Boston Massacre Viewpoints – History as Evidence-Based Writing Introduction

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Boston Massacre Viewpoints – History as Evidence-Based Writing

Introduction: History can be explained as the interpretation of writing including historical documents, speeches, newspapers, artifacts, and pamphlets. Textbooks tend to hide interpretation and conflict. Each secondary source is the interpretation of an author and primary sources are the raw materials for constructing interpretations. By incorporating and analyzing primary and secondary sources you will begin question and answer key events from the past. Consider the demands of the writing tasks you use. You will be required to complete a History as Evidence-Based writing task, not just description of events or summary. Your analytical and historical argument will make a claim (thesis) and be supported with historical evidence. Students will share their thesis and discuss the challenges of their evidence-based historical argument in class. Reading multiple texts is essential in understanding history and your ability to write an evidence-based historical argument. To understand history and to complete evidence-based writing task, students must consider the following:

  1. History supports your reading comprehension, historical context, and historical thinking.

  2. Approaching history as evidence-based interpretation: reading historical texts and considering them as interpretations.

  3. Use the following acronym SOAP to question a primary source document: Source, Occasion, Audience, and Purpose.

  4. Develop your interpretation with supporting historical evidence.


Part I: Analyzing the documents & Answering the Document Based Questions

  1. Read the following documents. As you analyze the documents, take into account SOAP: Source, Occasion, Audience, and Purpose.

  2. Consider what you already know on the topic. Then read each document and question carefully. Underline key words and phrases that address the document based question.

  3. Using the documents provided as well as your own knowledge of history, discuss the different attitudes or positions that the American Colonists and the British soldiers and officials took toward the Boston Massacre. Try to decide what is accurate from what is bias and inaccurate.

Part II: History as Evidence-Based Writing

  1. BRAINSTORM: Organize your thoughts using a Graphic Organizer.

  2. RESEARCH 1: Build your background knowledge of the topic.

  3. Write a thesis (claim  argument). Share your thesis with the class and/or teacher. REVISE

  4. RESEARCH 2: Find additional facts to support your evidence. REVISE. Update your Graphic Organizer.

  5. 1st Draft: Write your History as Evidence-Based Writing. Remember to refute the arguments against your thesis and evidence in each paragraph. CONFERENCE

  6. REVISE. EDIT: 2nd Draft: Correct mistakes and omissions. PUBLISH

Historical Context: The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770. A mob of men and boys taunted a sentry standing guard at the city’s customs house. A group of soldiers came to the sentry’s aid and the mob started throwing snowballs at the soldiers. Mayhem ensued and the soldiers fired shots into the crowd. Four men died on the scene and a fifth died four days later. The resulting publicity stirred up the Colonists even more against the British government. British Captain Thomas Preston and 8 of his men were put on trial because of their actions. John Adams defended them and won. Relations with the mother country seemed better for a short while afterwards, but the smoldering coals of discord would soon sweep the colonies into the fires of war with their mother country.

Was the Boston Massacre really a Massacre? What really happened?

Document 1: Paul Revere’s Depiction of the landing of British troops in Boston, 1765:

In 1765, Rebels Sacked the Boston Mansion of Thomas Hutchinson - New England Historical Society (New England Historical Society)

Thomas Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, had one of the finest homes in Boston – until August 26, 1765. That was the night violence boiled over in response to the British plans to impose the Stamp Act on the colonies. The tax would have applied to all official papers in the colonies, but Hutchinson wasn’t necessarily the obvious person to choose to protest against.

The early incarnation of the Sons of Liberty had already taken out its anger on Hutchinson’s brother-in-law Andrew Oliver, who was to be Massachusetts’ tax stamp administrator.  On this night a mob wanted to continue the protest, though their anger was more widely focused. Protesters began gathering in King Street, around a bon fire, drinking and discussing what to do next. Their first move was to go to the home of Mr. [Charles] Paxton, marshal of the court of admiralty and surveyor of the port. Paxton calmed the crowd and invited them to a nearby tavern for a barrel of punch. While he saved his own home, he fueled the growing crowd for their next stop, the home of William Story, register of the court of admiralty, where they broke in and destroyed his papers along with some of his belongings.

William Gordon told the story in his 1788 History of the Independence of America:

“It is the opinion of some that the first movers in the affair meant mainly an assault on the house of the deputy register who, by various mal-practices, had made himself highly obnoxious to persons doing business in his office. But mobs, once raised, soon become ungovernable by new and large accessions, and extend beyond their intentions far beyond those of the original instigators. Crafty men may intermix with them when they are much heated, and direct their operations quite differently from what was at first designed.”

The mob proceeded to the house of Benjamin Hallowell, comptroller of the customs for Boston, where they broke in and tore through his papers and this time expanded their activities, taking clothing, money and liquor from his cellars, which they proceeded to drink. This fueled the crowd for their final stop of the evening, the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

By the time the crowd arrived, Hutchinson had already sent most of his children away and barred his doors and windows, having been warned that the mob was coming. But he was persuaded to leave by his daughter a few moments before they arrived.

The rioters smashed through his front door with an ax and filled the house via all available doors and windows. Once inside, they took everything that was movable: clothes, silver, paintings. Seeking shelter at one neighbor's house, he was forced to scamper through the gardens to a house more distant when he learned the mob was searching for him. By four in the morning, "one of the best finished houses in the province has nothing remaining but bare walls and floors. Gentlemen of the army, who have seen towns sacked by an enemy, declare they never saw such fury," Gordon recorded.

Hutchinson would describe the event in a letter:

“Not contented with tearing off all the wainscot and hangings and splitting the doors to pieces they beat down the Partition walls and although that alone cost them near two hours they cut down the cupola or lantern and they began to take the slate and boards from the roof and were prevented only by the approaching daylight from a total demolition of the building. The garden fence was laid flat and all my trees &c broke down to the ground. Such ruins were never seen in America. Besides my Plate and family

"Pictures, household furniture of every kind, my own my children and servants apparel, they carried off about £900 sterling in money and emptied the house of everything whatsoever except a part of the kitchen furniture not leaving a single book or paper in it and have scattered or destroyed all the manuscripts and other papers I had been collecting for 30 years together besides a great number of Public papers in my custody. The evening being warm I had undressed me and slipped on a thin camlet surtout over my waistcoat, the next morning the weather being changed I had not clothes enough in my possession to defend me from the cold and was obliged to borrow from my host. Many articles of clothing and good part of my Plate have since been picked up in different quarters of the town but the furniture in general was cut to pieces before it was thrown out of the house and most of the beds cut open and the feathers thrown out of the windows. The next evening I intended with my children to Milton but meeting two or three small Parties of the Ruffians who I suppose had concealed themselves in the country and my coachman hearing one of them say there he is, my daughters were terrified and said they should never be safe and I was forced to shelter them that night at the castle.”

Hutchinson later record:

“I did not approve of the Stamp Act; but I never had seen an opportunity since the repeal of it when Government could have conceded to the claims of America, without admitting their principle of total independence. . . . I ever thought the taxing of America by Parliament not advisable, but as a servant of the Crown, I thought myself bound to discountenance the violent opposition to the Act, as it led to the denial of its authority in all cases whatsoever, and in fact, had brought on the Rebellion.”

Still, the loss of his property embittered him and he was more distrustful of the residents of Massachusetts after this night and more supportive of oppressing the budding rebels.

Many bore special dislike for Hutchinson. He had pushed a law that abolished local currency, requiring gold and silver as acceptable forms of payment. In addition, as a judge he actively assisted the collection of the taxes by issuing writs of assistance, which gave the holder the legal right to search the property of people suspected of avoiding payments. One dark rumor held that Hutchinson’s house had been targeted because it contained papers that might alter the grant of lands in the Kennebec region of Maine to the New Plymouth Company. Regardless, Hutchinson abandoned his house and moved to his country home in Milton, making his city home one of the first casualties in the American Revolution. Hutchinson, actually, was something of a voice of reason on the British side. He would later record that he had tried to convince Britain to weigh carefully whether England wouldn’t be better off granting the colonies their independence, given that maintaining and protecting them cost far more than they were worth in terms of trade. Unfortunately, he saw the empire and its impudent colonies slowly locking themselves into intractable positions that would inevitably lead to revolution.

Question 1: What does the attack on Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s home tell you about the rebels (Sons of Liberty) in Boston? What clues does Thomas Hutchinson give regarding British perspective of the colonists?

Document 2: Paul Revere’s Depiction of the landing of British troops in Boston, 1768:

Question 2: Does this engraving present a positive or a negative view of the landing of British troops in Boston in 1768? What evidence can you see in the ribbon at the top that might tell you where Revere’s bias lay? (It says “The Town of Boston in New England and British Ships of War Landing Their Troops 1768”)

Document 3: Thomas Preston, Account of the Boston Massacre

Captain Thomas Preston's Account of the Boston Massacre (13 March 1770), from British Public Records Office, C. O. 5/759. Reprinted in Merrill Jensen (editor) English Historical Documents, Volume IX. (London, 1964) vp. 750-53.

"On Monday night about 8 o'clock two [British] soldiers were attacked and beat. The guard informed me the town inhabitants were assembling to attack the troops. I saw the people in great commotion, and heard them use the most cruel and horrid threats against the troops... So far was I from intending the death of any person that I suffered the troops to go to the spot where the unhappy affair took place without any loading in their pieces (weapons); nor did I ever give orders for loading them. The mob still increased and were more outrageous, striking their clubs or bludgeons one against another, and calling out, 'come on you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare, G-d damn you, fire and be damned, we know you dare not,' and much more such language was used. At this time I was between the soldiers and the mob. They advanced to the points of the bayonets, struck some of them and even the muzzles of the pieces, and seemed to be endeavouring to close with the soldiers....While I was thus speaking, one of the soldiers having received a severe blow with a stick, stepped a little on one side and instantly fired, and [while] asking him why he fired without orders, I was struck with a club on my arm... On this a general attack was made on the men by a great number of heavy clubs and snowballs being thrown at them, by which all our lives were in imminent danger, some persons at the same time from behind calling out, 'damn your bloods-why don't you fire.' Instantly three or four of the soldiers fired, one after another, and directly after three more in the same confusion and hurry. The whole of this melancholy affair was transacted in almost 20 minutes. I assured the men that my words were "don't fire, stop your firing." In short, it was scarcely possible for the soldiers to know who said fire, or don't fire, or stop your firing. I am, though perfectly innocent, to expect but the loss of life in a very ignominious [disgraceful] manner."

Question 3: According to this author, Captain Thomas Preston, who was most responsible for the conflict in Boston?

Document 4: Paul Revere's Depiction of The Boston Massacre, 1770

Question 4: How does this portrayal of the Boston Massacre contrast with the written account in Document 3? How is it similar? What evidence of bias toward the Colonists can you find in the picture?

Document 5: A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston. Printed by Order of the Town of Boston. Re-published with Notes and Illustrations by John Doggett, Jr., (New York,

1849), vp. 13-19; 21- 22; 28-30.


“…William Newhall declares, that on Thursday night the 1st of March instant, he met four soldiers of the 29th regiment, and that he heard them say, "there were a great many that would eat their dinners on Monday next, that should not eat any on Tuesday." < Daniel Calfe declares, that on Saturday evening the 3d of March, a camp-woman, wife to James McDeed, a grenadier of the 29th, came into his father's shop, and the people talking about the affrays at the ropewalks, and blaming the soldiers for the part they had acted in it, the woman said, "the soldiers were in the right;" adding, "that before Tuesday or Wednesday night they would wet their swords or bayonets in New England people's blood." Samuel Drowne declares that, about nine o'clock of the evening of the fifth of March current, standing at his own door in Cornhill, he saw about fourteen or fifteen soldiers of the 29th regiment, who came from Murray's barracks, armed with naked cutlasses, swords, &c., and came upon the inhabitants of the town, then standing or walking in Coruhffl, and abused some, and violently assaulted others as they met them; most of whom were without so much as a stick in their hand to defend themselves, as he very clearly could discern, it being moonlight, and himself being one of the assaulted persons. All or most of the said soldiers he saw go into King street (some of them through Royal Exchange lane), and there followed them, and soon discovered them to be quarrelling and fighting with the people whom they saw there, which he thinks were not more than a dozen, when the soldiers came first, armed as aforesaid. Of those dozen people, the most of them were gentlemen, standing together a little below the Town House, upon the Exchange. At the appearance of those soldiers so armed, the most of the twelve persons went off, some of them being first assaulted. The violent proceedings of this party, and their going into King street, "quarrelling and fighting with the people whom they saw there" (mentioned in Mr. Drowne's deposition), was immediately introductory to the grand catastrophe. These assailants, who issued from Murray's barracks (so called), after attacking and wounding divers persons in Cornhill, as abovementioned, being armed, proceeded (most of them) up the Royal Exchange lane into King street; where, making a short stop, and after assaulting and driving away the few they met there, they brandished their arms and cried out, "where are the boogers! where are the cowards!" At this time there were very few persons in the street beside themselves. This party in proceeding from Exchange lane into King street, must pass the sentry posted at the westerly corner of the Custom House, which butts on that lane and fronts on that street. This is needful to be mentioned, as near that spot and in that street the bloody tragedy was acted, and the street actors in it were stationed: their station being but a few feet from the front side of the said Custom House. The outrageous behavior and the threats of the said party occasioned the ringing of the meeting-house bell near the head of King street, which bell ringing quick, as for fire, it presently brought out a number of inhabitants, who being soon sensible of the occasion of it, were naturally led to King street, where the said party had made a stop but a little while before, and where their stopping had drawn together a number of boys, round the sentry at the Custom House. whether the boys mistook the sentry for one of the said party, and thence took occasion to differ with him, or whether he first affronted them, which is affirmed in several depositions,-however that may be, there was much foul language between them, and some of them, in consequence of his pushing at them with his bayonet, threw snowballs at him, which occasioned him to knock hastily at the door of the Custom House. "

Question 5: Is there evidence of a bias in this account? If so, who is the bias towards?

Is this account siding with the British or the Colonists? What makes you think so?

Document 6: 19th Century adaptation of Attucks death in the Boston Massacre. (J. Buford after W. L. Champey, ca. 1856)

This painting was made for use by abolitionists in their quest to end slavery in the United States during the 1800’s.

Question 6: How does this painting differ from the engraving in Document 4? In what ways is it similar? How is Crispus Attucks portrayed in this painting? Is he heroic or villainous? Why do you think the artist chose to portray him this way? Is this painting more accurate than the earlier engraving? Give evidence for your conclusion.

Document 7: Boston Gazette and Country Journal, Monday March 12, 1770

Question 7: Do you see any bias in this newspaper article? Who is it biased toward?

What evidence is there for a bias one-way or the other? What do you think the coffins represent?

Document 8: Witness Jane Whitehouse’s trial deposition.

“A Man came behind the Soldiers walked backwards and forward, encouraging them to fire. The Captain stood on the left about three yards. The man touched one of the Soldiers upon the back and said fire, by God I'll stand by you. He was dressed in dark colored clothes.... He did not look like an Officer. The man fired directly on the word and clap on the Shoulder. I am positive the man was not the Captain.... I am sure he gave no orders.... I saw one man take a chunk of wood from under his Coat throw it at a Soldier and knocked him. He fell on his face. His firelock'7 was out of his hand.... This was before any firing.”

Question 8: Do you think Jane Whitehouse is a reliable witness? Why or why not? What about her testimony tells you that she might not be biased to either side?

Document 9: Witness Newton Prince, an African-American, a member of the South Church’s trial deposition.

“Heard the Bell ring. Ran out. Came to the Chapel. Was told there was no fire but something better, there was going to be a fight. Some had buckets and bags and some Clubs. I went to the west end of the Town House where [there] were a number of people. I saw some Soldiers coming out of the Guard house with their Guns and running down one after another to the Custom house. Some of the people said let's attack the Main Guard, or the Centinel who is gone to King street. Some said for Gods sake don't lets touch the main Guard. I went down. Saw the Soldiers planted by the Custom l house two deep. The People were calling them Lobsters, daring 'em to fire 1, saying damn you why don't you fire. I saw Capt. Preston out from behind 1 the Soldiers. In the front at the right. He spoke to some people. The Capt. 1 stood between the Soldiers and the Gutter about two yards from the Gutter. a I saw two or three strike with sticks on the Guns. I was going off to the west A, of the Soldiers and heard the Guns fire and saw the dead carried off. Soon l after the Guard Drums beat to arms. The People whilst striking on the Guns 1 cried fire, damn you fire. I have heard no Orders given to fire, only the people in general cried fire.”

Question 9: Do you think Newton Prince is a reliable witness? Does he show any bias toward one side or the other? What evidence is there that he is biased toward one side or the other?

Document 10: John Adams’ diary entry after defending the Captain Preston and his soldiers in their trial and winning their acquittal:

"The part I took in defense of captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently.”

Question 10: Do you agree with John Adams in his reasoning for his defense of the British Captain and his soldiers? Why or why not? Do you think his comparison of a judgment of death against them to the executions of the Quakers or witches is valid?

Why or why not?

Was the Boston Massacre really a Massacre? What really happened?

Organizing your Writing – Graphic Organizer (5 points)

Introduction: Historical Context/Setting)  Thesis

Body: 3 examples of evidence

Note: Consider the opposite viewpoint





Conclusion: Summary of argument & evidence

Student Notes:

Peer-to-Peer Conference Notes (Graphic Organizer & Rough Draft):

Document Questions & Graphic Organizer Grade: _______ / 15 pts.

Was the Boston Massacre really a Massacre? What really happened?

Paragraph #1

Introduction: Historical Context/Setting

Preview your 3 examples of evidence.

Paragraph #2-4

3 examples of evidence, remember to consider to opposite viewpoint to prove your point.

Paragraph #5

Conclusion: Summary of argument & evidence

Argument Based Writing Assignments Rubric based on the Common Core Standards for ( Note: Students must MEET or EXCEED the standards below


Exceeds Standard

4 points

Meets Standard

3 points

Almost to Standard

2 points

Below Standard

1 point

Thesis / Claim

Thesis/Claim is precise, knowledgeable, significant, and distinguished from alternate or opposing claims/counter claim(s)

(W1) Thesis/Claim is precise and knowledgeable, and answers the prompt including opposing claims/counter claim(s)

Thesis/Claim may be unclear or missing opposing claims/counter claim(s) and/or may not answer prompt

Thesis/Claim is irrelevant

Use of Evidence

Develops the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, concrete details, quotations, quantitative data or other information and examples from the sources/literary text

Skillfully integrates information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas and advance the thesis

Skillfully assesses the strengths and limitations of each source

(W2) Develops the topic by selecting significant and relevant facts, concrete details, quotations, quantitative data or other information and examples from the sources/literary text

(W8) Integrates information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas and advance the thesis

(W8) Assesses the strengths and limitations of each source

Attempts to develop the topic using facts and other information, but evidence is inaccurate, irrelevant, and/or insufficient

Attempts to integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas and advance the thesis, but information is insufficient or irrelevant

Attempts to assess the strengths and limitations of each source, but misinterprets information

Does not develop the topic by selecting information and examples from the sources/literary text

Does not integrate information from the text

Does not assess the strengths and limitations of each source

Use of Analysis

Skillfully uses reasoning to tie evidence to the thesis/claim

Skillfully delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in cited texts, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient

Skillfully identifies false statements and fallacious reasoning

(W9) Attempts reasoning to tie evidence to the thesis/claim

(R8) Delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in cited texts, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient.

(R8) Identifies false statements and fallacious reasoning.

Attempts to draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis and thesis/claim but evidence is insufficient and/or irrelevant

Attempts to delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in cited texts, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient, but analysis is insufficient

Attempts to identify false statements and fallacious reasoning, but argument is incomplete or insufficient

Does not use evidence from the informational texts to support analysis and/or thesis/claim

Does not delineate or evaluate claims in text

Does not identify false claims or fallacious reasoning


Organization skillfully sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence

Provides a concluding statement that follows from and supports the argument but does not restate it.

(W1) Organization logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

(W1) Provides a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.

Attempts to create a logical organization, but may be missing some elements of the assignment, such as a counterclaim

Attempts to provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented, but statement does not support thesis

Does not provide logical organization

Does not provide

a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented

Writing Style and Conventions

Skillfully produces clear, coherent, sophisticated writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience

Convention of focus is error free or imperceptible

(W4) Produces clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience

 (W4) Errors are not distracting

Attempts to produce clear and coherent writing, but errors in conventions and writing style detract from understanding

 Errors are sometimes distracting

Does not produce clear and coherent writing

Errors without


Citations are complete and accurately formatted

Citations are incomplete or inaccurately formatted

Citations missing

Teacher notes and additional comments: Score for this draft: ___________/ 24 pts.

Boston Massacre Viewpoints

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