Familiar Story of the Boston Massacre Becomes FamilialHistorians in the News
tags: books, reviews, Revolutionary War
Historians continue to assess the meaning of the American Revolution. But at first glance, what can one possibly say about the Boston Massacre that is new? The iconic event, immortalized 250 years ago in a famous engraving by Paul Revere, has been studied and written about exhaustively. The facts are well-known, even if interpretations have differed.
On a wintry night in 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians, killing five men. While Revere's print sought to portray the Bostonians as innocent victims, future president John Adams mounted a defense of the soldiers in court that underscored their helplessness in the face of an aggressive crowd. By emphasizing the notion of a confrontation between two separate camps, both versions concealed the intimate ties that existed between soldiers and civilians.
Through exhaustive sleuthing in British military records, official correspondence and Boston archives, Serena Zabin, a history professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., changes this familiar story into a familial one. The result is a lively gem of a book that expands our views of early-modern military life, pre-revolutionary Boston, and, in turn, the American Revolution.
Early modern armies were full of women. Married to privates and officers, they cooked, cleaned, nursed and laundered for soldiers while raising children. Though often derisively dismissed as “camp followers,” they provided crucial support. In recognition of their importance to the functioning of the army, many received rations, pay and even transportation when regiments got deployed. The 2,000 British regulars sent to Boston in 1768 to exercise riot control in the face of opposition to new imperial taxes were accompanied by close to 400 women and 500 children.
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