Who was Crispus Attucks? His is a name that does not come to mind when you hear the words “Boston Massacre” or “Revolutionary War,” but it should. According to www.bostonmassacre.net, five colonists were killed by British regulars on March 5, 1770 via the culmination of tensions between the colonies and the Royal troops, whose presence was intended to enforce the heavy tax burdens resulting from the Townshend and Stamp Acts. The troops appeared in October of 1768 and tensions were high with growing colonial unrest. There were mobs of colonists taunting the soldiers in ways that varied from verbal harassment to physical assaults of throwing snowballs, stones, and sticks. The colonists’ favorite name for the British soldiers was “Lobster Backs” and was used regularly by the Patriots whose goal was to separate from England’s rule.
Apparently Samuel Adams, one of the Sons of Liberty (the originating group of rebels), had called upon dock workers and seamen in the port of Boston to get involved and demonstrate against the British troops. Crispus Attucks was part of the group who responded -- a mob of 40-50 “patriots” who were armed with clubs, sticks, and snowballs and went after a squad of British soldiers outside of a tavern. The soldiers were instructed NOT to fire at citizens, but apparently one of them was struck in the head by a rock (or snowball) with the ensuing “terse” order of “FIRE!” to which the troops responded with a barrage of rifle fire into the crowd (www.bostonmassacre.net).
This massacre was considered a street fight. The first to be shot was Crispus Attucks, followed by Samuel Gray and James Caldwell who were also killed. Eight others were wounded and two of those, Samuel Patrick and Patrick Carr, died later. After his death, Attucks was lauded by poet John Boyle O’Reilly as “the first to defy, the first to die” (www.crispusattucksmuseum.org).
According to www.ushistory.org, the Boston Massacre was “a signal event leading to the Revolutionary War” and led to the evacuation of the occupying army from the town of Boston by the Royal Governor.
Crispus Attucks (born circa 1728) was not a well-known person, but it is said that he was a runaway slave with a price on his head of 10 pounds, which was advertised in the Boston Gazette in 1750 by his master, William Brown. Attucks was referred to in the ad as “A Molatto Fellow, about 27 years of age, named Crispas, 6 feet 2 inches high, short curl’d hair, his knees nearer together than common: had on a light colour’d Bearskin Coat" (www.biography.com). Attucks' father, named Prince Attucks, was a slave from Africa; his mother, Nancy was also a slave, a Wamponoag Indian (the native tribe of Massachusetts) although other accounts refer to her as a Natick Indian. They lived in Framingham, Massachusetts. Crispus was sold at age 16 to Brown and escaped on September 30, 1750.
After Crispus ran away, he went by the alias Michael Johnson (www.crispusattucksmuseum.org) and was said to have been a merchant seaman who worked as a whaler for ten years, and then as a sailor on trading ships for another ten years. He was not only a whaler but also a skilled buyer and trader of goods, and a rope maker.
Attucks was known to be an active abolitionist, and in 1858 "Crispus Attucks Day" was declared by others who fought for that cause. There is a monument to the victims of the Boston Massacre in the Boston Common which was erected in 1888. “The abolition of slavery started in 1688 when German and Dutch Quakers denounced the practice” writes crispusattackusmuseum.org, and the movement reached America in the early 1800s and continued until the Civil War.