Bostonians hurled epithets, as well as snow and ice, at the soldiers, but there was little about the incident to suggest that blood would soon flow. That changed when one of the soldiers fired his musket — possibly by mistake after slipping on some ice. Immediately his fellow soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing four and wounding six. One of those who died in what came to be called the Boston Massacre was an Irishman named Patrick Carr.
Tensions had been rising steadily in colonial cities like Boston at least as far back as 1765, the year the British government imposed the Stamp Act to force the colonies to pay the costs of their defense accumulated during the recently concluded French and Indian War. The colonists, having grown accustomed to little British interference in their affairs for most of the 18th century, protested the act and the many more that followed. Although the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, the Townsend Acts of 1768 (which also imposed taxes and fees) touched off rioting in Boston. In response, the British government sent several thousand troops to maintain order.
Bostonians and other colonists treated the new arrivals with scorn from the very start. At first these taunts and periodic clashes stemmed from their ideological opposition to an occupying army. But soon, as the economic depression that set in following the end of the French and Indian War deepened, there developed more practical reasons for opposing the British military presence. Off-duty soldiers were allowed to work and many did — stealing, in the eyes of the unemployed, jobs that belonged to colonists. Many employers hired the soldiers for part-time work because the latter worked for lower wages since they already received full-time pay as soldiers.
Patrick Carr was among the more fortunate workers in Boston at this time, for he was still employed. Born in Ireland, he’d immigrated to the colonies and taken up the trade of leather work. Like many journeymen, he lived with his employer. He was at home on the night of March 5 when the ringing of fire bells brought him out onto the street. Ahead at the intersection of present day State and Congress Streets, he saw a huge crowd engaged in a standoff with British troops. As he made for the scene, a shot rang out, followed by a volley. The situation disintegrated into chaos as the first of the killed and wounded fell and others ran for cover.
Soldiers continued firing and one of their shots struck Carr. The ball tore through his hip and backbone and he collapsed on the cobblestones. A friend came to his rescue and carried him to the nearest house. Several doctors were summoned, but there was little they could do for him. Carr lingered for nine days before succumbing to his wounds on March 14. His funeral took place three days later, on St. Patrick’s Day. A huge crowd turned out to see him interred with the other three victims (including an African American named Crispus Attucks) in the Granery Burial Ground.
The “Boston Massacre,” as the more zealous patriots termed the clash, enraged colonists from New Hampshire to Georgia. In Boston, however, the anger was mixed with action as officials moved to prosecute the soldiers. The commander of the British soldiers, Anglo-Irishman Captain Thomas Prescott, and eight of his men were arrested and charged with murder. Samuel Adams led the prosecution, while his cousin John Adams defended the soldiers. The turning point in the trial occurred when Dr. John Jeffries, one of the physicians who attended to Carr, took the stand. Jeffries claimed that in a lengthy conversation with the dying man, Carr had said that in his opinion the soldiers fired in self-defense. “I asked him whether he thought the soldiers would have been hurt, if they had not fired,” recounted the doctor. “He said he really thought they would, for he heard many voices cry out, kill them.” That testimony, when added to a superb defense by John Adams, led to the acquittal of Prescott and six soldiers. The two remaining soldiers were convicted of manslaughter but were soon released.
The Boston Massacre was soon succeeded by other events, notably the Boston Tea Party, in the ongoing struggle that eventually blossomed into revolution. After the war, the event became part of the lore surrounding the successful effort by the colonists to win their independence from England. But only Crispus Attucks — who stood out as a black man who died in the cause of independence for a nation wedded to slavery — was remembered by name. Patrick Carr and the others faded into anonymity.
That changed in 1888 when Bostonians raised a monument on Boston Common that included the names of Carr and his fellow victims. Some of the city’s more “proper” set initially opposed the idea, deeming the “mob” unworthy of the honor. It thus fell to an Irishman to make the case for it. From the editorial page of his paper, The Pilot, ex-Fenian John Boyle O’Reilly led the campaign to build the monument and when it was finally unveiled he delivered one of the main speeches.
HIBERNIAN HISTORY WEEK
March 7, 1968: the IRA blows up Nelson’s Pillar outside the Dublin Post Office on O’Connell Street.
March 9, 1932: After a long political exile, Eamon De Valera is elected president of Ireland.
March 11, 1951: Hardline Unionist Rev. Ian Paisley establishes his Free Presbyterian Church.
March 6, 1923: Television personality Ed McMahon is born in Detroit.
March 10, 1888: Actor Barry Fitzgerald is born in Dublin.
March 11, 1858: Nationalist Thomas Clarke is born in Hurst Castle, Isle of Wright.