Crispus Attucks And The Boston Massacre

Who is Crispus Attucks? Biography on the war hero who was one of the first of five men to die in the Boston Massacre.

Little is known about the early years of Crispus Attucks. He was born a slave around 1723 probably in the colony of Massachusetts. His father, Prince Yonger, was an African and his mother, Nancy Attucks, was an Indian and possible descendant of John Attucks, a member of the Natick Indian tribe. John Attucks was executed for treason in 1676 during the King Philip War. The word "attuck" in the Natick language means deer. In 1750, Crispus was a slave of William Brown of Framingham.

Crispus was an expert trader of horses and cattle and did business with white men. He kept the money he made and tried to buy his freedom from his owner, William Brown. However, his owner refused to purchase his freedom because of Crispus' value to him. Because Crispus wanted his freedom, he ran away from his owner. His owner desperately wanted him back and printed a fugitive slave notice in the October 2, 1750 issue of the Boston "Gazette," it read:

"Ran away from his master William Brown of Framingham on the 30th of Sept. last a mulatto fellow about 27 years of age, named Crispus, 6 feet and 2 inches high, short curl'd hair, his knees nearer together than common; and had on a light colour'd beaver skin coat, plain new buckskin breeches, blue yarn stockings and a checked woolen shirt. Whoever shall take up said runaway and convey him to his aforesaid master shall have 10 pounds old tenor reward, and all necessary charges paid. And all masters of vessels and others are hereby cautioned against concealing or carrying off said servant on penalty of law."

Attucks was never caught and nothing is known of the twenty years before he resurfaced again. Historians surmise that he escaped to Nantucket, Massachusetts and sailed as a harpoonist on a whaling ship. During those twenty years, the American colonies were in conflict with England. The colonies resented the fact that they had to buy almost everything from England and were unhappy about the lack of free trade. The most outspoken colony was Massachusetts. British king, George III, sent two regiments into the Boston Harbor in the fall of 1769. The British occupation resulted in many conflicts with the citizens of Boston. According to historian John Fiske, "the soldiers did many things that greatly annoyed the people. They led brawling, riotous lives, and made the quite street hideous by night with their drunken shouts"┬ŽOn Sundays the soldiers would race horses on the Common, or would play 'Yankee Doodle' just outside the church-doors during the services."

Crispus Attucks was living in Boston during this time. On March 5, 1770 Crispus was eating dinner when he became aware of a fight between Boston men and British soldiers. He went to Dock Square to investigate. He picked up a stick and shouted to the crowd gathered there to follow him to King Street. When they arrived at King Street, Attucks went to the front of the crowd and struck at one of the British Soldiers. The soldier fired and hit Attucks with two musket balls. Four other men were killed, and six others were wounded. The next day, Attucks' body was taken to Faneuil Hall, and two days later, all the businesses were closed for his and the other victims' funeral. The funeral was attended by the largest crowd known to have assembled in North America. Attucks was buried in the Old Granary Burial Ground. This traumatic event is known as the Boston Massacre.

The British soldiers were placed on trial for the murders, and the charge stated that Attucks had been attacked "with force and arms, feloniously, willfully, and of malice aforethought." The soldier who had attacked Attucks was found not guilty, and two other soldiers were found guilty. The guilty soldiers received a punishment consisting of having their hands branded with a hot iron. The citizens of Boston were outraged at the verdict. But Crispus Attucks became a hero and has been honored as a man who died fighting for his freedom and that of others.

In 1888, a Crispus Attucks monument was erected on Boston Common. At the unveiling, John Fiske said the Boston Massacre, "was one of the most significant and impressive events in the noble struggle in which our forefathers succeeded in vindicating, for themselves and their posterity, the sacred right of self-government." In 1996, President Clinton enacted a Black Patriots Coin Law to commemorate African American contributions to the founding of America. The coin was struck in 1998, the 275th anniversary of the birth of Crispus Attucks, the first black man to die for America's freedom. According to Philip Diehl, Director of the U.S. Mint, "The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar will recall and commemorate history by focusing on Crispus Attucks' sacrifice as a symbol of the commitment of all Black American patriots."

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