Boston Massacre Historical Society


The Summary of the Boston Massacre Trial

The prosecutors built their case upon the soldiers' hatred of the townspeople. Witnesses testified to the soldiers' behavior before and during the Massacre, characterizing them as brawling fighters and agitators little better than criminals, resting with a strong case against them. Josiah Quincy opened for the defense by reminding the jury that the soldiers must be judged based on "the evidence here in Court produced against them, and by nothing else." Like Captain Preston, none of the soldiers could take the stand in their own behalf.

Testimony of Dr. John Jeffries for the Defense

Q. Was you Patrick Carr's surgeon?

A. I was...

Q. Was he [Carr] apprehensive of his danger?

A. He told me...he was a native of Ireland, that he had frequently seen mobs, and soldiers called upon to quell them...he had seen soldiers often fire on the people in Ireland, but had never seen them bear half so much before they fired in his life...

Q. When had you the last conversation with him?

A. About four o'clock in the afternoon, preceeding the night on which he died, and he then particularly said, he forgave the man whoever he was that shot him, he was satisfied he had no malice, but fired to defend himself.

Patrick Carr's hearsay testimony was admitted, because it was believed that no one about to face final judgement would possibly lie. Samuel Adams tried to dismiss this hearsay testimony by saying Carr "probably died in the faith of a Roman Catholic," and was therefore not to be trusted by Protestant Bostonians.

John Adams closed for the defense saying "the eight prisoners at the bar, had better be all acquitted, though we should admit them all to be guilty, than, that any one of them should by your verdict be found guilty, being innocent."

On December 5, six of the soldiers were acquitted; Kilroy was found guilty of manslaughter for killing Samuel Gray; and Montgomery was found guilty of manslaughter for killing Crispus Attucks.

Justice Peter Oliver: "If upon the whole ye are in any reasonable doubt of their guilt, ye must then, agreeable to the rule of law, declare them innocent."

Results of the Trials

The Massacre trials ended quietly. Samuel Adams wrote several articles in the Boston Gazette during December, 1770, under the pseudonym "Vindex," that accused the soldiers of escaping with blood on their hands. But the mood had changed in Boston since the Massacre. He turned his attentions to keeping the memory of the Massacre alive, organizing annual commemorations on March 5, a tradition that lasted until 1783.

Kilroy and Montgomery faced the death penalty at the sentencing on December 14, 1770. To escape execution they "prayed the benefit of clergy," a Medieval remnant of the time when clergymen were excepted from the secular courts. To receive the benefit they had only to prove they could read Psalm 51, verse 1, the "neck verse," at a time when most people were illiterate. Although illiterate himself, Kilroy was able to obtain the benefit because the reading requirement was abolished in 1705.

Suffolk County Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf branded Kilroy and Montgomery on the right thumb with an "M" for murder. The brand was to prevent them from ever being able to invoke the benefit of clergy again.

After his acquittal, Captain Preston removed himself from Boston to Castle William in Boston Harbor, and eventually returned to England. The soldiers returned to the Twenty-ninth Regiment, which had left Boston following the Massacre.

Psalm.51:1 "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions."

"I have reason to remember that fatal Night. The Part I took in Defense of Captn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgement of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Execution of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right."

--John Adams, Diary entry, March 5, 1773

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