The Boston Massacre is an incident when British soldiers killed five citizens during the clash between the soldiers and the civilians. This historical event had a significant influence on the course of the history of America. The Boston Massacre remained in peoples memory as a bright example of British tyranny often used by patriots to shape public opinions about the American Revolution. Five deaths and the indignation of Boston citizens resulted in increased attention to the case of Thomas Preston, the British officer who was tried for giving the order to use weapons against the citizens. Officer Preston was acquitted but this verdict was very controversial due to a range of factors. The truth about the innocence or guiltiness of Preston should be proved by historians, basing on witness testimonies and court records that have to be carefully investigated. The reconstruction of the scene of the Boston Massacre, comparison and contrast of witness testimonies as well as their evaluation could provide scientific credibility and shed light on the fact whether or not Officer Preston ordered to shoot. In this essay, one possible version of the Boston Massacre and the trial of Captain Thomas Preston will be presented. It will be stated that Thomas Preston was guilty and he commanded his soldiers to shoot, but the court found him innocent because Preston and his defenders were prepared for the trial and did everything possible to make the officers misdeed not easy to prove.
According to witness testimonies, we can reconstruct the scene of the Boston Massacre. Probably, the soldiers were standing in a form of a crescent with Captain Preston standing behind them. Boston citizens gathered in a crowd in front of the soldiers, who prevented them from retreating because there was a wall behind them. It is important to remember that the event took place at 9 p. m, when Boston was completely dark. At that time, electricity was not used to light the streets and the participators of the event were not able to see each other very clearly. However, this fact does not help to find out the truth; it makes the investigation much more difficult because the lack of light may mean that the witnesses could have been mistaken about the clothes of Captain Preston and their color. If the event had taken place in the daylight, we could have been sure that those witnesses who confused the color and type of clothes might not have said the truth. The fact that it was dark when the massacre happened also means that only the witnesses who stood close to Captain Preston had a chance to see something. Others could only hear the word fire! and suggest who shouted it.
Captain Preston was not allowed to speak in court, but his deposition is available to the historians. According to it, Preston did not command to shoot. He was trying to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict and was persuading the crowd to calm down. Preston insisted that the first soldier who shot did so because he received a severe blow with a stick. Other soldiers shot because the mob began to act even more violently after the first shot. Besides, the soldiers heard someone shouting fire and thought it was Captain Preston.
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Captains Preston deposition seems quite plausible, especially due to the fact that many witnesses said that he was reprimanding soldiers for firing after the event. However, he might do this even if he was the person who ordered to shoot. Perhaps, he did not expect that so many people would be killed and was shocked by the consequences of his command. The example of the soldier who shot without a command after having being struck with a stick seems very plausible, since it was mentioned by many witnesses. Moreover, it is quite typical of a person who carries a gun to use it in a stressful situation. This episode was used in court by Prestons defenders to prove his innocence, even though it explains only the first shot. The statement that the soldiers heard someone commanding them fire is also credible because one soldier could shoot without an order in a stressful situation but not several soldiers. Preston claimed it was someone else, he did not order this but the soldiers were sure that it was their Captain. Nevertheless, if it was not Preston, then who it might be? If we suppose that he had stood behind the soldiers and no one else had been there, how could have the soldiers confused his voice with someones from the crowd that was confronting them? Perhaps, one soldier could have made such a mistake but not all of them.
It is not easy to evaluate witness testimonies because the case of Captain Preston is not private since it has significant importance for the community where it took place; for this reason, the witness testimonies might be influenced by social factors. Some witnesses certainly said that Preston commanded fire not because they saw it, but because they believed it to be so. This may also help to explain the fact that some witnesses, for example, Robert Goddard, said that the crowd did not do anything provocative except for boys throwing snowballs, while others, for instance, Benjamin Burdick, took some weapons with them: Upon my coming out I was told it was a wrangle between the Soldiers and people, upon that I went back and got my Sword (p 91). Other people were also prepared for the clash with the soldiers: I saw one men take a chunk of wood from under his Coat throw it at a Soldier and knocked him (p 95). Other important testimonies are those of lieutenants Isaac Pierce and Joseph Belknap. They corroborate, which might mean that the witnesses state facts: Governor said to Preston dont you Know you can do nothing without a Magistrate. He answered I did it to save my Men (p 93). Another interesting testimony is given by Jane Whitehouse. It differs from all other statements, which might mean that Jane Whitehouse was asked by the defenders of Preston to give false testimony in order to make the case more complicated and present the episode of the Boston Massacre as a chaos where all witnesses who accused Captain Preston could not see anything.
Summing up, the conclusion about the case of Captain Preston presented in this essay is a subjective opinion based on available evidences. It is hard to establish the truth about the role of Preston in the Boston Massacre as there are not enough evidences, especially taking into consideration the fact that it was profitable for many people to consider Preston guilty because he presented whole Britain, which was not favored by Boston citizens. Prestons defenders were also interested in falsifying the evidences because they wanted to prove that he was innocent. Such a significant amount of side factors, which influence the evidences, complicates the final decision about the case. However, it is highly likely that Preston ordered to shoot because more than one or two soldiers would not confuse his voice with someone elses as he stated in the deposition.
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