Two-hundred and fifty years ago, on March 5, 1770, a street brawl turned deadly riot on King Street in Boston helped spark the American Revolution, an event that would come to be known as the Boston Massacre.
In early 1770, the situation in Boston was tense, with more than 2,000 British troops occupying the Northeastern city of 16,000 colonists. England’s soldiers were there to enforce King George III’s tax laws, including the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, according to History.com
American colonists fought back against the taxes that they believed were oppressive, rebelling around the idea of “no taxation without representation.”
Fights between colonists and British soldiers, as well as patriot colonists and loyalists, were extremely common. Less than two weeks before the massacre on February 22, a group of patriots attacked a loyalist’s store, prompting Customs Officer Ebenezer Richardson to attempt breaking up the rock-throwing mob by opening fire through the window of his house. The shot struck and killed 11-year-old Christopher Seider, infuriating the already angry patriots.
Several days later, a cold and snowy evening was greeted by enraged patriots, who hurled insults and threats of violence at Private Hugh White, the only soldier guarding the King’s money being kept inside Custom House on King Street.
During the incident, White used his bayonet to fight back, striking a colonist. The patriots retaliated by attacking the lone soldier with snowballs, ice and stones. White eventually called for reinforcements after bells – that usually alert of a fire – started ringing, sending throngs of colonists onto the street.
Answering the call, Capt. Thomas Preston arrived at the Custom House with multiple soldiers, taking up a defensive position against the angry mob of patriots.
As the violence escalated, some colonists begged the soldiers not to shoot, while others dared them to open fire. Eventually, the patriots began striking the soldiers with clubs and sticks.
While it is unclear exactly what caused the first shot to ring out, reports say someone shouted the word “fire,” prompting a soldier to fire his gun. Other reports said the shot was unintentional.
Whatever the cause, the first shot led several other soldiers to begin shooting, killing five colonists and wounding six others.
Those killed during the Boston Massacre were Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr.
The deadly event severely damaged the already strained relationship between Britain and America, giving the patriot colonists one more reason to fight for independence.
In the years that followed, the patriots moved forward with their rebellion against the crown. Facing impossible odds, America won the Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781, with the surrender of Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown.