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States: General History and Description >> The Revolution, 1775-1783 >> Causes
a "peaceful protest" that turned deadly
On the evening of March 5, 1770, a young barber's apprentice named Edward Garrick shouted an insult at Hugh White, a British soldier of the 29th Regiment on duty in front the Customs House. According to witnesses, White responded to Garrick's insult by hitting him with the butt of his rifle. Garrick yelled for help, and before long a small crowd, consisting primarily of boys and young men, began closing in on White. Rather than backing down or withdrawing, White called for the main guard. Six men, led by a Corporal, responded to White's call; they were soon joined by the officer on duty, Captain John Preston.
Before long the crowd surrounding the British swelled to almost 400 men, many of whom later admitted to throwing snowballs and chunks of ice at the soldiers. At some point Captain Preston ordered his men to load their muskets, an action which inflamed the crowd even more. According to Preston, one of the soldiers was hit by a stick and responded by firing into the crowd. More shots quickly followed, and in the span of just a few minutes three men (a black sailor named Crispus Attucks, ropemaker Samuel Gray, and a mariner named James Caldwell) were dead and another 8 lay wounded; two of the wounded (Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr) subsequently died of their wounds. The crowd dispersed soon after the shots were fired and order was eventually restored.
The day after what is now known as the Boston Massacre, a town meeting was called demanding the removal of the British and the trial of Captain Preston and his men for murder. Although both demands were quickly met, Patrick Henry and others used the event to fuel the growing anti-British movement. Preston, defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy II, was subsequently acquitted of all charges, but two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter and branded on the hand.
Right: Paul Revere's depiction of the events of March 5, 1770
This page was last updated on March 05, 2017.