Smithsonian

Fact, Fiction: Document A

Document A: “Recollection of George Hewes” from James Hawkes’s A Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party (New York, 1834)

Beginning in the mid-1760s, colonists began taking to the streets in Boston and other port cities. Crowds of artisans and laborers joined the elite in protesting British policies, although their differing points of view revealed the divisions within colonial society. Protests mounted in 1767 when Britain passed the Townsend Act, which included a series of unpopular taxes. In Boston, resentment and tension also grew over the presence of British troops, quartered in town to discourage demonstrations, who were also looking for jobs. A private seeking work at a rope maker’s establishment sparked a confrontation on Boston’s King Street. When some in the crowd pelted the assembled British soldiers, the troops opened fire; five colonists were killed and six wounded. George Robert Twelves Hewes, a Boston shoemaker, participated in many of the key events of the Revolutionary crisis. Over half a century later, Hewes told James Hawkes about his presence at the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.

We have been informed by the historians of the revolution, that a series of provocations had excited strong prejudices, and inflamed the passion of the British soldiery against our citizens, previous to the commencement of open hostilities; and prepared their minds to burst out into acts of violence on the application of a single spark of additional excitement, and which finally resulted in the unfortunate massacre of a number of our citizens.

On my inquiring of Hewes what knowledge he had of that event, he replied, that he knew nothing from history, as he had never read any thing relating to it from any publication whatever, and can therefore only give the information which I derived from the event of the day upon which the catastrophe happened. On that day, one of the British officers applied to a barber, to be shaved and dressed; the master of the shop, whose name was Pemont, told his apprentice boy he might serve him, and receive the pay to himself, while Pemont left the shop. The boy accordingly served him, but the officer, for some reason unknown to me, went away from the shop without paying him for his service.

After the officer had been gone some time, the boy went to the house where he was, with his account, to demand payment of his bill, but the sentinel, who was before the door, would not give him admittance, nor permit him to see the officer; and as some angry words were interchanged between the sentinel and the boy, a considerable number of the people from the vicinity, soon gathered at the place where they were, which was in King street, and I was soon on the ground among them. The violent agitation of the citizens, not only on account of the abuse offered to the boy, but other causes of excitement, then fresh in the recollection, was such that the sentinel began to be apprehensive of danger, and knocked at the door of the house, where the officers were, and told the servant who came to the door, that he was afraid of his life, and would quit his post unless he was protected. The officers in the house then sent a messenger to the guardhouse, to require Captain Preston to come with a sufficient number of his soldiers to defend them from the threatened violence of the people. On receiving the message, he came immediately with a small guard of grenadiers, and paraded them before the customhouse, where the British officers were shut up. Captain Preston then ordered the people to disperse, but they said they would not, they were in the king’s highway, and had as good a right to be there as he had. The captain of the guard then said to them, if you do not disperse, I will fire upon you, and then gave orders to his men to make ready, and immediately after gave them orders to fire. Three of our citizens fell dead on the spot, and two, who were wounded, died the next day; and nine others were also wounded. The persons who were killed I well recollect, said Hewes; they were, Gray, a rope maker, Marverick, a young man, Colwell, who was the mate of Captain Colton; Attucks, a mulatto, and Carr, who was an Irishman. Captain Preston then immediately fled with his grenadiers back to the guardhouse. The people who were assembled on that occasion, then immediately chose a committee to report to the governor the result of Captain Preston’s conduct, and to demand of him satisfaction. The governor told the committee, that if the people would be quiet that night he would give them satisfaction, so far as was in his power; the next morning Captain Preston, and those of his guard who were concerned in the massacre, were, accordingly, by order of the governor, given up, and taken into custody the next morning, and committed to prison.