Samuel Drowne's Testimony on the Boston Massacre

(March 16, 1770)

Strong feelings against the stationing of British soldiers in Boston formed a background for the Boston Massacre of 1770. The incident itself was instigated by the anger of rope makers against British soldiers taking their jobs. A crowd gathered, British soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five people, including Crispus Attucks, a mulatto worker. John Adams, the defense attorney for the soldiers, described the crowd as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs." When the acquittal of six of the soldiers and light punishment for two others caused more anger, England removed the troops from Boston in the hope of calming things down. Here is a contemporary account of the massacre by a Bostonian.1
From Voices of A People's History, edited by Zinn and Arnove

Samuel Drowne of Boston, of lawful age, testifieth and saith, that about nine of the clock of the evening of the fifth day of March current, standing at his own door in Cornhill, saw about 14 or 15 soldiers of the 29th regiment, who came from Murray's barrack, some of whom were armed with naked cutlasses, swords or bayonets, others with clubs, fire-shovels or tongs, and came upon the inhabitants of the town, then standing or walking in Cornhill, and abused some and violently assaulted others as they met them, most of whom were without so much as a stick in their hands to defend themselves, as the deponent very clearly could discern, it being moon-light, and himself being one of the assaulted persons—All of most of the said soldiers he saw go by the way of Cornhill, Crooked-lane and Royal-exchange-Iane into King-street, and there followed them, and soon discovered them to be quarrelling and fighting with the people whom they saw there, which the deponent thinks were not more than a dozen, when the soldiers came there first, armed as aforesaid. Of those dozen people, the most of them were gentlemen, standing together a little below the Town-house upon the Exchange. At the appearance of those soldiers so arm'd, the most of the twelve persons went off, some of them being first assaulted—After which the said soldiers were observed by the deponent to go towards the main-guard from whence were at the same time issuing and coming into King-street five soldiers of said guard and a corporal arm'd with firelocks, who call'd out to the fore-mention'd soldiers arm'd with cutlasses, etc. and said to them go away, on which they dispers'd and went out of King-street, some one way and some another—by this time were collected together in King-street about two hundred people, and then the deponent stood upon the steps of the Exchange tavern, being the next house to the Custom-house; and soon after saw Capt. Preston, whom he well knew, with a number of soldiers arm'd with firelocks drawn up near the west corner of the Custom-house; and at chat instant the deponent thinks so great a part of the people were dispers'd at the sight of the armed soldiers, as that no more than twenty or thirty remained in King-street; those who did remain being mostly sailors and other persons meanly dressed, called out to the arm'd soldiers and dared them to fire, upon which the deponent heard Capt. Preston say to the soldiers, Damn your bloods! Why don't you fire? The soldiers not regarding those words of their captain, he immediately said FIRE. Upon which they fired irregularly, pointing their guns variously in a part of a circle as they stood; during the time of the soldier firing, the deponent saw the flashes of two guns fired from the Customhouse, one of which was out of a window of the chamber westward of the balcony, and the other from the balcony, the gun which he clearly discerned being pointed through the ballisters, and the person who held the gun in a stooping posture, withdraw himself into the house, having a handkerchief or some kind of cloth over his face. After this the deponent assisted in carrying off the dead and wounded, as soon as the soldiers would permit the people so to do, for at first they were cruel enough to obstruct the carrying them off.


1 Samuel Drowne's Testimony on the Boston Massacre (March 16, 1770). In Anonymous, (Boston: Printed by Order of the Town of Boston by Gill, 1770), pp. 54-55.
A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, Perpetrated in the Evening of the Fifth Day of March 1770: By Soldiers of the XXIXth Regiment, Which With The XlVth Regiment Were Then Quartered Then: With Some Observations on the State of Things Prior to That Catastrophe: To Which Is Added, An Appendix, Containing The Several Depositions Referred to in the Preceding Narrative: And Also Other Depositions Relative to the Subject of It Messrs. Eds and

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