Boston Massacre: Lighting the Fuse of Revolution

Have You Ever?

Your school has instituted several new restrictive policies without consulting students, and you collectively believe that these are unfair. Why should the school have the power to tell you what you can wear, take your cell phone away upon entering the building, or order you to sign a strict contract before participating in a school sport? Soon, tension rises between administration and the student body until it reaches a breaking point. Administrators and students have a loud argument at the school board meeting that quickly becomes unkind and troublesome. Who is at fault for this public exchange spiraling out of control? Will this heated argument serve as a source of inspiration for the students’ protest in the future?

Here’s Why

A similar situation occurred when British soldiers occupied Boston and tried to enforce Britain’s tax laws on American colonists. Tension and resentment led some colonists to rebel and find themselves involved in the Boston Massacre.

Boston Massacre

On March 5, 1770, a group of colonists and British soldiers came into conflict in Boston. A crowd of colonists provoked the soldiers and threw snow, ice, and rocks at them. Accounts of the deadly riot vary, but essentially an unknown person shouted “fire,” one soldier discharged his musket and others followed in suit, killing five colonists.

The History

At the beginning of 1770, tensions were rising between the American colonists in Boston and the British soldiers occupying their city and enforcing Britain’s tax laws, including the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. Colonists rebelled against the taxes, participating in protests. Street fights between colonists and soldiers were very common, and patriots even went as far as to vandalize stores selling British goods and intimidate merchants supplying the store and customers.

On February 22nd, a group of patriots protested in front of and threw stones at the store of a loyalist, Theophilus Lillie. Ebenezer Richardson, a customs officer, arrived and attempted to break up the riot. Richardson was despised by the patriots because he had previously provided the attorney general with information on their activities. When he tried to rip down one of the signs, the colonists began throwing rocks at him and followed him home. Richardson hid inside of his house as the boys continued to throw rocks, causing him to fire his gun into the crowd. Christopher Seider, an eleven year-old, was shot twice and died that evening. In the wake of Seider’s funeral, fights broke out between British soldiers and local workers.

Only eleven days later, Private Hugh White was standing outside the Custom House on King Street, guarding the King’s money, when he was confronted by angry colonists throwing insults. At some point, White hit a colonist with his bayonet, leading the colonists to start throwing snowballs, ice, and rocks at him. More colonists arrived after hearing the noise, and White called for reinforcements. Violence escalated, and after someone yelled “fire,” a soldier fired his gun and others followed suit. Five colonists were killed: Crispus Atucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick, and Patrick Carr.

Several months later, John Adams defended the soldiers. Captain Preston and six soldiers under his command were found “not guilty” of murder. Two soldiers, Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy were found guilty of manslaughter.

So What?

The Boston Massacre further turned the colonists against the British and inspired them to fight for their independence. While today scholars recognize there was fault on both sides, at the time, the encounter demonstrated to the American colonists that the British soldiers would resort to violence to maintain order in the colonies. The massacre was used by the patriots as propaganda to motivate people to join their cause against British rule.

Think Further

  1. A massacre is defined as “the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty” (Merriam Webster). Considering a small number of people were killed in this encounter, why do you think this conflict was labeled by patriots as a massacre?
  2. Who do you think is to blame for the Boston Massacre? The British soldiers, American colonists, or both?
  3. In your opinion, does the end justify the means in the case of the Boston Massacre?


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Learn More

  1. Editors. “Boston Massacre.”,
  2. NCC Staff. “On this day, the Boston Massacre lights the fuse of revolution.” National Constitution Center,
  3. Wallenfeldt, Jeff. “Boston Massacre.” Britannica,
  4. Bubis, Dan & Jax. “On This Day in History: February 22, 1770.” Revolutionary War and Beyond,