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Samuel Adams

Section 6: The Boston Massacre

Section 5: Seeds of Revolution

Section 7: The Tide Turns

It did not take long for the redcoats to make their presence felt. After Adams prevented them from being quartered in other areas, the redcoats found a garrison in old Boston warehouses from where they could keep an eye on the city at all times. Parliament readied an old statute that allowed Americans to be extradited to Britain for treason–a move that caused shivers throughout the Sons of Liberty. Adams, James Otis, and the others were relieved when the Massachusetts attorney general could not come up with a chargeable offense of treason for any of them. The redcoats patrolled the whole city and challenged everyone who entered or left Boston. Cannons were placed across the street from the legislature and soldiers overran the Town House. Adams smarted and waited for the day when full martial law would be installed.

Conversely, Adams's movement quickly grew under the watchful eye of the troops. The redcoats' presence in Boston polarized the area, and moderates and even some rural conservatives began to come over to Adams's side. The Tories recognized that they remained safe only as long as the British troops remained and that, if the troops withdrew, the Sons of Liberty would show little mercy. At Adams's alma mater Harvard College, the heart was ripped out of a portrait of Governor Francis Bernard. Bernard had finally had enough, and he left in such a hurry that he did not wait for his wife but hopped on the first ship out of Boston. His ship barely made it out of Boston harbor before it stalled, and while he sat there for the rest of the day and through the night, he could hear the celebrations of his departure back in Boston.

Adams–having rid the colony of yet another governor–then began his campaign against the British troops. He and his fellow radical writers published a seemingly endless list of atrocities committed by the British troops. His efforts began to pay off, and general sentiment began to turn against the Crown throughout the colonies. Nonetheless, the British felt they had the situation in Boston under control and began to plan to withdraw two of the four regiments in the summer of 1769. Crown officials became worried that the five hundred remaining troops would be unable to hold the city against the growing power of the Sons of Liberty. The winter of 1770 was tense for everyone. Brawls broke out between troops and Boston laborers. Sons of Liberty "Mohawks" (so-named because of their Indian dress) attacked individual troops.

On March 4, 1770, Bostonians awoke to the find the city plastered with convincing forgeries of orders laying out a massive attack on the townspeople of Boston "signed" by prominent British soldiers. Adams's men had been up late hanging the signs throughout the city. Tensions were coming to a boil. The next day, young boys began to throw snowballs at the British sentry on King's Street. The sentry dismissed the boys, but they soon returned at the head of a mob of scores of angry men–some armed with clubs, ice, and farm tools. Leading the crowd were some of Boston's best-known redcoat-beaters: Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr. Seeing the men, the sentry summoned more troops for reinforcement. Church bells began to ring, summoning men to the scene from around Boston. The British soldiers showed remarkable resolve as they were pelted with snowballs, rocks, and garbage. One soldier, though, was knocked down, and, when he recovered his gun, he fired into the crowd. Others followed suit. Five civilians were killed–including Attucks, Gray, Caldwell and Carr. A fifth man, Samuel Maverick, had played no part in the riot and had merely been watching.

Adams seized the opportunity to demand a complete withdrawal of British troops from Boston. Thomas Hutchinson, now acting governor of the colony, said he could do nothing about the British troops. Adams pointed them to a clause in the Charter whereby Hutchinson was commander-in-chief of all army and naval forces in the colony. Realizing Adams's plan, he eventually agreed to withdraw the Twenty-ninth regiment–which had been responsible for the attack–to Castle Williams off-shore. Hutchinson fell right into Adams's trap: If Hutchinson could withdraw one regiment, Adams asked, why not both of them? Withdrawing both regiments was the only way to ensure peace in the city, especially with fourteen thousand armed Massachusetts men ready to avenge the massacre. That night, Hutchinson lowered the British flag over the city and prepared to retreat to Castle Williams. Adams began an attempt to prosecute the British soldiers who fired on the mob on March 5. He enlisted his cousin, John Adams, and the latter's law partner, Josiah Quincy, to defend the troops–a good defense was needed to ensure the even-handedness of the trial, he reasoned. The defense, though, proved to be too good and all but two of the soldiers were acquitted.

The massacre, though, would prove to be a turning point in Boston. Whether or not Adams's tactics provoked the attack would soon be forgotten. The indignities and pain the British had inflicted would simmer and help the Sons of Liberty grow stronger.

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