the town. They have their orders from the General at New York. It is not in my power to countermand those orders. The Council have desired that the two regiments may be removed to the Castle. From the particular concern which the 29th regiment has had in your differences, Col. Dalrymple, who is the commanding officer of the troops, has signified that that regiment shall without delay be placed in the barracks at the castle, until he can send to the General and receive his further orders concerning both the regiments, and that the main-guard shall be removed, and the 14th regiment so disposed, and laid under such restraint, that all occasion of future disturbances may be prevented.
The foregoing reply having been read and fully considered—the question was put, Whether the report be satisfactory? Passed in the negative (only one dissentient) out of upwards of 4,000 voters.
A respectable committee was then appointed to wait on his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, and inform him, that it is the unanimous opinion of this meeting, that the reply made to a vote of the inhabitants presented his Honor in the morning, is by no means satisfactory; and that nothing less will satisfy than a total and immediate removal of all the troops.
The committee having waited upon the Lieutenant-Governor, agreeable to the foregoing vote, laid before the inhabitants the following vote of Council received from his Honor.
His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor laid before the Board a vote of the town of Boston, passed this afternoon, and then addressed the Board as follows:
Gentlemen of the Council,
“I lay before you a vote of the town of Boston, which I have just now received from them, and I now ask your advice what you judge necessary to be done upon it.”
The Council thereupon expressed themselves to be unanimously of opinion, “that it was absolutely necessary for his Majesty’s service, the good order of the town, and the peace of the province, that the troops should be immediately removed out of the town of Boston, and thereupon advised his Honor to communicate this advice of the Council to Col. Dalrymple, and to pray that he would order the troops down to Castle William.” The committee also informed the town, that Col. Dalrymple, after having seen the vote of Council, said to the committee,
“That he now gave his word of honor that he would begin his preparations in the morning, and that there should be no unnecessary delay until the whole of the two regiments were removed to the Castle.”
Upon the above report being read, the inhabitants could not avoid expressing the high satisfaction it afforded them.
After measures were taken for the security of the town in the night by a strong military watch, the meeting was dissolved.
- ☞ Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770.
- ☞ John Adams: Defense of the British Soldiers—I
- ☞ John Adams: Defense of the British Soldiers—II