Boston Massacre Historical Society


James Basset – Incompetent Lieutenant who was not Charged

James Basset was a lieutenant in his Majesty's 29th Regiment on foot. On the day of the Boston Massacre, March 5th 1770 Basset was the second officer of the main guard under the command of Captain Thomas Preston.

In the evening, when the crowd started gathering at the doors of the customs house, Basset and Preston were both at the guard quarters located just hundred yards away. They became aware of the disturbance on the street from the ringing bells and cry of fire. Convinced that there was a fire, instead of running outside, Preston and Basset first ran to the top of the house to see where the fire was. Soon enough they realized that something different was going on. People at the door of the guard station informed them the trouble was at the Main Guard in front of the customs house.

After arriving to the scene Preston realized how serious the situation was. Lieutenant Basset described their arrival in his testimony at the Boston Massacre trial:

“On our coming there, a number of inhabitants informed us, that the sentry at the custom-house would certainly be murdered if we did not send a part of men to his relief.”

Preston made a decision to bring reinforcements to aide private White who by then left his sentry box and retreated to the Custom House stairs with his back to a locked door. Six Royal Grenadiers were sent to help but surprisingly Preston chose not have Basset who was second in command, to lead the group. Instead he ordered lower ranking but more experienced Corporal William Wemms for this task. This small detail perhaps can make us speculate that Bassett was not a good officer. Later this turn of events worked out to his advantage. After the shooting Preston was arrested and accused of giving the order to fire. On the other hand James Basset was arrested but was soon released as his involvement in the shooting was found to be minimal.



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