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Crispus Attucks and The Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre of 1770 helped to start the most important war in U.S. history, the Revolutionary War, and it all started with one man. A runaway slave for more than 20 years, Crispus Attucks instigated the Boston Massacre of 1770, a pivotal event that led to the American Revolution. The son of an African father and Indian mother, Attucks worked on a whaling crew that sailed out of Boston Harbor.

His animosity toward the British was the product of a number of factors, including the competition he faced from British troops who took part-time jobs during off-duty hours for lower wages and his fear of being drafted into the British navy.

Three days prior to the fateful March 5, a fight erupted between rope makers and three British soldiers. Thus, when a British soldier entered a pub looking for work, he found a group of angry seamen, including Attucks, instead. About 30 men tormented the job-seeker before soldiers came to his rescue.

Despite being unarmed, Attucks and his crew didn’t back down, and Attucks was the first of five to die. The significance of Attucks’s actions wasn’t lost on those who dubbed the incident the Boston Massacre and elevated Attucks to martyr status. Despite laws and customs restricting the burial of blacks, Attucks’s body rested with the others in Park Street Cemetery.

Ironically, John Adams, later a U.S. president, painted Attucks a rogue in court to defend the British soldiers, who won an acquittal. That outcome outraged the colonists more and made the American Revolution even more attractive.

In 1858, black abolitionists honored the revolutionary with Crispus Attucks Day. Thirty years later, objections from both the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which considered him a villain, couldn’t prevent the erection of the Crispus Attucks Monument in Boston Common.

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