The Colonists' Account of the Boston Massacre in 1770

Both Thomas Preston and an anonymous account of March 13, 1770 relay an event from 8 days prior observed between the colonists and British soldiers residing within the area of Boston. In 1767, Parliament enacted a series of acts within the colonies, best known as the Townshend Acts.

Its stipulations included taxes on tea, paint, paper, glass, and lead, the restriction of colonists’ purchased goods to those only from their mother country, the direction of British troops back towards the colonies and away from the Appalachian Mountains, and last, but not least, granting officials writs of assistance to search and seize any contraband goods.

These acts were generally loathed among the colonists. They wrote letters, participated in boycotts and resisted military force sent to enforce the acts. One particular occurrence of military resistance requires closer analysis – that is, the Boston “Massacre.” The colonists account of distress in Boston is not to be trusted as it is anonymous, over exaggerated, and biased.

The anonymous account of events occurring in Boston, MA March 13, 1770 is suspicious and contains much discrimination against the British force.

It was written 8 days following the event. Explicitly, the reader can see that this letter was meant for other colonists to receive, in an attempt to raise patriotic or anti-British morale and/or to the Crown to inspire sympathy and shaming of British troops. Often the narrative refers to the troops as “violent” – often “assaulting” and “abusing” colonists. The account acknowledges the “quarrels and uneasiness” between the two parties. It neglects, however, to include what part was played or what violence was returned by the colonial men.

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This leads the reader to believe that the colonists were more or less innocent in the matter or that colonists took no measures to defend themselves. The author writes his narrative as if he is calling for the punishment of British troops involved. He describes the British troops as an unpleasant people who were “difficult [to] access on office-business” and exhibited “supercilious behavior render[ing] them disgustful to people in general.” As hatred between the two parties escalated from words to blows, and even musket fire, the account lists all colonists who had been wounded or killed. The anonymous author is careful to refer to them as “his Majesty’s subjects” to inspire readers’ feelings of compassion for the colonists. The above mentioned account is a misrepresentation of the British troops and aims primarily to undermine their reputations within the colonies.

Captain Thomas Preston, in his account of March 5, 1770, describes a similarly hostile situation. Yet, it would appear that the British troops were on the defensive with the colonists on the offensive. His account was recorded on the same date as the anonymous document, March 13th, 1770. Upon reading Capt. Preston’s account, it could be inferred that he wrote in hopes of obtaining sympathy from loyalist colonists or even to sway patriots into understanding the British troops’ predicament. He touches on, multiple times, that “[his) intention was not to act offensively, but the contrary.” Upon arriving in the Bostonian colony, Preston emphasizes the “malicious temper of the people” against himself and his troops. Preston impresses upon the audience how “inhabitants were constantly provoking and abusing the soldiery.” The colonists’ “utter hatred” of the troops led them to plan an event at the peak of violence and terror, where they would attack British troops in the area on March 5th and 6th. He notes that the troops were never given any orders to fire and that no intentions of death or murdering colonists were mentioned. Unlike the anonymous account, Capt. Preston’s is far more reasoned. Not only this, but Preston is also willing to attach his name to the document. This gives the audience basis to believe that he was not afraid of being cross-examined and/or could name witnesses to testify to his account’s validity.

One thing is for certain upon analyzing the two of these accounts – British troops and colonists came to a head and lives were lost. They agree that the event took place by the town Custom House on the 5th of March. Still, there are quite a number of discrepancies between the two accounts. For instance, the anonymous account states that the only things used to attack the British were snowballs, whereas Capt. Preston’s account states that the colonists had clubs and bludgeons at the ready to harm or even take the lives of the troops. It is reasonable to believe that the colonists did have such weaponry in their possession as they were willing to move forward with any action that would potentially remove the British troops from what they considered to be their land and property. Apart from the equipment used to attack the British troops, the anonymous account also declares that there was “not the least provocation given to Capt. Preston of his party.” This is difficult to believe as both accounts acknowledge the contempt colonists held for their British counterparts. The colonists considered the presence of British troops in their colony unnecessary and overbearing. Ultimately, the two documents disagree on which party initiated the fighting. In the anonymous account, it is said that Captain Preston gave order to his troops to fire among the crowd. However, in Preston’s account, he explicitly writes that even when taunted and provoked by the colonists to fire, he had no intention of doing so. While it is clear that those who lost their lives or had been wounded in the colonial crowd owe their injuries to musketfire, it appears that Captain Preston’s representation of these events are far more accurate and rational than the account provided by an anonymous source. All in all, due to the anonymous account’s extreme exaggeration, bias, and intention, the account provided by Captain Thomas Preston shows that the British were justified in firing at the colonists in defense of their own lives.

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The Colonists' Account of the Boston Massacre in 1770. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from

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