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Liberty Exhibit Boston Massacre painting by Don Troiani
Courtesy of Don Troiani

On March 5, 1770, British soldiers shot into a crowd, killing three people and mortally wounding two more, during a chaotic scene on King Street in Boston. The event, which would come to be known as the Boston Massacre, would be used to turn colonists against King George III's rule.

"The Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770," painted by nationally renowned historical artist Don Troiani and was on display in our Liberty: Don Troiani's Paintings of the Revolutionary War special exhibition, shows the cold March night from the perspective of the crowd behind the British soldiers and Captain Thomas Preston. Preston and the eight soldiers took hits from clubs, oyster shells, and snowballs. After a soldier took a severe blow from a club, he fired into the growing, aggressive crowd. More soldiers discharged their muskets. Captain Preston claimed he never ordered the soldiers to fire.

A version of Don Troiani's painting of the Boston Massacre with numbered hotpots to highlight different parts of the scene.

1. Benjamin Burdick

Boston’s Town House watchman joined the crowd and struck one of the soldier’s muskets with a Scottish broadsword he brought from home.

2. Private Hugh White

Private White stood as a sentry near Boston’s Customs House when two young Bostonians began to taunt him on the evening of March 5. He struck one of the young men with his musket. When an angry crowd surrounded him, the 30-year-old soldier called for reinforcements.

3. 29th Regiment Grenadiers

A group of six grenadiers and one other soldier reinforced Private White. After being put on trial for the “Horrid Massacre,” grenadier privates Matthew Kilroy and Hugh Montgomery were found guilty of manslaughter. The rest of the soldiers and Captain Preston were acquitted. John Adams served as their lawyer.

4. Town House

Built in 1713, the Town House was the seat of the Massachusetts colonial government. Following the “massacre,” Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson stood on the balcony shown here and told the crowd to disperse. Now known as the Old State House, the building still stands.

5. Captain Thomas Preston

Captain Preston worked his way through the crowd to take command of the eight soldiers. The painting shows the moment that Richard Palmes struck Captain Preston’s arm with a club following the first shot. In the confusing melee, other shots by the soldiers followed even though Preston claimed he did not order the troops to fire.

6. Richard Palmes

Bostonian Richard Palmes was close enough to Captain Preston to have spoken to him. The day after the “massacre,” Palmes said, “I made a Stroke at the officer” with a club and “thought I hit his head, but said officer Preston Says I hit his Arm.” Palmes slipped and fell on the snow-covered street and continued swinging his club as the soldiers fired at the crowd.

Learn More

A Museum staff member views a painting in the Liberty exhibit

Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War

October 16, 2021 - September 5, 2022
Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War immersed visitors in the dramatic and research-based works of nationally renowned historical artist Don Troiani to bring the compelling stories about the diverse people and complex events of the American Revolution to life.
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