It was March 5, 1770. Boston was a central shipping town, important in the eyes of the British as they moved goods to and from the eastern coast of the New World. It was night, and many colonists had rallied together near the Customs House in town and started throwing snowballs at a British soldier posted just outside. Rocks were thrown as well. They were angry — angry at taxation without any American representation, and they were tired of the British using military troops to enforce those taxes. Tensions had been rising in the weeks prior, and it was only a matter of time until those tensions boiled over into something no one could overlook.
The single guard would eventually call for reinforcements, infantrymen who raced down the King Street (now known as State Street) to help push back the angry colonists. Insults were thrown around, along with accusations from both sides, as many of these people actually knew each other by name. Words turned into a finger thrust to a chest, which turned into the butt of a musket to the head. Things began to escalate faster and faster, quickly losing any semblance of control.
The crowd grew, and things began to spiral out of control with the increasing numbers. Eventually, a Private Montgomery was struck by an object thrown by the protesters, and he stood back up and fired his musket into the crowd. After a brief silence, an unorganized series of shots from the British troops flew into the unarmed Americans. Their Captain Preston, the officer of the watch, did not order the shots, but the British soldiers fired anyway.
The crowd dispersed from that immediate area, but they would continue to grow throughout the night. More soldiers were called and eventually the acting governor would quell the crowd by promising them an investigation into the shooting if they would just go home.
Three were killed right away; one a few hours later and one two weeks after that. Six more were wounded, one quite seriously.
And as the world tends to do, people broke up into two distinct sides on the matter. Fueled by propaganda, some believed that it was another, brazen kick in the teeth from the British government to the people in the colonies. Many British saw it as villainous Boston rioters that aimed to attack a legitimate group of soldiers based on their distaste for existing British law.
Among the crowd that night was 19-year-old Henry Knox. He would wind up becoming a general in the Continental Army and the United States Army, and would even become the first Secretary of War under President George Washington. However, like many soldiers, he started as some 19-year-old kid in a group of discontent citizens that aimed to change things in the world around them.
The massacre would be known by the British as the “Incident on King Street,” and many would note it as the inciting incident that lit the spark responsible for igniting the American Revolution.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.