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Boston Essay

1200 words - 5 pages

By 1770 Boston was no longer Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill’ whose citizenry had a covenant with God. Instead, Boston was the commercial and political epicentre of the Thirteen Colonies, and had been engulfed by a hot atmosphere of colonial discontent at the British, brought about by years of war, taxes and occupation. The discontent boiled over into riot on the evening of 5 March 1770, when Captain Thomas Preston and his seven guards arrived to relieve a Sentinel of his harassers amidst taunts of “you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare!”1 from an ever-swelling crowd of eighty. One of Preston’s men responded to being struck with a weapon by firing into the ...view middle of the document...

This is because as an experienced officer, like his comrade James Gifford, knew that “officers never give order to fire from charged bayonet”3. Furthermore, Preston had a sense of destiny about him. When accosted by Henry Knox reminding him that his life was answerable should be issue orders to fire, he curtly acknowledged the fact4. Knox’s remarks illustrate to us what Preston must have known at the time – that whilst rioting was not uncommon, it was unheard of for the British to fire on rioters.
Invariably, shots were fired as a response to the provocation of the crowd. Though disputed by many witnesses including Knox himself5, the crowd was certainly armed, but not to the extent of the Guards. The crowd was pelting snowballs, many, like William Wyatt admit to having sticks and Benjamin Burdick admits to have carried a sword6. Preston was situated between his men and the crowd receiving questions from Theodore Bliss and Richard Palmes7 in quick succession when a stick had struck down Private Montgomery whom responded by firing blindly into the crowd. In the ensuing chaos, some of the crowd had fled and some elected to fight on. There was a delayed second volley of fire as the other Guards joined in, but in the intervening period, men closest to, and hence with the best ability to hear Preston, like Bliss, Palmes and Matthew Murray whom saw Preston speaking all admit they heard no order given to fire8. Preston managed to eventually reprimand his men, but the disgust and shock at his men that James Woodall witnessed in the aftermath further illustrates Preston’s innocence9.
The boys that started the whole incident were simply products of years of British mistreatment of Colonists. Growing up in a post Seven Years War era, their experiences with the British varied little from being slapped with ever-increasing taxes such as the deeply unpopular Sugar Act of 1764, and Stamp Act of 1765. Indeed the Colonists were wronged, as both acts violated the rights of Englishmen as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Sugar Act funded the stationing of British forces in the Colonies. The Colonists saw it as an occupation and a threat to their liberties. The Stamp Act, effectively a direct revenue tax, angered Colonists, their grievances aptly summed up in the battle cry “no taxation without representation!”10 A rift had emerged, but it was repairable. The majority of Colonists were still loyal to the Crown. Surely the incident and Acts were too petty to warrant a rebellion against the Crown. However, several merchants began organising themselves into...

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