wilkes st

Washington D.C. Looking north from the Roof of the U.S. Capitol Building, June 27, 1861.

Salted paper print, from the collection of  Benjamin Brown French, at the time Commissioner of Public Buildings.

Photograph shows view of Washington, D.C., taken from U.S. Capitol, showing Douglas Hospital, Old Douglas House, Railway Station, The Washington, or Wilkes House, St. Aloysius, Government Printing Office, Glenwood Cemetery, Swampoodle, Old Mill.

The Boston Massacre

The violence had been building in Massachusetts since the arrival of the unwelcome British troops in the late 1768. Tension between the British Americans of Massachusetts and the solders lead to occasional beatings of British solders by Bostonian men. British solders aggressing against citizens were swiftly brought into court. And solders where largely rendered ineffectual at enforcing the trade acts do to Bostonians persistence and fortitude. Wary of upheaval, civil authorities feared calling upon solders for support. In october 1769 Gov. Hutchinson wanted to use troops against a mob that had seized a hated customs informer, but was warned off by the advice of the Council, sheriff, and justices of the peace.

In late october1769, a crowed attracted a British troop with sticks and stones and forced it to disperse.

Colonel William Dalrymple, Commander of the, troops blustered that this incident was “but a prelude,” and that “never was the popular insolence at such a pitch!”

Non-importation, British troops, Liberal agitation, the mounting climate of violence, the increasing edginess and ineffectuality of the solders— all culminated and came fatefully to a head in early 1770.

The culminating crisis unsurprisingly arose out of from the pressuring of the four mercantile holdouts against non-importation: John Taylor, Theophilus Lillie, William Jackson, and Nathaniel Rogers, (nephew of Gov. Hutchinson)

On february 22, some schoolboys led a crowd in placing an effigy of the four importers at the door of Theophilus Lillie. Seeing this the infamous informer Ebenezer Richardson denounced the boys and tred to destroy the effigy. The appearance of the reviled customs informer was just what was needed to inflame the crowd, which pursued him to his house crying, “INFORMER! INFORMER!” There the boys threw rocks at his house where upon the panicky Tory Richardson fired repeatedly into the crowd, killing 11 year-old Christopher Snider and wounding the 11 year-old son of Captain John Gore.

The effect that the killing 11 year-old Christopher had on the Bostonian public opinion is easy to imagine. Richardson barely excepted being hanged on the spot, and the four miscreant importers ether left town or mounted an armed guard.

The funeral procession for little Christopher, organized by the Sons of Liberty, was two miles long! Perhaps the largest ever gathered In colonial America.

The huge funeral was patterned after the Wilkite funeral in England for the innocent victim of the Massacre of St. George’s Fields, William Allen.

Although I feel I’m getting slightly away from the topic of the Boston Massacre, it is important for me to momentarily make note that the Wilkite movement in England was an important source of inspiration for the British American liberal movement in Massachusetts and the rest of the American colonies. Colonial heats had bled for the Massacre at St. George’s Fields and the incarceration of John Wilkes. And as early as the first Wilkite agitation in 1763, Americans recognized the righteous struggle taken up by their brethren in the motherland as a testament to their kinship to liberty and their enmity to tyranny. And on June 6, 1768, a committee of the Boston Sons of Liberty, including John Adams, Benjamin Church, Joseph Warren, and others, wrote to Wilkes as “The Friends of Liberty, Wilkes, peace, and good order.” The Bostonians hailed Wilkes’ fight for the true British constitution, commended John Dickinson’s pamphlet to his attention, and sent a monetary token of their esteem.

On July 19, Wilkes significantly replied from prison that his dedication to liberty had no local confines, and that he was “a friend to Universal liberty.” Wilkes warmly commended Dickinson’s “generous and rational Farmer’s Letters, in which the cause of freedom is perfectly understood,” and never so ably defended. Such was the beginning of a more formal linkage between the Liberty movements in Britain and America, and a voluminous correspondence between John Wilkes and the Boston Sons.

Returning now to the Boston massacre.

To the Boston liberals the murder of young Snider also recalled the tragic assault on James Otis, a leader in the non-importation movement in Massachusetts, who was beaten viciously on the head with a cane by a custom-house official who had been angered by a newspaper attack. Otis never recovered and for the rest of his life was plagued by bouts of mental instability which then on prevented him form acting in the moment.

Tragic as the attack on Otis was, the 11 year-old Snider was “the first, whose his life has been a victim to the cruelty and rage of the oppressors!” The Boston Gazette thundered that “the blood of young Allen (the innocent victim at St. George’s Fields) may be covered in Britain. But a thorough inquisition would be made in America for that of young Snider, which crieth for vengeance, like the blood of the righteous Able!”

In less than two weeks clashes occurred on March 2, and 3rd, between Bostonians and the troops. British complaints were to draw retorts by the Massachusetts Council that the evident solution was to withdraw the troops. For their part, the populace believed the customs commissioners (the bosses of Richardson) to be implicated in the child murder, and where indignant at the solders being used to guard the hated commissioners at the customhouse.

The crisis arrived on the night of March filth. The troops began the day by printing an insulting hand bill. A small Riot was precipitated by a fist fight between a solder and ropewalk worker; there had been bad blood between ropewalk laborers and the troops before. As night fell, a soldier struck, with his musket, a young appearance, who had been denouncing British officers and rousing ugly memories of the child killing of two weeks before. A crowd now gathered before the barracks of the Fourteenth Regiment and pelted the sentries with snow balls.

Meanwhile, the meeting bell was rung and a crowed gathered at the customhouse on King Street, where the main body of troops was stationed. Someone recognized the solder who had assaulted the young apprentice—a sentry at the customhouse—and the crowd attacked him with snowballs and sticks of broken ice.

At this critical juncture, the customs officials at customhouse called for the main guard headed by a Captain Thomas Preston to come to the rescue of the honor of the sentry, the army, and the commissioners who had brought the troops to Boston in the first place. Captain Preston and his guard confronted the mob with fixed bayonets. The crowd pressed on the bayonets and when the gun of one solder was knocked to the ground the solders fired into the crowd. Joined by the customs officials who shot at the crowd from the upper floor of the customhouse. Five men fell dead form the murderous volley. The first man to die was Crispus Attucks, a tall black sailor, who had been one of the most zealous front-fighters in the Sons of Liberty.

At the sound of the muskets the Bostonians fell back, but soon advanced again to take away their dead. The panicked soldiers got ready to fire again, but Captain Preston struck their guns out of position. Soon the Boston crowd began to form in the earnest, and the streets rang with the cry of,


Nearly 500 people of Boston assembled swearing to kill every British solder who had fired upon the crowd. Preston and his men where forced to retreat to the safety of the guard house..