Horrid Massacre

On a chilly, winter night, Monday March 5th, 1770, there was an incident that caused a shift in the relationship between the colonists and the mother country, Great Britain. The Boston Massacre was an event in which colonists and soldiers were on opposing lines on King Street by the Boston Custom House, when all of a sudden a British soldier fired a gun, ultimately leading to 5 deaths. To this day, it is still unclear who and what fully enacted the treacherous event, but author Eric Hinderaker discusses two possible narratives as to the sequence or set up of the event in his book “Boston’s Massacre.” In the book, Hinderaker uses two separate pamphlets to tell the story of what happened on that fateful night. Both of these narratives are similar in the sense that they discuss the massacre as a planned event, but who did the planning is the question. The first pamphlet, A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance, states that the colonist planned to harm the British soldiers, while the second, the Horrid Massacre on the other hand, mentions the soldiers previously planning to kill the colonists.

The Horrid Massacre narrative is framed in 3 documents, the Boston Gazette newspaper, Evening-Post newspaper, and the Horrid Massacre pamphlet, all which depict the massacre as a planned attack on the colonists as a result of their actions and treatment towards the soldiers and other people of British importance. According to Hinderaker, “Numerous eyewitnesses suggested that, having been bested, the soldiers of the 29th were eager for revenge, and this what drove them to violence on the night of March 5” (Chapter 7: Uncertain Outcomes, 160). After constant harsh treatment, soldiers were then beaten up by a small group of ropewalkers in a brawl 3 days prior to the massacre, and it is said that the soldiers finally had enough and decided to take action. In the Horrid Massacre, there is a testimonial from William Newhall in which he talks about overhearing a soldier mention “there were a great many [Bostonians] that would eat their dinners on Monday next, that should not eat any on Tuesday” (Chapter 1: A War of Words 15). This testimony goes to increase the belief that the soldiers had been planning out the Boston Massacre days prior and knew well enough when they were going to strike. “Unidentified individuals were also stationed at second-floor windows inside the Custom House and firing guns at the crowd” (Chapter 1: A War of Words 16). This testimonial, given by seven witnesses, reveals that there was a possible conspiracy between British soldiers and customs commissioners on a premeditated attack on the townspeople.

The pamphlet entitled A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance written by British officers, however, indicates that the Bostonians planned to harm the soldiers as a result of the mistreatment and inequality from the British Crown and conveys that the British soldiers are not at fault in the leading casualties. Hinderaker states that it had become “unsafe for an officer or soldier to walk the streets” (Chapter 1: A War of Words 18). After everything that has happened in the colonies of the New World, Boston decided that they had enough and began to seek revenge by means of riots, assaults, and destruction. This chaos was primarily directed at British soldiers, officers, and custom commissioners as they were the scapegoats for Great Britain and were used to enforce their policies. According to Hinderaker, “nothing fully illustrated the town’s unity as fully as the series of riots and public demonstrations” (chapter 3: Smugglers and Mobs, 60). According to the Unhappy Disturbance, the colonists were pelting the soldiers with sticks and ice and “when one of Preston’s grenadiers was struck by a large stick or a piece of ice so forcefully that it “made him stagger”, he and the soldier next to him fired their pieces without any order from Captain Preston for that purpose” (Chapter 1: A War of Words 19). This quote discussed in the Unhappy Disturbance strongly emphasizes the belief and idea of the colonists being at fault for the result of the Boston Massacre and not the soldiers. This outlines that the soldiers had no intention of harming the colonists, even though the colonists clearly had “something out” for the soldiers and were preparing for a fight, but after a soldier was badly harmed, they had no choice but to go into a mode of self defense.

By looking at the two narratives from different perspectives, Horrid Massacre and Unhappy Disturbance, it suggests that although not much is known about what truly happened that night, it is very easy to piece together an idea even if not given direct evidence from that night. As it is known, eyewitness testimony although helpful, should never be the final concluding factor as it can be swayed and is truly based on the perspective of the witness. In this case, the Boston Massacre can be split into two opposing narratives based solely on the perspective of the two groups involved. The Horrid Massacre based on the colonists perspective, blames the soldiers for the fatalities and states that they had pre-planned the attack. The Unhappy Disturbance based on the soldiers beliefs of that night, blame the colonists as being “ill” causing the soldiers to fire in self defense.