Boston Massacre: the Chaos of the Night

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Tensions were high in colonial America. After winning the French and Indian War with the side effect of enormous debt, Parliament had recently begun to pass more laws without the colonists’ consent. With the 1765 Stamp Act and the 1767 Townshend Acts being passed, colonists were growing more angry at Great Britain. Their anger can be clearly seen on the night of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, where a mob of colonists assembled outside of the Custom House. Unfortunately, some lives were taken at the Boston Massacre by British soldiers. Upon review of the Boston Massacre, the jury decided that only two of the soldiers were guilty of manslaughter, leaving Captain Preston and six of the eight soldiers to be acquitted. Because there was so much confusion around the Custom House that night, the soldiers mistakenly thought they heard Captain Preston command them to fire and fired. The danger the soldiers were in can further be seen by the colonists’ violent behavior towards them, so the soldiers acted out in self-defense; therefore, the jury’s verdict was right.

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On the night of the Boston Massacre, the crowd of colonists caused a lot of chaos and noise, rendering the British soldiers unable to hear their commander’s orders, so the people killed by the British soldiers were killed by the confusion the crowd caused. Though Captain Preston “endeavor[ed] all in [his] power to persuade [the colonists] to retire peaceably”1 the chaos made his attempts useless, as he later found out when he questioned his “soldiers why they fired without orders.”1 Because of the confusion the crowd brought, Preston’s attempts to calm the crowd nonviolently failed. Instead, in the chaos of the night, the soldiers fired, against Preston’s intent. This illustrates that the loss of lives was not because of Preston, but it was because of the

Preston, Thomas. Deposition, Boston Massacre Trial, March 12, 1770.

confusion of the crowd. The soldiers were also not at fault, as the colonists chanted “damn you bloods—why don’t you fire… fire, fire.”1 Because of the crowd urging the soldiers to fire, the soldiers mistook their taunts as Preston’s command to fire. The soldiers did not fire of their own volition; instead they thought they were following their captain’s orders. They fired without malice aforethought. The soldiers that killed people did not plan to kill beforehand, but they only killed because they thought Preston ordered it. The soldiers firing because of the crowd’s taunts supports how hard communication was in the chaos, demonstrating that Preston had little control. The confusion of the soldiers can be further demonstrated with Paul Revere’s drawing.2 The bodies of dead colonists were not close together, but were scattered about, showing that the soldiers did not fire in an orderly manner. They fired randomly, displaying the confusion going on. Thus, the soldiers that did kill people were right to be charged with manslaughter and not murder.

Not only was there a lot of confusion on the night of the Boston Massacre, the mob of colonists was acting violent towards the British soldiers, fueling feelings of self-preservation and panic, thus justifying the soldiers firing their weapons in self defense. James Woodall, a witness, recalled seeing “one Soldier knocked down. His Gun fell from him. [He] saw a great many sticks and pieces of sticks and Ice thrown at the soldiers.”3 Because the colonists were boldly attacking the British soldiers, putting the soldiers in danger of injury and possibly death, the British soldiers felt a need to defend themselves. The soldiers’ had bayonets as weapons, and they used that for defense. Unfortunately, the bayonet is also deadly when used, leading the the death of some of the colonists. Not only were the colonists attacking

Revere, Paul. The Unknown Diagram

Corbly, Don. Letters, Journals, & Diaries of Ye Colonial America. 2009.

the soldiers with sticks and ice, but they had other weapons. Preston remembers that the colonists “surrounded the sentry posted there, and with clubs and other weapons threatened to execute their vengeance on him.”1 This shows that the colonists were not unarmed, and supports the notion that they were threatening. Armed with clubs and other weapons, they could do some serious damage to the soldiers. The soldiers needed to protect themselves from such weapons and used their bayonets for that purpose. The deaths of the colonists was from the soldiers feeling threatened and acting out in self defense.

Some people believe that the soldiers were not acting out in self defense. Such a person was Samuel Drowne. He believed that the soldiers overreacted to the colonists, as he stated that the only thing colonists did was “[throw] snowballs at him.”4 Though Drowne stated that snowballs were the only thing thrown, the reality is that “snowballs and rocks”5 were thrown. Snowballs are seen as harmless things, but when they are thrown along with rocks, they can seriously injure someone. Thus, because such things were thrown at the soldiers, the soldiers acted on their instinct of self-preservation. They did not shoot because the colonists were throwing harmless things at them; they shot to protect themselves.

Drowne, Samuel. Testimony, Boston Massacre Trial, March 16, 1770.

"Civilians and Soldiers Clash in the Boston Massacre."

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