Have you set up a series of dominoes, push the first one and then stand back and watch them fall one at a time until the final one falls? That’s kind of what led to the infamous Boston Massacre that took place today, March 4, 1770.
Let’s start with a domino called occupation of British troops in the American colonies prior to 1765. It was costing the British government around £360,000 a year to support and maintain the growing number of British troops present in the colonies. That equates to around £44 million in today’s values or nearly $62 million. That was a lot of money back then as it is today.
To help pay for the huge cost of maintaining troops in the colonies, Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. The goal was to collect around £60,000 a year from the colonists in the form of taxes. The problem with the Stamp Act is that it was passed without any debate or representation from the colonists and British Constitution stated that British subjects could only be taxed by representatives of their choosing. The colonists were considered to be British subjects but they had no representation in Parliament.
Tensions had already been growing between the colonist and the British and the passage and enforcement of the Stamp Act pushed over that domino resulting in rebellion and anger. In 1766, Benjamin Franklin, among others, testified in Parliament as to the reason so many of the colonists were angry and rebelling against the Stamp Act, resulting in Parliament repealing the unpopular taxation.
The next domino in our chain was set in motion on June 29, 1767 when Parliament passed the Townsend Acts. They established a Customs Commission to collect import duties on many English products, tea, lead, glass, paint, paper, etc., imported to the colonies. It also enacted a punishment for New York’s refusal to abide by the British Quartering Act of 1765.
Like the Stamp Act, the Townsend Acts did set well with the colonists, setting off more dominoes in the path to the massacre. A number of Boston’s leaders pretested by refusal to import the products from Great Britain. They also tried to push the residents of Boston to not consume or use any products imported from Great Britain.
By early 1768, customs commissioners in Boston began to fear for their safety and lives. They petitioned the Parliament to help protect them as they went about collecting the import duties. Parliament responded by sending more British troops to Boston that began arriving in October, 1768, tipping another domino in the line of events.
With arrival of the British troops, more and more Bostonians resented the British and their standing army occupying their town. Patriot leaders did whatever they could to fuel the resentment against the British troops.
The falling dominos slowed by early 1770 as the effort to stop the importation of British goods began to weaken. However, there were some in Boston that kept pushing over the dominos by vandalizing the shops of British loyalists who continued to sell British goods.
The falling dominos sped up on February 22, 1770 when a crowd of citizens confronted Ebenezer Richardson, customs informer. Feeling threatened, Richardson fired into the crowd, killing 11-year-ol Christopher Seider.
Now the falling dominos are racing along at a faster and faster pace and clashes between Boston’s patriots and British soldiers escalated.
On March 5, 1770, a lone British sentry was standing guard outside the Customs House when he was confronted by a crowd of angry patriots. As the crowd grew, British Captain Thomas Preston along with 7 soldiers from the 29th Regiment arrived to protect the sentry.
As the angry crowd pelted the British soldiers with snowballs, Preston tried to get them to disperse, but the crowd refused. British Private Hugh Montgomery slipped in the snow and fell, causing him to accidentally fire his rifle as he fell. The other soldiers followed suit and opened fire on the crowd of patriots.
When it was all over, four patriots were dead, another seriously wounded who died later and three more were wounded and the dominos were still falling. Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell were killed at the hands of the Preston and his troops. Depending on what source you look at, some claim that these five patriots were the first deaths in the American Revolution, but if that’s the case, then what about the death of young Christopher Seider?
Several weeks after the Boston Massacre, Captain Preston, his troops and four civilians from within the Customs House were indicted by a grand jury on the charges of murder. The soldiers indicted were, William Wemms, James Hartigan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Matthew Kilroy, William Warren, John Carrol and Hugh Montgomery. All of those indicted faced the death sentence if convicted.
To no surprise, the indicted British were unable to find an attorney to defend them. What is a surprise is that they finally found two attorneys to defend them, John Adams and his partner Josiah Quincy. Adams knew that defending the British was a dangerous and unpopular act on his part, but he was a firm believer in the right to a fair trial.
The truly ironic aspect of the trial is that Samuel Quincy, the older brother of Josiah Quincy, was the prosecutor in the case. The trial of Preston began on October 24, 1770. The trial of the British soldiers started on November 27th and ended on December 5th. The trial of the four civilians that fired from the Customs House began on December 13th, 1770.
When all of the trials were over, Captain Preston and 5 of his soldiers were acquitted, along with the four civilians. Hugh Montgomery, the private who fell and started the massacre, and Matthew Killroy were found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder. Their punishment consisted of being branded with an M for murder on their thumbs and returned to Great Britain.
The line of falling dominos was now unstoppable. Tensions and skirmishes between the Sons of Liberty and the British continued until they came to a head in April 1775 at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the official start to the Revolutionary War.
Sources for the above include: Boston Massacre; The Boston Massacre; What was the Boston Massacre?; Civilians and soldiers clash in the Boston Massacre; The Boston Massacre; History Brief: The Boston Massacre; The Boston Massacre Trials; The Townsend Acts; American History Documents; Measuring Worth.