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Collection John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trial of 1770

About this Collection

As noted in the 2008 HBO mini-series chronicling the life and career of John Adams (1735-1826), as a young lawyer the future president served as counsel for the defense in the trial of eight British soldiers accused of murder during a riot in Boston on March 5, 1770. William Wemms, James Hartegan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Matthew Killroy, William Warren, John Carrol, and Hugh Montgomery, soldiers in the English 29th regiment of foot, were accused of murdering Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr. The case was heard at the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery, on November 27, 1770, by adjournment, before justices Benjamin Lynde, John Cushing, Peter Oliver, and Edmund Troweridge. The Law Library of Congress has copies of reports and transcripts of the court proceedings published in 1770, 1807, and 1824, as well as a history of the Boston Massacre "consisting of the narrative of the town, the trial of the soldiers, and a historical introduction, containing unpublished documents of John Adams, and explanatory notes," published one hundred years later in 1870. Adams’s impassioned speech in defense of the soldiers resulted in their acquittal: it was reprinted in a "character sketch" by John Willard published in 1903. Details about the publications follow. Where possible, full texts of the documents are provided as PDF documents and the images can be clicked to enlarge.

According to the Boston Massacre Historical Society, "this controversial event was the culmination of civilian-military tensions that had been growing since royal troops first appeared in Massachusetts in October 1768." To learn more, visit their website External.