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Boston's Massacre
     

Boston's Massacre

by Eric Hinderaker
 

On the night of March 5, 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd gathered in front of Boston’s Custom House, killing five people. Denounced as an act of unprovoked violence and villainy, the event that came to be known as the Boston Massacre is one of the most familiar incidents in American history, yet one of the least understood. Eric Hinderaker revisits

Overview

On the night of March 5, 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd gathered in front of Boston’s Custom House, killing five people. Denounced as an act of unprovoked violence and villainy, the event that came to be known as the Boston Massacre is one of the most familiar incidents in American history, yet one of the least understood. Eric Hinderaker revisits this dramatic episode, examining in forensic detail the facts of that fateful night, the competing narratives that molded public perceptions at the time, and the long campaign afterward to transform the tragedy into a touchstone of American identity.

When Parliament stationed two thousand British troops in Boston beginning in 1768, resentment spread rapidly among the populace. Steeped in traditions of self-government and famous for their Yankee independence, Bostonians were primed to resist the imposition. Living up to their reputation as Britain’s most intransigent North American community, they refused compromise and increasingly interpreted their conflict with Britain as a matter of principle. Relations between Britain and the North American colonies deteriorated precipitously after the shooting at the Custom House, and it soon became the catalyzing incident that placed Boston in the vanguard of the Patriot movement.

Fundamental uncertainties about the night’s events cannot be resolved. But the larger significance of the Boston Massacre extends from the era of the American Revolution to our own time, when the use of violence in policing crowd behavior has once again become a pressing public issue.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/30/2017
Hinderaker (The Two Hendricks), professor of history at the University of Utah, details the context and aftermath of Boston Massacre of Mar. 5, 1770, when British soldiers fired into a Boston crowd, killing five people. The massacre has long represented a turning point in colonial America’s relationship with Britain, but competing narratives about the night remain fundamentally unresolved. Hinderaker claims no definitive version of the event, instead offering a thoughtful meditation on the episode’s significance for shared American identity and memory. Untangling the complex circumstances under which Britain stationed thousands of troops in Boston in the peacetime of 1768, Hinderaker maps the colonial anxieties regarding imperial control that came to a head with the shootings. His portrayal of the massacre, as well as the months of trials that followed, emphasizes the political and social chaos that shaped colonist-British relations while demonstrating how contrasting interpretations of the event reflected deeper conflicts about race, class, and colonial rights. By calling attention to the challenges of assessing eyewitness narratives, Hinderaker also manages to bring his account into conversation with recent events. He ends with a provocative, albeit disappointingly brief, reflection on the massacre’s symbolic resonance with more recent examples of police brutality, making this book important reading for anyone interested in questions regarding the limits of authority and protest. Maps & illus. (Mar.)
Alan Taylor
In Boston’s Massacre, Eric Hinderaker brilliantly unpacks the creation of competing narratives around a traumatic and confusing episode of violence. With deft insight, careful research, and lucid writing, Hinderaker shows how the bloodshed in one Boston street became pivotal to making and remembering a revolution that created a nation.
Fred Anderson
Seldom does the book appear that compels its readers both to rethink a signal event in American history and reexamine powerful assumptions about historical knowledge itself. It’s even rarer for an author to accomplish so formidable a feat in prose of sparkling clarity and grace. But this is such a book, and Eric Hinderaker just such an author: Boston’s Massacre is a gem.
Mark Peterson
Eric Hinderaker widens our understanding of the Boston Massacre and the origins of the American Revolution. By setting this stirring event in the context of New England’s involvement in Britain’s colonial wars, and by depicting the occupying British army as a social force of considerable power, this elegant book gives us a far richer account of how military occupation pushed Boston into rebellion.
Mark A. Peterson
Eric Hinderaker widens our understanding of the Boston Massacre and the origins of the American Revolution. By setting this stirring event in the context of New England’s involvement in Britain’s colonial wars, and by depicting the occupying British army as a social force of considerable power, this elegant book gives us a far richer account of how military occupation pushed Boston into rebellion.
Woody Holton
Hinderaker illuminates the events of March 5, 1770, from a host of unexpected angles, from its military origins and the possibility of an additional shooter, to the Kent State comparison that thrust itself upon the nation two hundred years later.
Library Journal
02/01/2017
In 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd of people, killing five. Dubbed the Boston Massacre, it has become one of the most iconic moments in American history. Hinderaker (history, Univ. of Utah; The Two Hendricks) deepens readers' understanding of the event in a three-pronged approach: explaining the massacre's historical context, examining the 18th-century documents that create dueling narratives of the event, and highlighting the different moments in history—namely the Kent State shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement—that invoke the massacre's memory after violent crowd-policing incidents. Readers are left with a nuanced understanding of the way we shape historical narratives after any major event. Confusion gives way to competing interests, constructing one-sided narratives, which then leads to a residual memory that fades over time. By the end, Hinderaker shows that the legacy of the Boston Massacre lives on, especially through the continual invocation of Crispus Attucks, one of the five dead, as a martyr for American liberty and the first known African American victim of police brutality of the Revolutionary period. VERDICT A compelling and well-researched account of the Boston Massacre, for readers seeking more refined studies of early American history.—Jessica Holland, Univ. of KY, Lexington
Kirkus Reviews
2016-12-19
A new history of "perhaps the most densely described incident in early American history."In his examination of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Hinderaker (History/Univ. of Utah; The Two Hendricks: Unraveling a Mohawk Mystery, 2009, etc.) deftly explores the characters of British leaders, American administrators, and those who stirred what many considered a mob. Boston was the crucible of the American Revolution, and the British occupation served as the catalyst that eventually built to the violent events of March 5. The troops sent to Boston were symbols of Britain's overwhelming power over the colonies, and the standing army served as a threat to the independence of the local government. The author explores how England was trying to control a colony substantially increased in size, and the primary dilemma was the recurrent antagonism of Bostonians: their reactions to the Liberty Incident, the Townshend Duties, and the Stamp Act. Administrators and tax collectors were harassed, their homes invaded and destroyed. The troops' powerlessness is the key here; they were sent to quell rebellious actions. They were never requested by civil power and thus had no power to react to citizens' agitation unless the confusing and frustrating Riot Act was read. The incident of March 5 was caused by the troops, who were facing very real threats but were forbidden to react, being pushed too far. When someone heard (or didn't) "fire," shots rang out, killing five. What really happened and what people said happened were two different things, but the symbolic power of the massacre transcends the details. The trials of the soldiers, delayed for months, cleared all but two, settling few disputes about the incident. The author ably exposes the symbolic import of the massacre as it defined the limits of legitimate authority and of legitimate popular protest. While occasionally bogged down in detail, this study of the lead-up to the American Revolution effectively explores the major players and difficult conditions.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674048331
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
03/05/2017
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
42,405
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Eric Hinderaker is Professor of History at the University of Utah.

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