Thursday, March 5, 2015

Crispus Attucks: Framingham Revolutionist

Today, March 5, marks the 245th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Crispus Attucks was an African-American man killed during the Boston Massacre.

Early years 

Crispus Attucks is believed to have been born around 1723, in Framingham, Massachusetts. Born into slavery, Crispus Attucks was the son of Prince Yonger, a slave shipped to America from Africa, and Nancy Attucks, a Natick Indian. Little is known about Attucks' life, or his family, who resided in Framingham, Massachusetts.

What has been pieced together paints a picture of a young man who showed an early skill for buying and trading goods. He seemed unafraid of the consequences for escaping the bonds of slavery. Historians have, in fact, pinpointed Attucks as the focus of an advertisement in a 1750 edition of the Boston Gazette in which a white landowner offered to pay 10 pounds for the return of a young runaway slave.

"Ran away from his Master William Brown from Framingham, on the 30th of Sept. last," the advertisement read. "A Molatto Fellow, about 27 Years of age, named Crispas, 6 Feet two Inches high, short curl'd Hair, his Knees nearer together than common: had on a light colour'd Bearskin Coat."

Attucks, however, managed to escape for good, spending the next two decades on trading ships and whaling vessels coming in and out of Boston. Attucks also found work as a rope maker.

Revolutionary Hero

As British control over the colonies tightened, tensions escalated between the colonists and British soldiers. Attucks was one of those directly affected by the worsening situation. Seamen like Attucks constantly lived with the threat they could be forced into the British navy, while back on land, British soldiers regularly took part-time work away from colonists.

On March 2, 1770, a Friday, a fight erupted between a group of Boston rope makers and three British soldiers. Tensions were ratcheted up further three nights later when a British soldier looking for work entered a Boston pub, only to be greeted by a contingent of furious sailors, one of whom was Attucks.

The details regarding what followed have always been the source of debate, but that evening, a group of Bostonians approached a guard in front of the customs house and started taunting him. The situation quickly escalated. When a contingent of British redcoats came to the defense of their fellow soldier, more angry Bostonians joined the fracas, throwing snowballs and other items at the soldiers.

Attucks was one of those in the middle of the fight, and when the British opened fire he was the first of five men killed. His murder made him the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Trial After the Boston Massacre

Quickly becoming known as the Boston Massacre, the episode further propelled the colonies toward war with the British. Flames were fanned even more when the soldiers involved in the incident were acquitted on the grounds of self defense. John Adams, who went on to become the second U.S. president, defended the soldiers in court. During the trial, Adams labeled the colonists an unruly mob that forced his clients to open fire.

Helping to lead the attack was Attucks, Adams charged, though debate has raged over how involved he was in the fight. One account claims he was simply "leaning on a stick" when the gunshots erupted.


Even so, Attucks became a martyr. His body was transported to Faneuil Hall, where he and the others killed in the attack lay in state. City leaders even waived the laws around black burials and permitted Attucks to be buried with the others at the Park Street cemetery.

In the years since his death, Attucks's legacy has continued to endure, first with the American colonists eager to break from British rule, and later among 19th century abolitionists and 20th century civil rights activists. In his 1964 book, Why We Can't Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lauded Attucks for his moral courage and his defining role in American history.

Crispus Attucks is buried in the Granary Burial Ground in Boston, Massachusetts.  All five victims of the Boston Massacre, Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell and Patrick Carr are buried together. The body of Christopher Snider, a 12 year old, who was murdered two weeks earlier, is also buried in the same grave. They share one headstone.