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Jeff Heilman History 1700 Essay 1 Draft 3 “The Boston Massacre” The events of March 5, 1770 should be remembered assignificant,foreshadowing, pivotal, and expected. Maybe not that nightorcityspecifically, but the situation in Boston, if not throughout The EnglishColonies, had deteriorated to the point that“British troops found themselvesregularly pelted with stones, dirt, and human excrement”. 1 The opinions andemotions of either side were no secret.Even though two such eyewitness‟express clear blame for the opposing side, they do so only in difference ofdetail. The facts of the event unfold the same regardless. „The Incident of KingStreet‟ was a tragic inevitability. We have documents from the „Boston Massacre‟ trial, which help us toobserve from completely different perspectives. The depositions of CaptainPreston, an English officer, and Robert Goddard, a Colonist,give quite differentdetails. Despite these differences, they still both describe the same situation. Ifwe combine them to find and remove differences, we find that both stories arenothing but two different observations of the same event. Captain Preston‟s account opens in the middle of a very volatilesituation. His men lined up behind him, bayonets fixed and weapons loaded,1 Experience History Volume 1, Ch. 6,The Boston Massacre, P. 150, Par. 1 Page | 1
Jeff Heilman History 1700 Essay 1 Draft 3the Captain tries to persuade the mob to leave peaceably. Goddard seems toecho the same situation, with a more negative picture of the Captain who “toldthe Boys to go home lest there should be murder done”2. Goddard also recalls amajor detail concerning the Captain. Goddard places the Captainbehind hismen. This directly contradicts the Captains statement that he was in front ofhis men. He established his physical position again, when he tried to dissuadefears in the crowd, explaining that the soldiers couldn‟t fire. “observing to themthat I was advance before the muzzles of the men’s pieces, and must fallsacrifice if they fired.”3 While they both talk of the snowballs being thrown, Goddard‟s accounthas no mentionof clubs, or bludgeons. Regardless, the situation falls apartmore rapidly. Both accounts talk of a single gun being fired. Goddard says itwas on the order of Preston, but Preston states it was without his order. At thatpoint the crowd became enraged and started to attack by throwing more clubsand snowballs. Somewhere in the moments after the first shot, both agree that theCaptain was struck in the arm. That moment is when Goddard claims Prestongave the order to fire. And The Captain maintains he never gave that order.Although he does acknowledge that he questioned who fired, and gave orders2Experience History, Dueling Documents, Document 2- Deposition of Robert Goddard3Experience History, Dueling Documents, Document-1 Deposition of Captain Preston Page | 2
Jeff Heilman History 1700 Essay 1 Draft 3of, “don’t fire”4or “stop firing”5. The only variance of the testimony here iswhether or not they all fired at once or sporadically in groups. What is notdisputed is that the soldiers began firing into the crowd. The crowd thendispersed. After reviewing both accounts, Robert Goddard‟s reveals some detailswhich do not seem to be reasonable. He states, “I was so near the officer whenhe gave the word fire, that I could touch him” 6. If Capt. Preston had been behindhis men, as Goddard had earlier stated, how does he touch him from bayonet,rifle, and soldier‟s length away? Furthermore, he agrees that someone struckCapt. Preston. Once again it stretches imagination to think a person could getbehind the soldiers to attack Capt. Preston, unless the crowd had rushed theline, making the whole situation much less benign than the snowball throwingGoddard described. It must be stated that even with these points being broughtforward, they prove nothing. Two men on opposite sides of anger, hate, fear,blood and death will not see the same details. From these two documents itcannot be claimed that either man mislead on purpose. In his closing argument to the jury, John Adams, serving as defensecouncil for The British said, "Facts are stubborn things," he concluded, "and4 Experience History, Dueling Documents, Document-1 Deposition of Captain Preston5 Experience History, Dueling Documents, Document-1 Deposition of Captain Preston6 Experience History, Dueling Documents, Document 2- Deposition of Robert Goddard Page | 3
Jeff Heilman History 1700 Essay 1 Draft 3whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannotalter the state of facts and evidence."7 When we remove passions and individual inclinations, we can draw factsfrom the two different versions of the same event. There was an angry gatheringof Colonialists. The British soldiers arrived to disperse the crowd, and someform of dialogue was had between the Captain and some of the colonists. Asingle shot was fired into the crowd, just before an attack on the captain. Atthat moment the soldiers opened fire on the crowd.While it seems oversimplified, it does tell how events progressed. There very well may be lies, omissions, and extra elaborations, inaddition to the fallible human memory. However, we still are able to get agreedfacts of the event. These facts point to a situation that was bound to happen inThe Colonies. Emotionally charged Colonists who felt cheated and bullied byThe Crown of England, and the Soldiers charged by the same Crown to keepthose subjectssuppressed. Two wills collided on King Street in Boston thatnight, and the proverbial „powder keg‟ got its spark that evening in Boston. Anyother result would have been to deny destiny.7 Linder, Douglas. Famous American Trials, Boston Massacre, Key Figures, John Adamshttp://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/bostonmassacre/keyfigures.html Page | 4
Jeff Heilman History 1700 Essay 1 Draft 3BibliographyDavidson, James West, et al. Experience History, Interpreting Americas Past, Volume 1. McGraw Hill, 2011.Linder, Douglas. "Boston Massacre Trial, Depositions." n.d. Famous American Trials. 02 2012. <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/bostonmassacre/bostonmassacre.html>.—. "Boston Massacre Trial, Key figures." n.d. Famous American trials. 02 2012. <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/bostonmassacre/keyfigures.html>. Page | 5