It is believed that Crispus Attucks was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, around the year 1723, as the son of Prince Yonger, an African born slave, and Nancy Peterattucks, a Natick Native American. It is also speculated that he was the descendant of John Attuck, who was hanged during the King Philip's War.
There is no proper evidence regarding personal details about him; there is also no unanimous agreement among the historians whether he was a free man or an escaped slave, but most of them agree that he was of African descent. The eyewitnesses of the Boston Massacre didn’t refer to him as “Negro” or “Black” and thus it is believed that the Bostonians thought of him as belonging to mixed ethnicity.
Continue Reading Below
Prior to the Boston Massacre
In 1750, a slave owner, William Brown announced that he would pay an award of ten pounds to whoever found his runaway slave, Crispus, whom he described in an advertisement. This piece of information makes it complicated for the historians to ascertain his status during the Boston massacre. While many suggest that he was the runaway black slave in question, the others believe that he was already a free man by then.
The ones who believe he was a free man at the time of Boston Massacre state that he was a sailor and a dock worker. He spent a long time of his life working as a stevedore along the Atlantic seaboard.
Others believe that he went by the name of “Michael Johnson” to live a free life under disguise and had just returned from the Bahamas in the early 1770. He was supposed to leave for another trip for North Carolina when the Boston incident happened.
The Boston Massacre
In 1768, British soldiers came to Boston to control the colonial unrest which had erupted after the introduction the ‘Stamp Act’ and the ‘Townshend Acts’. But the presence of troops made things worse and tensions started to pile up.
It was on March 5, 1770, when the unfortunate Boston Massacre happened. It started with an allegation from a boy who stated that a sentry had not paid a barber his bill. The boy was reprimanded severely just for asking for the payment. The colonists and the British soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot gathered where the confrontation was taking place and tensions started to rise.
Attucks was one of the colonists who gathered at the place. It is suggested that they had wooden pieces with them. Some sources state that the troops were attacked with clubs by the mob—led by Attucks—following which they opened fire. However, another eyewitness stated that Attucks was simply leaning on a wooden pole when the troops fired shots.
Attucks was among the five colonists who died that day, taking two bullets in the chest. He is believed to have been the first of the five people to die that day. There were also six more colonists who were severely injured due to the shooting.
The autopsy of Attucks’ body was done by the county coroners, Robert Pierpoint and Thomas Crafts Jr., and afterward it was carried to Faneuil Hall where it was kept for three more days.
Post Massacre Reactions
After the massacre in Boston, much to the disappointment of the colonists, John Adams defended the majority of the British soldiers successfully. Only two of the soldiers were charged with manslaughter. However, they pleaded ‘benefit of clergy’ and escaped death penalty with branding on their thumbs.
The five victims, including Attucks, were given heroic burial at the Granary Burying Ground, where other significant people like Samuel Adams and John Hancock were also buried.
In the next two centuries, many events were organized to commemorate him, including the ‘Crispus Attucks Day’ established by the Boston-area abolitionists.
In 1886, the place where Attucks, along with Samuel Gray, fell was marked with circles and hubs with spokes were raised to form a wheel-like structure.
The United States Treasury released ‘The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar’ in 1998, which featured Attucks’ image. The funds from the sale of the coins were intended for a Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial in Washington, DC.
Stevie Wonder's song ‘Black Man,’ which contains the line, ‘First man to die for the flag we now hold high was a black man,’ was dedicated to Attucks.
Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the Boston attack and Attucks in the introduction of his book ‘Why We Can't Wait’.
Afrocentrist scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Attucks in his list of ‘100 Greatest African Americans’ in 2002.
Wayne Brady, J. B. Smoove, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Keith David appeared in a satirical rap music video about Crispus Attucks in 2012.