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California standards:

Lesson title: The Boston Massacre

Overview: In March 1770, Boston erupted in bloodshed. In this lesson, students will examine the causes and effects of the Boston Massacre through an examination of Paul Revere’s engravings of “The Boston Massacre” and “The Arrival of the Troops,” as well as a background essay on events leading up the Boston Massacre. Then students will be able to complete a cause and effect chart regarding the event. This lesson could range from 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the length of the discussions of the engravings. The materials needed for this lesson, as well as the standards it meets, are noted at right.

Historical background: In response to increasingly violent colonial protests, British troops were sent to Boston in 1768 to represent a show of force from the British government. Rather than stay in a fort on an island in the Boston harbor, the troops camped on the commons and were quartered in buildings in town, including the sugar refinery belonging to Elizabeth Murray's second husband, James Smith. With troops in their midst, Boston colonists became resentful of their presence and behavior. On a cold, snowy evening, March 5, 1770, tensions came to a peak, and British troops fired into a taunting crowd. Five colonists lay dead or mortally wounded. Quickly named the "Boston Massacre," the event became a rallying cry for colonists opposed to British authority. (Refer to student “background essay” included in the materials section at right.)

Guiding questions: How and why did the colonists’ political relationships with Britain change? What were some of the causes and effects of the British troops being brought to Boston? How did colonists protest British policies and authority? What role did propaganda play in the era of the Revolution?

Learning Objectives: After reviewing lesson material, students will be able to complete the causes and effects chart of British troops being brought into Boston.

Activities: Begin the lesson with a short review of political conditions in the colonies following the French and Indian War (that is, new taxes imposed on colonists, settlement boundaries). Next, read and discuss the background essay on the Boston Massacre. Then refer to Paul Revere’s engraving of the arrival of British troops in Boston harbor.

Discuss with students what they see in the engraving and the implications of the British actions. After that, analyze Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. Point out the propaganda he used to stir colonial emotions. The troops appear carefully lined up, all firing at once on the colonists. "Butcher's Hall" appears on the façade of the building on the right, just above the British solders’ heads, when there was no “Butcher’s Hall.” Instead this term was included to underline the idea that the British were slaughtering innocent colonists. A woman stands out among the crowd as does the little puppy down in the front of the troops, both perhaps Revere-added “participants” in the event.

Assessment: Have students refer to the two images by Revere and use the information to complete the cause and effect chart of British troops being brought into Boston. Also refer to the background essay (at right) to gather more details on this event. The background essay link contains both the essay and a completed, answer-key version of the cause and effect chart.

Extending the lesson: Writing and reporting activities follow easily from this lesson.

1. Have students write a personal narrative assuming they were among the young teens taunting the British Regulars that cold March 5th. Have them describe what they and their friends were doing and the results of their actions. Or, have them write from the perspective of one of the British soldiers about the evening's events.

2. Have the students present the narratives as a group report on what happened that fateful day, according to various points of view. This exercise would be very indicative of what the investigation found—a variety of first-hand accounts.

Teacher-author: This lesson was prepared by Meri Fedak, Long Beach Unified School District.