There is a distinct lack of proportion between the tenth stop on the Freedom Trail, and the event it commemorates. The marker for the spot of the Boston Massacre is almost laughable in its insignificance; that which it commemorates was decidedly not.
Across from the east balcony of the Old State House is a tiny star surrounded by cobblestones in the pavement, about on the level of a celebrity’s hand and footprints on Hollywood Boulevard. This was the site of the Boston Massacre. But what was the Boston Massacre?
By 1770 there had already been significant unrest in the colonies, culminating in riots over the Stamp Act. The locals and the British soldiers not infrequently exchanged words, or less often fists.
What exactly happened on March 5 is in dispute to this day. One version is that the incident started when a young Bostonian named Edward Garrick hurled insulting taunts at or about the British commanding officer. A guard named Private White responded by leaving his sentry box and striking Garrick in the face with the butt of his musket.
This incensed a number of locals who witnessed the incident. Soon they’d formed an angry mob, throwing snowballs and rocks at White and threatening him with worse.
A Captain Prescott arrived with eight additional British soldiers to rescue White and enforce order. But by now the mob had grown to possibly as many as several hundred, and they were not to be subdued.
A club thrown from the crowd struck a private named Montgomery in the face. Some say he responded by firing the first shot into the crowd. The mob crowded in on the soldiers, not dispersing until several more shots were fired.
Five Bostonians were killed. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others used the deaths to their maximum propaganda effect, referring to the incident with the incendiary term the “Boston Massacre,” a name which stuck. Though ironically Adams’s cousin John Adams defended in court the British soldiers charged with doing the shooting, and got most of them off.
The event proved to be one of the key galvanizing moments that led the colonists to revolt just a few years later.
The Boston Massacre is re-enacted every March 5 on the street where it occurred. Elsewhere on the Freedom Trail you can see a Boston Massacre Memorial (at Boston Common), and the tombstone for the Boston Massacre victims (at the Granary Burying Ground).
“The Boston Massacre.” The Freedom Trail.
“Boston Massacre Site.” Boston Discovery Guide.
“Boston Massacre Site.” Celebrate Boston.