Boston Massacre Historical Society


The Summary of the Boston Massacre Trial

Witness testimony for the defense

John Frost: "I did not hear the Centinel call for help but saw the Guard come and a man who I took to be the Captain. He had a thing or Plate upon his breast-a Sash on-a Sword in his hand-and Regimentals."

Benjamin Lee: "I saw Capt. Preston as soon as the Soldiers were ranged. A man went up and asked him if he was going to fire. No Sir upon my honor if I can any way avoid it. I knew the Captain by sight and name...He had his Regimentals, a hat on, his breast plate and Sash round his body and Sword in his hand."

Richard Palmes: "...I saw Capt. Preston at the head of 7 or 8 Soldiers at the Custom house drawn up, their Guns breast high and Bayonets fixed...I saw something resembling Snow or Ice strike the Grenadier on the Captains right...He [the grenadier] instantly stept one foot back and fired the first Gun...After the Gun went off I heard the word fire...I don't know who gave the word fire."

Andrew, servant to Oliver Wendell: "I jump'd back and heard a voice cry fire and immediately the first Gun fired. It seemed to come from the left wing from the second or third man on the left. The Officer was standing before me with his face towards the People. I am certain the voice came from beyond him."

The trial lasted five days. Captain Preston by law was not allowed to take the stand. The defense carefully stressed the hostility between the citizens and soldiers, and the confusion on the dark street that night. The jury returned a verdict when court opened at 8 a.m. on October 30, 1770. Preston was found not guilty.

Rex v. Wemms, et al...

The soldiers were tried separately a month after Preston. White, Hartigan, and Kilroy petitioned to be tried with the Captain, but were turned down. The eight soldiers faced five charges of murder for the Massacre, "the most melancholy event that has yet taken place on the continent of America," according to Crown attorney Samuel Quincy.

The jury, impaneled without a single Bostonian, faced the task of deciding whether the soldiers had fired in self-defense or with malice, and which ones actually killed the victims. A verdict of guilty for murder meant the death penalty, while a conviction of manslaughter held the possibility of Benefit of Clergy.

Jury List

Joseph Mayo, Roxbury, Foreman

Nathaniel Davis, Roxbury

Edward Pierce, Dorchester

Abraham Wheeler, Dorchester

Isaiah Thayer, Braintree

Benjamin Fisher, Dedham

Samuel Davenport, Milton

Joseph Houghton, Milton

Consider Atherton, Stoughton

Jacob Cushing, Jr., Hingham

Josiah Lane, Hingham

Jonathan Burr, Hingham

Testimony of Samuel Hemmingway for the Crown

Q. Do you know any of the prisoners?

A. Yes, several, there is Killroy I know particularly well.

Q. Did you ever hear Killroy make use of any threatening expressions, against the inhabitants of this town?

A. Yes, one evening I heard him say, he would never miss an opportunity, when he had one, to fire on the inhabitants, and that he had wanted to have an opportunity ever since he landed.

Q. How long was that before the 5th March"

A. A week or fortnight...

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