Fire! The Inside Story of the Boston Massacre with Dr. Richard Bell

Fire! The Inside Story of the Boston Massacre with Dr. Richard Bell


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By March 1770, the people of Boston had lived almost a year and a half under British military occupation. Tensions, resentments, and open threats of violence issued by both civilians and soldiers had long since become a fact of life. The town was a powderkeg—and on Monday, March 5, it exploded. This conversation will explore this moment in history, analyzing the Boston Massacre from an array of sides.

Around 8 pm, a sentry posted outside the Town Hall on King Street challenged a young wig maker's apprentice over an unpaid bill. The humiliated apprentice called in reinforcements and soon the sentry was being pelted by stones and snowballs thrown by the 100 townspeople now surrounding him. Then a squad of burly redcoat guardsmen arrived and in the chaos, someone yelled ‘Fire!’ Shots rang out. When the smoke from the soldiers’ muskets cleared, five local men lay dead and dying on the snowbound street.

Over the following days and weeks, soldiers and civilians tried to figure out what had happened. Just as importantly, they began trying to assign meaning to this tragic event, and to give it a name. The official British report called it an ‘unhappy disturbance,’ but Boston leaders took to calling it the ‘horrid massacre.’

In this seminar, historian Richard Bell explores the 1770 Boston Massacre from all its many sides. Drawing on the latest scholarship, Bell argues that the real history of the ‘affray on King Street’ is far more fascinating than even Paul Revere’s famous engraving of it has led us to believe.

Dr. Richard Bell is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and is the recipient of the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. He has won more than a dozen teaching awards and has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress. He has published a number of books; his latest is "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home".

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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