The town of Boston was a very uneasy city throughout the 1760's. This uneasiness quickly turned to belligerence in the early part of 1770. Tensions had been mounting from the beginning of the year with various clashes between British sympathizers and colonists. However, in early March the tensions erupted into bloodshed.
On March 5, 1770 a small group of colonists were up to their usual sport of tormenting British soldiers. By many accounts there was a great deal of taunting that eventually lead to an escalation of hostilities. The sentry in front of the Custom House eventually lashed out at the colonists which brought more colonists to the scene. In fact, someone began ringing the church bells which usually signified a fire. The sentry called for help, setting up the clash which we now call the Boston Massacre.
A group of soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston came to the rescue of the lone sentry. Captain Preston and his detachment of seven or eight men were quickly surrounded. All attempts to calm the crowd proved useless. At this point, the accounts of the event vary drastically. Apparently, a soldier fired a musket into the crowd, immediately followed by more shots. This action left several wounded and five dead including an African-American named Crispus Attucks. The crowd quickly dispersed, and the soldiers went back to their barracks. These are the facts we do know. However, many uncertainties surround this important historical event:
- Did the soldiers fire with provocation?
- Did they fire on their own?
- Was Captain Preston guilty of ordering his men to fire into a crowd of civilians?
- Was he innocent and being used by men like Samuel Adams to confirm the oft-claimed tyranny of England?
The only evidence historians have to try and determine Captain Preston's guilt or innocence is the testimony of the eyewitnesses. Unfortunately, many of the statements conflict with each other and with Captain Preston's own account. We must try to piece together a hypothesis from these conflicting sources.