The Boston "Massacre"

Becoming a Detective

In the fall of 1770, British Captain Thomas Preston and eight of his regulars were tried for the alleged murder of five Boston colonials. At the conclusion of the trial, Captain Preston and six of the eight soldiers were acquitted, with the remaining two soldiers found guilty of manslaughter. These two men were branded on their right thumbs and released.

At the request of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the case has been reopened to determine if justice was served in the case of the Boston "Massacre". As a member of the commission selected to review the case, your job is to examine the following documents to decide if the verdicts were fair, and if not, discuss whether the case should be reviewed and history rewritten.

Was justice served?


Investigating the Evidence

  • Document A: Joy Hakim's Account of The Boston Massacre (1993)
  • Document B: Captain Thomas Preston's Account of the Boston Massacre (1770)
  • Document C: Anonymous Account of the Boston Massacre (1775)
  • Document D: Boston Massacre, Mar. 5, 1770. Chromolithograph by John Bufford
  • Document E: The Boston Massacre Engraving after the painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1868
  • Document F: The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, on Mar. 5, 1770. Engraving by Paul Revere, 1770.


Searching for Clues

Please answer the following questions about each document or download the formatted Case File (Word Format | PDF Format)

  1. Who authored the document? When was the document authored? What type of document is this? Who was the audience for the document? Why was it created? Who was the aggressor in the incident according to the document?
  2. What questions did you ask while evaluating these sources?
  3. On what points do the accounts agree?
  4. On what points do the accounts differ?
  5. Which of these sources aligns most closely with what you already knew about the Boston Massacre? How so?
  6. Which of these sources is most reliable in determining what actually happened at the Boston Massacre? Why do you think so?
  7. Describe the difficulties in developing an accurate account of historical events like the Boston Massacre?
  8. If you were asked to write your own historical account of the events in Boston, how would you go about doing so?

Cracking the Case

Based on your analysis of the six documents and citing evidence to support your answer, please write a paragraph or two answering the following questions: Was just served in the trial of the Boston "Massacre"? Should the case be closed and the verdict upheld? Within your analysis, please indicate whether you were satisfied with the evidence and list any additional questions that have been left unanswered through your investigation.