Boston Massacre


In this lesson you will look at 5 primary source documents in order to determine what happened on March 5th 1770 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Revere Boston Massacre engraving thumbnail
Revere Boston Massacre engraving thumbnail
Image 1
Chappel Boston Massacre lithograph
Chappel Boston Massacre lithograph
Image 2pelham.jpg
The first depiction of the Boston Massacre was produced from an engraving by Paul Revere. The second depiction of the Boston Massacre was created by Alonzo Chappel. The third is the original by Henry Pelham which Revere allegedly stole.
You will pair up with a classmate to examine these three images of the Boston Massacre. Together you will answer the questions listed below. You will then share your answers with the class.
  1. Describe the main differences between the three pictures.
  2. What could be the reason(s) for these three different pictures?
  3. As historians, what other sources could we examine to help us get a clearer picture of what may have happened March 5th 1770?
  4. Do you believe the image depicts a massacre? Why?


Each group will be given three additional primary source documents
  1. Obituary of the 4 victims that died at the scene
  2. The report from the Boston Gazette following the Massacre
  3. The account of Thomas Preston
You will examine each document and answer the questions that relate to each document.
Following this activity the groups will share-out their answers to the questions and there will be a discussion of all five documents.
What similarities and differences exist across all of the documents?


Compare Paul Revere's engraving to Alonzo Chappel's lithograph of the Boston Massacre by answering these questions for each.

  1. What time of the day does it look like this event is occurring?
  2. Describe the actions of the British soldiers to the right of the picture, what are they doing?
  3. Describe the crowd to the left of the picture, what is happening to them?
  4. Identify Captain Preston and describe what he appears to be doing
  5. Explain how the title reflects what is happening in the picture
  6. If you looked at this picture how would you describe the events of the 5th of March?

Obituary of the 4 colonists that died at the scene

  1. What is the purpose of the pictures shown in the obituary?
  2. How does the author describe the fate of the 4 victims?
  3. Describe how the town of Boston mourned the victims
  4. What does the author’s description of the Boston Massacre tell us about his point of view?

Boston Gazette report following the Massacre

  1. How did the British react after being confronted by Archbald in the alley?
  2. Why do you think the young boys left when the 12 soldiers returned to the alley?
  3. What does the British reaction to Atwood reveal about their attitude that night?
  4. According to the author what factors led Captain Preston to give the order to fire?
  5. What does the last the paragraph reveal about the authors attitude about the British and how might this be used by colonial radicals?

Thomas Preston’s account of the event

  1. Who do you think was the intended audience of this account by Thomas Preston?
  2. How does Preston justify sending his troops to the Customs house?
  3. Which loaded words does Preston use to describe the mob and their actions? Why do you believe he describes the mob this way?
  4. How does Preston describe his own actions that evening?
  5. Predict: Do you believe Preston’s account would be successful in defending his actions? Why?
The groups will use the APPARTS primary source guide to analyze each document and then answer questions related to each document.


  1. "**The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a Party of the 29th Regt.**,"
    Paul Revere, engraver, Boston, Massachusetts, 1770. (high resolution)
  2. Boston Massacre lithograph by Alonzo Chappel, date unknown. (high resolution)
  3. Boston Massacre obituaries Boston Gazette and Country Journal, March 12, 1770. (HTML)
  4. Boston Massacre as reported in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal on Monday, March 12, 1770. (HTML)
  5. Captain Thomas Preston's Account of the Boston Massacre (13 March 1770), from British Public Records Office, C. O. 5/759. Reprinted in Merrill Jensen (editor) English Historical Documents, Volume IX. (London, 1964) vp. 750-53. (HTML)


APPARTS analysis chart
APPARTS analysis chart


Responses to primary source questions using APPARTS analysis chart.
Old State House view from South West
Old State House view from South West

The date is March 29th 1770. You are the lead reporter for the Malden Gazette and your editor wants you to write an article for the front page. The subject of this article will be the events of March 5th 1770. Your editor wants you to write the most accurate description you can create, he wants the truth not propaganda! Using the documents at hand create a newspaper article in which you describe the events of March 5th as accurately as possible. Be sure to create a headline, which supports your view of the events, and include one of the pictures that we have studied.

Newspaper Article Rubric

Rubric Boston Massacre thumbnail
Rubric Boston Massacre thumbnail


Using five primary source documents you were asked to write an accurate account of the events of March 5th, 1770. You learned to closely examine images and written accounts by the colonists and a British officer.
Did you have enough information to write an accurate account?
What additional pieces of information would you like to have had?
Examine the headlines of your fellow classmates newspaper articles. As a class, discuss and reach a consensus on the best headline to represent the event known as the Boston Massacre.