In Boston, the presence of the British soldiers caused constant affrays. In one of these, the soldiers fired upon the populace and killed three men: one of these men was the Negro who had excited the disturbance. This deed was called the Boston Massacre, and caused high indignation among the people: they were, however, much in fault, having aroused the attack which ended so fatally.
In the course of a few months, the captain who had ordered the soldiers to fire was tried in Boston for murder: notwithstanding the strong feeling of the excited Bostonians against him, two distinguished citizens, John Adams and Josiah Quincy, undertook his defense, and he was acquitted.
Berard, A.B. School History of the United States. Philadelphia: H. Cowperthwait & C. 1855. 113-15.
One night –it was in the evening of the fifth of March, 1770 –some young men threw snowballs at a sentinel who was on guard at the Customhouse. He probably repelled the assault somewhat rudely and this led to a disturbance. Soon a crowd collected, and there were indications of a riot. The captain of the guard, hearing of this difficulty, sent a sergeant and six men to the spot. He thought the appearance of the soldiers would intimidate the crowd and drive them away, but it seemed only to increase their excitement and exasperation. At last the command was given to fire. The soldiers obeyed. Three of the crowd were killed on the spot, and two more were mortally wounded. This occurrence produced a prodigious sensation, and aroused the people almost to phrensy [sic]. They called it a massacre.
Between seven and eight o’clock in the evening of March 5, a mob collected armed with clubs, and proceeded toward King street, now State street, crying, “Let us drive out these rascals –they have no business here –drive them out! Drive out the rascals!” Meanwhile, there was a cry that the town had been set on fire.
The bells rang, and the throng became still greater, and more tumultuous. They rushed furiously to the custom-house, and seeing an English sentinel there, shouted, “Kill him! Kill Him!” –at the same time attacking him with pieces of ice and whatever they could find. The sentinel called for the rest of the guard, and a few of them came forward.
The guard now marched out with their guns loaded. They met a great crowd of people, led by a gigantic Negro, named Attucks. They brandished their clubs and pelted the soldiers with snowballs, abusing them with harsh words, shouting in their faces and even challenging them to fire. They even rushed close upon the very points of their bayonets.
The soldiers stood awhile like statues, the bells ringing and the mob pressing upon them. At last, Attucks with twelve of his men, began to strike upon their muskets with clubs, and to cry out to the mob, “Don’t be afraid –they dare not fire –the miserable cowards –kill the rascals –crush them underfoot!”
Attucks now lifted his arm against the captain of the guard and seized hold of a bayonet. “They dare not fire!” shouted the mob again. At this instant the firing began. Attucks dropped dead immediately. The soldiers fired twice more, and two others were killed and others still wounded….
On the 8th of March, the three slain citizens were buried….
There is no doubt that in most of these transactions the mob were in the wrong ;the source of the mischief lay, however, in the fact that the British government insisted upon keeping an army among a people outraged by a series of unjust and irritating laws. This conduct showed that the king and parliament of Great Britain intended to compel the colonists to submission by force of arms, and not to govern them by fair and proper legislation.
Goodrich, C.A. A Pictorial History of the United States with Notices of Other Portions North and South. Philadelphia: E.H. Butler & Co. 1866. 176-177.
The king and his followers were determined to enforce the unpopular laws. In order to show their determination in the matter, troops were sent to Boston to help enforce the trade laws. These troops were looked upon by the colonists as intruders. There were many street quarrels between soldiers and citizens. The soldiers gambled, held horse races, and indulged in other sports, all of which annoyed the church-going Bostonians. Finally, the fatal clash came. On March 5, 1770, as the result of a street quarrel the soldiers fired into a crowd of men and boys who had been calling them names and pelting them with snowballs. This event, afterwards known as the “Boston Massacre,” stirred the whole country against Great Britain and helped to fan the fire of hatred.
Cornish, H.R., and T.H. Hughes, History of the United States for Schools. New York: Hinds, Hayden & Eldridge, Inc. 1936. 116.
Your textbook. What does it have to say about the “Boston Massacre?”
It took half a century to transform Kent State from an obscure teachers college into the second largest university in Ohio with 21,000 students and an impressive array of modern buildings in the main campus. But it took less than 10 terrifying seconds in May of 1970 to change the traditionally conformist campus into a bloodstained symbol of the rising student rebellion against President Nixon’s Administration and the war in Southeast Asia (Vietnam). When National Guardsmen fired indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed civilians, killing four students, the bullets wounded the nation.
Strangely, the turn towards violence at Kent State was not inspired by the war or politics. The first rocks thrown in anger were hurled through the muggy Friday night of May 1 by beer drinking students who could not resist the urge to dance on a Kent Street. Hundreds of students were drinking at the bars that flourish in most college towns. Sprits were light. A crowd swarmed into the warm night blocking busy North Water Street, responding to rock music.
One irate motorist gunned his car’s engine as if to drive through the dancers. Some students climbed atop that care, jumped on it, then led a change “one, two, three, four, we don’t want a …war!” A drunk on a balcony hurled a bottle into the street and suddenly the crowd turned ugly. Students smashed the car windows, set fires in trash cans, and began to bash store windows. Police were called. Kent Mayor, Leroy Satrom, had ordered a curfew but few students were aware of it. Police stormed into bars after midnight turning up the lights shouting “get out!” Some 2,000 more students, many of whom were watching a basketball game on TV were forced into the street. Police and sheriff’s deputies pushed the youths back toward the main campus, then fired tear gas to chase them away.
Saturday began quietly. Black student leaders who had been demanding the admission next year of 5,000 more blacks to Kent State and leaders of the mounting anti-war sentiment on campus talked of joining forces. They got administrative approval to hold a rally that evening on the 10-acre commons at the center of the campus. There, despite the presence of faculty members and student marshals, militant war protesters managed to take complete charge of a crowd of about 800, many still smarting from the conflict of the night before. They disrupted a dance in on university hall, then attacked the one story ROTC building facing the Commons. They smashed windows and threw lighted railroad flares inside. The building caught fire. When firemen arrived, students threw rocks at them and cut their hoses with machetes until police stepped in with tear gas. Without bothering to consult Kent State authorities, Mayor Satrom asked for help from the National Guard. Governor James Rhodes, who was still engaged in his tough (and ultimately unsuccessful) campaign for the Senate nomination, quickly ordered Guardsmen who were elsewhere in Ohio keeping a lid on a tense truck driver’s strike transferred to Kent State.
Within an hour, 500 Guardsmen, already weary from the three nights of duty at the strike, arrived with fully loaded M-1 semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and tear gas. They were in time to help police block the students from charging into the downtown area. Students reacted by dousing trees with gasoline, then setting them afire. Order was restored before midnight. On Sunday, Governor Rhodes arrived at Kent. He made no attempt to seek the advice of Kent State President Rover White and told newsmen that campus troublemakers were “worse than communists and vigilantes – they’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America.” He refused to close the campus as others had requested; instead he declared a state of emergency and banned all demonstrations on the campus. Late that night, about 500 students defied the order and staged a sitdown on one of Kent’s busiest intersections. Guardsmen, their number now grown to 900, moved into the face of a rock barrage to arrest 150 students.
On Monday, the campus seemed to calm down. In the bright sunshine, tired young Guardsmen flirted with attractive female students under the tall oak and maple trees. Classes continued throughout the morning. But the ban against assemblies was still in effect, and some students decided to test it again. “We just couldn’t believe they could tell us to leave,” said one, “this is our campus!” At high noon, youngsters began ringing the school’s victory bell, normally used to celebrate a football win but rarely heard of late. About 1,000 students, some nervous but many joking, gathered on the Commons. Another 2,000 ringed the walkways and buildings to watch.
From their staging area near the burned out ROTC building, officers in two Jeeps rolled across the grass to address the students with a bullhorn: “Evacuate the Commons area. You have no right to assemble.” Students raised middle fingers. The Jeeps pulled back. Two skirmish lines of Guardsmen, wearing helmets and gas masks, stepped away from the staging area and began firing tear gas canisters at the crowd. The Guardsmen moved up about 100 yards closer to the crowd and fired gas again. A few students picked up canisters and threw them back, but they fell short of the troops. The mists of stinging gas split the crowd. Some students fled towards a men’s dormitory and were blocked by an L-shaped building. Others scattered.
A formation of fewer than 100 Guardsmen – pursued fleeing students between the two buildings. The troopers found themselves facing a fence and flanked by rock throwing students, who rarely got close enough to hit anyone. Occasionally, one managed to toss a tear gas canister near the troops, while delighted spectators, watching from a hilltop, from the windows of buildings, and the root of a dormitory, cheered. Many demonstrators were laughing.
Then the outnumbered and partially encircled group of Guardsmen ran out of tear gas. Suddenly they seemed frightened. They began retreating up a hill, most of them walking backward to keep their eyes on the threatening students below. The crowd on the hilltop consisted almost entirely of onlookers rather than rock throwers. The tight circle of retreating Guardsmen contained officers and regulars from the two regiments, but apparently no one had been appointed leader. With them, in civilian clothes was Brigadier Robert Canterbury, the ranking officer on the campus, who said later “I was there but I was not in command of any unit.” Some of the troops help their rifles pointed skyward. Several times a few of them turned, pointed their rifles toward the crowd threateningly, and continued their retreat.
When the tight formation of Guardsmen reached the top of the hill, some of them knelt quickly and aimed at the students who were hurling rocks from below. A handful of demonstrators kept walking toward the troops. Other Guardsmen stood behind the kneeling troops, pointing their rifles down the hill. A few aimed over the students heads. Several witnesses later claimed that an officer brought his baton down in a sweeping signal. Said Jim Minard, a sophomore from Warren, Ohio, “I was harassing this officer. I threw a stone at him, and he pointed a .45 caliber pistol at me. He was brandishing a swagger stick. He turned away. He was holding his baton in the air, and the moment he dropped it, they fired.” Within seconds, a sickening staccato of rifle fire signaled the transformation of a once peaceful campus into the site of an historic American tragedy.
Like a Firing Squad
“They are shooting blanks – they are shooting blanks,” thought Kent State journalism Professor Charles Brill, who nevertheless crouched behind a pillar. “Then I heard a chipping sounds and a ping, and I thought, ‘My God, this is for real!” An army veteran who saw action in the Korean war, Brill was certain that the Guardsmen had not fired randomly out of their individual panic. “They were organized,” he said. “It was not scattered. They all waited and they all pointed their rifles at the same time. It looked like a firing squad.” The shooting stopped, as if on signal. Minutes later, the Guardsmen assumed parade-rest positions, apparently to signal the crowd that the firing would not resume unless the Guardsmen were threatened again. “I felt like I’d just had an order to clean up a latrine [bathroom],” recalled one Guardsmen in the firing unit. “You do what you’re told to do.”
The campus was suddenly still. Horrified students flung themselves to the ground, ran for cover behind buildings and parked cares, or just stood stunned. Then screams broke out, “My God, they’re killing us!” one girl cried. They were. A river of blood ran from the head of one boy, saturating his school books. One youth held a cloth against the abdomen of another, futilely trying to check the bleeding. Guardsmen made no move to help the victims. The troops were still both frightened and threatening.
After ambulances had taken away the dead and wounded, more students gathered. Geology Professor Glen Frank, an ex-marine, ran up to talk to the officers, he came back crying. “If we don’t get out of here right now, “he reported, “the Guard is going to clear us out any way they can – they mean any way.”
In that brief volley of shots, four young people – none of whom was a protest leader or even a radical – were killed. Ten students were wounded, three seriously. One of them, Kean Kahler of Canton, Ohio, was paralyzed below his waist by a spinal wound.11
John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize Winning
1 Zobel, Hiller B. The Boston Massacre. W.W. Norton and Company, New York. 1970. pg. 178
2 Although it does not appear that Andrew’s (a slave) credibility was questioned, his owner (Oliver Wendell) was put on the stand to testify to his good character & veracity.
3 Because of the red color and design of the soldiers’ uniforms, colonists frequently called them “lobsters.”
4 James Murray, the owner of Murray’s Barrack’s, was also a justice of the peace. The Riot Act was copied from the English original which stated that, “It makes it felony for twelve rioters to continue together for an hour after the reading of a proclamation by a magistrate ordering them to disperse. It then requires the magistrates to seize and apprehend all persons so continuing together, and it provides that if any of them happen to be killed, maimed or hurt in dispersing, seizing, or apprehending them, the magistrates and those who act under their orders shall then be held guiltless.” (I George I, Statute 2, c. 5 – 1714)
5 Dr. John Jeffries did not actually testify at the trial of Captain Preston. He did testify at the trial of the other 8 soldiers on December 1, 1771. Dr. Jeffries served as a physician to Patrick Carr who was one of the people shot on March 7, 1770. While tending to Carr’s wounds, Dr. Jeffries engaged in a number of conversations with the dying man about the events surrounding the “massacre.” Patrick Carr died on March 14th from complications related to his wound.
6 Based on the instructions given by Justice Trowbridge, one of the
7 From “Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Vol. VII (Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1905) pp. 8-9. Please recall that Captain Preston was not permitted to testify at his own trial. Apparently it was assumed under 18th Century law that a defendant would lie to protect himself or herself. Nevertheless, after the mock trial, the students may want to hear what he had to say.
8 The cock of a musket had to be fully drawn back (cocked) for the musket to fire.
9 The charged bayonet position is one in which the soldier is holding the musket around his waist with the barrel and musket pointing in an adversary. This position allowed the soldier to lunch the bayonet into an intended victim. The normal firing position was at armpit height with the butt of the musket pressed against one should with the other end at a level whereby the holder could take aim (i.e. eyesight).
10 Depositions were also taken from the soldiers, three of whom claimed, “We did our Captain’s orders and if we don’t obey his commands should have been confined and shot…” As with Preston’s deposition, the jury was not aware of that statement.
11 Time Magazine. May 18, 1970. (edited for younger audiences)