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"Fire!": The Real History of the Boston Massacre

Evening Program

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, September 24, 2020 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2101
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
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By March 1770, the people of Boston had lived almost a year and a half under British military occupation. Tensions, resentments, and open threats of violence issued by both civilians and soldiers had long become a fact of life. The town was a powder keg—and on Monday, March 5, it exploded.

Around 8 p.m., a sentry posted outside the town hall on King Street challenged a young wigmaker’s apprentice over an unpaid bill. The humiliated apprentice called in reinforcements and soon the sentry was being pelted by stones and snowballs thrown by the 100 townspeople now surrounding him. Then a squad of burly Redcoat guardsmen arrived, and in the chaos someone yelled “Fire!”. Shots rang out. When the smoke from the soldiers’ muskets cleared, five local men lay dead and dying on the snowbound street.

Over the following days and weeks, the military and civilians tried to figure out what had happened. Just as importantly, they began trying to assign meaning to this tragic event and give it a name. The official British report called it an “unhappy disturbance,” but Boston leaders took to calling it a “horrid massacre.”

Historian Richard Bell explores the Boston Massacre from its many sides. Drawing on the latest scholarship, he argues that the real history of the “affray on King Street” is far more fascinating than even Paul Revere’s famous engraving of it has led us to believe.

Bell is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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