Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Humpday History Highlight

March 5, 1770 - The Boston Massacre

Don't believe everything you read in your grade school textbook. The British were not looking to fire indiscriminately on the citizens, and the Bostonians were looking for a fight.

On the cold, snowy night of March 5, 1770, a mob of angry colonists gathers at the Customs House in Boston and begins tossing snowballs and rocks at the lone British soldier guarding the building. The protesters opposed the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament without direct American representation.

A noble cause, to be sure, but the Bostonians lost that nobility when they attacked a lone soldier.

The previous Friday, British soldiers looking for part-time work and local Bostonian laborers had brawled at John Hancockýs wharf. After the brouhaha escalated to include forty soldiers, their colonel, William Dalrymple confined them to their barracks. Peace settled over the city during the two-day observance of the Puritan Sabbath. However, tempers on both sides were still flaring and no one expected Monday, March 5, to pass without incident. After sunset, the brawl between Boston civilians and British soldiers began again.

Again, the British weren't looking for a fight, especially with the colonists - most of who thought themselves British, not American.

When the customs-house sentinel called for assistance, a British corporal and seven soldiers came to his aid. Two of these reinforcements had been among the soldiers brawling on Hancockýs wharf the previous Friday. British Captain Thomas Preston assumed command of the riled Redcoats and ordered them to fix their bayonets.

As the crowd dared the snow-pelted soldiers to fire, Private Hugh Montgomery slipped and fell, leading him to discharge his rifle into the jeering crowd. The other soldiers began firing a moment later, and when the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead or dying: Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell.

Three more were injured. Although it is unclear whether Crispus Attucks, a sailor of African and Indian ancestry, was the first to fall, as is commonly believed, the deaths of the five men are sometimes regarded as the first fatalities of the American Revolution.

And don't think the American press didn't play this up for all it was worth. The "Boston Massacre" was the defining moment that swayed most people's decisions to go to war, and it was merely an accidental discharge.

The British soldiers were put on trial, and John Adams and Josiah Quincy Jr. agreed to defend the soldiers, in a show of support of the colonial justice system. When the trial ended in December 1770, only two of the six British soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. They were branded on the thumb and released. (H/T - History.com)

The fact that Adams agreed to defend the soldiers speaks volumes. One of our greatest patriots, even Adams could see the "massacre" for what it was. And while the end result - American freedom - was ultimately worth fighting for, history's vilification of the British for this incident is completely unwarranted. Just my $0.02.

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