The Boston Massacre

ryanAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

Common Sense American History eBook: Revolutionary Independence

In 1768 when British customs officials seized the ship “Liberty,” owned by wealthy Boston merchant John Hancock, a mob attacked them. The British responded by stationing two troop regiments in Boston. In 1770, a new British government headed by Lord Frederick North, a Tory, repealed the Townsend Acts, but Lord North kept a low tax on tea, just to show the colonialists who was boss.

British soldiers in New York and Boston confronted hostility, and fights between colonial crowds and soldiers became common. These skirmishes lead to British soldiers firing into an angry mob and killing five people, including runaway slave Crispus Attucks. Americans were outraged by what became known as the “Boston Massacre.” Further mob action occurred when a British customs ship, the “Gaspée,” ran aground in Rhode Island in 1772 and was looted and set afire by a mob.

  1. While watching the video, imagine what it is like to recreate the events of a violent street encounter between a “mob” and authorities, or in a general riot. How does one attribute responsibility in such situations?
  2. John Adams defended the British soldiers, despite being a true patriot to the American cause, and future Vice President and President. What role should principles play in such situations? The portrayal of Adams here is heroic, but would such actions today result in such an appraisal by the public and media? Has our notion of the importance of “truth” taken a back seat to winning? Do we have examples of “John Adams” in politics today?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click here to download the Common Sense American History materials.

Image Citation:

4, Sept. 2018, Drawing depicting Boston Massacre [Digital image].  Retrieved from <>.