5 March 1770: 29th of Foot caught up in the Boston Massacre

A contemporary engraving depicting the 29th firing upon the crowd during the Boston Massacre

A contemporary engraving depicting the 29th firing upon the crowd during the Boston Massacre

In 1770 the 29th Foot were stationed in Boston at a time when the discontent and hatred felt by the American colonists towards the Mother country, England, was extended to the British Troops stationed in the Colony. Boston was a particular centre of discord and on several occasions there had been free fights between the townsfolk and members of the Regiment.

On 5th March, it being their turn for garrison duties, the 29th provided a guard for the Customs House, where a certain amount of cash was kept. A mob of 100 rioters tried to rush the post shouting, ‘Kill the soldier, kill the damned coward, kill him, knock him down!’ and the lone sentry called out the guard who came to his assistance. The guard, consisting of Captain Thomas Preston, a corporal and six men, fixed bayonets and kept the crowd at bay, taking no more violent action, although being subjected to a barrage of abuse.

However, words led to blows, and Captain Preston and Private Montgomery were struck down by one of the mob leaders. On regaining his feet, Montgomery heard someone shout ‘Why don’t you fire?’ and, thinking that this was an order to fire, did so. Five or six more shots were fired in quick succession: three of the rioters were killed and five wounded. The rest of the mob ran away.

The Old State House, Boston MA, site of the Boston Massacre

The Old State House, Boston MA: site of the Boston Massacre

In memory of the incident which the Bostonians called the Boston Massacre, the Regiment, being the first to shed the blood of the colonists, was given the nickname ‘The Blood Suckers’ or the ‘Vein Openers’.

The Incident led to the arrest and trial of Capt Preston, Pte Montgomery, 7 other soldiers and 4 civilians on a charge of murder.  However, with the aid of John Adams (later to become the 2nd President of the United States) as counsel for Capt Preston, six were acquitted, while two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences; they received a branding on the hand.

Extracted from ‘The Worcestershire Regiment: A Brief History’

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