Crispus Attucks, one of the first patriots to give his life in the struggle for American independence, was bom in Massachusetts in 1723. With African and Natick Indian ancestors, Attucks’ only chance for free¬ dom was to escape from slave owner William Brown. At the age of 27, Attucks ran away from Brown’s home and joined the crew of a boat sailing away from Boston Harbor. For the next 20 years, Attucks was a man of the sea.
As a sailor on cargo ships and whalers, Attucks developed an independence that not only made him a brave leader among sailors, but a leader of patriot revolutionar¬ ies as well. On the night of March 5, 1770, at the age of 47, Attucks’ dedication to lib¬ erty made American history.
Tension between the Boston patriots and the British soldiers was boiling that spring. British forces were installed to impose order — a fragile order at best — and the ubiquitous threat of violence kept colonists in a high state of agitation. Hugh Mont¬ gomery, one of the British soldiers, was guarding the Customs House when a young boy came up and insulted him.
Montgomery struck out and injured the boy, whose cries rang through the streets, calling people from their homes. Crispus Attucks came forward.He decided immediately, living in a society already on the verge of revolt, that this act of violence would not be tolerated.
Within minutes, a crowd had gath¬ ered behind Attucks, who was heading straight for the Customs House. He approached Montgomery personally, insults were exchanged, and soon the crowd took up chunks of ice and snowballs that they threw at the British soldier.
Twelve others appeared, armed and ready, but Attucks, wielding a heavy stick, yelled, “Don’t be afraid. Knock ‘em over. They dare not fire.” It was the first cry of the coming revolution.
The soldiers responded in panic, firing wildly into the crowd, killing Attucks and his supporter Samuel Gray immediately. Nine other men were shot in the ensuing battle. Three of them died.
The crowd was soon subdued, but news of the massacre was electric, igniting out¬ rage and shock, along with a new sense of purpose. Thousands came to Attucks’ funeral, and seven British soldiers were brought to trial for murder, though each was exonerated.
This first revolt would come to be known as the Boston Massacre, one of the first battles to mark the beginning of the Amer¬ ican Revolution. John Adams later said, “On that night, the foundations ofAmerican independence were laid.”
It was Crispus Attucks who cared enough about personal freedom to risk his life for its reward, even if that reward would only be available to those who came after.