Drawn from MHS collections, our primary source sets promote learning in U.S. history and civics and are supported by teaching activities and guiding questions.


Investigating Multiple Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

Inquiry Question 1: Although we don't know exactly what happened the night of March 5, 1770, what does the existing evidence from the Boston Massacre teach us about pre-Revolutionary America?

Inquiry Question 2: In what ways did people's political beliefs, social networks, and lived experience shape their understanding of the Boston Massacre?

Background Reading for Students

The Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770

In 1768, British soldiers arrived in Boston, and lived alongside the colonists, sometimes paying to rent rooms in the colonists' houses. As British citizens, many colonists were angry to have armed regiments of the British military stationed in their city, but some colonists became friends with, and even married, soldiers.

The situation with the colonists and the soldiers grew tense and fights sometimes broke out between the two groups.  One of the worst skirmishes took place in Boston on March 5, 1770.  A crowd of angry colonists, some of them teenagers, gathered near several soldiers at the Custom House, where taxes on imported goods were paid.  The colonists shouted insults at the soldiers and began throwing rocks and snowballs at them.

As the crowd moved forward, the soldiers opened fire. Three colonists were killed on the spot, and two others died later.

Among the dead was a Black and Indigenous sailor from Massachusetts named Crispus Attucks.  Many people consider Crispus Attucks to be the first person killed in the fight for the colonies’ freedom.

Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith who was also a member of the Sons of Liberty, made a picture of the shooting and titled it The Bloody Massacre.  A massacre is the killing of many people who cannot defend themselves.  This event soon became known as the Boston Massacre, and gave energy to the colonists’ desire for independence from British rule.

The soldiers who were involved in the event were put on trial in Boston. They were defended by the lawyer John Adams, a future president of the United States. The British soldiers were acquitted of murder by a jury who determined that the soldiers had acted in self-defense.

Comparing Images

Use our Image Comparison Tool to compare visual representations of the Boston Massacre side-by-side. The tool contains a total of seven engravings, along with an 1801 painting that depicts the setting of the Boston Massacre, which took place in front of the old State House on State Street (then known as King Street).


    Source Set

    For elementary students, use this slide deck to explore the sources. 

    Download source set (Grades 8-12)


    Customs: the government department that collects taxes on goods bought, sold, imported and exported. The “Customs House” was the building in Boston where the British government did this work, which also had a military protective presence.

    Deposition: a formal recorded statement typically taken to be used in court. “Deponents” are individuals who have given this type of testimony under oath.

    Propaganda: false, misleading, or biased ideas presented to an audience to gain support for a particular cause or leader. Propaganda can exist in many different forms: written, visual, verbal, etc.

    Quarters: rooms that are provided for individuals to live in. In this case, “quarters” were provided for British soldiers and officers in Boston.

    Regiment: a group of soldiers commanded by a colonel, who has supporting officers each in charge of smaller sub-groups of soldiers called companies. At this time, a standard British regiment had between 500-800 soldiers in it.

    Siege: a military operation where an army tries to capture an area or town by surrounding it and stopping the movement of people / food / supplies.

    Testimony: a formal recorded statement typically taken to be used in court.

    Analysis Questions

    Who is telling this account of the events surrounding the Boston Massacre?

    What is the relationship between the source creator and the events of the massacre?

    What purpose might have led to the creation of this source?

    For the two pamphlets: Who is compiling these accounts and for what possible purpose?

    Do you consider parts or the entirety of this account of the events surrounding the Boston Massacre to be reliable? Why or why not?

    How does this account of the events surrounding the Boston Massacre compare to the others you have viewed?


    Created by MHS staff, Abigail Portu, and Kate Bowen

    British General Thomas Gage sent regiments of British troops to Boston following protests during which Bostonians destroyed government property and threatened the British-appointed Governor Francis Bernard with physical violence. The influx of 4,000 soldiers (plus families and support staff) into a city of 16,000 was seen by some Bostonians as a punishment, interpreting the British ships of war moored off Boston’s Long Wharf as a symbolic siege, and the parades of British regiments through city streets as a show of force. Others took pride in the display of British strength. At first, troops stayed on their ships. Then, they moved into tents on Boston Common. Finally, they were quartered in Faneuil Hall, or paid Bostonians to rent out space in their warehouses, spare rooms, or homes.

    Citation: A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New England and Brittish [sic] Ships of War Landing Their Troops 1768 (Original engraving by Paul Revere, 1768) Facsimile print issued by Alfred L. Sewell (Chicago, 1868), Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/3051

    John Rowe was a politically active Boston merchant who maintained friendships with many patriots and loyalists. In his diary, Rowe recorded the years leading up to the Revolution, revealing frustration with perceived British overreach and skepticism about the violence the Sons of Liberty used to advance their cause. Rowe did not witness the Boston Massacre, but recorded what he heard and thought that night, and the next day.

    Citation: John Rowe diary 7, 5-6 March 1770, pages 1073, 1076-1077, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/552.

    Before the end of March 1770, Paul Revere created and published this engraving of the Boston Massacre based on the original drawing by Henry Pelham. This piece was printed throughout the colonies and remains one of the most famous images of the American Revolutionary Era. The scene is generally considered by historians to be historically inaccurate and instead a piece of propaganda against the British military. For example, Revere changed the sign for the “Customs House” where the British government housed officials and conducted much of their business to read “Butcher’s Hall.”

    Citation: The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment, Hand-colored engraving by Paul Revere, Boston, 1770, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/151.

    ​​James Bowdoin, Samuel Pemberton, and Joseph Warren (all of whom were then Boston selectmen at the time and active members of the Sons of Liberty) collected ninety-six depositions within two weeks of the Boston Massacre. They published this pamphlet as a narrative, followed by the first-hand accounts. Copies were sent to England and distributed throughout the colonies to share their perspective on the events of March 5, 1770.

    Citation: A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston..., Edes and Gill (Boston, 1770), Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/337

    Led by Lieutenant Colonel William Dalrymple of the 29th Regiment , British officers collected thirty-one witness testimonies after the Boston Massacre and shipped them to England. London lawyer Francis Maseres used those testimonies to write the narrative of events featured in this pamphlet, providing King George III and the British people with their first perspectives of the event.

    Citation: A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England, printed for B. White (London, 1770), Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/386

    These two pages from the marriage register of Christ Church, also known as Old North Church, record the marriage of Jane Crothers, a witness to the Boston Massacre, to Joseph Whitehouse, a British soldier of the 14th regiment, on March 27, 1770. Crothers was one of only three women who testified in the trials of Captain Thomas Preston and his soldiers. Her testimony, which was supported by others, assisted in clearing Capt. Preston of the charge of ordering his soldiers to fire into the crowd. Crothers said, “I am positive the man was not the Captain.” Instead, she said an unknown man had made the order. Her marriage to a British soldier was not mentioned during the trial.

    In addition to showing the social connections between British soldiers and Bostonians, this marriage register also documents the membership and marriages of free and enslaved Black people at Old North Church.

    Citation: List of marriages officiated by Rev. Mather Byles, Jr., November 1768 - February 1773, Clark's Register, 1723-1851, pages 124a and 124b, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/6505.  
    For Teachers

    Investigating Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

    Background Reading

    Historical Context Essay

    Investigating Perspectives on the Boston Massacre: Historical Context Essay

    The Townshend Acts: Fall 1767

    The Boston Massacre could not have happened if British soldiers were not stationed in the city. And the soldiers would not have been there if not for the Townshend Acts–and the distrust between colonists and the customs officials charged with collecting the taxes.

    Following the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts on 29 June 1767. This time, the tax came in the form of a duty on imports–including paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea–into the colonies. British legislators hoped to avoid a repeat of the colonists’ furious reaction to the Stamp Act as they pondered how to generate revenue from the colonies and remind those colonies of Parliament's right to tax—and control—them. The Acts were named for Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was—as the chief treasurer of the British Empire—in charge of economic and financial matters. With the repeal of the Stamp Act, Great Britain believed it needed money to defray the expenses of governing the colonies in America. The Acts created a new Customs Commission and punished New York for refusing to abide by the Quartering Act of 1765. 

    In a series of twelve letters from a “Farmer in Pennsylvania”, John Dickinson argued that colonists were being taxed unjustly since they lacked representation in Parliament, which was their right as British subjects. Angry Bostonians committed themselves to nonconsumption, in which they refused to buy imported goods, and then many Boston merchants came together to agree on a policy of nonimportation, in which they refused to import the taxed goods.

    When the customs commissioners accused John Hancock of smuggling and seized his sloop, Bostonians organized a protest in which they stoned commissioners’ houses and burned a commissioner’s racing sailboat on Boston Common. Boston’s rowdy protests terrified the commissioners. 

    By the fall of 1768, following a period of timidity and indecision by Governor Bernard, the commissioners finally felt that they had some support that could be trusted: four regiments of the British Army. General Gage (in Great Britain) had sent Governor Bernard a blank form he could use to call up two regiments from Halifax (in Canada), in addition to two regiments preparing to embark from Ireland. Bernard tried desperately to lay the blame for the request of troops elsewhere, knowing how deeply unpopular their arrival would be. (previous two paragraphs adapted from Serena Zabin's The Boston Massacre: A Family History, p.39-40)

    Troops Arrive in Boston: Fall 1768

    When the 14th and 29th Regiments of the British Army landed in Boston Harbor in late September 1768 (Source 1), the Governor’s Council wanted the Regiments housed in barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor (7 miles by land and 3 miles by sea from the city center) but the Governor and Generals wanted the regiments quartered in the heart of Boston. Ultimately, after long negotiations, the army agreed to pay locals for the rental of private rooms and empty warehouses. For example, John Rowe rented the military one of his warehouses. 

    But how would colonists and soldiers get along with one another? The soldiers – some of whom arrived with their wives and children – were a varied group, with many different hopes, skill sets, and ideas.

    Bostonians were a similarly varied group:

    The “Sons of Liberty” was an informal network of men opposed to the Massachusetts Governor, but not all Bostonians were steadfast opponents of British power. In 1770, they were not sorted into tidy factions of loyalist and patriot; they did not yet conceive of those terms as necessarily distinct, not diametrically opposed. They were all Britons, although they did not all agree on the best way for Britain to rule. (Zabin, Introduction)

    The Boston Massacre: 5 March 1770

    By the winter of 1770, clashes between civilians and soldiers of the 14th and 29th regiments, the last troops remaining in Boston, had become more frequent. After a series of clashes between soldiers and workers at John Gray's ropewalks during the weekend of 2 March, many Bostonians predicted additional trouble was to come. On the evening of 5 March, a lone sentry posted in front of the Customs House – the site where officials tasked with collecting the Townshend duties worked in the daytime – was hassled by a group of teenagers. As the crowd swelled, Captain Thomas Preston led seven soldiers from the Twenty-ninth Regiment to reinforce the sentry, but he could not persuade the growing crowd to disperse. Amidst the noise and confusion, shots were fired; three civilians were killed instantly and two more were mortally wounded. Within hours of the episode, Captain Preston and his men were in jail, and townspeople immediately demanded that the troops be removed from Boston. Newspapers scrambled to report the news of the tumultuous week and its capstone event.

    The Aftermath

    Today, asking, “What really happened? Who yelled ‘fire’?” is a tempting, but ultimately futile question. Hundreds of accounts and witness testimonies recorded shortly after the shooting exist, so a lack of sources is not the issue. The problem arises when one begins to read the sources: In 1770, no one could agree on what happened that night either! The street was pitch-black; street lamps (lit with an open flame) would not be imported to Boston until the beginning of 1774. Observers were stationed on the street, on balconies, on doorsteps, and inside, peering through windows. People had different vantage points and obstacles blocking their line of sight. Moreover, people had different motivations, social relationships, and prior experiences that colored their perspectives that night.  The wealthy merchant John Rowe, who had been born in England and immigrated to Boston in his 20s, had also long protested British tax policies; however, he also frequently socialized with and entertained government officials and high-ranking members of the military. His diary entry the night of the Massacre expressed how conflicted he felt about the event (Source 2). When Paul Revere hastily created his engraving The Bloody Massacre (Source 3), based on an engraving by Henry Pelham, he had already spent years as a member of the Sons of Liberty, publicly protesting British tax policies and the military’s presence in Boston (like the Source 1 image). Jane Crothers, a working-class woman and parishioner at Old North Church who witnessed the Massacre on the street, testified in court that Captain Preston had absolutely not been the person to yell ‘Fire!’ Was she influenced by the fact that she married Joseph Whitehouse, a soldier in the 14th Regiment, three weeks after the soldiers shot and killed five men? (Source 6) 

    Three Boston selectmen–all members of the Sons of Liberty–collected depositions from people who had witnessed the event itself, and also talked to people about interactions between soldiers and civilians in the days and weeks leading up to 5 March. They published a pamphlet entitled A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre (Source 4) in which they used the depositions they had collected to tell a story of the soldiers’ premeditated murder of unarmed colonists. The British military also collected their own set of witness depositions, which they sent back to England to be published in a competing pamphlet entitled A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance (Source 5). In each pamphlet, depositions make clear that Bostonians knew, worked with, lived beside, ang argued with the soldiers. Following the chaos of the snowy night on 5 March 1770, and the propaganda that followed in its wake, one thing was clear: some Bostonians may have liked–and even married–individual soldiers, but the presence of a standing army in Boston had to go. 

    Works Cited

    Zabin, Serena. The Boston Massacre: A Family History (2020)

    Coming of the American Revolution: Boston Massacre (masshist.org)



    Close Reading Questions

    Source 1: Engraving of the 1768 Arrival of British Ships and Soldiers in Boston
    1. What was Revere’s opinion of the arrival of the troops in Boston?
      1. Which words/phrases in the title and/or caption of his engraving supports this reading?
      2. How might the size and placement of British troops and ships in the engraving have caused viewers to support Paul Revere’s point of view about the arrival of the British troops?
    2. Why might Paul Revere have created this engraving in 1770, two years after the arrival of British troops in Boston?
      1. What does this engraving add to your understanding of the Boston Massacre?
      2. How does this engraving relate to Revere’s 1770 engraving of “The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street” (Source 3)?

    View Source.

    Source 2: John Rowe’s Diary Entry, Monday 5 March 1770
    1. For whom does Rowe show sympathy in his description of the event? How do you know?
    2. How might Rowe’s social and economic position in Boston society have affected his perspective on the event?
    3. Do you find him credible? Why/why not?
    4. According to Rowe, in his entry on March 6, 1770, what were the immediate causes of the Boston Massacre? How did Bostonians react to it?

    View Source.

    Source 3: “The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street,” engraving by Paul Revere, 1770
    1. Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty. What elements of this engraving and caption would been compelling to the Sons of Liberty and their supporters?
    2. What elements of Revere’s image and caption might have been effective in shifting the minds of people who were more skeptical of the Sons of Liberty?
      1. Consider both imagery and the ways in which Revere describes the victims and their deaths/injuries.

    View Source.

    Source 4: Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, 1770
    1. What information does the title of this pamphlet give you about the events of March 5, 1770? What questions still need to be answered?
    2. What was the creators’ point of view of the event? Which words best show their perspective?
    3. What would you expect to learn from the narrative and depositions inside the pamphlet?
    4. How does the title of this source compare to the pamphlet printed in London (Source 5)?

    View Source.

    Source 5: A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston, 1770
    1. What information does the title of this pamphlet give you about the events of March 5, 1770? What questions still need to be answered?
    2. What was the creators’ point of view of the event? Which words best show their perspective?
    3. What would you expect to learn from the narrative and depositions inside the pamphlet?
    4. How does the title of this source compare to the pamphlet created from the pamphlet printed in Boston (Source 4)?

    View Source.

    Source 6: Title: Boston woman Jane Crothers Marries Joseph Whitehouse, British soldier of the 14th regiment, 27 March 1770
    1. How does this record of the marriage between a Bostonian and a British soldier challenge ideas about the general relationship between the two groups in 1770?
    2. How might Jane Crothers’ testimony in the trial of the soldiers have been affected by her as both a Bostonian and the wife of a soldier?
    3. How is a source like a church record different to analyze than a written / spoken testimony or diary entry? How can it support or challenge other sources you examine when looking at a historical event?

    View Source.

    Read a transcript.


    Suggested Activities – Elementary

    Analyzing Perspective: Competing Propaganda in Colonial Massachusetts


    Propaganda in Colonial Massachusetts handout

    Propaganda in Colonial Massachusetts – Google Slides

    This activity uses these two primary sources:

    A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston...

    A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England

    Activity Overview: These sources are designed to be used before the teaching of the Boston Massacre and serve as a “hook” to develop interest in the event.  The sources are both pamphlets, designed and printed by Patriots and British officials, and include recollections from people about the events of March 5, 1770.   The pamphlets were distributed in the colony prior to the trials of the British soldiers.  

    This is designed to be a teacher-guided activity where students find sourcing information from the pamphlets and draw inferences about the creators’ purposes and points of view.

    Plot Diagram: Boston Massacre


    Using a Plot Diagram to teach historical events

    The Story of the Boston Massacre – Google slides

    Activity Overview: Using a Plot Diagram on your wall or bulletin board helps students see the path that a story follows from beginning to end.  It is also a great way to reinforce elements of a story by integrating English-Language Arts skills with historical content.  Using visuals on the Plot Diagram helps students, especially English Language Learners, to remember key details.  

    A plot diagram contains 5 elements: Setting, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution. The Google slides show how a plot diagram can be used to teach the Boston Massacre.

    Reading for Information


    The Boston Massacre Close Reading: Informational Text Handout

    Activity Overview:

    The Close Reading handout contains two options:

    • Students read and annotate an informational text to understand the context for and events of March 5, 1770.
    • Students read an informational text with vocabulary supports and then write a paragraph summarizing the Boston Massacre, using three vocabulary content words in their summary.
    Close Reading Annotation: Primary Source


    Annotating John Rowe's diary entry Handout

    Activity Overview: Students read excerpts of a Boston merchant's diary entries for March 5 and 6, 1770. Rowe did not witness the event, but writes brief descriptions of what happened the night of the event and the next day; how the townspeople reacted to the event, and how he personally felt about it. Rowe was neutral in the Revolution, and his sympathies for both the soldiers and the victims is evident. While they read, students annotate for the: setting, emotion words, and actions. This activity will help students to have a basic overview of what happened on March 5, 1770, and in its immediate aftermath, before they read conflicting witness accounts.

    Gallery Walk: Analyzing Witness Testimony


    Witness Testimony excerpts and chart

    Optional: Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre - YouTube (8-minute video featuring historical reinterpreters presenting witness testimony)

    Activity Overview: Working in groups, students read an excerpted testimony of one person who witnessed the Boston Massacre, taking notes on the witness’s identity. Then, they discuss whether the witness testimony supported the British soldiers or the Patriots, citing evidence for their claim. In  a share-out, students take notes on the testimonies other groups read.

    The handout includes testimonies from five diverse witnesses: a free Black man; a white woman who married a British soldier three weeks after the Boston Massacre; a white nightwatchman; a white man who was neighbors with one of the British soldiers standing trial; and, an enslaved man whose enslaver was a member of the Sons of Liberty.


    Suggested Activities – High School

    Hook – Unreliable Sources?

    To engage students in the topic, teachers can begin with either a “game of telephone” or a “quick sketch” to introduce students to the idea that not all primary sources are reliable or accurate.

    Overview – A Game of Telephone:
    Come up with a selection of short phrases or statements. They can be funny or serious, related to history or not.

    Have students sit or stand in a circle or straight line. They will need to be close enough so that whispering to the person next to them is possible, but not so close that other players can hear. The teacher should show or whisper the phrase to the first student, who will then relay what they heard to the next student and so forth until the final student has heard the phrase.

    Students can only whisper the phrase once to the person next to them and cannot repeat it if the message was not remembered or not clear.

    The last player then says what they believe the phrase to be out loud for all to hear. (For a large class, the students can be divided into two teams and each group can be given the same phrase to start and then compare which group was more accurate at the end.)

    Discuss how the phrase does or does not change and the complexities of hearing and memory when it comes to repeating word for word phrases. How might this play out in history when it comes to major events? How might this play out in the modern day / in their own lives? How is this important when it comes to analyzing primary sources?

    Overview – “Quick Sketch”:
    Select a famous historical photograph or painting.

    Provide each student with a blank piece of paper and pen/pencill.

    Display the image on the front board for all the students to see. Give students 60 seconds to look at the image, but do not let them draw yet.

    Then, remove the image so they can no longer see it. Ask them to recreate the image on their paper (2-4 minutes).

    Put the image back up on the board and discuss. What elements of the image did all/most students include? What elements were most commonly left out? Were there any elements of the image that students exaggerated, changed, or got wrong? How might memory and describing what someone saw play out in history when it comes to major events and how might it affect primary sources we analyze?

    Creating Cover Art to Support Text


    Historical Overview

    Source 3: Paul Revere’s engraving, The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment (masshist.org)

    Source 4: A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston... (masshist.org)

    Source 5:  A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England (masshist.org)

    Cover Art Handout

    Activity Overview: After reading the historical overview and analyzing Revere’s engraving alongside the two pamphlet covers, students will create cover art to accompany one of the two pamphlets.  Then, students explain why/how their image would support their chosen pamphlet.

    Gallery Walk


    “Deposition Excerpts” handout taken from:

    Gallery Walk Worksheet

    Gallery Walk Discussion Prompts

    Teacher Prep: Read through the “Deposition Excerpts” document and select the excerpts to use with students to analyze the Boston Massacre. (Print-friendly versions of the quotes are available after the table in the document.)

    Activity Overview: Students read the background historical overview and analyze the covers of Source 4: Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre and Source 5: A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston. Now, they are ready to dive into some of the depositions in the two pamphlets. For the gallery walk, display the selected excerpts around the room and provide students with the Gallery Walk Worksheet. Students will walk around the classroom analyzing the excerpts on their worksheet. Each of the documents gives information on a different part of the story and students will decide which perspective they believe is being supported by the document and which of the two pamphlets they believe the deposition was taken from.

    At the end, students review correct answers and discuss (whole group) or write (individually) about one or more of the discussion prompts.

    Multiple Perspectives Jigsaw


    Boston Massacre Jigsaw Teacher Directions 

    Deposition Excerpts - Jigsaw Handout

    Boston Massacre Jigsaw: Student Directions

    Boston Massacre Jigsaw: discussion prompts

    Teacher Prep:

    Choose and print deposition excerpts from the handout for students to use.

    Activity Overview: Students work in groups to read excerpts from the two pamphlets containing depositions from the Boston Massacre. They then summarize the topic / issue and point of view expressed in their text set. Students will also address the credibility / accuracy of the sources they examined in their summaries. After 20 minutes, each group shares out with the whole class, and takes notes on one another’s text sets. Following the jigsaw, students can continue to discuss as a class or write individually on one or more of the discussion prompts.

    Political Expression – Then and Now


    “Expressing Our Opinions” Worksheet

    Activity Overview: Students examine all of the ways voices and opinions are expressed today in comparison to the ways that existed in 1770 Boston. Before this activity, students should read the background historical overview. As homework, students research and think about the different ways they hear/look for news today. In class, students examine the primary sources in this set (teacher can choose which the sources) and fill out the Expressing Our Opinions Worksheet. The teacher should then facilitate a class discussion, think-pair-share, or small group discussion for students to explain their thinking and opinions.


    Applicable Standards

    MA History and Social Science Frameworks

    Skill Standards
    Organize information and data from multiple primary and secondary sources

    Analyze the purpose and point of view of each source; distinguish opinion from fact.

    Evaluate the credibility, accuracy, and relevance of each source.

    Argue or explain conclusions using valid reasoning and evidence

    Content Standards
    Grade 3, Topic 6, Topic 6. Massachusetts in the 18th century through the American Revolution

    Grade 5, Topic 2. Reasons for revolution, the Revolutionary War, and the formation of government

    Grade 8.
    Topic 1. The philosophical foundations of the U.S. political system
    Topic 2. The development of the U.S. government
    Topic 4. Rights and responsibilities of citizens

    US History 1, Topic 1. Origins of the Revolution and the Constitution

    C3 Frameworks

    D2.His.4.3-5. Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives.

    D2.His.11.3-5. Infer the intended audience and purpose of a historical source from information within the source itself.

    D2.His.16.3-5. Use evidence to develop a claim about the past.

    D2.His.6.6-8. Analyze how people’s perspectives influenced what information is available in the historical sources they created.

    D2.His.10.6-8. Detect possible limitations in the historical record based on evidence collected from different kind of historical sources.

    D2.His.4.9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.

    D2.His.6.9-12. Analyze the ways in which the perspectives of those writing history shaped the history that they produced.

    D2.His.10.9-12. Detect possible limitations in various kinds of historical evidence and differing secondary interpretations.


    Additional Resources
    Additional Images Depicting the Boston Massacre

    Use the Image Comparison Tool to compare engravings of the Boston Massacre in the MHS collections side-by-side.

    Images include:

    • State Street, 1801: James Brown Marston's painting depicts the site of the Boston Massacre, in front of the old State House (then known as the Town House). "King Street" was renamed "State Street" in 1784, following the end of the Revolutionary War.
    • Bingley engraving: Published by W. Bingley of London, it was based on Henry Pelham's original print and originally designed as the frontispiece for the pamphlet A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. It was also sold separately.
    • Dilly engraving: Based on Henry Pelham's, this engraving was used as the frontispiece for the second edition of the pamphlet A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre
    • Mullikan engraving: The clockmaker Joseph Mulliken based this image on Paul Revere's engraving, and printed it in Newburyport, MA.
    • Revere's 1772 woodcut engraving: Paul Revere based this image on his 1770 engraving; it was used in a broadside commemorating the Boston Massacre and was also printed in a 1772 Massachusetts almanac.  
    • 1835 Hartwell woodcut: Based on Paul Revere's 1770 engraving, this image was printed in various magazines in the 1830s and '40s.
    • 1856 Bufford lithograph: Unlike the earlier images that features all victims and bystanders as white, this lithograph centers Crispus Attucks, a Black and Indigenous man

    Henry Pelham’s Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre (American Antiquarian Society)

    Paul Revere based his engraving of the Boston Massacre on one done first by Henry Pelham (a Bostonian and future Loyalist). View Pelham’s original engraving at the AAS website.


    MHS Web Features

    Coming of the American Revolution: Boston Massacre (masshist.org)

    Explore additional primary sources related to the Boston Massacre, and the earlier death of Christopher Seider, in this digital textbook produced by the MHS.

    Perspectives on the Boston Massacre - Massachusetts Historical Society (masshist.org)

    Examine materials from a variety of source types to learn more about the varying perspectives and experiences regarding March 5, 1770.

    Massachusetts Historical Society | Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre (masshist.org)

    In 2020, the MHS organized an exhibition featuring handwritten and published sources with compelling accounts of the confrontation, the aftermath, and the trials. This website is the digital companion to the physical exhibit.

    Secondary Sources at other Institutions

    Revolutionary Spaces is a museum based at the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre that explores connections between the past and present.


    Old North Church

    • Illuminating the Unseen | The Old North Church From the website of Old North Church: “Illuminating the Unseen is a video series produced by Old North Illuminated that studies the histories of Black and Indigenous peoples. Written and presented by our Research Fellow, Dr. Jaimie Crumley, the series dives into Old North’s archival documents to shine a light on those who have often been excluded in the church’s broader historical narrative.”

    • The Occupation of 1768 and the Threat to Boston | The Old North Church & Historic Site British soldiers arrived in Boston, MA in 1768 and departed in the spring of 1770. This article situates the Boston Massacre within the timeline of the British occupation, and examines the ways in which it did and did not influence the British Parliament to withdraw troops from the city.


    Boston 1775, a blog run by Massachusetts writer J.L. Bell, specializes in the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.




    "Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre" is an eight-minute video featuring reenactors reciting portions of actual depositions of people who witnessed the events on King Street the night of 5 March 1770. Although they all witnessed the happenings, they stood in different locations and their accounts are not consistent with one another.

    The historical figures portrayed are: 

    • Captain-Lieutenant John Goldfinch of the 14th Regiment (the soldiers who fired their weapons came from the 29th Regiment)
    • Edward Garrick (or Gerrish), a young wigmaker’s apprentice
    • Edward Payne, a merchant who lived near the Custom House, Payne was shot by a soldier but survived (the MHS has the bullets that pierced his arm)
    • Newton Prince, a free Black man (a lemon merchant and pastry cook—about 35 years old)
    • Jane Crothers (she married a British soldier named Joseph Whitehouse soon after the shootings)
    • Charles Bourgate, a French Canadian indentured servant of Edward Manwaring
    • Elizabeth Avery, a maid who lived and worked in the Custom House

    Read the script (the excerpted depositions) for each historical figure.



    Questions or suggestions? Contact us at education@masshist.org.