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Martin Kelly

What Caused the Boston Massacre?

By March 5, 2011

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March 5, 1770, British troops opened fire into a crowd killing five colonists in Boston, Massachusetts. This action later became known as the "Boston Massacre." The crowd had gathered in disagreement over the Stamp Act which taxed all legal or printed documents. There are questions even today over exactly what caused the British soldiers to fire into the crowd.


January 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm
(1) Cindy says:

The colonists started the fight by insulting the “redcoats.” The “redcoats” were trying to defend themselves so they fired into the crowd. That is what truly happened, the “redcoat” didn’t start it, the colonists did.

February 2, 2009 at 1:24 am
(2) russie says:

the colonists were pelting the soldiers with rocks and snowballs so they shot in self defense the colonists also violated the Riots Act and were the cause of the whole event

March 5, 2009 at 4:35 am
(3) A Colonist says:

Apparently Cindy and Russie are both smarter than historians. Maybe they would have preferred British rule. Officially, the evidence on each side contradicted the other and a clear accounting of the event is unknown.

March 5, 2009 at 5:33 am
(4) EM says:

Come on, Colonist. Just because someone has a different viewpoint doesn’t mean that they would prefer subjugation under a tyrannical king. They are both mistaken in seeming to assume that the colonists were all vicious thugs bent on destruction and the soldiers all were meek little lambs only doing what they could to save themselves. Well-trained soldiers do not simply fire into crowds, though I’ll bet that they didn’t know what else to do with the angry mob that faced them that day. I’d have lobbed a few snowballs myself if I’d been there…

March 5, 2009 at 7:43 am
(5) Rocket says:

I like EM’s thoughts. A group of armed soldiers under duress must have a strong and experienced leader, or this is what happens. Anyone remember Kent State, May 4 1970. Again, the students weren’t exactly being angels, but firing into the crown is not how you deal with that.

March 5, 2009 at 1:26 pm
(6) paul says:

Were’nt the soldiers tried (defended by John Adams) and found innocent of any crime?

March 5, 2009 at 1:55 pm
(7) Rocket says:

right on both counts Paul

March 5, 2009 at 3:16 pm
(8) A Colonist says:

With respect, neither Cindy or Russie stated an opinion, or a factually accurate statement for that matter. Cindy stated what “truly happened” was that the colonists started it. Russie stated the colonists “were the cause of the whole event”. Neither are clearly supported by the evidence.

The truth is not subject to a viewpoint. It is simply the truth. In this case, the truth is unknown according to the best historians. So people talking like they know for certain are just making things up and are misleading people.

And technically, Preston was found “not guilty”, not “innocent”. The prosecution was unable to meet the necessary burdon of proof for conviction, leaving a reasonable doubt. With all of the conflicting eyewitness testimony, the verdict makes sense. But, that is a long way from saying somebody is innocent. Understanding how the British treated the colonies during this time, there may not have been enough evidence in this particular example, but there are plenty of other examples. Read the Declaration of Independence, where a lot of their grievances were enumerated.


March 7, 2009 at 2:02 pm
(9) jason says:

god bless america. ok fellow americans,this why we have the right of freedom of speech. all i have to say about the subject is this. history is history,right? nothing can change the past,right? (unless there was a real time machine,yah right.who would change it? you might just want to see it for yourself.) we should learn for the past. taxes still exist,soilders with guns still exist,government reform still exist,and the news still exist. what has really changed? people still dying for no real good reason. i day,fight a good fight and die for a good cause, but don’t make the same mistakes.

March 8, 2009 at 11:16 pm
(10) Ollie says:

I have heard that the Colonist had been celebrating a bit too much with some John Barleycorn which no doubt added a little courage to the situation.

March 10, 2009 at 5:27 am
(11) Taxi says:

Who cares who started it. I’m just glad it happened. Besides,it was stones and snowballs, did the ” Redcoats” really have to use their guns? Why didn’t they throw snowballs. If I was living Back then I would of thrown the first one.

March 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm
(12) Lucrezia says:

If the Redcoats responded to insults with gunfire, both they, and those who they represented, deserved being booted out of the country. It took a few years, but that’s what happened…..Thank goodness.

March 18, 2009 at 1:47 pm
(13) Frog Juice says:

The British soldeirs were called “Bloody backs,” lobsters,” and “Redscoats.”

March 21, 2009 at 12:38 am
(14) Dr. History says:

With respect to the “colonist”, we do know what happened. Even though John Adams and Josiah Quincy successfully defended Preston, two of the soldiers that fired were convicted of manslaughter and had their thumbs branded. The soldiers had been conducting drills in the Common, playing loud band music on the Sabbath and set up a sentry point at the only inlet to the city just to aggravate the colonists. Tensions were understandably high and snowballs were hardly a reason to open fire. All of the soldiers should have been hanged.

April 19, 2009 at 4:00 pm
(15) sara says:

the colonists were mad because the british parlement wanted the british soldiers to live in the colonists homes.

October 5, 2009 at 9:24 pm
(16) Kanye West says:

Okay I got taught at school that Private white… one of the red coats was guarding the customs house (where they keep tax money) when a man named edward garrick went up to the soldier and started to taunt him. then Private white hit him with the butt of his gun and droped garrick. When Garrick got up he yelled for help… so colonist out of bars and local taverns heard him and started a riot over that… then a guy named richard palms hit another soldier named private Montgomery with a long stick… Private Montgomery reacted to this and aimlessly fired his bayonet… soon after the rest of the soldiers did the same…as they felt threatened by an angry mob of 200+ colonists. There were 11 people shot… 5 dead.. and only six shots were fired… Scientist believe dat their bayonets were double loaded meaning two lead bullets… also that Crispus attucks was not the first to get shot.. the bullet that hit him had already been through another person before it shot him.. So finally when the soldiers were trialed for murder they were surprisingly defended by samuel adams… an anti-british king type guy… who defended the soldiers by “self-defense” but two of the soldiers at the end were trialed for manslaughter… in the end i think that the soldiers were right for shooting the colonists because they were only doing their job… though… yes though.. their ideas were wrong and their actions as well… there shouldnt be a king… anywayz no one really for sure knows what happened that night… THIS IS THE CLOSESt I CAME UP WITH…

October 5, 2009 at 9:30 pm
(17) Kanye West says:

Im SOrry who defended the soldiers was John Adams… Samuel adams COusin…

November 5, 2009 at 7:27 pm
(18) Thomas Jefferson says:

The Boston Massacre was caused by a colonist who hit a red coat. Since the people were yelling at the red coats to fire their guns the red coats were confused.Thinking it was an order from the general the red coats fired their guns that is when everything started.

December 10, 2009 at 7:54 am
(19) Smart Teen says:

I may be thirteen, but I know for a fact that the british did start this by passing acts. So in turn, the colonists became infuriated, so they formed a mob, and 3 were killed while the british triend to control them. 2 more died afterward from injuries.

December 11, 2009 at 10:08 am
(20) austin says:

yes the colonists started the “boston masscre” and yes the boston soldiers were protecting themselfs but they shouldn`t have taken action they could have controlled the crowd in some other way and not have killed several colonists i`m in fifth grade and i`m learning this in social studies but since i started coming to this website i`ve learned way more than what my teacher is teaching me.

January 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm
(21) Gman says:

Ha, take that old nation society!!

March 9, 2010 at 8:55 am
(22) Pamela says:

Yes, History is History, long time gone, can’t be redone and no one is still living to prove or disprove. I read all of it written by many and then I choose whom I feel is most consistent with the truth based on many factors. Paul, thank you for addressing what I agree with, that this incident did, indeed, create an opportunity for John Adams to display his brave integrity by defending the “redcoat” Mr. Preston in the famous trial following the “Boston Massacre.” The defense defeated the charge and it was a great moment for justice and an insult to the tyrant, King George, who continued to tax and punish the new citizens through their still “British” passion, their tea. Most of them very much wanted to be independent “Americans” as long as they didn’t make waves with crazy King G.
Yes, the colonists did start it, and yes, the redcoats ended it with shots into a crowd of angry locals. The occupation of the Brits was threatening and unwelcoming and a constant reminder that they were still under the unstable and cruel yoke of England.

March 11, 2010 at 8:53 am
(23) greentail says:

Martin, the Freeport Doctrine is subtle and hard to comprehend, but come on, the Stamp Act was repealed soon after it was enacted in either Dec 1765 or Jan 1766. The British troops were in Boston to help enforce the Townshed Acts. (G,L,P,T and I don’t remember what else.)

March 11, 2010 at 9:17 am
(24) Jen Thompson says:

Don’t know how American law works exactly, but here in Britain a person is innocent until proved guilty. Therefore, a “not guilty” verdict does indeed mean they are innocent.

March 11, 2010 at 10:39 am
(25) Southern Colonist says:

Jen is correct. It is the same in the US. “Not guilty” does mean one is legally innocent.

If you read the writings of those 13 brave men who risked everything to discuss and write the Declairation, they had a lot of issues with the treatment of their families by the King’s army.

It should also be stated that there are only two govenments which have stood for over 200 years, ours and the motherland.

God Bless both.

March 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm
(26) tjb says:

I have read many accounts, most fairly close in detail to each other with one exception. How the first shot came about and who made it. One account claims an accidental discharge from a british soldier who was pelted by a thrown object. Although many events led to and created the Massacre as an event it is my obsevation that a growing sense of Nationalism could be viewed as the most significant cause of the Boston Massacre.

March 14, 2010 at 8:06 am
(27) Abhishek says:

Everything has a reason.I believe it is simply a chain of consequences.The increase in taxes resulted in the mob consisting of the common people turning futile against the British,i.e.,against the ‘STAMP ACT’.The angry mob marched in towards the British who passed this dreadful act leaving them no choice than open-firing at the mob.
Similar thing happened in India during British Rule in Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 13, 1919 when a similar incident had occured when a peaceful strike was welcomed by the British with a bloody tragedy.On that day people were observing a strike in opposition to the ‘Rowlatt Act’ Amritsar.They had gathered at the garden-”Jalianwala” when General Dyer and his troops open-fired at the mob without a specific cause.About a thousand died with a thousand more fatally wounded.I believe in both the cases the british had a feeling of supremacy.They believed themselves of the ruling groups

March 14, 2010 at 10:27 am
(28) Jay Higle says:

Anyone who has visited Boston for a sporting event will understand how this incident began. What made it notworthy was the way a Harvard trained attourney named Sammuel Adams used the trial that followed to inflame passions. To gain perspective on this event, contrast it to the contemperary Cherry Street Massacre in New York City, in which several Redcoats were killed by New York City residents.

March 15, 2010 at 9:47 am
(29) AZ says:

Wow. This is the first time I’ve seen so many comments and debate under a post on this blog. Way to go Martin, you’ve got people thinking :) No doubt a controversial issue. From everything I’ve read you can’t point a finger at a single individual or party for that matter. There was much that happened to before that served to escalate a few seemingly innocent taunts and snowballs. It didn’t help that the colonists felt fear and frustration from the presence of the soldiers; take into account similar feelings of the soldiers who undoubtedly feared for their own safety. Not to mention the taunts of the colonist and the fact that someone yelled “fire” and to this day no one knows for sure who did. Whether it was the mob/colonists or the soldiers who were at fault, I think we can all look back and say the American Revolution was one of the most important events in the history of the world.

March 17, 2010 at 5:24 am
(30) Nikki says:

History is written by the winners. So therefore what the truth of the matter is will never been known.

June 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm
(31) Amused says:

Honestly, I just find this entire argument funny. That a small part of American history, which took place in less than 30 minutes, has become a debate it just ridiculous. How about this: BOTH sides started it. Britain had been attempting to exert it’s control over the Colonies to assert itself as the governing power, and the king had made some unfortunate decisions in his appointment of prime minister, governor, etc. However, the colonists were the first to cast stones – liteally. So, really they’re both at fault, and everybody is right and wrong at the same time.

June 13, 2010 at 11:59 am
(32) albert ha says:

From what I know, the word “fire!” was in fact mentioned, but this was mentioned from BEHIND the redcoats. Meaning some other entity was determined to start a massacre. Under this notion, it is likely that a higher power told the redcoats to shoot just so that tensions would build up and this higher power could gain the needed reasons to initiate the American Revolution.
Also, within some movie I saw, the captain of the redcoats was in front of the line of fire which means it would have been stupid for the captain of the brigade to yell “Fire!” thus someone else must have said it.

I believe it was all whole big scam concocted by quite an intelligent person (or group of people) when the opportunity rose. He saw that a riot was occurring and it was the best opportunity to strengthen tension and stir the American Revolution more than ever.

July 5, 2010 at 8:06 am
(33) kristin says:

This is what I learned yesterday when I was at the Minute Man Park in Concord MA from a historian.

There was a colonist that was working for a rope company and there was a British solder named David White that wanted some money in order to buy beer for his free time. He went to the rope company and asked for a job and took less than what the teenaged apprentice was making. So he was fired and on Pope’s Day, when he knew that David White was guarding the Customs House alone, he got the help of the gangs participating in Pope’s Day by ringing the church bells. Everyone came because they thought there was a fire and David White had called a few other Redcoats over and they were quickly outnumbered. One of the Colonists hit one of the Redcoats (with a club?) and that is when the firing began. John Adams did end up defending them and two were convicted and branded – and most likely because they thought it was fair punishment and even back then they had a hard time deciding exactly where the blame belonged.

So the bottom line I got from the story is that what caused it all is someone coming in and taking jobs away by getting accepting less money.

September 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm
(34) Fox Rider says:

“But single quarrels could not be prevented, because the Boston people are constantly abusing the soldiery.” Colonists could not be stopped. They would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. Their will and pride caused the Boston Massacre. These perservering people threw insults, snowballs filled with clams, and even stones at the soliers that were just doing their job. Troops were told not to shoot, but their lives may have been in danger. Were they just going to stand there and wait for death? I think not.

September 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm
(35) Sean Kaufman says:

Who was really responsible for the deaths on march 5, 1770? No one knows for sure… but here’s my idea. Who’s at fault is pretty har d to judge, throw an angry mob, and nervous military personale who carry gun and feel threatened and it can get pretty ugly, even in modern times. So in my opinion who was at fault?… The colonists.
The soldiers were just doing thier jobs… being patient and following orders.

October 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm
(36) Just Wondering says:

I’m doing a debate on this topic and I’m on the “redcoats are at fault” side. I can’t find any usefull points so if you think it’s the lobsterback’s fault could you give me a few good reasons?

October 14, 2010 at 8:16 pm
(37) Ninja227 says:

Marcall- your wrong the Colonist wrung the bell in the church that called more colonists to the scene. Frog Juce, you forgot alot of saying the colonist said ‘come on you rascals, fire if you dare, g-d dam you, we know you dare not, You sons of %#@#%*# (cannot say that word) to fire! You cannot kill us all! Fire! why don’t you fire? You dare not fire!’ and i agree with Kelsie and John.

December 2, 2010 at 10:48 am
(38) The real genius says:

The Boston Massacre was on March 5th, 1770
It started when some colonists were drunk and started picking on 2 red coats. The red coats called in for back up so now there were 5. Then a crowd of colonists formed around the red coats and they started taunting the red coats. No one really knows why but one of the soldiers fired into the crowd. Then the rest of the soldiers fired into the crowd and left 5 dead.
Crispus Attucks was the first one killed and he was a black man. He was then followed by Samuel Grey, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr. 3 died instantly and then 2 died later because of their wounds.
Some ideas of why the first soldier fired his gun were because he heard the word fire and thought it was his captain. Another was that he just got scared and fired. The last one that I know of is that his gun was slipping out of his hand and when he tried to re-grab it he accidentally pulled the trigger.

December 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm
(39) Collage Kid says:

Im righting my final for my history class over this subject. From the info ive found im inclined to belive that the colonist were at fault. They were attacking the british soldiers. Yes they may have been pelting just rocks and snowballs but look at it from the soldiers prospective. Your outnumbered 8 to 100 (i dont know how many were in the actually mob) and all of those 100 want nothing more then to cause you harm. Not to mention reports that the mob was also throwing clubs at the soldiers as well.

December 8, 2010 at 8:31 pm
(40) He says:

The “redcoats were defending themselves or trying when people from the crowd yelled to fire and one of the redcoats thought it was his captain yelling fire when he shot his musket and the others followed his lead.
So it’s all the colonist fault

January 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm
(41) caleb reverie says:

it started when a drunk colonist started insulting a guard in front of bostons common house. after being insulted the guard hit the colonist in the head with the butt of his rifle. after that an angry mob gathered, and the soldier called for help. that is how it started.

March 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm
(42) kevin says:

From everything that I have read, it was a case where the locals were all revved up and agitated with the stamp act and were basically looking to instigate. After a few beers, they confronted the British military. Bottles were thrown. One of the young British soldiers, in fear of his life let a shot go, possibly thinking that his direct command had ordered them to fire, and before anyone could think of the consequences, several more shots were taken by the British. Was it self defense? John Adams though so and successfully defended a number of them even though it was not the popular thing to do at the time.

April 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm
(43) Jeff says:

Cindy and Russie are correct. The colonists did start it, but I dont blame them. The colonists were not only upset with the Stamp Act but with the British troops. Troops walked around Boston as if they owned the place, starting trouble and making sexual advances to women etc. Some of the off duty troops even carried clubs with them and belted guys they didnt like. This was an outrage!! What would you do if you were a colonist in 1770?

September 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm
(44) Amy says:

The colonies had a disagreement over the Stamp Act…

September 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm
(45) BabbyDoll says:

Well I have a history assignment on eaither defending the troops or colonist. I am defending the troops because he colonist had a disageement, so what? That gives them no right to start a tmult. So I just hope I’m defending the right side! (:

October 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm
(46) Conquistador says:

It has been proven that Edward Montgomery fired after being knocked down by a piece of ice. His shot killed Crispus Attucks

October 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm
(47) Seriosly says:

I think cindy is right but my personal opinion is that the colonist started it i would have fired to no one deserves to be treated like that.

October 25, 2011 at 7:15 am
(48) Kitty says:

Actually, the crowd was insulting and throwing snowballs at the redcoats. One of those snowballs just happened to be strong enough to make one of the redcoats fall to the ground, and he accidently fired in the air. The crowd continued to throw the snowballs while the redcoats were helping the fellow up, and since this was non-stop, they fired at the crowd.

October 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm
(49) Lexandra Ramos says:

Alright its both the colonist & the british troops falt. first of all every body was mad and shocked that they had to pay these taxes to the britishhh. Then when the troops came to the colonist side they just wanted them out of their property therefore, they over reacted. Being tuff plays a big roll. Some one was screaming fire which confused the troops and they started firing. Mind you the colonist were insulting them, one of them hit them. – troops were defending themselves in the wrong way.

November 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm
(50) splitface says:

I think all you are lying they could control themselves the colonist just wanted to get killed

November 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm
(51) Lulu says:

The Boston massacre started because the king didn’t think they were getting what he needed so he raised the taxes and the colonists didn’t like it they had a fight people got killed that’s how the Boston massacre started

December 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm
(52) eminem says:

no one will ever know who started this fight (unless you interview a surviver). there are many different drawing of the same event depicting 2 different views(british view and patriot’s view).

January 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm
(53) jessie says:

i think that were never going to find out but i think that the colonist started it all

February 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm
(54) Unknown says:

The Boston Massacre was caused by a snowball fight. A colonist shouted “Fire!”. Then accentual hit a British soldier. The soldier thought that he was told to shoot, and was under attack. The all of the British solders then started to fire. They weren’t aiming at the colonists. In the end of the Boston Massacre 5 colonists were killed.

March 25, 2012 at 10:13 pm
(55) History Buff says:

Let’s get our history strait here. The Boston Massacre was not about the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act, which put a tax on all printed goods, was enacted by Parliament in 1765. It was then repealed in 1766 which was four years prior to the Boston Massacre. One of the main reasons that led to the Boston Massacre was the fact that colonists were so upset because of the British occupation of Boston that had been going on since the Proclamation of 1763. Colonists had to provide food and shelter for British soldiers as a result of the Quartering Act. The Boston Massacre was a riot on the part of colonists which sent a clear message that colonists would not stand for occupation.

March 25, 2012 at 10:23 pm
(56) History Buff says:

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Townshend Act was another major cause of the riot that became known as the Boston Massacre. The Townshend Act placed a tax on imports and exports coming into the colonies. This new act caused great financial difficulty for Boston merchants.

November 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm
(57) Kate says:

The colonists were throwing stones and snowballs, the soldiers had no right to fire into the crowd. Five people were killed and only two of the nine soldiers that fired were punished and gotten their thumbs branded.

January 10, 2013 at 2:01 am
(58) hI says:

How can the Colonist be in a disagreement about the stamp act if it was repealed 4 years before 1770 by Parliament when the Declaratory act was passed.

January 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm
(59) slimekiller says:

From reading the first two commenters, I get that one of 2 things they think is ok.

1. Throwing snowballs is a death penalty offense?

2. Or they are from Israel and its the law of the land there. Shoot anyone who throws stones.

Well, this is America, and guess what? We actually value life, free speech, the right to assemble and to follow the laws of the land, so if they were breaking the laws, they should have been arrested. THE BRITISH HAD THE GUNS, SO IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EASY, BUT THEN NOT AS EASY AS JUST PULLING A TRIGGER.

With comments like that, people wonder why we don’t want to give up our guns…. well, now you know for sure, why! Can you imagine either of them covering your back in a fight for freedom?

March 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm
(60) This user says:

In a book I am reading, three colonists were killed in the massacre and two died later because of injuries caused by the massacre. Two of the British soldiers, Matthew Kilroy and someone else were found guilty of manslaughter and were branded on the thumb. BTW the lobsterbacks and the redcoats were the same people.

June 5, 2013 at 8:51 am
(61) the real truth says:

most of you arent getting down to the real reason! the real dirt is that the british army was there to keep the peace, which the colonists didnt like, and to enforce taxes, which the colonists also didnt like! the british army was notoriously underpaid, so british soldiers, which the colonists didnt think should be there in the first place, would go around the city and try to get a side job. since they got free room and board, the able bodied hard working british soldier could work for a fraction of the price. kinda reminds you of illegal immigrants today, taking cheap jobs, doesnt it? of course the businesses would hire them, so the colonists hated this, so when this particular gruop of lobsterbacks (which, incidentally, were looking for work at the docks) was attacked by angry jealous colonists, they didnt have a truly superior officer around since they were off duty and, well, the rest is history. get your facts straight!!!!!

October 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm
(62) arsenio ayala says:

The colonists were disagreeing about the stamp Act so the started a riot , which led the British soldiers to protect and defend there selfs . (thats what happened. )

November 12, 2013 at 11:25 am
(63) Trenton says:

Just because someone throws a snowball or a stone does that really give you the right to shot them. Who are they to chose whether or not someone lives or dies. i’m just stating my opinion. What would you do if someone threw a rock or snowball at you would you shoot them.

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