Crispus Attacks

Crispus Attacks

(c. 1723-1770)

Very little is known about the life of Crispus Attacks until the time just prior to his death in the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. Evidence suggests that he was regarded as a black man; however, whether he was entirely of African descent, of mixed white- African heritage, or mixed African-American Indian descent is uncertain. Attucks is believed to have been a runaway slave who apparently managed to live the life of a free man by working on the Boston waterfront or possibly sailing on ships.

By the year 1770, there was increasing friction between the people of Boston and the British soldiers quartered among them to maintain order. On the night of March 5, a crowd of Bostonians began to throw snowballs at the small British guard unit at the Custom House across from the State House.As the crowd became more threatening, the British called for more troops. At the same time, church bells began to ring announcing that there was some sort of emergency.

Attucks was eating his supper with other sailors and harbor workers at a tavern when the sound of the bells reached them. Rumors had also quickly spread that the British troops were planning some hostile action. Attucks left the tavern, somewhere picked up a large wooden club, and along with some 20 to 30 other men made his way to the Custom House square.

By the time Attucks arrived, British Captain Thomas Preston was also there with a small relief force of British troops. The crowd had grown and was now even more unruly. Some Bostonians were trying to calm things down, but there was simply too much confusion.

Some in the crowd were daring the British to fire on them. Preston was doing his best to keep his men from firing, but there were now open scuffles involving his men and the colonists. Whether someone in the crowd shouted “Fire!” or the soldiers simply lost control under fear, shots were fired.

Among those hit was Attucks; he took two bullets in his chest, fell to the ground and died. In less than two minutes, five colonists were either dead or mortally wounded.

In the trial of the British troops, Attucks innocent martyr and by the defense as a prime agitator. Most likely he was neither. However, by choosing to pick up a club and put himself in the front line, he must have been motivated by some hatred of the British. To that extent, Crispus Attucks was one of the first patriots who died in the battle for American independence.