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Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre is an event that occurred on March 5, 1770 that helped spark the American Revolution. Tensions caused by the military occupation of Boston increased as soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians. A young apprentice named named Edward Gerrish accosted an officer on the night of March 5 in King Street for a payment due his master. When he became vocal, a British sentry, Private White left his post outside the custom's house to club the boy. Gerrish returned soon after with a group of boys who pelted White with snow, ice, and trash.

Engraving by Paul Revere.
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The commotion brought the Officer of the Day, Captain Thomas Preston[?], who came to the soldier's aid with a corporal and eight other soldiers. The mob grew in size and continued throwing things at the British soldiers. As the parties closed, the soldiers fired. In this action, 5 Americans died, including one Crispus Attucks, an African-American and traditionally the first-known casualty of the American Revolution (more recent evidence discounts this claim, however). Six more were injured. The event was illustrated by an engraver named Paul Revere who lived nearby. Revere incorrectly depicted the event as happening during the day, in close quarters, and with the British commander behind his troops.

In a post-massacre trial, six soldiers were found not guilty, and two more -- the only two proven to have fired -- were found guilty of manslaughter. Their officer, Captain Preston, was acquitted when the jury was unable to determine whether he had ordered the troops to fire. John Adams acted as the defense attorney.

Samuel Adams dubbed the event "the Boston Massacre" and used it for propaganda purposes. He argued that the significance lay not in the number of deaths, but in the involvement of ordinary working Americans in an important revolutionary event. Following the funerals of the five men, which was the largest gathering ever on the North American continent at that time, Bostonians gathered at the Old South Church[?] to demand that the British troops be removed from the city.

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