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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Role of the Irish in the famous Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770


Boston Massacre Memorial on Boston Common

The Boston Massacre took place on March 6,1770,  and is said to have sparked the American Revolution.  The episode took place when British troops fired into a crowd of Bostonians; four people were killed and a fifth  victim died a few days later. The shooting came after a tense week of acrimony between Bostonians and the British soldiers, which included a fist fight in a local tavern, small skirmishes on the streets and taunting threats by both sides.

There are several interesting Irish connections to the Boston Massacre:

. The soldiers involved were from the 29th British regiment, led by Captain Thomas Preston.  The regiment was mostly Irish soldiers who had been conscripted, often against their will.  The names of the troops involved in the shooting were William Wemms, James Hartigan, William McCauley, Matthew Kilroy, William Warren, John Carroll and Hugh Montgomery.

. It was Captain Preston who ordered his men to present arms to keep the crowd at bay, but the taunting continued.  Only years later was it revealed that the person who yelled out the fatal call to fire on the citizens was Montgomery.

. Thirty-one year old Patrick Carr, an Irish sailor who had come out of a house on Court Street and was moving toward the ruckus with fellow sailor Charles Connor, was the last man to be shot. He lingered for a few days and was able to give dying testimony that ultimately exonerated the soldiers.  Carr and the other four victims are buried at the Old Granary Burying Ground

. As the trial of Preston and his men loomed, an anti-Catholic dimension emerged.  The Boston Gazette revealed that many of the soldiers the British sent to Boston were Irish Catholics, while the Providence Gazette suggested that Pope's Day, a virulent anti-Catholic event, should take place on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre so as to include Preston and the others in the effigy burning.

. The famous drawing of the Boston Massacre by engraver Paul Revere was actually done by 21 year old Henry Pelham, half brother of artist John Singleton Copley.  Their mother, Mary Singleton Copley, had emigrated to Boston from County Clare in Ireland in 1736.  Pelham was furious when he learned that his friend Revere had used his illustration without Pelham's permission.

. Over a century after the Massacre, in 1888, the Boston Massacre Memorial was unveiled on Boston Common, Irish-born poet John Boyle O'Reilly was selected to write and deliver a poem for the ceremony.  The memorial was created by sculptor Robert Krauss. 

The Bostonian Society at the Old State House has a full day of indoor activities on Saturday, March 4, 2017, to commemorate this historical event.  Due to the severe cold weather today, the outdoor reenactment of the shooting is not taking place.  

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com

This information is taken from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Pastpublished by Globe Pequot Press  in 2013.

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