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Chapter 4

HIS271 - Wheeler:Becker Chapter 4 Summary

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Grant Brown

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Wheeler/Becker Chapter 4 What Really Happened in the Boston Massacre?
Wednesday, October 6th/ 2010
The Problem
Occurred on March 5, 1770
A small group of boys began taunting a British sentry in front of the Boston Custom House.
The solider that was being taunted, struck on of the boys with his musket
A crowd of 50-60 gathered around the solider, and soon more than 100 people were there
Captain Preston and his men attempted to calm the crowd down, but were unsuccessful
One of the soldiers fired his musket into the crowd, leaving 5 dead and 6 injured
Preston was brought to trial and was charged with murder
Tensions in Boston were on the rise since the 1760s because of migration, change, and maturation
Protests against the Stamp Act
The British government ordered soldiers into Boston, but their presence only increased tensions
Bostonians harassed and tormented the British soldiers/places of British influence
An angry crowd that proceeded to taunt him and throw rocks at his house followed Ebenezer Richardson
home. After one of the rocks hit his wife, Richardson fired his musket blindly into the crowd, killing a young
Crowd disturbances had been an almost regular feature of the life in England and America
It was known that authorities seldom fired on the crowds, and there were no deaths, however; on March 5,
1770 both the soldiers and the crowd acted uncharacteristically
The Method
Figuring out what happened at the Boston Massacre cannot be done using witnesses alone
One week after the Boston Massacre, Captain Preston gave his side of the story
One of the main things to do is try to reconstruct the scene itself (figure out the order of the events, and
where the witnesses were standing at the time)
It is also helpful to know the individual backgrounds and political views of the witnesses
The firing was an accident. A crowd of antagonistic colonists who were throwing snowballs and jeering the
soldiers was accosting the British soldiers. They did not fire on the crowd till someone, no one knows who,
yelled "Fire." The captain of the soldiers denied giving that order and there was some evidence that it might
have come from the colonists. Samuel Adams made the most of the incident by calling it the Boston
The number of soldiers involved in the incident and the origin of the shots has been controversial. The
original indictment issued on March 13 named twelve shooters and Capt. Preston, but only eight were finally
tried in November 1770. Several of the witnesses stated that shots came from the Custom House and the
number of dying and wounded numbered eleven. The shots were not in unison, which allows the possibility
of reloading the muskets, but this was never substantiated.