The History of the Boston Massacre
I was interested in the Boston Massacre and found many testimonies and other primary resources there. However, as I read through I was intrigued by a comment in my readings about Captain Thomas Preston’s “London Letter”. In Preston’s letter to London, he intended only Londoners to read it and when the article was later published in the Boston Gazette it added annoyance to the already frustrated public in Boston.
I was now, intrigued and determined to find Captain Preston’s newspaper article. I, then, asked for help from the research and technology desk.
They guided me through the library database to find a website called American Historical Newspapers. They had many articles from 1700-1850 and I was able to find the actual article, with Captain Preston’s recollection of the “unhappy affair” (Preston’s quote), posted in the Boston Gazette from June 25th 1770, as well as, the original letter to London first published, in April 28th, in the London newspaper the Essex Gazette. Originally this article was a letter sent by Captain Thomas Preston, to London intended for “His Majesty” the king. The letter was delivered to the Essex Gazette, a London newspaper, and printed in April 28th 1770.
Captain Preston produced this account of what came to be known as the Boston Massacre, after being jailed and accused of ordering his men to “fire on a crowd of angry townspeople”. Two months later, (the amount of time it takes to get to America from London by ship) the Boston Gazette published Captain Preston’s article under the headline, “A Narrative of the Late Transactions at Boston. ” During the trial of Captain Preston and his soldiers, copies of “A Narrative of the Late Transactions at Boston” began to circulate around Boston and surrounding areas.
Captain Preston’s descriptions of the events were biased and unsympathetic to the townspeople, painting a picture of the soldiers trying to do their job and the townspeople not abiding and being “unruly” and “abusive”. Captain Preston declares that leading up to the incident the townspeople had increasingly “provoked and abused the soldiers”. Furthermore, Preston explains that an informant had warned him that there was a “mob” of angry townspeople that were planning to storm his soldier’s barracks “carry off a soldier and murder him”.
Preston goes so far as to pin the guilt of giving the order to shoot by yelling “fire, fire” on members of the “unruly mob” and assures the reader that he was yelling “don’t fire”. Captain Preston never deviates from the staunch defense of his innocence and the threat to himself and his soldier’s lives throughout his entire narrative. Preston’s article being published in the Essex Gazette reveals that he is attempting to rally support for his innocence, from not only the king but all of London too. When the Boston Gazette printed the article they did not change the words of Captain Preston’s letter to London.
They instead must have realized their audience, the Boston public, would receive Captain Preston’s description of the events much differently than the king or the people of London did. However, the Boston Gazette editor does put a negative introduction of the article at the top of Captain Preston’s letter to London, stating “how greatly the conduct of the town has been misrepresented. ” This quote reveals the stark contrast of interpretation of the letter between the king of England and the Boston public.
Both newspapers print the same article but have two completely different audiences with two completely different opinions of the need for British troops in Boston. The American Promise text, uses a more comprehensive approach when explaining the events of the Boston Massacre. The text gives more information about the transactions between the Bostonians and the soldiers leading up to the bloodshed on March 5th, 1770. For example, the soldiers are explained as “grating on the nerves of the Bostonians” by conducting drills on the town Common and “playing loud music on the Sabbath”, a day of rest and contemplation for the townspeople.
Furthermore, during this time, colonists were beginning to assert their independence from England by boycotting trade with the Nonconsumption Agreements in 1768 and the Virginia Resolves in 1765. This period of time in the colonies is glutted with conflict between the uncompromising rule of the monarchy of England and the desire for representation and independence of the colonies. These two aforementioned Captain Preston’s recollection of the events were, like all peoples point of view, biased and sympathetic to oneself. The Bostonians had a contrasting interpretation of the events.
And the textbook seems to collect all of these opinions and present them the best that it can. By reading Captain Preston’s primary document about the Boston Massacre, one can get a deeper understanding of what his emotional response was to the events. Reading someone’s opinion of an event draws the reader into the author’s point of view for a few moments and allows one to begin to understand what it must have felt like for the author. Primary documents have are a great way to step back in time and look at the world through someone else’s eyes. Someone who has grown up in a different place with different rules and standards.