Causes > Boston Massacre

Boston Massacre


The Boston Massacre was a major cause of the American Revolutionary War that occurred on 5 March 1770. During this event a group of British soldiers came to backup a lone sentry who was being verbally harassed and being pelted with snowballs. In response the British soldiers opened a volley of gunfire and killed three people, one a black or Indian man named Crispus Attucks.

Following the incident the officer in charge named Capt. Thomas Preston was arrested and charged with manslaughter along with the rest of his eight men in his command. However, they were all later acquitted which sparked the Patriot cause and helped really lay the foundation for the sentiments that sparked the American Revolution.

The British troops had been billeted in Boston in October 1768 after repeated requests from British customs officials, who had been harassed and intimidated because of their efforts to enforce the Townshend Acts. Numerous clashes between the soldiers and the citizenry resulted. The killings of March 5, promptly termed a “massacre” by Patriot leaders and commemorated in a widely circulated engraving by Paul Revere, aroused intense public protests and threats of violent retaliation. This pressure caused Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson to withdraw the troops to an island in the harbor. In an effort to demonstrate the impartiality of colonial courts, two Patriot leaders, John Adams and Josiah Quincy, volunteered to defend Captain Preston and his men. The prosecution produced little evidence, and Preston and six of the soldiers were acquitted; two others were found guilty of manslaughter, branded on the hand, and released. Although many Patriots criticized the verdicts and the anniversary of the Boston Massacre became a patriotic holiday, the removal of troops from Boston and the repeal of all but one of the contested import duties resulted in a lowering of tension in the years following the incident. Nevertheless, Governor Hutchinson’s reluctant removal of troops from Boston under threat of insurrection dramatized the impotence of imperial power as it was then constituted when faced with organized local resistance.


The Boston Massacre is reenacted in front of the Old State House in Boston on March 5th to commemorate the event.

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