Picture Source

On the evening of March 5, 1770, a mob of rowdy Bostonians taunted and abused British soldiers on guard duty outside of the Customs House. As tensions escalated, soldiers fired into the crowd. When the smoke cleared, four men were dead; a fifth later died from his injuries. In the aftermath of the event, the British soldiers were put on trial and acquitted for their actions, in large part due to their defense attorney, Boston lawyer John Adams. Nevertheless, the so-called “Boston Massacre” became a compelling propaganda image for the emergent patriot movement to rally colonists to their side. In truth, how and why the violence unfolded that evening is more complicated and nuanced than a simple political dispute. This kit allows you to examine different accounts of the Boston Massacre and the ensuing trial to explore what actually happened in Boston that fateful night. –Prof. Lauren Duval

Please note: the links in these kits go to either a source on the web, an OU Libraries’ resource, requiring you to login with your OUNetID (4×4), or a companion Canvas page, requiring you to enroll here before you can access the document. The links open in a new window/tab. Report link problems to lscrivener@ou.edu.

Primary Sources: Original Documents from the Time

Images

“Boston Massacre Imagery Comparison.” Perspectives on the Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Revere, Paul. “The bloody massacre perpetrated in King-Street Boston.” Print. Boston: Paul Revere, 1770. Digital Commonwealth.

Newspapers and Broadsides

“[Announcement of Patrick Carr’s Death].” The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, March 19, 1770, p. 3.

The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, March 12, 1770, pp. 3-4.

“[Excerpt].” The London Chronicle, April 26-28, 1770.

“A Poem, in Memory of the (never to be forgotten) Fifth of March, 1770.” Broadside. Boston, Mass. 1770.

“On the Trial of the Inhuman Murderers, Of the 5th of March, 1770.” Broadside. Boston, Mass. 1770.

“A Verse Occasioned by the late horrid Massacre in King-Street.” Broadside. Boston, Mass. 1770.

Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs

Adams, John, “Notes on the Boston Massacre Trials: Captn. Prestons Case.” 1770. Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Committee of Boston Selectmen. “Letter to Benjamin Franklin,” July 13, 1770. Perspectives on the Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Gage, Thomas. “Letter to Thomas Hutchinson,” April 30, 1770. Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

“George Hewes’ Recollection of the Boston Massacre.” History Matters. George Mason University.

Oliver Jr., Andrew. “Letter to Benjamin Lynde,” July 6-7, 1770. Boston MassacreMassachusetts Historical Society.

Savage, Samuel P. “Diary, 2 unnumbered pages, 1-10 March 1770.” Boston MassacreMassachusetts Historical Society.

Townsend, Gregory. “Letter to Jonathan Townsend,” March 15, 1770. Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Trials and Depositions

“Deposition of Joseph Belknap regarding 5 March 1770, manuscript copy by Jeremy Belknap, [1770].” Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

“A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston…” 1770. Boston Massacre. Massachusetts Historical Society.

  • p. 1-38 [images 1-38]: a narrative overview and short descriptions of depositions
  • p. 81-83 [images 119-121]: an index of depositions
  • p. 39-80 [images 39-118]: primary source depositions.

Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written

Kachun, Mitch. “From Forgotten Founder to Indispensable Icon: Crispus Attacks, Black Citizenship, and Collective Memory, 1770-1865.” Journal of the Early Republic 29, no. 2 (2009): 249–86. 

Reid, John Phillip. “A Lawyer Acquitted: John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trials.” The American Journal of Legal History 18, no. 3 (1974): 189–207.

York, Neil Longley. “Rival Truths, Political Accommodation, and the Boston ‘Massacre.’” Massachusetts Historical Review 11 (2009): 57–95.

Zabin, Serena. “Intimate Ties and the Boston Massacre.” In Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World, edited by Barbara Oberg, 192–210. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019. (Companion Canvas page.)