After British troops were quartered in the city of Boston on September 30, 1768, trouble was almost inevitable. Russell Bourne, in Cradle of Violence—How Boston’s Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolution, states that
“Others who watched the coming ashore of some seven hundred soldiers and officers from the British army’s 14th and 29th Regiments, accompanied by artillery and ancillary forces, must also have considered that they were looking into the kind of oppression that cannot be borne by freedom loving people. The landing took place shortly before noon on Long Wharf; from there, accompanied by the beating of drums and shrilling of fifes, the soldiers in their bright red coats marched directly up King Street to the Common. Fully charged like the ship’s cannons behind them, the soldiers’ muskets were rigged with fixed bayonets. These prime foot soldiers, part of an eventual combined military force of nearly four thousand in a town of less than sixteen thousand people, had clearly come as backbreaking occupiers, not as peacemakers sent by a gracious king.”In this lesson, students will learn how this tense situation in Boston led to the unfortunate events on the night of March 5, 1770. They will examine eyewitness accounts and primary source visuals to explore multiple perspectives and determine who was to blame for the Boston Massacre.
- Conduct a class brainstorming discussion in which students identify political topics that generate multiple perspectives, i.e. debate, disagreement, and contention. Examples include, but are not limited to, the events leading to the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, slavery, civil rights, health care, or foreign affairs.
- Inform students that they will examine the 1770 Boston Massacre from many different points of view, and then attempt to answer a the historical question: “Who was to blame?” Student will then write letters to the editor of the Boston Gazette in which they support their conclusion that will also be read in a “public reading.”
- Divide the class into groups of two or three. Give each student a copy of the Multiple Perspectives: Primary Source Activity. Explain to students that they will examine the primary resources and use them to help form and support an opinion on who was to blame for the Boston Massacre.
- Provide time for students to read the primary sources, examine the artwork, and discuss with their partner(s) the varying perspectives of the Boston Massacre. Students should use the questions provided with each primary source for the discussion, and record notes under each question. They will use their notes to write their letters to the editor.
- Have students draft their letters to the editor on regular notepaper. [Note: These should be persuasive letters, and, if needed, the teacher should review/teach persuasive writing.] Next, give each student a copy of the Letter to the Editor Template and have them use it to create their final version of their opinion pieces. Have students pay particular attention to how they sign their letters: signing either as “A Concerned Patriot” or “An Outraged Soldier.”
- OPTIONAL—If desired, bring in a bell, eighteenth-century hats/caps, and any other period-appropriate items for students to use in the “public reading.” Provide time for some students to read their letters to the editor for the class.
Students’ work may also be turned in for formal assessment.
- Propaganda and its effects—Facilitate a class discussion in which students consider what Paul Revere was trying to accomplish with his print, “The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street on March 5th, 1770 . . . ” and how the image affected colonists’ opinions of the British and Parliament’s policies in the colonies.
- Court trial—Have students research the various perspectives and eye-witness accounts of the Boston Massacre, then stage a trial in which the views of both sides are heard and a judge decides who was to blame.
This lesson was written by Margret Atkinson, elementary school teacher, Baton Rouge, LA, and Bill Neer, Visiting Assistant Professor of Literacy, Lemoyne College, Syracuse, NY.
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Alternative View on the Event
The Boston Massacre was not really a massacre, but more like a riot. In fact only five people died.
One of the most common myths is that the BM was the event that led to the Revolutionary War. In fact, many important events led up to the massacre. It was called a massacre by the use of propaganda. It mainly started by the British trying to enforce laws.
British Soldiers were sent to America to enforce the Proclamation and to maintain order but their presence just made matter worse.
It all started March 5 by a couple of boys throwing snowballs at British soldiers. A crowd soon gathered throwing ice and making fun of them. Soon after, the British started firing wildly. Other weapons were clubs, knives, swords, and a popular weapon, your own bare hands.
The people that died are: Crispus Attacks, one of the more famous people who was an African American sailor, Samuel Gray, a worker at rope walk, James Caldwell, a mate on a American ship, Samuel Maverick, who was a young seventeen year old male, and Patrick Carr, a feather maker.
The purpose of the Boston Massacre was to try to make liberal and moderate people become radicals. It was really an accident and the radicals tried to use propaganda and turn something small into something big. The British soldiers were accused of Murder and manslaughter. To represent them was John Adams, a relative of Samuel Adams. Adams wanted the trial to get over and didn’t want the truth to come out. The Boston Massacre and misleading visual representation by Paul Revere could have been one cause of a later war.
The BM increased the hatred between the Americans and the British. The radical people tried to use this minor event as propaganda. Paul Revere and Samuel Adams were happy the few colonists died because they used it as propaganda so the colonist would get mad at the British. Whenever the word propaganda is used it means the truth is stretched