IMAGE –Revere’s Boston Massacre Engraving

Boston Massacre (1770)

Boston Massacre (1770)

This famous engraving by Paul Revere depicting the riot in Boston on March 5, 1770, which resulted in the deaths of five colonists (including Crispus Attucks), what the patriot artisan calls here, “The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment,” is far more complicated than it looks.

  • First, this work of art is also clearly a work of propaganda.  There are numerous elements in this depiction that are designed to inflame American public opinion against the British.  Students should be able to conduct a close reading of the image and find several of those elements.
  • Second, a fellow Bostonian illustrator accused Revere of plagiarism.  Henry Pelham wrote his colleague on March 6, full of indignation. “When I heard that you were cutting a plate of the late Murder,” he claimed, “I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you copied it from mine.”  Here is a link to Pelham’s illustration courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Modern-day students should be able to discuss whether or not the charge of borrowing matters in this context.

Further Reading

  • Massacre Illustrated from the Massachusetts Historical Society offers a helpful and very succinct account of the illustration and the 1770 incident as part of an engaging online exhibition about the Boston Massacre, including some excellent materials on the 1770-71 trials of Captain Thomas Preston and others.
  • Paul Revere’s Engraving from the Gilder Lehrman Institute features an itemized list of propaganda elements in the illustration
  • The Boston Massacre Trials from the John Adams Historical Society offers a useful summary of the various trials that occurred in the aftermath of the massacre and provides a transcript of the famous summation to the jury by John Adams, which includes the stirring line, “Facts are stubborn things.” (December 4, 1770, Rex v. Wemms)


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