The Massacre trials ended quietly. Samuel Adams wrote several articles in the Boston Gazette during December, 1770, that accused the soldiers of escaping with blood on their hands.
There were dozens of witnesses testifying during the trial, each presenting his own version of the events.
Deposition of Theodore Bliss
At home. I heard the Bells for fire.t:3 Went out. Came to the Town House. The People told me there was going to be a Rumpus with the Soldiers. Went to the Custom house. Saw Capt. Preston there with the Soldiers. Asked him if they were loaded. He said yes. If with Ball. He said nothing. I saw the People throw Snow Balls at the Soldiers and saw a Stick about 3 feet long strike a Soldier upon the right. He sallied and then fired. A little time a second. Then the otherl s l fast after one another. One or two Snow balls hit the Soldier, the stick struck, before firing. I know not whether he sallied on account of the Stick or step’d back to make ready. I did not hear any Order given by the Capt. to fire. I stood so near him I think I must have heard him if he had given an order to fire before the first firing. I never knew Capt. Preston before. I can’t say whether he had a Surtout on, he was dressed in red. I know him to be the Man I took to be the Officer. The Man that fired first stood next to the Exchange lane. I saw none of the People press upon the Soldiers before the first Gun fired. I did after. I aimed a blow at him myself but did not strike him. I am sure the Captain stood before the Men when the first Gun was fired. I had no apprehension the Capt. did give order to fire when the first Gun was fired. I thought, after the first Gun, the Capt. did order the Men to fire but do not certainly know. I heard the word fire several times but know not whether it came from the Captain, the Soldiers or People. Two of the People struck at the Soldiers after the first Gun. I dont know if they hit ‘em. There were about 100 people in the Street. The muzzles of the Guns were behind him. After the first Gun the Captain went quite to the left and I to the right.
Deposition of Benjamin Burdick
When I came into King Street about 9 o’Clock I saw the Soldiers round the Centinel. I asked one if he was loaded and he said yes. I asked him if he would fire, he said yes by the Eternal God and pushd his Bayonet at me. After the firing the Captain came before the Soldiers and put up their Guns with his arm and said stop firing, dont fire no more or dont fire again. I heard the word fire and took it and am certain that it came from behind the Soldiers. I saw a man passing busily behind who I took to be an Officer. The firing was a little time after. I saw some persons fall. Before the firing I saw a stick thrown at the Soldiers. The word fire I took to be a word of Command. I had in my hand a highland broad Sword which I brought from home. Upon my coming out I was told it was a wrangle between the Soldiers and people, upon that I went back and got my Sword. I never used to go out with a weapon. I had not my Sword drawn till after the Soldier pushed his Bayonet at me. I should have cut his head off if he had stepd out of his Rank to attack me again. At the first firing the People were chiefly in Royal Exchange lane, there being about 50 in the Street. After the firing I went up to the Soldiers and told them I wanted to see some faces that I might swear to them another day. The Centinel in a melancholy tone said perhaps Sir you may.
Deposition of Robert Goddard
The Soldiers came up to the Centinel and the Officer told them to place themselves and they formd a half moon. The Captain told the Boys to go home least there should be murder done. They were throwing Snow balls. Did not go off but threw more Snow balls. The Capt. was behind the Soldiers. The Captain told them to fire. One Gun went off. A Sailor or Townsman struck the Captain. He thereupon said damn your bloods fire think I’ll be treated in this manner. This Man that struck the Captain came from among the People who were seven feet off and were round on one wing. I saw no person speak to him. I was so near I should have seen it. After the Capt. said Damn your bloods fire they all fired one after another about 7 or 8 in all, and then the officer bid Prime and load again. He stood behind all the time. Mr. Lee went up to the officer and called the officer by name Capt. Preston. I saw him coming down from the Guard behind the Party. I went to Gaol the next day being sworn for the Grand Jury to see the Captain. Then said pointing to him that’s the person who gave the word to fire. He said if you swear that you will ruin me everlastingly. I was so near the officer when he gave the word fire that I could touch him. His face was towards me. He stood in the middle behind the Men. I looked him in the face. He then stood within the circle. When he told ‘em to fire he turned about to me. I lookd him in the face.
I heard a noise about 8 o’clock and went down to Royal Exchange Lane. Saw some Persons with Sticks coming up Quaker Lane. I said Ito the sentry] Capt. Goldsmith owed my fellow Apprentice. He said he was a Gentlemen and would pay every body. I said there was none in the Regiment. He asked for me. I went to him, was not ashamed of my face…. The Sentinel left his Post and Struck me. I cried. My fellow Apprentice and a young man came up to the Sentinel and called him Bloody back. He called to the Main Guard…. There was not a dozen people when the Sentinel called the Guard.6
The People kept gathering. I saw no uneasiness with the Centinel. A Party then came down from the Guard LHouseJ I thought to relieve him. I heard one Gun. Thought it was to alarm the Barracks. A little space after another, and then several. I stood within 30 feet of the Centinel and must have seen any disturbance…. Between the firing the first and second Gun there was time enough for an Officer to step forward and to give the word Recover if he was so minded.
Just after 9 o’clock heard the Cry of Fire. I saw the party come out of the Guard House. A Capt. cried out of the Window “fire upon ‘em damn ‘em.” I followed ‘em down before the Custom House door. Capt. Preston was out and commanded ‘em. They drew up and charged their Bayonets. Montgomery7 pushed at the people advancing. In 2 or 3 minutes a Boy threw a small stick over hand and hit Montgomery on Breast. Then I heard the word fire in 1/4 minute he fired. l saw some pieces of Snow as big as Egg thrown. 3 or 4 thrown at the same time of pushing on the other End of the file, before 1st gun fired. The body of People about a Rod8 off. People said Damn ‘em they durst not fire don’t be afraid. No threats…. I was a Rod from Capt. Preston. Kid not hear him give Order to firej 1/2 minute from 1st Gun to 2d. same to 3Vd. The others quicker. I saw no people striking the Guns or Bayonets nor pelting ‘em. I saw Preston between people and Soldiers. I did not see him when 1st firing.
Upon the cry of fire and Bells ringing went into King Street, heard the Capt. say Turn out the Guard. Saw the Centinel standing on the steps of the Custom house, pushing his Bayonet at the People who were about 30 or 40. Captain came and ordered the Men to prime and load.’) He came before ‘em about 4 or 5 minutes after and put up their Guns with his Arm. They then fired and were priming and loading again. I am pretty positive the Capt. bid ‘em Prime and load. I stood about 4 feet off him. Heard no Order given to fire. The Person who gave Orders to Prime and load stood with his back to me, I did not see his face only when he put up their Guns. I stood about 10 or 11 feet from the Soldiers, the Captain about the midway between.
As the Clock struck 9 I saw two Boys abusing the Centinel. They said you Centinel, damned rascally Scoundrel Lobster”‘ Son of a Bitch and desired him to turn out. He told them it was his ground and he would maintain it and would run any through who molested or attempted to drive him off. There was abqut a dozen standing at a little distance. They took no part. He called out Guard several times and 7 or 8 Soldiers with Swords Bayonets and one with a large Tongs in his hand came. I saw the two Boys going to the Men who stood near the Centinel. They returned with a new Edition of fresh Oaths, threw Snow Balls at him and he then called Guard several times as before.
I saw the officer after the firing and spoke to the Soldiers and told ‘em it was a Cowardly action to kill men at the end of their Bayonets. They were pushing at the People who seemed to be trying to come into the Street. The Captain came up and stamped and said Damn their bloods fire again and let ‘em take the consequence. I was within four feet of him. He had no surtout but a red Coat with a Rose on his shoulder. The people were quarrelling at the head of Royal Exchange lane.l2 The Soldiers were pushing and striking with the Guns. I saw the People’s Arms moving but no Sticks.
I saw the Captain coming down with his party. I took Preston by the Coat, told him for Gods sake take care of your Men for if they fire your life must be answerable. In some agitation he replied I am sensible of it. A Corporal was leading them. The Captain stopd with me and the Party proceeded to the Centinel the People crying stand by. The Soldiers with their Bayonets charged pushing through the People in order to make wayСmake way damn your Bloods. The Captain then left me and went to the Party. I heard the Centinel say damn their bloods if they touch me I will fire. In about 3 minutes after this the party came up. I did not see any thing thrown at the Centinel. I stood at the foot of the Town house when the Guns were fired. I heard the People cry damn your bloods fire on. To the best of my recollection the Corporal had a Surtout on. I had none.
I was present at the firing. I heard one of the Guns rattle. I turned about and lookd and heard the officer who stood on the right in a line with the Soldiers give the word fire twice. I lookd the Officer in the face when he gave the word and saw his mouth. He had on a red Coat, yellow Jacket and Silver laced hat, no trimming on his Coat.’5 The Prisoner is the Officer I mean. I saw his face plain, the moon shone on it. I am sure of the man though I have not seen him since before yesterday when he came into Court with others. I knew him instantly. I ran upon the word fire being given about 30 feet off. The of ficer had no Surtout on.
Between 9 and 10 I heard in my house the cry of fire but soon understood there was no fire but the Soldiers were fighting with the Inhabitants. I went to King Street. Saw the Centinel over the Gutter, his Bayonet breast high. He retired to the stepsСloaded. The Boys dared him to fire. Soon after a Party came down, drew up. The Captain ordered them to load. I went across the Street. Heard one Gun and soon after the other Guns. The Captain when he ordered them to load stood in the front before the Soldiers so that the Guns reached beyond him. The Captain had a Surtout on. I knew him well. The Surtout was not red. I think cloth colour. I stood on the opposite corner of Exchange lane when I heard the Captain order the Men to load. I came by my knowledge of the Captain partly by seeing him lead the Fortification Guard
The Lieut. Governor asked Capt. Preston didn’t you know you had no power to fire upon the Inhabitants or any number of People collected together unless you had a Civil Officer to give order. The Captain replied I was obliged to, to save my Sentry.
The Lieut. Governor said to Preston Don’t you know you can do nothing without a Magistrate. He answered I did it to save my Men.
After all the firing Captain Preston put up the Gun of a Soldier who was going to fire and said fire no more you have done mischief enough.
I heard no order given. I stood within two yards of the Captain. He was in front talking with a Person, I don’t know who. I was looking at the Captain when the Gun was fired.
Andrew, a Negro servant to Oliver Wendell
I jump’d back and heard a voise cry fire and immediately the first Gun fired. It seemed to come from the left wing from the second or third man on the left. The Officer was standing before me with his face towards the People. I am certain the voice came from beyond him. The Officer stood before the Soldiers at a sort of a corner. I turned round and saw a Grenadier who stood on the Captain’s right swing his Gun and fire. I took it to be Killeroy. I look’d a little to the right and saw a Man drop. The Molatto was killed by the first Gun by the Grenadier on the Captains Right. I was so frightened, after, I did not know where I was….
Capt. Preston was within 2 yards of meСbefore the MenСnearest to the rightСfacing the Street. I was looking at him. Did not hear any order. He faced me. I think I should have heard him. I directly heard a voice say Damn you why do you fire. Don’t fire. I thought it was the Captain’s then. I now believe it. .
The people kept huzzaing. Damn ‘em. Daring ‘em to fire. Threw Snow balls. I think they hit ‘em. As soon as the Snow balls were thrown and a club a Soldier fired. I heard the Club strike upon the Gun and the corner man next the lane said fire and immediately fired. This was the first Gun. As soon as he had fired he said Damn you fire. I am so sure that I thought it was he that spoke. That next Gun fired and so they fired through pretty quick.
A Man came behind the Soldiers walked backwards and forward, encouraging them to fire. The Captain stood on the left about three yards. The man touched one of the Soldiers upon the back and said fire, by God I’ll stand by you. He was dressed in dark colored clothes…. He did not look like an Of ficer. The man fired directly on the word and clap on the Shoulder. I am positive the man was not the Captain…. I am sure he gave no orders…. I saw one man take a chunk of wood from under his Coat throw it at a Soldier and knocked him. He fell on his face. His firelock’7 was out of his hand…. This was before any firing.
Newton Prince, a Negro, a member of the South Church
Heard the Bell ring. Ran out. Came to the Chapel. Was told there was no fire but something better, there was going to be a fight. Some had buckets and bags and some Clubs. I went to the west end of the Town House where [there] were a number of people. I saw some Soldiers coming out of the Guard house with their Guns and running down one after another to the Custom house. Some of the people said let’s attack the Main Guard, or the Centinel who is gone to King street. Some said for Gods sake don’t lets touch the main Guard. I went down. Saw the Soldiers planted by the Custom l house two deep. The People were calling them Lobsters, daring ‘em to fire 1, saying damn you why don’t you fire. I saw Capt. Preston out from behind 1 the Soldiers. In the front at the right. He spoke to some people. The Capt. 1 stood between the Soldiers and the Gutter about two yards from the Gutter. a I saw two or three strike with sticks on the Guns. I was going off to the west A, of the Soldiers and heard the Guns fire and saw the dead carried off. Soon l after the Guard Drums beat to arms. The People whilst striking on the Guns 1 cried fire, damn you fire. I have heard no Orders given to fire, only the people in general cried fire.
I saw one Soldier knocked down. His Gun fell from him. I saw a great many sticks and pieces of sticks and Ice thrown at the Soldiers. The Soldier who was knocked down took up his Gun and fired directly. Soon after the first Gun I saw a Gentleman behind the Soldiers in velvet of blue or black plush trimmed with gold. He put his hand toward their backs. Whether he touched them I know not and said by God I’ll stand by you whilst I have a drop of blood and then said fire and two went off and the rest to 7 or 8…. The Captain, after, seemed shocked and looked upon the Soldiers. I am very certain he did not give the word fire.
Cross Examination of Captain James Gifford
Q. Did you ever know an officer order men to fire with their bayonets charged?
A. No, Officers never give order to fire from charged bayonet. They would all have fired together, or most of them.
Thomas Handaside Peck
I was at home when the Guns were fired. I heard ‘em distinct. I went up to the main guard and addressed myself to the Captain and said to him What have you done? He said, Sir it was none of my doings, the Soldiers fired of their own accord, I was in the Street and might have been shot. His character is good as a Gentleman and Soldier. I think it exceeds any of the Corps.
Boston Massacre Oration
Occasion: Delivered at Boston on 5 March 1774, on the Anniversary of the Boston Massacre of 1770.
Men, Brethren, Fathers, and Fellow-Countrymen:
The attentive gravity; the venerable appearance of this crowded audience; the dignity which I behold in the countenances of so many in this great assembly; the solemnity of the occasion upon which we have met together, joined to a consideration of the part I am to take in the important business of this day, fill me with an awe hitherto unknown, and heighten the sense which I have ever had of my unworthiness to fill this sacred desk. But, allured by the call of some of my respected fellow-citizens, with whose request it is always my greatest pleasure to comply, I almost forgot my want of ability to perform what they required. In this situation I find my only support in assuring myself that a generous people will not severely censure what they know was well intended, though its want of merit should prevent their being able to applaud it. And I pray that my sincere attachment to the interest of my country, and the hearty detestation of every design formed against her liberties, may be admitted as some apology for my appearance in this place.
“Security to the persons and properties of the governed is so obviously the design and end of civil government, that to attempt a logical proof of it would be like burning tapers at noonday, to assist the sun in enlightening the world . . .”
I have always, from my earliest youth, rejoiced in the felicity of my fellow-men; and have ever considered it as the indispensable able duty of every member of society to promote, as far as in him lies, the prosperity of every individual, but more especially of the community to which he belongs; and also, as a faithful subject of the State, to use his utmost endeavors to detect, and having detected, strenuously to oppose every traitorous plot which its enemies may devise for its destruction. Security to the persons and properties of the governed is so obviously the design and end of civil government, that to attempt a logical proof of it would be like burning tapers at noonday, to assist the sun in enlightening the world; and it cannot be either virtuous or honorable to attempt to support a government of which this is not the great and principal basis; and it is to the last degree vicious and infamous to attempt to support a government which manifestly tends to render the persons and properties of the governed insecure. Some boast of being friends to government; I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice; but I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny. Is the present system, which the British administration have adopted for the government of the Colonies, a righteous government – or is it tyranny? Here suffer me to ask (and would to heaven there could be an answer!) what tenderness, what regard, respect, or consideration has Great Britain shown, in their late transactions, for the security of the persons or properties of the inhabitants of the Colonies? Or rather what have they omitted doing to destroy that security? They have declared that they have ever had, and of right ought ever to have, full power to make laws of sufficient validity to bind the Colonies in all cases whatever. They have exercised this pretended right by imposing a tax upon us without our consent; and lest we should show some reluctance at parting with our property, her fleets and armies are sent to enforce their mad pretensions. The town of Boston, ever faithful to the British Crown, has been invested by a British fleet; the troops of George III. have crossed the wide Atlantic, not to engage an enemy, but to assist a band of traitors in trampling on the rights and liberties of his most loyal subjects in America – those rights and liberties which, as a father, he ought ever to regard, and as a king, he is bound, in honor, to defend from violation, even at the risk of his own life. . . .
Let not the history of the illustrious house of Brunswick inform posterity that a king, descended from that glorious monarch George II., once sent his British subjects to conquer and enslave his subjects in America. But be perpetual infamy entailed upon that villain who dared to advise his master to such execrable measures; for it was easy to foresee the consequences which so naturally followed upon sending troops into America to enforce obedience to acts of the British Parliament, which neither God nor man ever empowered them to make. It was reasonable to expect that troops, who knew the errand they were sent upon, would treat the people whom they were to subjugate, with a cruelty and haughtiness which too often buries the honorable character of a soldier in the disgraceful name of an unfeeling ruffian. The troops, upon their first arrival, took possession of our Senate House, and pointed their cannon against the judgment hall, and even continued them there whilst the supreme court of judicature for this province was actually sitting to decide upon the lives and fortunes of the King’s subjects. Our streets nightly resounded with the noise of riot and debauchery; our peaceful citizens were hourly exposed to shameful insults, and often felt the effects of their violence and outrage. But this was not all: as though they thought it not enough to violate our civil rights, they endeavored to deprive us of the enjoyment of our religious privileges, to vitiate our morals, and thereby render us deserving of destruction. Hence, the rude din of arms which broke in upon your solemn devotions in your temples, on that day hallowed by heaven, and set apart by God himself for his peculiar worship. Hence, impious oaths and blasphemies so often tortured your unaccustomed ear. Hence, all the arts which idleness and luxury could invent were used to betray our youth of one sex into extravagance and effeminacy, and of the other to infamy and ruin; and did they not succeed but too well? Did not a reverence for religion sensibly decay? Did not our infants almost learn to lisp out curses before they knew their horrid import? Did not our youth forget they were Americans, and, regardless of the admonitions of the wise and aged, servilely copy from their tyrants those vices which finally must overthrow the empire of Great Britain? And must I be compelled to acknowledge knowledge that even the noblest, fairest, part of all the lower creation did not entirely escape the cursed snare? When virtue has once erected her throne within the female breast, it is upon so solid a basis that nothing is able to expel the heavenly inhabitant. But have there not been some few, indeed, I hope, whose youth and inexperience have rendered them a prey to wretches, whom, upon the least reflection, they would have despised and hated as foes to God and their country? I fear there have been some such unhappy instances, or why have I seen an honest father clothed with shame; or why a virtuous mother drowned in tears?