American blood was shed on American soil.
The showdown between the British and the Americans was not simply a war of words. Blood was shed over this clash of ideals. Although large-scale fighting between American minutemen and the British redcoats did not begin until 1775, the 1770 Boston Massacre gave each side a taste of what was to come.
No colony was thrilled with the Townshend duties, but nowhere was there greater resentment than in Boston. British officials in Boston feared for their lives. When attempts were made to seize two of John Hancock's trading vessels, Boston was ready to riot. Lord Hillsborough, Parliament's minister on American affairs, finally ordered four regiments to be moved to Boston.
Samuel Adams and James Otis did not take this lightly. Less than three weeks prior to the arrival of British troops, Bostonians defiantly, but nervously, assembled in Faneuil Hall. But when the redcoats marched boldly through the town streets on October 1, the only resistance seen was on the facial expressions of the townspeople. The people of Boston had decided to show restraint.
The other 12 colonies watched the Boston proceedings with great interest. Perhaps their fears about British tyranny were true. Moderates found it difficult to argue that the Crown was not interested in stripping away American civil liberties by having a standing army stationed in Boston. Throughout the occupation, sentiment shifted further and further away from the London government.
On March 5, 1770, the inevitable happened. A mob of about 60 angry townspeople descended upon the guard at the Customs House. When reinforcements were called, the crowd became more unruly, hurling rocks and snowballs at the guard and reinforcements.
In the heat of the confusing melee, the British fired without Captain Thomas Preston's command. Imperial bullets took the lives of five men, including Crispus Attucks, a former slave. Others were injured.
This party in proceeding from Exchange lane into King street, must pass the sentry posted at the westerly corner of the Custom House, which butts on that lane and fronts on that street. This is needful to be mentioned, as near that spot and in that street the bloody tragedy was acted, and the street actors in it were stationed: their station being but a few feet from the front side of the said Custom House. The outrageous behavior and the threats of the said party occasioned the ringing of the meeting-house bell near the head of King street, which bell ringing quick, as for fire, it presently brought out a number of inhabitants, who being soon sensible of the occasion of it, were naturally led to King street, where the said party had made a stop but a little while before, and where their stopping had drawn together a number of boys, round the sentry at the Custom House. whether the boys mistook the sentry for one of the said party, and thence took occasion to differ with him, or whether he first affronted them, which is affirmed in several depositions,-however that may be, there was much foul language between them, and some of them, in consequence of his pushing at them with his bayonet, threw snowballs at him, which occasioned him to knock hastily at the door of the Custom House. From hence two persons thereupon proceeded immediately to the main-guard, which was posted opposite to the State House, at a small distance, near the head of the said street. The officer on guard was Capt. Preston, who with seven or eight soldiers, with fire-arms and charged bayonets, issued from the guardhouse, and in great haste posted himself and his soldiers in front of the Custom House, near the corner aforesaid.
– Anonymous, "An Account of the Boston Massacre," (1770)
Captain Preston and four of his men were cleared of all charges in the trial that followed. Two others were convicted of manslaughter, but were sentenced to a mere branding of the thumb. The lawyer who represented the British soldiers was none other than patriot John Adams.
At the same time Preston's men drew blood in Boston, the Parliament in London decided once again to concede on the issue of taxation. All the Townshend duties were repealed save one, the tax on tea. It proved to another error in judgment on the part of the British.
The Massachusetts legislature was reconvened. Despite calls by some to continue the tea boycott until all taxes were repealed, most American colonists resumed importation.
The events in Boston from 1768 through 1770 were not soon forgotten. Legal squabbles were one thing, but bloodshed was another. Despite the verdict of the soldiers' trial, Americans did not forget the lesson they had learned from this experience.
What was the lesson? Americans learned that the British would use force when necessary to keep the Americans obedient.
THE FATAL FIFTH OF MARCH, 1770, CAN NEVER BE FORGOTTEN. The horrors of THAT DREADFUL NIGHT are but too deeply impressed on our hearts. Language is too feeble to paint the emotions of our souls, when our streets were stained with the BLOOD OF OUR BRETHERN; when our ears were wounded by the groans of the dying, and our eyes were tormented with the sight of the mangled bodies of the dead. When our alarmed imagination presented to our view our houses wrapt in flames, our children subjected to the barbarous caprice of the raging soldiery; our beauteous virgins exposed to all the insolence of unbridled passion; our virtuous wives, endeared to us by every tender tie, falling a sacrifice to worse than brutal violence, and perhaps, like the famed Lucretia, distracted with anguish and despair, ending their wretched lives by their own fair hands...
– Dr. Joseph Warren, "Oration commemorating the anniversary of the Boston Massacre," (March 5, 1772)
If it could happen in Boston, where would it happen next?