Essential Question: How did the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770 affect the lives of the people of Boston? Was it a Massacre or a Riot? What actually happened that night?


The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770. It was the first incident growing out of the anger against the British troops sent to Boston to maintain order and to enforce the 1767 Townshend Acts. The troops, constantly tormented by irresponsible gangs, finally on March 5, 1770, fired into a rioting crowd and killed five men: three on the spot, three of wounds later. The funeral of the victims was the occasion for a great patriot demonstration. The British captain, Thomas Preston, and his men were tried for murder, with Robert Treat Paine as prosecutor, John Adams and Josiah Quincy as lawyers for the defense. Preston and six of his men were acquitted; two others were found guilty of manslaughter, punished, and discharged from the army.

The Massacre became a legendary event of the American rebellion against the British with many controversies and myths surrounding the true facts. Even when the gun smoke faded away, the subsequent murder trial raised high emotions and the results were not considered fair by either side.

The impact of the incident on the cause of the American Revolution was profound. Despite the best efforts of the governing authorities to cool down anti-British sentiments, such as immediately removing the troops from Boston and postponing the trial by several months, the net result was the increase of support for the independence. The next five years preceding the start of the Revolution gave Patriots many chances to put in practice the lessons learned during the Boston Massacre.

Paul Revere's Engraving " The Bloody Massacre"
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"The Bloody Massacre", engraving by Paul Revere, 1770

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Close-Up of the Bottom of the "Bloody Massacre" Posster.
Enlargement of Type Below Image on Engraving

Understanding this Image's Power to PersuadePaul Revere created this image AFTER the Boston Massacre took place. He wanted the people of Boston to be outraged that the British soldiers had killed six unarmed men. Click on this link to read an analysis of why this image is so powerful.

Events Leading Up to the Boston Massacre

What events led up to this tragedy? Was this really a spontaneous riot of an unruly mob driven to violence? Or was it caused by events that happened well before March 5, 1770? Or could it possibly have been both a riot AND a massacre? Use the following timeline to decide.


1765 - Quartering Act
  • required colonial assemblies to provide housing, food and drink to British troops stationed in their towns
  • to improve living conditions for British soldiers
  • decrease the cost of the soldiers to the British government.
  • Soldiers were to be housed in barracks or empty public buildings and not in private residences.
  • It was the duty of local legislatures to fund the expenses.
1766 - New York Assembly refused to raise the money for the Quartering Act
  • New York was the main port of arrival and departure of soldiers and the burden to finance housing was heavier on them than on any other assembly.
1767 - British Parliament passed the New York Suspending Act.
  • It suspended the assembly until they complied with the new law.
  • The New York assembly decided to provide limited funding for housing and food.
1767 - Townsend Act
  • Put taxes on paper, lead, glass and tea that were imported from England
  • Colonists refused to buy the products that were taxed
  • British merchants complained that the Act hurt their businesses
  • British Parliament repealed the Townsend Act, removing taxes on all products EXCEPT tea.
1768 - Massachusetts assembly dissolved because it did not want to collect the taxes on the Townsend Act
  • Boston colonists attacked British tax collectors who were sent to collect duties on the Townsend products
  • Britain sent 2,000 additional British Soldiers and warships to Boston to protect government officials against mob attacks, restore order and reinforce collection of taxes.
  • Soldiers were permitted to take on part time jobs in their off-duty hours, mostly in warehouses.
  • Colonists grew angry when they lost these jobs.

Task 1: Vocabulary #1

Directions: Copy vocabulary (terms & definitions) into your notes. Be sure to use these words in your essay.

Task 2: History Channel Video

Directions: Watch this video and take notes on the details.

Task 3: Today's Location

Directions: Click on this Google Map and see the exact location of the event.

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Click on the image to access the Google map. Use the "man" tool, place on the map and look around the area. The event is commemorated by the circle in the road.

Task 4: Timeline of the Event

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Directions: Click on the timeline link below and write down the sequence of events.

Timeline of Trials

Task 5: Reading Comprehension

Directions: Click on the image below.

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Click on the image to access the website. Read the summary and answer the questions.

1. Read the summary and highlight key ideas.

2. Go to the Online Reading Comprehension page and complete the quiz.

Task 6: Vocabulary #2

Directions: Copy vocabulary #2 (terms & definitions) into your notes. Be sure to use these words in your essay.

Task 7: The Agitators, Victims and the British Soldiers

Directions: Click on the links below and read the biographies of each person. Take notes on the person who interests you most.


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Victims: Four died immediately, two died later

British Soldiers:

New Evidence

Other Sources: Revolutionary Characters

Task 8: The Trial

Directions: Click on the link below for John Adams and read about his role in the trial. Copy the names of the other attorneys into your notes.

Attorneys for the British Soldiers

Attorneys for the Prosecution

Task 9: Transcript of the Trial and Summation

Directions: Click on the images below and read the transcript of the trial and John Adams' summation.

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click on the image to read the Trial Summary

John Adams' Summation

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Task 10: Differing Perspectives

Directions: Click on the image below and read how both groups of people viewed the event.

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Click on the image to access the website.

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Click on the image to access the website