Recently, the City of Boston announced that March 5 would commemorate the life of the first hero of the American Revolution – Crispus Attucks. So who was Crispus Attucks? Gather round as you learn of the history of a very brave young man.
Crispus Attucks is considered the first person killed in the Boston Massacre – a deadly riot that happened on March 5, 1770, on King Street in Boston. What began as a street brawl between American colonists and a lone British soldier quickly escalated into a chaotic, bloody slaughter. The conflict paved the way for the American Revolution.
Attucks was one of those at the front of the fight amid dozens of people, and when the British opened fire, he was the first of five men killed. His murder made him the first casualty of the American Revolution.
Background of Crispus Attucks:
According to Biography.com, Attucks was born into slavery around 1723 in Framingham, MA, and is believed to be the son of Prince Yonger, an enslaved person shipped to America from Africa, and Nancy Attucks, a Natick Indian.
In 1750, Crispus was believed to be a runaway that a slave master had put out an advertisement for to return to Framingham. However, he managed to escape slavery, spending the next two decades on trading ships and whaling vessels in Boston.
So why Did the Boston Massacre Happen?
Tensions ran high in Boston in early 1770. More than 2,000 British soldiers occupied the city of 16,000 colonists and tried to enforce Britain’s tax laws, like the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts. American colonists rebelled against the taxes finding them repressive. They rallied around the cry, “no taxation without representation.”
Fights between colonists and soldiers—and between patriot colonists and colonists loyal to Britain (loyalists)—were very common around Boston. To protest taxes, patriots often vandalized stores selling British goods and intimidated store merchants and their customers.
On the frigid, snowy evening of March 5, 1770, Private Hugh White was the only soldier guarding the King’s money stored inside the Custom House on King Street. It wasn’t long before angry colonists joined him and insulted him and threatened violence.
At some point, White fought back and struck a colonist with his bayonet. In retaliation, the colonists pelted him with snowballs, ice and stones. Bells started ringing throughout the town—usually a warning of fire—sending a mass of male colonists into the streets. As the assault on White continued, he eventually fell and called for reinforcements.
In response to White’s plea and fearing mass riots and the loss of the King’s money, Captain Thomas Preston arrived on the scene with several soldiers and took up a defensive position in front of the Custom House.
The violence escalated, and the colonists struck the soldiers with clubs and sticks. Reports differ of exactly what happened next, but after someone supposedly said the word “fire,” a soldier fired his gun, although it’s unclear if the discharge was intentional.
Once the first shot rang out, other soldiers opened fire, killing five colonists – including Crispus Attucks.
In 1888, the Crispus Attucks monument was unveiled in Boston Common.
Images via history.com
Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Co-host of Caught Up, storyteller, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.
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