The Boston Massacre is seen by history as one of the most important precursors to the outbreak of war. It was the first time bloodshed had been caused by British Soldiers and it became an useful rallying call for the revolutionary cause.
As the Massacre is part of such a broad sweep of events, it is hard to say exactly what caused it. However, it is impossible to deny the connection between the event itself and the unrest of the preceding decade.
Boston had seen a great deal of unrest in the 1750s and 60s. The end of the Seven Years War coincided with greatly increased attention from the British empire. This lead to a number of conflicts over taxes, trade-regulation, impressment and growing differences in culture. Resistance to unpopular British policies took place on several levels including official political avenues pursued by the Massachusetts Assembly and popular action such as boycotts, demonstrations and riots, particularly the riots of the Stamp Act Crisis.
With unrest at a fever pitch, governor Bernard became overwhelmed. With limited law enforcement personnel the governor began to fear for the safety of the colony, as well his personal safety. With tensions showing no signs of diminishing, he called for soldiers and ships to be sent to assist collection of the customs duties, as well as restoring and maintaining order. However, news of the impending occupation only further agitated the colonists and many threats and predictions of violent conflict were made.
Housing the TroopsEdit
Where the soldiers were going to be housed had been debated even before they arrived. According to the language of the Quartering Act, the soldiers were not allowed to be quartered in the town if a barracks was available. The problem was that the barracks of Boston was actually located at Castle Island, which was in the harbor and far from the town itself. The commander of the troops didn't believe the soldiers would be of any use so far from the town. So, the troops were ordered to camp in the Boston Common while the legal battle ensued to try to find private buildings which the governor could rent to use as a barracks.
The soldiers were intended to intimidate the Bostonians in order to suppress the riots. The soldiers were also sent to make it possible for customs officials to perform their duties. However, Bostonians' existing fears of government oppression were only worsened by the military presence. Furthermore, many of the soldiers were Irish and some were Scottish and were either Irish catholic or perceived as such. Bostonians were violently anti-catholic, which increased their suspicion.
Another issue was employment. The common soldiers, who were not well paid, often sought odd jobs while not on duty. The soldiers were looking for some extra income, which meant that they could undercut local laborers which caused local anger, since wages began to fall. Anger from the laboring classes was particularly increased by this factor which lead to conflicts and resentment.
The Massacre was the first event to result in major bloodshed, but it was not the first conflict between the soldiers and the Bostonians. In fact, there were many conflicts which escalated in scale leading up to the night of March 5th of which the following represent only a sample.
Arrival of the TroopsEdit
Governor Bernard was afraid of the reaction the troops would bring. So, he delayed and when he finally did call for troops he did so with secrecy hoping to shift the blame off himself. None-the-less, the news of the soldiers approach broke quickly and the town reacted with outrage. Members of the town meeting threatened that soldiers would be met by armed resistance.
On October 1st of 1768, at noon, the first of the British forces arrived in Boston. The 14th and 29th regiments sailed in from Halifax, Nova Scotia in Warships of the English Navy. The troops numbered more than 2000, and another 2000 were on their way from Ireland. Because of the threats of violence made by the town, the ships swung into the harbor with their cannons facing the town. The ships, as Paul Revere described, maneuvered "as if for a regular siege." No attempt to resist the landing was made.
The troops landed at Long Wharf and marched up King Street and paraded through the town to the common, where they would set up camp. This flashy display of uniforms, banners and military parade, may have been exciting to some, but to many it was a threatening gesture of occupation.
Scuffles With SoldiersEdit
While some upper class officers began to integrate with Boston's social circles, the enlisted soldiers faced a great deal of conflicts with Boston's poor. On one hand, soldiers were frequently harassed and occasionally robbed of their equipment, and on the other many were incited to desert the army. Soldiers were posted at various stations around town and often stopped and questioned people going about their business, and the people were often uncooperative. The soldiers believed they were there to help maintain the peace, but soon found that local laws and courts were against them as well.
Boycotts and PicketsEdit
In protest of taxes such as those of the Townshend Acts, many merchants had participated in boycotts of British imports since the 1760s. However, the presence of the soldiers intensified the concern regarding the compliance with such boycotts. Some merchants tried to put pressure on their colleagues, feeling that the movement would only succeed with full support.
Those who did not comply not only faced pressure from fellow merchants but from the larger public. Newspapers published the names of importers who would then face the prospect of lost business, threats, and protesters surround and picketing their shops.