Photo Courtesy: [Engrav’d Printed & Sold by Paul Revere Boston./Wikimedia Commons]
Boston’s founders were militant Puritans with very bad luck.
The colony of Boston was founded in 1630 by a group of English Puritans, and from the very beginning, it was embroiled in tragedy, turmoil, and disaster. The Puritans who founded Boston had escaped religious persecution at the hands of the British.
However, when Quakers began to settle in Boston, the Puritans openly displayed their religious intolerance toward the new group by publicly whipping and hanging known members.
Thus begins a series of strange and unfortunate events for colonial Bostonians, including several reoccurring smallpox pandemics that nearly wiped the colony off the map. But the Bostonian’s bad luck got far worse on March 5, 1770, the day of the Boston Massacre.
The only way their fortune could have been more dreadful is if each citizen had simultaneously broken a mirror and walked beneath a ladder at the same time.
The Boston Massacre resulted from years of difficulties and ongoing tensions
By March 5, 1770, approximately 33% of the adult male population of Boston consisted of quartered British soldiers. The colonists felt a mix of rage and pity toward the soldiers, many of whom deserted or tried to desert and were publicly whipped and punished for doing so.
Mostly, the British troops just wanted to go home, and the Bostonians just wanted to be left alone and not forced to play Airbnb to a bunch of oppressive redcoats.
The British upset the Bostonians’ feelings with a mean note
On the morning of the massacre, the British troops posted an inflammatory handbill on the streets of Boston. This note told colonists that the British weren’t afraid of them and that if the colonists tried anything, the British would be perfectly happy to kick their butts.
For the Bostonians, this was just too much. They were already being forced to let the soldiers live in their homes, eat their meals, and invade their lives. As that Monday wore on, the entire colony of Boston played a game of telephone together. Rumors spread like smallpox.
By the time the sun began to set, the citizens had taken to the streets, furious over unconfirmed rumors and British pomposity. A large group of them began to tease a British guard who was standing watch over a makeshift treasury. Insult literally turned to injury when the guard used the butt of his musket to give one of the men a good whacking.
The colonists became a loud mess. Encyclopaedia Britannica editor Jeff Wallenfeldt writes:
“Emboldened by the knowledge that the Riot Act had not been read—and that the soldiers could not fire their weapons until it had been read and then only if the crowd failed to disperse within an hour—the crowd taunted the soldiers and dared them to shoot (“provoking them to it by the most opprobrious language,” according to Thomas Gage, commander in chief of the British army in America). Meanwhile, they pelted the troops with snow, ice, and oyster shells.”
The Bostonians only wanted to vent their frustrations
Even though one of their own was physically stricken the blunt end of a British musket, the Bostonians didn’t attempt to overcome the small British force that met them with fists or firearms. Instead, they used mockery, teasing, goading, and snowballs.
Laughing, screaming, and uproariously pelting the befuddled British troops, the colonists were likely having a fantastic time and just letting some steam go about the whole quartering debacle. But a young, frightened, and vaguely inexperienced British soldier accidentally fired his musket while making his way through the throng of snowballs.
It was a case of monkey hear, monkey do. The British fired their weapons into the crowd, killing five citizens and wounding many others. The Boston Massacre may have been an accident, but it left the colonists with a sour taste in their mouth – one they would soon use to gain independence from the Empire.
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