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Below are two excerpts about the events leading up to the Boston Massacre, which occurred on March 5, 1770. There are also links to a woodcut rendering of the Massacre and a map of Boston showing the location of the Massacre and the nearby ropewalks.
1770: BOSTON MASSACRE WOODCUT
Source: The Boston Massacre
Author: Hiller B. Zobel, 1970
Published by The Norton Library
Toward noon of March 2, a group of rope and cablemakers were laying rope in John Gray's extensive ropewalks, (1777 MAP OF BOSTON) across from Commissioner Paxton's house, between what are now Pearl and Congress Streets south of Milk Street. Although the plant itself was massive - 744 feet long - the business depended upon casual labor. A soldier looking for off-duty-hours work to supplement his meager pay might well come to the ropewalks, as indeed Patrick Walker of the Twenty-ninth did this very day. History concocts itself of insignificances. "Soldier, do you want work?" asked ropemaker William Green. "Yes, I do, faith," said Walker. "Well," said Green, in a triumph of ready wit, "then go and clean my shithouse." "Empty it yourself," said Walker. After more such exchanges, Walker, swearing "by the Holy Ghost" that he would have revenge, swung wildly at the ropemakers. Nicholas Ferriter, a one-day employee, "knocked up his heels"; a naked cutlass dropped from beneath his coat. Humiliated, drubbed, and disarmed, the soldier fled. In a few moments he was back, reinforced by eight or nine other soldiers, including Private William Warren. As the Redcoats squared off against the ropemen, the workers called for help. From other parts of the ropewalk, club-carrying assistance came, and the soldiers were repelled. Through the window of a nearby house, Justice of the Peace John Hill watched them retreat to the barracks. Within fifteen minutes, their number increased to near forty, they sallied again, armed with clubs and other weapons, and led by a tall black drummer. "You black rascal," Hill shouted, "what have you to do with white people's quarrels?" "I suppose I may look on," the man answered. Hill went out of the house and, in what was then a rare exercise for a Boston magistrate, commanded the crowd to keep the peace. Neither soldiers nor ropeworkers listened. The clubs on the one side and the ropemakers' wouldring sticks [i.e., wooden levers used in ropetwisting] on the other beat a loud tattoo as the parties battled around the ropeyard's tar kettle. A private name Mathew Kilroy fought notably, but so did Samuel Gray, a ropemaker. The civilians soon turned the battle and drove the soldiers out. Hill's good offices prevented a general pursuit; at the barracks, a corporal managed to control the soldiers and get them indoors. Both sides clearly regarded the interruption as temporary.
On Saturday, Private John Carroll of the Twenty-ninth and two other soldiers tangled with a trio of ropeworkers. Reinforced by a sailor named James Bailey, the civilians battled the military to a draw. Then a journeyman tanner arrived with two "batts." He gave one to a bystander; together they cleared the soldiers from the walk. Private John Rodgers of the Twenty-ninth ended up with a fractured skull and arm. One of the ropemakers boarded with Benjamin Burdick. Believing that some of the soldiers were "dogging" him, the man asked Burdick for help. Through his window, Burdick could indeed see a soldier lurking near his house. The next day the soldier was back; Burdick went out and asked him what he was after. "I'm pumping shit," the soldier answered. "March off," said Burdick. "Damn you," the soldier said, and Burdick thrashed him until he ran.
Alarmed at the pattern of direct, violent confrontation, Maurice Carr, lieutenant colonel commanding the Twenty-ninth, wrote Hutchinson, although exactly what he expected the helpless lieutenant-governor to do is unclear. That evening one of the Twenty-ninth's sergeants failed to answer a roll call. A rumor spread among the troops that he had been killed. Sunday morning, March 4, the sergeant still not having returned, Carr and some of his officers undertook without authority to search the ropewalks. Why they did so is a mystery, because as Carr later admitted, the sergeant had been seen alive on Saturday. Carr's embarrassment and the town's annoyance increased considerably when the sergeant shortly appeared in full health. The reason for his absence has not survived; perhaps the general anti-military bias did not extend to all of Boston's trades and professions.
Certainly the soldiers' irritation had not prevented some of them from forming friendships with townspeople. Aware that the explosion must be near, they sought to warn their acquaintances. The radicals later pointed to these incidents as proof of a military plot. Such warnings seem rather the natural reaction of men aware that their fellows, full of "a pretty strong degree of resentment," would certainly "embrace any opportunity that chance might offer, consistently with their duty and the law, to take some revenge." Conscious though they were that the inevitable showdown had arrived, they tried to steer their friends away from injury. Civilians, too, were predicting trouble. The Reverend Andrew Eliot had known since Saturday that "many" townspeople looked forward to "fighting it out with the soldiers on the Monday." The "bells were to be rung to assemble the inhabitants together." A maid to Sarah Welsteed, Hutchinson's sister, spent Sunday evening with some of the ropewalk brawlers. Afterward, she informed her mistress that there would be a battle Monday evening . . .
Source: A short narrative of the horrid massacre in Boston,
perpetrated in the evening of the fifth day of March, 1770, by
soldiers of the 29th regiment which with the 14th regiment were
then quartered there; with some observations on the state of things
prior to that catastrophe.
Printed by the order of the town of Boston, and sold by Edes & Gill, in Queen Street, and T. & J. Fleet, in Cornhill, 1770.
New York: Re-published with notes and illustrations, by John Doggett, Jr., 1849
Corner House Publishers, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, 1973
Pages: 5-6, 40-41
Events of the Few Days Preceding the Massacres. [From Bradford's History of Massachusetts.]
The conduct of the citizens of Boston, notwithstanding some statements of a different import, it is believed, may be well vindicated from the charge of having rashly occasioned the awful catastrophe of the 5th of March, 1770. It is true, that the minds of the people were greatly irritated, and that some individuals were abusive in their language towards the military. But whenever examination was carefully made, it appeared that the soldiers were the first to assault, to threaten, and to apply contemptuous epithets to the inhabitants.
. . .
The soldiers, when they left their barracks and strolled about the town, frequently carried large clubs, for the purpose, no doubt, of assaulting the people, though with a pretence for their own safety.
On the second of March, two of them rudely insulted and assaulted a workman at a ropewalk, not far from the barracks; being bravely resisted and beaten off, they soon made another attack, in greater numbers, probably ten or twelve. They were again overpowered by the people at the ropewalk: and a third time came, with about fifty of their fellows, to renew the assault. But they were still vanquished, and received some wounds and bruises in the affray which they had thus wantonly provoked. They appeared yet again with large recruits, and threatened vengeance on the defenceless workmen. But the owner or conductor of the ropewalk met them, and prevailed on them to retire, without making the meditated assault. Perhaps the more discreet among them were satisfied of the impropriety of their conduct, or were fearful of the consequences of another attack. On the third, in the afternoon, several of the soldiers, armed with large clubs, went again to the ropewalk; and after much insolent and threatening language, struck some of the workmen.
In consequence of these various quarrels, and of the violent threats of the soldiers, that they would be avenged, when in truth they had been the rude aggressors, the minds of the citizens were greatly alarmed on the fourth and fifth; and so apprehensive were many of an attack from the military, as threatened, that in some instances they required their children and female part of their families to remain at home during the evening. [The subsequent events are detailed in the Report and Narrative, which follow.]
I, John Hill, aged sixty-nine, testify, that in the afternoon of Friday the second of March current, I was at a house the corner of a passage way leading from Atkinson's street to Mr. John Gray's rope-walks, near Green's barracks so called, when I saw eight or ten soldiers pass the window with clubs. I immediately got up and went to the door, and found them returning from the rope-walks to the barracks; whence they again very speedily re-appeared, now increased to the number of thirty or forty, armed with clubs and other weapons. In this latter company was a tall negro drummer, to whom I called, you black rascal, what have you to do with white people's quarrels? He answered, I suppose I may look on, and went forward. I went out directly and commanded the peace, telling them I was in commission; but they not regarding me, knocked down a rope-maker in my presence, and two or three of them beating him with clubs, I endeavored to relieve him; but on approaching the fellows who were mauling him, one of them with a great club struck at me with such violence, that had I not happily avoided it might have been fatal to me. The party last mentioned rushed in towards the rope-walks, and attacked the rope-makers nigh the tar-kettle, but were soon beat off, drove out of the passage-way by which they entered, and were followed by the rope-makers, whom I persuaded to go back, and they readily obeyed. And further I say not.
Suffolk, ss. Boston, March 19, 1770. John Hill Esq., above-named, after due examination, made oath to the truth of the aforesaid affidavit, taken to perpetuate the remembrance of the thing.
Before, Ri. Dana, John Ruddock, Justices of the Peace and of the Quorum.