Monday, March 5, 2012

The Boston Massacre, 5 March 1770

 Revere, Paul, engraver.
 'The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt.,"
1770. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZC2-4913. 

The “Incident on King Street” happened on 5 March 1770.  Due to some unpopular legislation from England, Boston residents became unruly so soldiers were stationed in Boston to maintain order.  Relations were tense between civilians and representatives of the British crown.  On this day the British soldiers killed five civilian Boston residents. 

The “incident” now known as the Boston Massacre started when a mob began to harass a British sentry.  Snowballs and objects were thrown, and the soldiers fired into the crowd.  Eight soldiers, one British officer and four civilians were arrested.  Tensions heightened when Paul Revere (and others) published propaganda that spread throughout the colonies.  In the court case that followed, six of the soldiers defended by John Adams were acquitted.   The American Revolution broke out five years later, after further tensions between the colonies and the Crown broke down diplomatic relations, and the Intolerable Acts led to the Boston Tea Party and the eventual showdown at Lexington and Concord.

Since my family tree included many Boston families, I took a closer look to see if anyone witnessed or participated in any of the events around the Boston Massacre.  I was happy to find quite a few connections!

Thomas Wilkinson was married to Rebecca Cocks in Boston on 2 December 1756.  In attempting to connect this Thomas Wilkinson to my 6x great grandfather Thomas Wilkinson (abt 1690 – about 1740) who lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I found that this Boston Thomas was the great grandfather of my 1st cousin several generations removed.  I have traced the Boston Wilkinsons and found much good information, but no Wilkinson connection.  This Thomas died in 1809 in Boston, and was a member of the New North Church.  He testified at the court case where John Adams represented the British soldiers.

His testimony:

"Thomas Wilkinson, sworn.  Do you know either of the prisoners?  Yes, I know Montgomery, he used to live close by my house;  I know none of the rest.  I was a thome the whole evening, the Old South bell rung for nine as usual; about a quarter after, I heard Mr. Cooper's bell ring.  I went out and swa the Old South engine hauled out.  I ran down as far as the town pump, there seemed to be a considerable body of people and some with buckts.  The people out of the champber windows, said, do not go down there, you will be killed.  I saw ten or twelve of the soldiers with naked cutlasses by Boylston's alley.  I saw them with their cutlasses and bayonets drawing up towards the people.  I went back and stopped at the main-guard.  Were there a number of the town's people there at that time?  Yes, and many with buckets in their hands.  Were they contending with any body?  No, they wee standing in the street.  What were the soldiers doing?  They were brandishing their swords and sallying up to the people, but I did not tarry there one minute.  What number of people were there?  Thirty or forty.  Had the persons the soldiers came up to, anything in their hands?  No, they had nothing but buckets.  I took it they were brandishing their swords at the people, but I saw them strike nobody.  I went to the main-guard, I saw the sentries before the guard-house, walking as usual.  I stayed on purpose to see somebody come back from Boylston's alley, to know if any were wounded.  People were coming down from the south end, crying where is the fire?  where is the fire?  I said there is no fire but the soldiers were fighting.  At that time, in King Street, I do not think you could see a man, chid, or boy passing.  I stood there at the main-guard for about four minutes.  The Old Brick Bell began to ring, and the people seemed to come along fast, with buckets and bags.  Did Mr. Cooper's bell ring before?  Yes, a good while.  Could you see the sentry at the Custom house where you stood.  No, I stayed there about five minutes, and in a very short time I looked down King street, and saw thirty or forty people in King street; Capt. Preston came down to the main-guard, as it were from behind the Brick meeting, and said turn out, damn your bloods, turn out.  A party of soldiers turned out, Montgomery amongst them;   I was going to Montgomery to ask what they were going to do?  They drew up in two files, I think there were eight men, Capt. Preston drew his sword and marched down with them, and I went down as far as Mr. Waldo's shop with them, I thought they were going to relieve the guard.  After that, I went up by the main guard again, having left the soldiers on their march down from Waldo's shop, and passed round the Town-house, came down the north side of it, and went down King street, and got within two yards of the right of them; I saw Capt. Preston standing at the right of the circle; I stayed there about four minutes when I heard the word given, fire!  There was none fired then.  Then I heard, damn your bloods fire!  Instantly one gun went off; I saw the flash of every gun as they went off, one after another, like the clock striking.  Where did the firing begin?  I began at the right.  Did you see Montgomery after he got down there?  No.   Where did you stand when the guns were fired?  I stood about two yards to the right, in Royal Exchange lane, and towards the back of the soldiers;  I am positive the firing began a the right and went on to the left.  I counted the guns.  How many were fired?  Seven fired and one flashed.  Was there a longer distance betwixt the first and second gun, than betwixt the rest?  No more than the rest I think.  Did you see any man fall?  I did not.  There was a large opening at the centre, but on the right and left wings the crowd was close and thick.  Could you see all the soldiers?  No, I could not, there were many people between me and the soldiers.  Did you see the person who held the gun that flashed?  Yes, but did not know him.  Whereabouts was he standing?  I believe by the flash, he was the third or fourth man from the right.  Did you see any thing thrown at any of them before the firing?  No, I stood all the time they were there, and saw nothing thrown at all.  Did you see any body knocked down?  No.  You saw no ice nor snow balls?  No, I did not.  Did the people round you seem to be pressing on as to injure the soldiers?  No; had I seen anything being thrown, I would have gone away.  Did you see any blows given by any body, before or after the firing?  No, I did not.  Do you know Mr. Palmes?  No; I saw a man talking wiht the officer.  Do you know Mr. Bliss?  No  Did you hear any huzzaing?  Yes, before the party marched down, there were were two or three huzza, but afterwards none at all.  How many people do you imagine were there?  Sixty or seventy.  From the time they went from the main-guard, till the firing, how long was it?  It was not more than ten or twelve minutes."  [History of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770: Consisting of the Narrative by Frederick Kidder, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1870, pages 144-146]

My second cousin 9 generations removed is Isaac Greenwood.  He is listed among the witnesses, but I haven’t found his testimony.  Richard Dana (1700 – 1772) is a 2nd cousin 9 generations,  removed.  He was a lawyer in Marblehead and Boston.  He was a member of the committee that investigated the Boston Massacre, and died before the Revolution started.  When John Adams became president he stated “had his life been preserved he would have furnished one of the immortal names of the Revolution” [American Historical Magazine, by the publishing society of New York, Americana Society, Volume 1, November 1906, No. 6, page 465].

Jane (Franklin) Mecom (1712- 1794) is a 1st cousin 8x removed.  As a woman, her most of her papers were not saved and any diary did not survive.  She lived in Boston, and was the youngest of seventeen children.  She cared for my great aunt, Abiah, in her old age, and witnessed an extraordinary time period in Boston.  But her brother was famous, and her letters to him were saved. She said of the mobs "what a wretched world would [this] be if the vile of mankind had no Laws to [re]strain them!"  Yes, her brother was Benjamin Franklin.  According to Jane Franklin Mecom: A Boston Woman in Revolutionary Times, by Neremy A. Stern, Princeton University, The McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 2006  “A copy of the long section dealing with Benjamin's attitude to his office was made by Jane, and ended up in the British Library. It clearly came there from Cooper's papers, seized by British forces in 1775. Unfortunately, Jane’s letters to her brother for the next several years do not survive and once again she must be seen mainly in her brother’s replies.”  Benjamin Franklin did not return to Boston during the years Massacre, Tea Party and of the Revolution, but we can catch a glimpse of the family life from these bits by Jane.

My 6x great uncle, General John Glover (1732 – 1797), married Frances Hitchborn as his second wife, and she was the 1st cousin to Paul Revere!  This is my closest connection to the famous Paul Revere who is most known for his “Midnight Ride” to warn the countryside that the British Regulars were marching to Concord.  However, his propaganda posters and cartoons like the one he produced about the Boston Massacre were probably his biggest political move of the era.  Many, many men were out riding to warn the countryside about the British soldiers marching to Lexington and Concord, but this one cartoon roused the thirteen colonies to action in the first place!

UPDATE!  A loyal reader sent me this link to the story of his ancestor, Dr. Elisha Story, who treated Robert Patterson after the Boston Massacre (he was wounded in the arm with gunshots).  This link is to a post at J.L. Bell's blog "Boston 1775" 


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "The Boston Massacre,  5 March 1770", Nutfield Genealogy, posted March 5, 2012, ( accessed [access date]). 

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