What happened during the Boston Massacre?

Throughput the 1760s, Britain was facing a huge postwar debt from its successful battles against France over control of North America. In addition, it needed funds to finance the administration of its newly acquired lands. Not surprisingly, the British government levied a series of taxes on goods and services in the American colonies to help raise the money.

Boston was a pretty tense place in early 1770. Colonists objected to the taxes, declaring that Parliament had no right to impose taxes on them without their agreement. British soldiers were present to quiet riots that were taking place over the actions of the tax-collection agency, the Board of Customs Commissioners. Its agents and commissioners were enriching themselves by levying heavy fines for minor violations, spying on alleged violators, and even seizing property for little reason.

To make things worse, the soldiers sent to Boston were poorly paid, and some of them tried to find part-time work. This practice didn't sit well with many Bostonians, so it wasn't unusual for fights to break out between soldiers and groups of colonists.

On the night of March 5, 1770, a small mob of colonists began throwing rocks and snowballs at a British sentry outside the customs house. Twenty British soldiers appeared with fixed bayonets, and the crowd grew to about 100 boys and men. After about 30 minutes of being taunted and pelted with rocks and sticks, one of the soldiers opened fire into the melee. A few minutes later, 11 members of the mob were dead or wounded.

Although the soldiers had been provoked, and several were later brought to trial, patriots Samuel Adams and Paul Revere tried to use the incident to stir up anti-British passions. In fact, the "Boston Massacre" didn't trigger further resistance, and tensions between the colonies and Britain eased temporarily.