by Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator
When thinking back on the American Revolution, we return to the state of Massachusetts, its capital city of Boston, and the numerous pivotal events that took place there which shaped American history. One such event which comprises this famed coup is the Boston Massacre of 1770. A present-day popular tourist stop along The Freedom Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre is preserved for all to see in a rough recreation outside The Old State House. This momentous confrontation between British soldiers and the citizens of Boston marked a turning point for the American people and the beginning of a series of battles for independence from the British regime. After 250 years, we at the MHS are commemorating this event and highlighting pieces from our collections within the exhibit, Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre, on display through June 2020.
On the evening of 5 March 1770 on King Street in Boston, a small riot among the civilians led to bloodshed when British soldiers fired into the unruly crowd. With five of those civilians killed and others injured, the event soon became known as the Boston Massacre. This event was preceded by many clashes involving the British soldiers stationed in Boston and the growing tension and unrest surrounding the British tax acts on the American people. Boston citizens were already participating in nonconsumption and nonimportation efforts; the fight between Tories and Patriots was growing; and the British soldiers who were meant to protect the Customs Commissioners had long been wary of their place there.
Witnesses of the Boston Massacre share their experiences of that fateful night in this video from the exhibition:
Notably, only two of the eight British soldiers who were arraigned were found guilty of manslaughter (rather than murder). This verdict sent waves through the community, and yearly commemorations of the occurrence would follow in Boston until 1783 when the celebration of Independence Day would take precedence. Had the events on the evening of 5 March been prevented, many other historic clashes including the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Bunker Hill, etc. may look very different today. This violent culmination of tension between Bostonians and the British played a significant role in the larger sentiment among the entire country.
Included in our collections are artistic renditions of the event itself, letters, diary entries, court documents, and many more pieces which describe and manifest the “Massacre” and its legacy 250 years later. With sources such as these, we are able to recognize the larger impact that this event had on the American population and the road towards the American Revolution. Our additional companion websites which accompany our exhibition are linked below, and explore a detailed history of the various events leading up to the Massacre, the many perspectives of the American citizens, and finally the consequent forging of the nation. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.