Boston Massacre Historical Society


Detailed Description

The Boston Massacre (the killing of five men by British soldiers on March 5, 1770) was the culmination of civilian-military tensions that had been growing since royal troops first appeared in Massachusetts in October 1768. The soldiers were in Boston to keep order in face of the growing discontent with the heavy taxation imposed by the Townshend acts. But townspeople viewed them not as order keepers but as oppressors and threats to independence. Brawls became common.

In 1768, the Commissioners of Customs, who acquired their jobs in Britain and drew their pay from what they collected in America, were so intimidated by the resistance they met in Boston that they demanded military protection. Boston's fifteen thousand or so residents were clearly the worst malcontents on the North American continent. It was imperative that they be put in their place.

General Thomas Gage (Commander In Chief of the British Army in America) agreed and ordered the regiments (under the command of British Lt. Colonel William Dalrymple), the "14th West Yorkshire Fuseliers," and the "29th Worcestershire," to Boston, which would arrive from Halifax in September. Six weeks later the "64th" and "65th" Regiments, with an addition of a detachment of the "59th" Regiment and a train of artillery with two cannon -- in all about 700 men -- arrived from Ireland to protect the men who collected customs duties for the King of England. To the people of Boston the coming of the troops was outrageous. They had been fighting for years against infringement by Britain of their right to tax themselves.

In one of the most famous and elaborate of Paul Revere's engravings, Landing of British Troops at Boston, it shows the arrival of the red-coated British troops. Revere wrote that the troops "formed and marched with insolent parade, drums beating, fifes playing, and colours flying, up King Street. Each soldier having received 16 rounds of powder and ball." Troops of the 29th, unable to secure lodgings in town, pitched tents on the common. The stench from their latrines wafted through the little city on every breeze.

When Colonel Dalrymple requested that all of his men be assigned to the homes of citizens, the Boston council took a firm stand. It declared that citizens were not required to furnish quarters until all the barracks space was filled, and Castle William, in the harbor, had plenty of empty berths. Besides, British Redcoats had already made a deep impression upon Americans during the French and Indian War. These career soldiers were widely regarded as being surly, brutal, and greedy; and no man of any sense was ready to see even one of them put into the house with his wife and daughters.

Governor Bernard, however, had counted upon dispersing the troops into the homes of malcontents as a way of putting pressure upon them. He declared that concentrating soldiers at Castle William would thwart the decisions made in London. The Boston councilmen held firm and refused to budge. Desperate, the governor designated empty factory buildings and small, empty buildings throughout the city to the troops.



Paul Revere's Engraving


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