Marathon Day in Boston: 2013
April 15, 2013. A perfect Marathon day in Boston. The sun was shining. The temperature was in the 50s. The "elite" runners had crossed the finish line. Lelisa Desisa of Ethopia finished first with a time of 2:10:22. Rita Jeptoof of Kenya, at 2:26:25 was first among women runners. Some finishers had gone to their hotel rooms to rest after the grueling 26-mile run. Others were milling about. Cameras were recording every detail; spectators were talking on cell phones. Martin Richard, an eight-year old soccer star minus several front teeth, was hugging his dad. Perpetually smiling Krystle Campbell, a restaurant manager from nearby Medford, waved friends on. Lu Lingzi, a Chinese national and Boston University science graduate student, stood at the finish line watching the race and celebrating that she had just passed a major exam. A perfect day. And then, it wasn't. Martin Richard was lying lifeless on the ground. He would never kick another soccer ball or enjoy chewing on his new front teeth. Krystle Campbell would not smile at patrons and co-workers again. Lu Lingzi would never ace another exam or share her scientific knowledge with the world. More than 170 others were in area hospitals, some in critical condition--all victims of the Second Boston Massacre.
March 5, 1770: The First Boston Massacre
In 1770, Boston was the capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, an important shipping town and the center of resistance to unpopular taxes imposed on the colonies by the British government. They were particularly angry over The Townshend Acts placing tariffs on everyday items manufactured in Britain and exported to the colonies. The Massachusetts House of Representatives sent a petition to King George III asking that the Acts be repealed on the grounds that they violated the rights of British subjects in the colonies. At the same time, they sent a "circular letter" to other colonies calling for a boycott of the taxed goods. The British government responded by ordering the Massachusetts governor to rescind the letter and threatened to dissolve the assemblies of all colonies who engaged in the boycott. Massachusetts refused to comply.
British retribution was swift. Parliament sent a 50-gun warship to Boston in May 1768. On June 10, British customs officials seized the Liberty, a ship owned by John Hancock, alleging that the ship was involved in smuggling. Bostonians rioted and drove away customs officers. In October, British regiments arrived and put Boston under martial law. The Journal of Occurrences, an anonymously written series of newspaper articles, published accounts of clashes between civilians and British troops--fueling tensions. In February, 1770, an eleven year old boy was killed by a customs employee. Enraged Bostonians formed gangs and harassed British soldiers--who were ready for a fight.
The fight came on March 5. It was cold in Boston that day. There was snow on the ground. Private Hugh White, a British soldier, stood shivering on guard duty outside the old State House on King Street. A young American called out an insult. Angry words were exchanged. In the scuffle that followed, Private White hit the American on the side of the head with his musket. A mob formed, among them a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. As the situation worsened, armed British reinforcements arrived from a nearby camp and stood in front of the Americans with their muskets aimed. Though the muskets were loaded, troops had been ordered not to fire into the crowd. At the sight of the armed men, protesters began to throw snowballs and small objects. Private Preston, a British soldier, was hit and knocked down. Preston is reported to have shouted, "Fire, Damn you. Fire!" (He did not.) Nonetheless, the soldiers fired. Eleven men were hit. Three, including Crispus Attucks, died instantly. Two more died within hours; and another died of his wounds several years later. The rioters dispersed only when the Governor appeared and promised an inquiry into the affair.
Nine soldiers and four civilians were indicted for murder. Because of continued animosity between Bostonians and British troops, the trial was delayed until later in the year. A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, an incendiary pamphlet describing the Massacre, was published. The account was drawn from more than 90 depositions taken from spectators to the event (this being a time before cell phone videos and outdoor surveillance cameras). Citizens described the shootings as unprovoked attacks on peaceful, law-abiding inhabitants.
The colonial government was determined to give the soldiers a fair trial so there could be no grounds for retaliation from the British. Several lawyers who were loyal to the Crown refused to take part in the trials. The government brought in John Adams (later to become the second President of the United States) to serve as attorney for the defense. Paul Revere contributed detailed maps of the massacre site.
Private Preston was tried separately and acquitted. During the trial of the other eight, Adams asked the jury to look beyond the fact that the soldiers were British and to view them as individuals so endangered by the mob that they had a legal right to fight back. The jury agreed and acquitted six of the soldiers. Two were found guilty of manslaughter because there was overwhelming evidence that they had fired directly into the crowd. Jurors conceded that, while the soldiers had felt threatened by the crowd, they should have delayed firing. Their punishment was reduced from a death sentence to branding of their thumbs in open court. The civilians were acquitted.
The Boston Massacre united Bostonians in their grievances again King George III and British Parliamentary authority. John Adams later wrote that "...the foundation of American independence was laid on March 5, 1770".
The people of Boston did not forget those killed in the Massacre. In 1888, a monument was erected on the Boston Common to honor the dead, and the victims were reinterred in the Granary Burying Ground, the resting place of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Sewall (judge in the Salem Witch Trials), and Phyllis Wheatley (a slave and the first black woman to publish a book). The Massacre is reenacted annually on March 5 in front of the Old State House.
Triumph and Tragedy in Boston
We have heard the chimes at midnight. Ah Jesus, the days that we have seen. William Shakespeare
Through the years, Boston has been the scene of many historic and tragic events. There was the Boston Tea Party in 1773, a political protest by the Sons of Liberty against the tax on tea. When the British refused to return three shiploads of tea, colonists boarded the ships and threw the tea into Boston Harbor. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere took place on April 18, 1775. Revere and William Dawes rode from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army. The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, marked the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The Great Boston Molasses Flood, one of the most bizarre disasters in American history, occurred on January 15, 1919, when a giant tank filled with molasses ruptured and sent a wall of molasses eight feet high into Commercial Street demolishing buildings, burying horses, upending vehicles, killing 21 people, and wounding 150 more. The Boston Riots of 1919 resulted from a strike by the city's police force. In the absence of law enforcement, mobs broke store windows, looted, and created all-out mayhem. It took replacement police, Harvard student volunteers, and a cavalry troop to restore order. On November 28, 1942, the Cocoanut Grove, Boston's premier nightclub, was the scene of the deadliest nightclub fire in U. S. history. Nearly 500 people were killed and hundreds more injured. The tragedy led to a reform of safety standards and codes in Boston and throughout the nation. In 1962, the Boston Strangler wrapped silk stockings around the necks of four women and choked them to death. Albert deSalvo pleaded guilty to the murders.
All of these events left their impact on the great city, which emerged united and even stronger than before.
Nest: Part II: The Second Boston Massacre
Filed under: Living in Interesting Times