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Home > History > Causes of the Revolutionary War - Boston Massacre

Causes of the Revolutionary War - Boston Massacre

This page describes the Boston Massacre and its causes and effects.

Boston Massacre Woodcut by Paul Revere

Paul Revere "Bloody Massacre" Woodcut

The situation in Boston grew more tense by the day. Local skirmishes between townspeople and British soldiers (Redcoats) increased in frequency as did belligerence toward British soldiers. Rumors abounded throughout the city about possible attacks by soldiers or by the Sons of Liberty.

The Cause

On Monday night March 5, 1770, an American (patriot) began harassing a Redcoat named John Goldfinch standing guard. Another Redcoat nearby, named Hugh White, joined Goldfinch to defend him. White became agitated with the harassment and struck the patriot in the face with his musket. As the patriot cried out in pain, a mob of fifty or so Bostonians gathered. Goldfinch retreated to the nearby Custom House and pointed his musket toward the angry crowd.

The Situation Escalates

The mob began throwing chunks of ice at White and shouted "Kill him!" Meanwhile, other mobs were forming on Boston's streets. Those mobs began pelting other Redcoats with chunks of ice. British officers on the scene ordered soldiers back to their barracks, and several had to be subdued by officers to prevent them from firing into the angry crowd. The mob surrounding Hugh White, however, grew until he was surrounded by over 400 angry Bostonians. White's shouts for reinforcements were answered by British Captain Thomas Preston and several other soldiers who entered the emotional mob.

Preston tried to march the British soldiers from the Custom House back to the Main Guard, but his path was blocked by the mob of patriots. Despite his demands for the dispersal of the crowd, the mob responded with more insults and ice chunks. When the British justice of the peace tried to read the Riot Act, which would subject all members of the mob to prosecution once it was read, the mob forced him to retreat by throwing snowballs and ice chunks at him.

The Unthinkable!

The mob continued to provoke the soldiers and challenged them to fire. Members of the mob grew more and more violent and began striking the muskets and bayonets of the Redcoats with clubs. Despite his attempts to prevent bloodshed, Captain Preston was losing control of his soldiers who were growing increasingly threatened by the angry mob. Suddenly, someone in the crowd hurled a club which hit British soldier Hugh Montgomery and knocked him to the ground. Montgomery rose and fired into the crowd. Hearing the shot, the mob lunged at Preston and his men, wielding their clubs at them. For the next few minutes, the scene became a chaotic battle in which Preston's men fired into the crowd to avoid being beaten. The soldiers were able to fend off the mob which soon dispersed. When it did disperse, the bodies of several patriots lay dead or wounded on the ground. Preston and his soldiers formed a defensive line with guns drawn to protect themselves from another assault.

The Aftermath, Trial, and Surprising Effect

Later that evening, Preston and his soldiers were arrested and accused of murder. In the ensuing trial almost all were acquitted (judged not-guilty), as the deaths had occurred in self-defense. Additionally, Parliament repealed the Townshend Act, and removed all taxes except for the tax on tea. Despite the anger in Boston over the massacre, American merchants began importing British goods again and the push for independence seemed to fizzle.

Boston Massacre Articles and Activities

Articles

Printable Activities

  • Boston Massacre Reading Comprehension - This resource includes a historical passage and ten multiple choice questions.
  • Boston Massacre Virtual History Teacher - Students play the role of a virtual history teacher and must grade responses to three questions about the Boston Massacre. Each response is incomplete, and students must fill in the missing information in the "response" section. Students can use the Boston Massacre narrative for reference.
  • Boston Massacre: Fact or Fiction? - This fun activity requires students to read a Boston Massacre passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction.
  • Crispus Attucks Reading Comprehension - This Revolutionary War/American Revolution resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions.
  • Propaganda in Revolutionary America - This activity requires students to examine the famous Paul Revere hyperbolic engraving depicting the Boston Massacre before the Revolutionary War. How was Paul Revere‚Äôs depiction of the Boston Massacre different from what really happened?
  • Crispus Attucks Fact or Fiction - This fun activity requires students to read a Crispus Attucks passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction.
  • Crispus Attucks Virtual History Teacher - Students play the role of a virtual history teacher and must grade responses to three questions about the life of Crispus Attucks. Each response is incomplete, and students must fill in the missing information in the "response" section. It's designed to reinforce the importance of elaboration. Students can use the Crispus Attucks biography for reference.
  • Crispus Attucks Printable Activities Bundle - This bundle is FREE for subscribers to MrN 365. It includes all seven printable activities on Crispus Attucks available on mrnussbaum.com. It is also available on Teachers Pay Teachers for $2.25. Click this link to purchase from Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • Crispus Attucks Text Elements - Paragraph Headings - This printable activity requires students to match the five different headings to their correct paragraphs.

Online Activities

  • Boston Massacre Online Reading Comprehension - This resource includes a historical passage and ten multiple choice questions. It gives immediate feedback and a score report.
  • Boston Massacre Correct-me Passage - This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about the Boston Massacre that has eight factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.
  • Boston Massacre: Fact or Fiction? - This fun activity requires students to read a Boston Massacre passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. The program gives immediate feedback.
  • Famous Images in History Jigsaw Puzzle: Revere's the Bloody Massacre - This awesome jigsaw allows students to make their own jigsaw pieces, or, allow the program to auto-cut pieces.
  • Boston Massacre Power Point Presentaton - This 14-slide power point presentation explains all about the Boston Massacre and its causes and effects. Perfect for American Revolution learning.
  • Not Boring Jeopardy: Revolutionary War - This is a "jeopardy" like game on the American Revolution.. It's super fun for classrooms, individuals, or small teams, totally customizable. Uncheck "teams take turns" to make it more exciting for kids.
  • Crispus Attucks: Fact or Fiction? - This fun activity requires students to read a Crispus Attucks passage and then, to sort 11 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. The program gives immediate feedback.
  • Crispus Attucks: Correct-me Passage - This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about the life of Crispus Attucks that has eight factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.
  • Crispus Attucks Cloze Reading - This online cloze reading exercise requires students to type the words from the word bank into the correct fields in the paragraph. It gives immediate feedback.
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