Obit of the Day (Historical): Crispus Attucks (1770)
On March 5, 1770 British soldiers faced off against angry American colonists at dusk in Boston. The disagreement began over the failure of one soldier to pay his barber bill. Discontented colonists used the small issue to protest general British treatment of their colonies. Growing more upset they began throwing snowballs and debris at the soldiers. Tensions escalated as a group of colonists arrived on the scene including Crispus Attucks.
Stories conflicted as to whether Mr. Attucks swung his club or was merely holding it, but the standoff ended with the British regulars firing into the crowd killing five and wounding six. With two bullets to his chest, Mr. Attucks is considered to be the first fatality of the American Revolution. The event would be later dubbed “The Boston Massacre” by Samuel Adams (brewer-patriot) and become a rallying event for revolutionaries throughout the thirteen colonies*.
Because of Mr. Attucks’ race and attitudes toward blacks in the 18th century his background is sketchy at best. The first known reference to Mr. Attucks is in 1750 issue of the Boston Gazette and Weekly Journal: “A Mulatto fellow, about 27 Years of Age, named Crispus, 6 feet 2 inches high, short cur’l hair, his knees nearer together than common.” Paid for by Mr. William Brown, he was trying to find Mr. Attucks who was, at that time, a runaway slave.
Believed to be born in 1723 in Framingham, Massachusetts, Mr. Attucks was the son of slaves. He also traced his geneology to John Attucks, a member of the Massachusett [sic] tribe, who was hung by the English during King Philip’s War.
After escaping in 1750, it appears that Mr. Attucks worked on New England whalers and may have been between trips when he was killed. It was never established whether Mr. Attucks was, at the time of his death, a free man or still considered a runaway.
In 1858, abolitionists declared March 5 to be Crispus Attucks Day, making the revolutionary hero a pivotal figure in the battle to eliminate slavery in the United States. Thirty years later a Boston Massacre monument was unveiled on Boston Common listing Mr. Attucks as well as the other four victims (Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick, and Patrick Carr) prominently on the obelisk.
Sources: PBS.org (also at pbstv) and Wikipedia
(Lithograph by William L. Champney. Boston Massacre, March 5th, 1770. Boston, Published by Henry Q. Smith, 1856. Chromolithograph, 17 ¾ x 24 in. It is based on the famous engraving by Paul Revere in 1770 except the newer version placed Mr. Attucks front and center in order to emphasize his race and patriotism during the height of the abolitionist movement. Courtesy of bostonatheneum.org)
* The soldiers were defended in court by future President of the United States and founding father, John Adams. The officer in charge and five soldiers were acquitted. Mr. Adams painted Mr. Attucks as the attacker and the group’s ringleader.