That night, trouble broke out outside the Customs House, a symbol of the hated British authority. A young Bostonian and a British sentry began quarreling. A crowd of colonials gathered in the snow and taunted the sentry, hurling chunks of ice at him. He called for help, and seven British soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston came to his aid. Confronted by the unruly crowd, the soldiers opened fire. Moments later, five colonials lay dead or dying.
Angry colonial leaders, including Samuel Adams, quickly dubbed the incidents a “massacre.” They demanded that the troops be removed from the city and that Preston and his men be tried for murder. Anxious to avoid further bloodshed, the British agreed.
The troops were removed to islands in Boston Harbor. Two of Preston’s soldiers were convicted of manslaughter, although Preston and the others were acquitted. Throughout the 13 colonies, patriots used the news of the Boston Massacre to fan anti-British feeling and build support for independence.
Among those killed in the Boston Massacre was Crispus Attucks, a former slave. He is sometimes called the first hero of the American Revolution.