Boston Massacre of 1770 | Summary, Causes, Effects, Facts


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      The Boston Massacre was an incident that occurred on March 5, 1770, where a group of British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians on King Street in Boston.

      In this article, we’ve explained what happened during the Boston Massacre, and what caused it. We’ve also explained what happened in the aftermath, and provided some interesting facts about the event.


      On the evening of March 5, 1770, two British soldiers guarding the Boston Custom House got into an argument with a local apprentice, leading one of the soldiers to hit the boy over the head with his musket.

      A colonist who witnessed the assault began arguing with the soldiers, and gradually a mob formed, surrounding the British troops on the steps of the Custom House.

      The crowd grew to over 300 people over the course of a few hours, and the British called for backup. They eventually ended up with nine men, including Captain Thomas Preston, who arrived from the nearby barracks.

      The crowd threw snowballs, stones, and other projectiles, and hurled insults at the soldiers. Eventually, the soldiers panicked, and let out a volley of shots.

      Three Americans were killed instantly, and another two would later die in hospital. Eight further civilians were injured.


      In the late 1760s, tension was building between American colonists and the British government.

      The British implemented the Stamp Act in 1765, creating a new direct tax on colonial consumers. This led to widespread protests – colonists were outraged, as they did not feel the British had the right to tax them without their consent. Ultimately, the British were forced to repeal the Stamp Act a year later.

      To the colonists’ dismay, the British immediately began implementing new laws to try and increase taxation revenue, in part by cracking down on illegal smuggling.

      In 1767 and 1768, the British implemented the Townshend Acts. The Acts gave customers officials more power to search colonial ships and seize goods, and made it so that people accused of smuggling would be tried by a judge, rather than a colonial jury, increasing the likelihood of a conviction.

      The acts also reduced the tax on tea purchased from the British East India Company, and placed new taxes on certain goods traded by colonial merchants.

      The Townshend Acts caused widespread discontent, especially in Boston. At the time, Boston was a major trading hub, meaning it was home to large numbers of colonial merchants, sailors, and traders, who relied on being able to conduct commerce (including illegal smuggling) to make a living.

      Boston residents were also upset by the presence of large numbers of British troops stationed in the city, who had arrived in 1768 to deal with protests, vandalism, and violence caused by the Townshend Acts.

      Officially, under the British Quartering Act of 1765, Massachusetts was supposed to provide housing and other supplies to British troops in their colony, which further upset the colonists.

      Essentially, the Boston Massacre occurred because the people of Boston were extremely upset with the British authorities in the late 1760s and early 1770s. They felt that the British were threatening their livelihoods, freedom, and the autonomy of their colony.

      Aftermath and effects

      Immediately after the Boston Massacre, there was a fight to control the narrative about what happened.

      The Patriot side labeled the event “The Boston Massacre” and portrayed it as a senseless killing of unarmed civilians, orchestrated by the British Army.

      Paul Revere produced a famous propaganda engraving of the incident, which is shown below.

      Political cartoon showing British forces opening fire on a crowd of civilians in Boston.

      This engraving is not factually accurate – the British did not open fire in an orderly fashion as the image suggests, and they were not given the order to fire as the scene depicts.

      The British called the event “The Incident on King Street” and tried to quell tensions in Boston. British troops were removed from the city, and those involved in the massacre were arrested and charged with murder.

      For the Patriot side, propaganda about the Boston Massacre was very effective. The event caused an increase in colonial unity against British rule, and was used to demonstrate that the British government were tyrants, as hardline Patriots argued.


      The trials for the soldiers were held in a colonial court in Massachusetts. The colonial government wanted to avoid a further escalation in tension with the British, so care was taken to ensure a fair trial.

      John Adams, a leading Patriot, was brought in to defend the soldiers to avoid any accusations of bias from Bostonians.

      The trial was decided by jury, to improve public trust. However, none of the jurors were from Boston, as the court thought that Bostonians would be too biased against the British.

      Adams argued that the soldiers feared for their lives, and were forced to open fire after the crowd attacked them. He claimed that the crowd got close enough to grab the soldier’s bayonets, although some eyewitness accounts contradicted this.

      In the end, six of the eight soldiers were acquitted, including Captain Preston. Two soldiers who were found to have fired into the crowd were found guilty of manslaughter, and were sentenced to branding of the thumb, escaping the death penalty.


      • The first person killed during the massacre is thought to be Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent. He is remembered as a significant figure in African-American history, as the first person killed during the American Revolution, five years before the Revolutionary War officially started.
      • The term “Boston Massacre” was coined by Samuel Adams to emphasize the brutality of the event and rally public support against the British government. The word was used to evoke strong emotions, even though the killing was relatively small in scale compared to most definitions of the word “massacre”.
      • Following the incident, Bostonians began the tradition of marking the anniversary of the event with speeches and commemorations, which became known as the “Boston Massacre Orations”.
      • The famous engraving by Paul Revere, depicting the Boston Massacre, was actually based on a drawing by Henry Pelham, another artist. Revere’s version was altered to emphasize the violence of the British.
      • It remains unclear who exactly fired the first shot during the Boston Massacre. Some reports suggest that a soldier was knocked down by a club or a stick, and his musket discharged as he fell, while others believe the firing was more deliberate.

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