James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

March 5

The Boston Massacre

By John Boyle O’Reilly (1844–1890)

  • From “Crispus Attucks.”
  • The Boston Massacre, which occurred March 5, 1770, may be regarded as the first act in the drama of the American Revolution. The presence of the British soldiers in King St. excited the patriotic indignation of the people. Led by Crispus Attucks, the mulatto slave, they rushed to King St. and were fired upon by Captain Preston’s company. Crispus Attucks was the first to fall; he and Samuel Gray and Jonas Caldwell were killed on the spot. Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr were mortally wounded.

  • WHERE shall we seek for a hero, and where shall we find a story?

    Our laurels are wreathed for conquest, our songs for completed glory.

    But we honor a shrine unfinished, a column uncapped with pride,

    If we sing the deed that was sown like seed when Crispus Attucks died.

    Shall we take for a sign this Negro slave with unfamiliar name—

    With his poor companions, nameless too, till their lives leaped forth in flame?

    Yea, surely, the verdict is not for us, to render or deny;

    We can only interpret the symbol; God chose these men to die—

    As teachers and types, that to humble lives may chief award be made;

    That from lowly ones, and rejected stones, the temple’s base is laid!

    When the bullets leaped from the British guns, no chance decreed their aim;

    Men see what the royal hirelings saw—a multitude and a flame;

    But beyond the flame, a mystery; five dying men in the street,

    While the streams of severed races in the well of a nation meet!

    O, blood of the people! changeless tide, through century, creed and race!

    Still one as the sweet salt sea is one, though tempered by sun and place;

    The same in the ocean currents, and the same in the sheltered seas;

    Forever the fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies;

    Indian and Negro, Saxon and Celt, Teuton and Latin and Gaul—

    Mere surface shadow and sunshine; while the sounding unifies all!

    One love, one hope, one duty theirs! No matter the time or ken,

    There never was separate heart-beat in all the races of men!

    But alien is one—of class, not race—he has drawn the line for himself;

    His roots drink life from inhuman soil, from garbage of pomp and pelf;

    His heart beats not with the common beat, he has changed his life-stream’s hue;

    He deems his flesh to be finer flesh, he boasts that his blood is blue;

    Patrician, aristocrat, Tory—whatever his age or name,

    To the people’s rights and liberties, a traitor ever the same.

    The natural crowd is a mob to him, their prayer a vulgar rhyme;

    The freeman’s speech is sedition, and the patriot’s deed a crime.

    Wherever the race, the law, the land,—whatever the time or throne,

    The Tory is always a traitor to every class but his own.

    Thank God for a land where pride is clipped, where arrogance stalks apart;

    Where law and song and loathing of wrong are words of the common heart;

    Where the masses honor straightforward strength, and know, when veins are bled,

    That the bluest blood is putrid blood—that the people’s blood is red!

    And honor to Crispus Attucks, who was leader and voice that day;

    The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick, Carr and Gray.

    Call it riot or revolution, his hand first clenched at the crown;

    His feet were first in perilous place to pull the king’s flag down;

    His breast was the first one rent apart that liberty’s stream might flow;

    For our freedom now and forever, his head was the first laid low.