For Kids: Who was Crispus Attucks, and why is he important?
On the evening of March 5, 1770, a group of sailors, colonists, in Boston had been taunting a group of British soldiers. This was not unusual. Fights often broke out between the British soldiers and the colonists. By 1770, although some colonists were still loyal to the crown, many others were upset about the taxes and the troops and the disregard the British Parliament had shown for the needs of the American colonists. Jobs were lost. British troops were arrogant. And monies were tight. Taxation without representation was the cry heard everywhere. Tension was growing.
This particular night, it was a very angry crowd, a violent crowd. The British shot into the crowd, killing five colonists. One of the colonists killed was Crispus Attucks. This shooting became known as the Boston Massacre.
Crispus Attucks was part African American and part Native American. He was a big guy. He was over 6 feet tall. He was sturdy and a street fighter. Now, he was dead along with four other colonists.
There was a trial. The British who shot into the crowd, killing five people, were put on trial for murder in 1770.
According to the British soldiers, Attucks created the problem. They swore in court that Attucks swung two big wooden sticks at them. He knocked away a soldier's gun. He hit a solider in the face. According to another witness, a slave, Crispus Attucks grabbed the soldier's bayonet and yelled for the crown to "kill the dogs, knock them over." When the British soldier pulled his gun away, Crispus swung again. He had no choice but to shoot him. According to the British, it was self defense.
One wonders if that could possibly be true. Then again, Attucks was a runaway slave. He might have been afraid he would be recaptured and returned. Perhaps the crowd was too tightly packed for him to back away from the confrontation. He was a big guy. He could have pushed his way though, but then he was black. Pushing white colonists out of his way might have gotten him into as much trouble as facing the British. All we know for sure is that Crispus Attucks was shot twice in the chest and died.
The jury acquitted the soldiers of murder in the deaths of all five colonists. Two of British soldiers, however, were convicted of a lesser crime, that of manslaughter. Their hands were branded or burned as punishment, and they were released.
To the British, it was over. To the colonists, it was one more example of the unfairness of things. Colonial newspapers carried the story, and emphasized the gore and the attack on the unarmed colonists.
Crispus Attucks became a symbol to the African American community in Boston, a symbol of freedom. He is considered the first man to die in what would soon become the Revolutionary War, the American Revolution.