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Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

“As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right”: Memory & Legacy

In the years immediately following the Boston Massacre, local residents began to commemorate the incident annually—on or near the date of March 5. These tributes appeared as special orations, poetry, and visual representations.

On April 2, 1771, only a little more than three months after the trials growing out of the Boston Massacre ended, James Lovell delivered an oration at the request of the townspeople of Boston to mark the first anniversary of the “bloody tragedy.”

From 1771 until 1783, when the commemoration of the Massacre was superseded by the celebration of independence on the Fourth of July, a leader of the patriot movement gave an address each year on or near the date of the anniversary. The addresses were, for the most part, not detailed depictions of the events of March 5, 1770, but more general arguments against the presence of “mercenary standing armies cantoned in free cities.”

Boston Massacre bullets
Lead, circa 1770

Joseph Warren gave the address in 1772. The published version of his oration gave readers enough exclamation marks and upper case text: “THE FATAL FIFTH OF MARCH 1770, CAN NEVER BE FORGOTTEN,” to give them a sense of his delivery. In 1775, just a few months before his death at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Joseph Warren, clad in a toga, gave a second Boston Massacre address. The following year, Peter Thacher, later a founder of the Historical Society, delivered his oration outside of besieged Boston in Watertown.

Joseph Warren
Portrait, oil on panel by Edward Savage, after portrait by John Singleton Copley
An Oration Delivered March 5th, 1772
Oration by Joseph Warren, from the Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.