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The Boston Massacre

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 2 years, 8 months ago

Painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1877 


Painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1877

Event Summary:  March 5, 1770


For a student-friendly summary, see The Boston Massacre from America' Story, Library of Congress

The Boston Massacre from the Massachusetts Historical Society.


See also 1770: Violence--Pause from America in Class, National Humanities Center




 Boston Massacre from YouTube






Paul Revere's Engraving
external image The_Bloody_Massacre.jpg

Paul Revere's engraving to the right is not an accurate depiction of the event (it did not occur in close quarters, nor with the British commander behind his troops) and is thought to be plagiarized from a drawing by artist Henry Pelham.


  • One Black man, named Crispus Attucks, and 4 other laborers who died that day.

For more see Paul Revere's Engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770


This is an interactive article about the engraving Paul Revere made of the Boston Massacre in 1770. The article explains in details what happened during and after the Boston Massacre. 

  • Additionally, viewers can zoom in on various parts of the engraving and explains what the imagery is depicting.



Crispus Attucks

Click here for background on Crispus Attucks, a Black man who became the first casualty of the American Revolution.


Cross-Link: Battles and Roles of African Americans during the American Revolution

 Primary Sources



Captain Preston's Account of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770


Multiple Primary Sources on the Massacre



Trial of the British Soldiers


Future President John Adams Defended the British Soldiers

John Adams Defended the British Soldiers

external image Scale_of_justice_gold.pngBoston Massacre Trial, 1770 from Famous American Trials, University of Missouri Kansas City



Adams' Argument for the Defense (December 1770)




external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngNew Perspectives from Historians


Reviewing the Boston Massacre, Historian Richard Archer (As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2010) concludes "the evidence strongly suggests that the massacre was a legitimate murder case. The event was not premeditated, since none of the soldiers could have planned on being ordered to quell a crowd that evening. But it gave them an opportunity, and once that first shot had exploded, it is highly likely that at least some of the grenadiers aimed and fired at specific people in the crowd." 


  • The lessons for modern times is clear, according to Archer, "an occupying force in a strange land, asked to police a suspicious and resentful population can themselves become enraged. Faced with enough indignities and violence, they too can become the agents of mayhem." 

Source: "The Charge is Murder," Boston Sunday Globe, April 18, 2010, p. C3.



Reviewing the Boston Massacre, historian Serena Zabin (The Boston Massacre:  A Family History, Houghton Mifflin, 2020) found that the event was an occasion of neighbors facing off against neighbors.  


  • She explored church records and other sources and found dozens of intermarriages between local women and British soldiers.  Participants regularly interacted with one another, not only as family members, but members of the community.  It was a deadly confrontation between familiar faces.  Source:  "Familiar Faces, deadly confrontation,"  The Boston Globe, March 5, 2020.




Learning Plans

Boston Massacre Lesson Plan from Colonial Williamsburg.

Boston Massacre: You Be the Judge! from George Mason University

Boston Massacre from Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History






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