Name: _______________________________________ Date: __________In 1770, Crispus Attucks, a black man, became the first casualtyof the American Revolution when he was shot and killed inwhat became known as the Boston Massacre. Although Attuckswas credited as the leader and instigator of the event, debateraged for over as century as to whether he was a hero and apatriot, or a rabble-rousing villain.In the murder trial of the soldiers who fired the fatal shots,John Adams, serving as a lawyer for the crown, reviled the"mad behavior" of Attucks, "whose very looks was enough toterrify any person."Twenty years earlier, an advertisement placed by WilliamBrown in the Boston Gazette and Weekly Journal provided amore detailed description of Attucks, a runaway: "A Mulatto
fellow, about 27 Years of Age, named Crispus, 6 feet 2 incheshigh, short curl hair, his knees nearer together than common."Attucks father was said to be an African and his mother aNatick or Nantucket Indian; in colonial America, the offspringof black and Indian parents were considered black or mulatto.As a slave in Framingham, he had been known for his skill inbuying and selling cattle.Brown offered a reward for the mans return, and ended withthe following admonition: "And all Matters of Vessels andothers, are hereby cautioned against concealing or carrying offsaid Servant on Penalty of Law. " Despite Browns warning,Attucks was carried off on a vessel many times over the nexttwenty years; he became a sailor, working on a whaling crewthat sailed out of Boston harbor. At other times he worked as aropemaker in Boston.Attucks occupation made him particularly vulnerable to thepresence of the British. As a seaman, he felt the ever-presentdanger of impressment into the British navy. As a laborer, hefelt the competition from British troops, who often took part-time jobs during their off-duty hours and worked for lowerwages. A fight between Boston ropemakers and three Britishsoldiers on Friday, March 2, 1770 set the stage for a laterconfrontation. That following Monday night, tensions escalatedwhen a soldier entered a pub to look for work, and insteadfound a group of angry seamen that included Attucks.That evening a group of about thirty, described by John Adamsas "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irishteagues and outlandish jack tarrs," began taunting the guard atthe custom house with snowballs, sticks and insults. Sevenother redcoats came to the lone soldiers rescue, and Attucks
was one of five men killed when they opened fire.Patriots, pamphleteers and propagandists immediately dubbedthe event the "Boston Massacre," and its victims becameinstant martyrs and symbols of liberty. Despite laws andcustoms regulating the burial of blacks, Attucks was buried inthe Park Street cemetery along with the other honored dead.Adams, who became the second American president, defendedthe soldiers in court against the charge of murder. Building oneyewitness testimony that Attucks had struck the first blow,Adams described him as the self-appointed leader of "thedreadful carnage." In Adams closing argument, Attucksbecame larger than life, with "hardiness enough to fall in uponthem, and with one hand took hold of a bayonet, and with theother knocked the man down." The officer in charge and five ofhis men were acquitted, which further inflamed the public.The citizens of Boston observed the anniversary of the BostonMassacre in each of the following years leading up to the war.In ceremonies designed to stir revolutionary fervor, theysummoned the "discontented ghosts" of the victims."A "Crispus Attucks Day" was inaugurated by black abolitionistsin 1858, and in 1888, the Crispus Attucks Monument waserected on the Boston Common, despite the opposition of theMassachusetts Historical Society and the New England HistoricGenealogical Society, which regarded Attucks as a villain.The debate notwithstanding, Attucks, immortalized as "thefirst to defy, the first to die," has been lauded as a true martyr,"the first to pour out his blood as a precious libation on thealtar of a peoples rights."