The Boston (Irish) Massacre
John William Tuohy
The Boston Massacre, which might be more aptly known as the Boston Irish massacre, started innocently enough, here at this spot, at about noon on Friday, March 2, 1770 when William Green, a rope maker spotted Private Patrick Walker, an Irishmen in the British regiment assigned to Boston. Green knew that the soldiers were notoriously underpaid and in their off hours held down temporary odd jobs around the city to pick up some extra cash. Green turned to his workmates and smiled and then spoke to the passing infantrymen "Hey, soldier, do you want some work?"
"Yes, I do"
"Then go clean out my shithouse"
More words were exchanged and Private Walker flew at Green but was quickly beaten to the ground by Green and his workmates, one of them picking up a knife that had fallen out of the soldiers pocket and waved it at him. Outnumbered and humiliated, Private Patrick Walker beat a retreat back to his barracks and recruited eight or ten fellow infantry men and returned to the rope works.
By this time the Rope makers were also reinforced and after a brief fistfight, the British soldiers were beaten back to their barrack. A few days later, the incident was repeated, almost exactly at MacNeils rope makers. Later that night, three troops were missing from roll call and a barracks rumor started that they locals had killed the unaccounted men.
It wasn't true of course, but tensions were high on both sides and it was only a matter of time before something broke.
Several days later three soldiers were making their way to their barracks when a small crowd assembled around them. One of the soldiers poked one of the civilians with the butt of his bayonet, a shouting match broke out and more civilians gathered around the three troopers.
The soldiers pulled out their swords and starting swinging them as they walked, nicking a few shoulders and ripping clothes. Several British officers came out to defuse the situation but to no avail.
The crowd of Americans, mostly school boys, grew in size. Someone in the crowd yelled "The Main Guard" and the crowd rushed here, to King Street where they pelted British soldiers with snowballs, ice and curses. Again an Officer came and ordered his men back in to their barracks. The crowd made its way to another guard station manned by Private Hugh White, who had been involved in a fistfight with a local named Edward Garrick a few days before. Now Garrick was in the crowd, and having spotted Private White
"There's the son of a bitch who knocked me down a few days ago"
The crowd turned on White and hurled ice at him and dared him to step out of his guard house. White replied that he could not leave his station and told the mob that if they did not disburse that he would call the main guard. The mob pelted him again and White fixed his bayonet at ready and then made a great show of loading his musket to warn the mob off. A local bookseller, Henry Knox warned White against firing, telling him that the mob was made up mostly of teenagers.
"Sir, if they molest me, I will fire"
A barrage of ice slammed inches away from Whites head and a chorus of shouts came from the crowd "Kill him" and "Fire damn you fire, we defy you"
More people joined the mob. Private White shouted for reinforcements "Main Guard turn out!"
The town’s people also called for reinforcements. This is what they had been waiting for.
Inside the main Guardhouse, Irish born Captain Thomas Preston paced the floor for an answer. He had sent out scouts to find out what was happening to Private White. Noted for his sound judgment, Preston was lost for an answer.
He knew that he had no authority to send armed troops out on to the street without the consent of the local officials, a Justice of the Peace, but he also understood that no Justice of Peace could be relied on to brave the mob outside. In the meantime Private White stood alone, surrounded by a growing mob, some armed with clubs the others pelting the young soldier with chunks of sharp ice. As White saw the situation and ordered his subordinate, a Lieutenant James Basset to form a relief column of half a dozen men and bring White back to the barrack.
The Lieutenant rounded up six men. Three of them, John Carroll, Mathew Kilroy and William Warren, had been involved in the rope incident a few days before and a corporal and started to march out to Private White. Preston rethought his command. Lieutenant Basset, he knew, was incompetent. Through family connects Basset had been commissioned an officer at age twelve, and now at age twenty was badly shaken over the mob outside.
Preston ordered Basset to stay behind and marched his squad outside the Guard house, rounded up White and started to march back to the Guard house. But by then the crowd had encircled the soldiers and made passing impossible. Preston ordered his men in to a semi-circle next to the corner of a customs house. The soldiers stood three feet apart, bayonets at ready with Preston standing directly in front of his men.
A local walked up to Preston and asked if his men intended to fire in to the crowd, Preston assured him that they would not fire in to the crowd, and besides they would have to shoot him first due to where he was standing A Tory made his way to the back of the soldiers and shouted
"Fire, by God, I will stand by you whilst I have a drop of blood! Fire!"
Samuel Gray, one of the men involved in the rope incident, showed up on the scene. Slightly drunk, he started the crowd chanting "Fire Damn you fire!" at the soldiers. A club was thrown through the air and struck Private Hugh Montgomery in the head. Montgomery lifted himself up off the ground and fired a round off in to the crisp New England air.
A man from the crowd, armed with a club, flung himself at Captain Preston but was prodded back by Montgomery’s bayonet. The crowd fell silent and Preston walked behind his men.
The chants "fire, Fire damn you fire" started again. The soldier, all young men and understandably scared, may have thought they heard their officer order them to fire. (Preston had not ordered them to fire or not fire, he may have stood behind his men to avoid being beaten by clubs) When it looked as though the Redcoats would not fire, the drunken Samuel Gray turned to another man in the crowd and said
"My lads they will not fire"
At that very second Private Matthew Kilroy fired a shot from his musket. Kilroy wasn't aiming at Gray or anyone else; by his testimony he had by shooting in to the air.
The bullet went through Gray’s forehead and was said to have left a hole three by two inches. The other soldiers started to shoot. A shot struck and killed six foot two Crispus Attucks who may or may not have been an African American, he was dark skinned, possibly a Mulatto or an American Indian. He had been slave by had escaped in 1751. He had come to King Street leading a band of merchant sailors.
Someone shouted that the mob should advance on to the soldiers to keep them from shooting again, as the crowd Pressed in the Soldiers reloaded and fire in to the mob killing James Caldwell, a local sailor. A second shot killed Irish born Patrick Carr, one other was killed and another wounded. Captain Preston drew his sword and rushed down the firing line shoving the musket barrels in to the air "Stop firing! stop firing!"
Outraged, Preston demanded to be told why his men had fired. They all responded alike, they were sure that they had heard Preston order them to fire. What had actually happened was that Private Hugh Montgomery, having been knocked to the ground, stepped back from his position and shouted to the others "Damn you, Fire!" The other soldiers, assuming that Preston had shouted the ordered, opened fire. By three O’clock that morning, Captain Preston was in jail on charges of murder. The soldiers who had done the actual shooting were indicted for the killings, but were not held in cells. Early that next day Irish born James Forrest, a friend of Preston’s entered Lawyer John Adams office weeping. Forrest wept so often he was referred to around town as the Irish infant. Forrest retained Adams, for one dollar, as Preston’s attorney for the upcoming trial. Adams petitioned the court for a separate trail for Preston and Preston's soldiers balked. Why, they asked the court, should Preston have a better chance of defending himself, when they who had simply been following his orders, should be tried as one. The court disagreed and Preston was tried separately and Preston’s trial would become the first criminal case in New England’s history to run more than one day. The jury found him innocent of all charges in six days’ time.
The soldier’s trial came in early December of 1770. They would be defended by a 26 year old Lawyer named Josiah Quincy with Samuel Adams acting as the prosecution. The most damaging testimony came from the Doctor who treated young Irishman Patrick Carr who had lived for four days after being shot. Carr told the Doctor that he was surprised that the British had not fired sooner, that he thought that the soldiers had been abused beyond reason, that it was his opinion that had they not fired that they would have been assaulted by the mob, that they fired in self-defense and that he had heard the mob scream "Kill them" The clincher came when the Doctor reported that the Irish boy did not blame the soldier who had shot him. It was damaging testimony. When the Doctor stepped down, Samuel Adams walked over to the all Protestant Jury and pointed out that Carr was an Irishmen who more than probably had been given a Catholic funeral, the Jury, he said, could figure out how much value to put on the words of an Irish Catholic.
For his summation, the soldier’s lawyer called the mob "Irish Teague’s and outlandish jack tars"
Several days later, the jury foreman, an Irishman in name at least, Joseph Mayo, told the court that Privates James Hartigan, William McCauley, John Carrol, Hugh White and William Warren were found not guilty. Privates Mathew Kilroy and Hugh Montgomery, the two men who were known to have fired in to the crowd were found guilty and had their right thumbs seared with a fire brand. All seven men were then transferred by boat to various forts in New Jersey.