History of the Boston Massacre

Author: Committee of the Town of Boston  | Date: 1770

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1770 Frederic Kidder Albany N. Y. 1870

Massacre at Boston

[1770]

Report of the Committee of the Town of Boston

The town of Boston now legally convened at Faneuil Hall, have directed us, their committee, to acquaint you of their present miserable situation, occasioned by the exorbitancy of the military power, which, in consequence of the intrigues of wicked and designing men to bring us into such a state of bondage and ruin, in direct repugnance to those rights which belong to us as men, and as British subjects, have long since been stationed among us.

The soldiers, ever since the fatal day of their arrival, have treated us with an insolence which discovered in them an early prejudice against us, as being that rebellious people which our implacable enemies had maliciously represented us to be. They landed in the town with all the appearance of hostility! They marched through the town with all the ensigns of triumph! and evidently designed to subject the inhabitants to the severe discipline of a garrison! They have been continuing their enormities by abusing the people, rescuing prisoners nut of the hands of justice, and even firing upon the inhabitants in the street, when in the peace of God and the King; and when we have applied for redress in the course of the law of the land, our magistrates and courts of justice have appeared to be overawed by them; and such a degree of mean submission has been shewn to them, as has given the greatest disgust, even to the coolest and most judicious persons in the community. Such has been the general state of the town.

On Friday the 2d instant, a quarrel arose between some soldiers of the 29th, and the rope-maker’s journeymen and apprentices, which was carried to that length, as to become dangerous to the lives of each party, many of them being wounded. This contentious disposition continued until the Monday evening following, when a party of seven or eight soldiers were detached from the main guard under the command of Captain Preston, and by his orders fired upon the inhabitants promiscuously in King street, without the least warning of their intention, and killed three on the spot; another has since died of his wounds, and others are dangerously, some it is feared mortally, wounded. Captain Preston and his party now are in jail.

An inquiry is now making into this unhappy affair; and by some of the evidence, there is reason to apprehend that the soldiers have been made use of by others as instruments in executing a settled plot to massacre the inhabitants. There had been but a little time before a murder committed in the street by two persons of infamous characters, who had been employed by the commissioners and custom house officers. In the present instance there are witnesses who swear that when the soldiers fired, several muskets were discharged from the house, where the commissioners’ board is kept before which this shocking tragedy was acted; and a boy, servant of one Manwaring, a petty officer in the customs, has upon oath accused his master of firing a gun upon the people out of a window of the same house, a number of persons being at the same time in the room; and confesses that himself, being threatened with death if he refused, discharged a gun twice by the orders of that company. . . .

This horrid transaction has occasioned the greatest anxiety and distress in the minds of the inhabitants, who have ever since been necessitated to keep their own military watch; and his Majesty’s council were so convinced of the imminent danger of the troops being any longer in town, that upon application made by the inhabitants, they immediately and unanimously advised the lieutenant governor to effect their removal; and Lieutenant Colonel Dalrymple, the present commanding officer, is now removing all the troops to Castle William.

We are, with strict truth, Sir,

Your most faithful and obedient servants,

John Hancock

Sam. Adams

W. Molineux

Joshua Henshaw

Wm. Phillips

Jos. Warren

Sam. Pemberton

Committee of the Town of Boston

To Thomas Pownall, Esq.

Boston, March 12, 1770.

At a Meeting of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston assembled at Faneuil Hall, on Monday the 12th day of March, Anno Domini, 1770. The following Report, containing a narrative of the late Massacre, is submitted to the Town. In the name of the Committee, James Bowdoin. 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 patrolling the streets; particularly: Samuel Drowne declares that, about nine o’clock of the evening of the fifth of March current, standing at his own door in Comhill, he saw about fourteen or fifteen soldiers of the 29th regiment, who came from Murray’s barracks, armed with naked cutlasses, swords, etc., 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.

These assailants after attacking and wounding divers persons in Cornhill, proceeded (most of them) up the Royal Exchange Lane into King Street; 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!"

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 the stopping had drawn together a number of boys, round the sentry at the Custom house. Whether the boys mistook the sentry 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 snowballs at him,1 which occasioned him to knock hastily at the door of the Custom-house. The officer on guard was Capt. Preston, who with seven or eight soldiers, with fire-arms and charged bayonets, issued from the guard house, and in great haste posted himself and his soldiers in front of the Custom-house. 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 snowballs 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.

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. These facts, with divers circumstances attending them, are supported by the depositions of a considerable number of persons.

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 King Street 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 King Street, where the townpeople 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.

1Several subsequent depositions supported the view that the sentry, in a quarrel with two barber’s apprentices, struck one on the head with his musket, yelling, "Damn your blood, if you do not get out of the way, I will give you something," and then pushed the lads away at bayonet point.

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Chicago: Committee of the Town of Boston, History of the Boston Massacre, trans. Frederic Kidder in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 16, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3MVYTKZ9MTY86I.

MLA: Committee of the Town of Boston. History of the Boston Massacre, translted by Frederic Kidder, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 16 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3MVYTKZ9MTY86I.

Harvard: Committee of the Town of Boston, History of the Boston Massacre, trans. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 16 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3MVYTKZ9MTY86I.