Boston Massacre Historical Society


Captain Preston’s Unknown Biography

Captain Thomas Preston was the key figure in the fatal incident known as the Boston Massacre and the subsequent trials. In fact Preston’s name is one of the most mentioned in the historic texts, second perhaps only to Crispus Attucks who became a well known American hero. But unlike Attucks whose biographies can be found in abundance, we know practically next to nothing about Preston. The only hard facts that we know are the details of the Massacre itself that were well documented due to the scrutiny they received in the trial.

Here are the few facts that we do we know about Thomas Preston.

Thomas Preston was an officer of the 29th Regiment of Foot who was present at the Boston Massacre March 5, 1770. He was arrested after the shooting and charged with murder. As an officer Preston received a separate trial from the other accused soldiers. The trial lasted from October 24, 1770 to October 30, 1770. It was held in Boston and the future US President John Adams successfully defended Captain Preston who was “honorably acquitted” of the charges. The defense was able to prove that Preston did not give the order for the troops to fire.

And that’s about all what we know for a fact. The details of Preston’s life before his service in Boston and after the trial are very sketchy.

Even the the age and the exact bith and death years are disputed. According to Michael Burgan’s book “The Boston Massacre” publisehd by Compas Point Books, 2005, Preston was the exact same age as Samuel Adams. Mr. Burgan writes that Preston was born in 1722 and died in 1798. Admas, the famous leader of the Boston patriots was also born in the same year. This would have made Preston 48 years old during the Massacre on King’s street. But according to another book, The Complete Idiot's Guide® to the American Revolution By Alan Axelrod, Preston was 40-years old in 1770.

Another basic question remains without a certain unsewer, whe in England was Captain Preston from? It is sometimes mentiond that Preston was Irish. But there are no solid leads to a person with the same name and age in numerious Irish geneology srouces. It is possible that it was simply assumed that Preston was Irish by his assocation with the 29th British Regiment. In the book Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, Michael P. Quinlin quotes the description of the 29 Regiment of the British army by one of the contemporaries, “the average man in the twenty-ninth was over thirty, medium tall and Irish”.

Within a month after the trial Preston was reported to have left Boston. Preston wrote a farewell note to General Thomas Gage, the commander of the British occupying forces. In this note he referred to his acquittal, "I take the liberty of wishing you joy at the complete victory obtained over the knaves and foolish villains of Boston."

After his trial, Preston retired from the army and presumably settled in Ireland, though Adams recalled seeing him in London in the 1780s.

Perhaps the last detail on which historians disagree is the amount of compensation he received from the government after returning to England. According to one sources it was a one-time payment of 200 pounds but others mention an annual pension of two hundred pounds a year from the King.

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