Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE BOSTON MASSACRE
OLDIERS who would be mean enough to bother little boys as these
soldiers had done, would be pretty sure to get into
trouble with the citizens by their mean acts.
They had entered the town, one quiet Sabbath morning,
but instead of coming in quietly and doing whatever was
necessary to do in a quiet way, they came in with
colors flying, and drums beating, as if, for all the
world, they had conquered the city. Then, as if this
were not insult enough, they took possession of the
State House, and then marched to the Common, where they
set up their tents, planted their cannon, and indicated
to the enraged citizens, in every way, that they were
going to stay.
Frequent quarrels took place between these soldiers and
the people. One day they fell into an "out-and-out"
Nathaniel Hawthorne, an author who has written such
beautiful stories for you children,—The Snow
Image; A Wonder Book;
etc.,—gives the following account of the Boston
It was now the 3d of March, 1770. The sunset music of
the British regiments was heard as usual throughout the
town. The shrill fife and rattling drum awoke the
echoes in King street, while the last ray of sunshine
was lingering on the cupola of the town-house. And now
all the sentinels were posted. One of them marched up
and down before
 the custom-house, treading a short path through the
snow, and longing for the time when he would be
dismissed to the warm fireside of the guard-room.
In the course of the evening there were two or three
slight commotions, which seemed to indicate that
trouble was at hand. Small parties of young men stood
at the corners of the street, or walked along the
narrow pavements. Squads of soldiers, who were
dismissed from duty, passed by them, shoulder to
shoulder, with the regular step which they had learned
at the drill. Whenever these encounters took place, it
appeared to be the object of the young men to treat the
soldiers with as much incivility as possible.
"Turn out, you lobster-back!" one would say. "Crowd
them off the side-walks!" another would cry. "A
redcoat has no right in Boston streets." "Oh, you
rebel rascals!" perhaps the soldiers would reply,
glaring fiercely at the young men. "Some day or other
we'll make our way through Boston streets at the point
of the bayonet!"
Once or twice such disputes as these brought on a
scuffle; which passed off, however, without attracting
much notice. About eight o'clock, for some unknown
cause, an alarm-bell rang loudly and hurriedly. At the
sound many people ran out of their houses, supposing it
to be an alarm of fire. But there were no flames to be
seen, nor was there any smell of smoke in the clear,
frosty air; so that most of the
 townsmen went back to their own firesides. Others, who
were younger and less prudent, remained in the streets.
Later in the evening, not far from nine o'clock,
several young men passed down King street, toward the
custom-house. When they drew near the sentinel, he
halted on his post, and took his musket from his
shoulder, ready to present the bayonet at their
breasts. "Who goes there?" he cried in the gruff tone
of a soldier's challenge. The young men, being Boston
boys, felt as they had a right to walk in their own
streets without being accountable to a British
red-coat. They made some rude answer to the sentinel.
There was a dispute, or perhaps a scuffle. Other
soldiers heard the noise, and ran hastily from the
barracks to assist their comrade.
At the same time many of the townspeople rushed into
King street by various avenues, and gathered in a crowd
about the custom-house. It seemed wonderful how such a
multitude had started up all of a sudden. The wrongs
and insults which the people had been suffering for
many months now kindled them into a rage. They threw
snowballs and lumps of ice at the soldiers. As the
tumult grew louder, it reached the ears of Captain
Preston, the officer of the day. He immediately
ordered eight soldiers of the main guard to take their
muskets and follow him. They marched across the
street, forcing their way roughly through the crowd,
and pricking the townspeople with their bayonets.
 A gentleman (it was Henry Knox, afterwards general of
the American Artillery) caught Captain Preston's arm.
"For heaven's sake, sir," exclaimed he, "take heed what
you do, or there will be bloodshed!" "Stand aside!"
answered Captain Preston, haughtily; "do not interfere,
sir. Leave me to manage the affair." Arriving at the
sentinel's post, Captain Preston drew up his men in a
semicircle, with their faces to the crowd. When the
people saw the officer, and beheld the threatening
attitude with which the soldiers fronted them, their
rage became almost uncontrollable.
"Fire, you lobster-backs!" bellowed some. "You dare
not fire, you cowardly red-coats," cried others. "Rush
upon them," shouted many voices. "Drive the rascals to
their barracks! Down with them! Down with them!"
"Let them fire if they dare!" Amid the uproar, the
soldiers stood glaring at the people with the
fierceness of men whose trade was to shed blood.
Oh, what a crisis had now arrived! Up to this very
moment the angry feelings between England and America
might have been pacified. England had but to stretch
out the hand of reconciliation, and acknowledge that
she had hitherto mistaken her rights, but would do so
no more. Then the ancient bonds of brotherhood would
again have been knit together as firmly as in old
times. But, should the king's soldiers shed one drop
of American blood, then
 it was a quarrel to the death. Never, never would
America rest satisfied, until she had torn down royal
authority, and trampled it in the dust.
"Fire, if you dare, villains!" hoarsely shouted the
people, while the muzzles of the muskets were turned
upon them: "you dare not fire!" They appeared ready to
rush upon the levelled bayonets. Captain Preston waved
his sword, and uttered a command which could not be
distinctly heard amid the uproar of shouts that issued
from a hundred throats. But his soldiers deemed that
he had spoken the fatal mandate, "Fire!" The flash of
their muskets lighted up the street, and the report
rang loudly between the edifices.
A gush of smoke overspread the scene. It rose heavily,
as if it were loath to reveal the dreadful spectacle
beneath it. Eleven of the sons of New England lay
stretched upon the street. Some, sorely wounded, were
struggling to rise again. Others stirred not, nor
groaned, for they were past all pain. Blood was
streaming upon the snow; and that purple stain, in the
midst of King Street, though it melted away in the next
day's sun, was never forgotten nor forgiven by the
At once the bells were rung, and the citizens, rushing
out to learn the cause, hastened to the fight. The
people in the country around, hearing the bells,
hurried in with their muskets to help the town. At
last the soldiers, seeing that the whole country around
was aroused and rushing to the rescue, took to flight.
TABLET ON THE CRISPUS ATTUCKS MONUMENT, BOSTON