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Samuel Adams

American Founding Father

1722-1803

The essay
ON THE BOSTON MASSACRE

Narrated by Douglas R. Pratt

Download mp3 file: On The Boston Massacre

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BOSTON GAZETTE, DECEMBER 31, 1770

In my last I considerd the Temper which the Soldiers in general had discoverd and the threats they had utter'd previous to the fifth of March together with their correspondent Behavior on that alarming Evening. I was the more brief, because there had been a narrative of the horrid massacre, printed by the order of this Town, which was drawn up by a Committee appointed for that purpose.

The candor of this Town was indeed such, that at their annual Meeting in March, by a vote, they restrain'd their Committee from publishing the Narrative here, altho' it was printed, lest it might unduly prejudice those, whose Lot it might be, to be Jurors to try these Causes: This Restraint, they continued at their Meeting in May, and untill the Trials should be over.-A Caution, which all good Men will applaud: As it discover'd a sense of Justice; as well as the greatest Humanity towards those Men, who had spilt the blood of Citizens, like Water upon the Ground! -A temper far from vindictive - Calm and sedate, when it might have been expected, if ever, they would be off their guard. And yet so barbarous and cruel, so infamously mean and base were the Enemies of this Town, who are the common Enemies of all America and of the Truth itself, that they had it falsely inserted in the public News-Papers in London, that the Inhabitants had seiz'd upon Capt. Preston and hung him, like Porteus upon a sign-post!

I shall now, in a few instances, endeavor to show, the temper which many of the Soldiers discover'd after the fatal Catastrophe was over. The Reader may have observed, that I am careful to distinguish, between the Evidence given in Court, from that which was given out of Court: Witnesses to this point, it is not to be suppos'd, were admissible at the Trial; unless perhaps the one immediately following: This is a creditable person who is Mistress of a reputable family in the Town. She testified before the Magistrates, and was ready to swear it in Court, if she had been called, that on the Evening of the 5th of March, a number of Soldiers were assembled at Green's Barracks, and opposite to her Gate, which is near those Barracks; that they stood very still, until the Guns were fired in King-Street; then they clapped their hands and gave a Cheer, saying, this is all we want; they then ran to their Barracks and came out again in a few minutes, all with their arms, and ran towards King-Street. - These Barracks are about a quarter of a Mile from King-Street: Their standing very still untill they heard the firing, compared with their subsequent Conduct, looks as if they expected it: It seems as tho' they knew what the signal should be, and the part they were to act in consequence of it. This, perhaps, may be tho't by some to be too straining: I will not urge it; but leave it to any one to judge, how far, if at all, it affords grounds of Suspicion, that there was an understanding, between the Soldiers in King-Street at the time of the firing, and these; especially if it be true, as has been said, that they fired without the command of their officer.- There was also a Witness, an householder of good reputation, whose testimony was similar to this: That the Soldiers from Green's Barracks, on that Evening, rushed by him, with their arms, & ran towards King-Street, saying, this is our time or chance; that he never saw Dogs so greedy for their Prey, and the Serjeants could hardly keep them in their Ranks - Another swore, that after the firing, he saw the Soldiers drawn up under Arms, and heard the officers, as they walked backwards and forwards say to one another, Damn it, what a fine fire that was! How bravely it dispers'd the Mob - A gentleman belonging to Halifax in Nova Scotia testified that when the body of Troops was drawn up before the guardhouse (which was presently after the Massacre) he heard an Officer say to another, that this was fine work, just what he wanted! - I shall add but one more to this list, and that is, the testimony of a Witness, well known in this Town for an honest man; who declared that at about one o'Clock the next morning, as he was going alone from his own House to the Town-House, he met a Serjeant of the 29th with eight or nine Soldiers, all with very large Clubs and Cutlasses, when one of them, speaking of the Slaughter, swore by God, it was a fine thing, and said, you shall see more of it. - To these I cannot help subjoining, the testimony of Mr. John Cox, a very reputable Inhabitant of this Town ; who swore in Court at one of the late trials, that after the firing, he went to take up the dead; that he told the Soldiers, it was a cowardly trick in them to kill men within reach of their Bayonets, with nothing in their hands; and that the officer said, damn them, fire again, and let them take the consequence - to which he replied, you have killed enough already to hang you all: But it has since appeared that he was mistaken. - There are others, who saw, a very large party from the Southguard, after the firing, take their post under Liberty- Tree; by which one would think they intended to act the same part which the Soldiers in New-York had before done, as indeed some of them had threatened they would, and which would probably have bro't on a new scene of confusion. But the commanding officer, very prudently ordered the regiment to be under arms, which prevented it.

If these testimonies would not have been pertinent to the issue of the late trial, I think it necessary to adduce them here, to convince the world of the wretched state this Town had been in; the reason they had to apprehend, while such blood-thirsty inmates were quarter'd among them ; and the necessity they were tinder, constantly to be on their guard, while there were even such exultations at the barbarous "action" of the Evening.

Much was bro't into Court, to show that the Town was in a state of disorder on that Evening, and previous to the Affray at Murray's Barracks; Witnesses were admitted to testify, that they had been met by one and another arm'd with Clubs; but nothing appeared there, to show the Cause and even the necessity of it: Thus, one of the prisoners witnesses testified in Court, that at seven o'clock, going to the South-End of the Town, he met forty or fifty in small parties, four or five in a party; and divers others swore to the same purpose: They did not indeed say, whether they knew them to be Inhabitants; it is as probable, that they were Soldiers, as inhabitants, if not more so; for it was sworn before the Magistrates, by a person of credit, that on the Saturday before, he saw the Soldiers making Clubs. Another was ready to testify in Court, that thirty of these Clubs or Bludgeons, were made by the Soldiers, in his own Shop. And in the part of the Town where the before-mentioned witness was going, a gentleman was early in the Evening attacked by two Soldiers, one of them arm'd with a Club, and the other with a broad Sword; the latter struck him, and threatned that he should soon hear more of it. It was notorious, that the Soldiers were frequently seen on that Evening, arm'd with Clubs, as well as other Weapons; and the night before, very late, it can be prov'd that forty or fifty of them were seen, thus arm'd, in several parts of the Town in terror of his Majesty's subjects: But in the judgment of some men, every party that was seen with Clubs, or in the modern term, bludgeons, to be sure, must have been inhabitants. It had been testified, that on the Saturday before the fifth of March, the Soldiers, had not only been seen making their Clubs, as is before mentioned, but from what the witness could collect from their conversation, they were resolved to be reveng'd on the Monday. If they were in such danger, as some will pretend they were, pray, why were they not kept in their Barracks, especially after eight o'clock, according to their own rules? Instead of this, we find the testimony of a person, who was not an inhabitant of the Town: that being at the South-End on that Evening, exactly at Eight o'Clock, he saw there Eleven Soldiers; an officer met them, and order'd them to appear at their respective places at the time; and if they should see any of the inhabitants of the Town, or any other people not belonging to them, with Arms, Clubs or any other warlike Weapon, more than two being assembled together, to order them to stop: and if they refused, to stop them with their firelocks, and all that should take their part - The officer went Northward and the Soldiers Southward - Here were orders discretely given indeed! And well becoming a gentleman, in any command over troops, sent here, as the Minister pretended, to aid the civil Magistrate in keeping the peace; and with directions never to act without one. Will any one suppose, that the Town could be safe, even from this band of Soldiers only; especially while under such direction and influence. This is a single instance -No wonder that when the bells soon after rang as for fire, & the people in that same part of the Town, came into the Street with their Buckets, they were told by some, as a gentleman who was a witness in Court for the prisoners said they were, that they had better bring their Clubs than their Buckets - Such appearances were enough to put the Town in Motion - It is a glaring mistake to say, the Soldiers were in danger from the inhabitants: The reverse is true; the inhabitants were in danger from the Soldiers. - With all the indulgence which was shown, and perhaps ought to have been shown to prisoners at the bar, upon trial for life, not a single instance was prov'd, of abuse offer'd to Soldiers that Evening, previous to the insolent behavior of those who rush'd out of Murray's Barracks, with Cutlasses, Clubs and other Weapons, and fell upon all whom they met: On the contrary, there had been many instances of their insulting and even assaulting the Inhabitants in every part of the Town; and that without Discrimination ; which did not look, as if they design'd to seek revenge, for any former Quarrel, upon particular persons.

As it was said, in Court that the unhappy Persons who fell a sacrifice to the cruel revenge of the Soldiers, had brought their death upon their own heads, I must not omit saying, what I think ought to be said, in behalf of those who cannot now speak for themselves - Mr. Maverick, a young gentleman of a good family and a blameless life, was at supper in the house of one of his friends, and went out when the Bells rang as for fire. Mr. Caldwell, a young seaman and of a good character, had been at School to perfect himself in the art of Navigation; and had just return'd to the house of a reputable person in this town, to whose daughter he made his visits, with the honorable intention of Marriage: He also went out when the bells rang. Mr. Gray was of a good family; he was at his own house the whole of the Evening, saving his going to a neighbour's house to borrow the News-Paper of the day and returning; He went out on the ringing of the bells; and altho' a child swore in Court, that he saw him with a stick, after the bells rang, yet another witness saw him before he got into King-Street without a stick; others saw him in King-Street and testified that he had no stick; and when he was shot, the Witness at whose feet he fell, declared, as is mentioned in a former Paper, that he had no stick, and his arms were folded in his bosom; so that it is probable, the young Witness mistook the person. Mr. Attucks, it is said, was at supper when the bells rang; he went out as others did, to enquire where the fire was; in passing thro' Dock-Square, he saw the affray at Murray's Barracks; and hearing a man say that if any one would join, he would drive the Soldiers into the Barracks, he join'd; & they two were principally concerned in doing that piece of service. Great pains were taken to make it appear that he attacked the Soldiers in King-Street, but the proof fail'd: He was leaning upon his stick when he fell, which certainly was not a threatning posture: It may be supposed that he had as good right, by the law of the land, to carry a stick for his own and his neighbor's defence, in a time of such danger, as the Soldier who shot him had, to be arm'd with musquet and ball, for the defence of himself and his friend the Centinel: And if he at any time, lifted up his weapon of defence, it was surely, not more than a Soldiers levelling his gun charg'd with death at the multitude: If he had killed a Soldier, he might have been hanged for it, and as a traitor too; for even to attack a Soldier on his post, was pronounc'd treason: The Soldier shot Attucks, who was at a distance from him, and killed him,. - and he was convicted of Manslaughter. - As to Mr. Carr, the other deceas'd person, it is doubtful with what intent he came out: He was at the house of one Mr. Field, when the bells rang; Mrs. Field, and another witness who was at the house, declared that Carr went up Stairs, and got his Sword, which he put between his Coat and his Surtout, and it was with difficulty that they prevail'd upon him to lay by his Sword: They could not persuade him to keep in: It does not appear that he took any part in the contest of the Evening: He was soon shot: and tho' dead, he afterwards spoke in Court, by the mouth of another, in favour of the prisoners; declaring among other things already mentioned, that he was a native of Ireland, and had often seen mobs and Soldiers fire upon them there, but never saw them bear half so much before they fired as these did.

The conduct of the Soldiers and of the people in King-Street, shall be the Subject of a future Paper. In the mean time, I must desire Philanthrop, who appear'd in the last Evening Post, if he pleases, to read again what I observ'd upon the case of Killroi in particular, in this Gazette of the 17th Inst;1 and to consider, whether he did me justice in saying, that I had publish'd "the only piece of Evidence produc'd against Killroi and argued upon that alone:" I then publish'd several material pieces of Evidence against him; and upon the whole concluded, that what was called the furor brevis was, in my opinion, of rather too long - a continuance, to come within the indulgence of the law. I then tho't, and I believe I am far from being singular in thinking it; that for a man repeatedly to say, that he had wanted an opportunity of firing upon the inhabitants ever since he had been in the Country and that he would never miss an opportunity of doing it; and afterwards, when forewarn'd against it, to fire upon the inhabitants, kill one man upon the spot, and then unrelentingly attempt to stab another, who had not offer'd him any injury, all which was sworn in open Court: If such a man is not, hostis humanis generis, he discover'd at least, a total want of remorse at the shedding of human blood, as well as rancorous malice from the beginning. Philanthrop further says, that "there was no evidence given in Court" of the wound in Mr. Gray's head; and "that it is, in the highest degree unjust, to blame the Court and jury for not regarding evidence which they never heard": If he will candidly recur to the aforementioned Paper he will find, that I expressly said, that the witness being out of the Province, the evidence of so savage an act of barbarity could not be produc'd in Court; nor did I take it upon me to "blame the Court and Jury for not regarding it " - "I do not charge Philanthrop with a design" to amuse his readers in this, or any other instance; but if he intends to continue the subject, I would advise him to be more cautious lest he misleads them for the future. Again he says "the impossibility of the bayonets being bloody the next morning, is demonstrable from this, that every gun and bayonet of the party was scowered clean that very night"; but to borrow his own words "it is certain no such evidence was given in Court": If this could have been proved, I dare say it would have been done without fail. Philanthrop may suppose it to be true, from its being, as he says, "the constant practice of the army after firing"; but such a vague supposition will not invalidate the oaths of creditable witnesses in open Court, who swore that Killroi's bayonet was bloody, five inches from the point.

To vilify and abuse "the most amiable and respectable characters," I detest from the bottom of my heart: At the same time, I leave it to Philanthrop, or any one who pleases, to write Panegyricks, on the living or the dead.

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