“The Boston Massacre” engraving after the painting by Alonzo Chappel
The Boston Massacre was a confrontation between patriot colonists and British soldiers on March 5, 1770, that left five colonists dead and six more wounded. The incident furthered anti-British sentiment among the colonists in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War.
In 1770, British regiments stationed in Boston tried to enforce tax laws and protect authorities from potential backlash. Their presence stoked local unease, and radical colonists began harassing businesses that sold British goods. In February 1770, a mob formed and was broken up when customs officer Ebenezer Richardson shot into the crowd. 11-year-old Christopher Seider was wounded, and his death stirred frustrations to a boiling point.
On March 5, Private Hugh White was the solitary British guard keeping watch at the King Street Custom House. A crowd of patriots gathered, and their numbers, insults, and threats of violence grew when White struck a colonist. Half a dozen soldiers under the command of Captain Thomas Preston were sent to enforce order. Colonist violence increased, and in the midst of the confusion the soldiers fired on the crowd. Three colonists were killed instantly, two fatally wounded, and six more injured.
Preston, White, and the soldiers were arrested to await trial, and the British regiments were removed from Boston. While patriot leaders like Paul Revere and John Hancock encouraged anti-British sentiment, John Adams took on the defense of Captain Preston and the soldiers, determined to provide a fair, impartial trial. Jurors were brought from out of Boston, and Adams’s defense that the offenders had acted out of self-preservation and confusion cleared them of murder charges.
The Boston Massacre deepened the divide between patriot colonists and British authorities. The divide grew over the next 5 years with the Boston Tea Party, the First Continental Congress, and the start of the American Revolution.
Learn more about the Boston Massacre through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the Boston Massacre
Editorial article mentions the death of Christopher Snider as relative to the "horrid Massacre" Thu, Apr 19, 1770 – Page 2 · The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, Maryland) · Newspapers.comEditorial summary of massacre in King Street between Preston and British soldiers, and colonists Thu, Mar 22, 1770 – Page 2 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from report of those killed and wounded in the Boston Massacre Thu, Mar 22, 1770 – Page 2 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comFuneral held for the four men killed "in the bloody Massacre" Thu, Mar 22, 1770 – Page 3 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comCommunications about withdrawing British regiments from Boston following massacre Thu, Mar 22, 1770 – Page 2 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comEditorial explains British Troops removed from Boston after massacre to avoid future incidents Thu, Mar 22, 1770 – Page 3 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comNote from Thomas Preston thanks Boston inhabitants for defending him following massacre incident Thu, Mar 22, 1770 – Page 3 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comCapt. Preston and soldiers indicted for murders, arraigned, plead not guilty & await judgement Fri, Nov 9, 1770 – 2 · The Derby Mercury (Derby, Derbyshire, England) · Newspapers.comExcerpt of letter about Capt. Preston's trial with John Adams as defense, Preston found not guilty Tue, Mar 26, 1771 – Page 2 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · Newspapers.comOpposing opinions about the guilt of British troops vs patriot colonists in causing the massacre Tue, May 8, 1770 – 2 · The Leeds Intelligencer and Yorkshire General Advertiser (Leeds, West Yorkshire, England) · Newspapers.comExhibit by Paul Revere on Boston Massacre anniversary displays his disgust with British soldiers Thu, Apr 4, 1771 – Page 2 · The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia) · Newspapers.com