MARCH 5, 1770
Crispus Attucks, who had escaped slavery, became the first of five killed by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre, a precursor to the American Revolution.
His ancestry included Black and Native American roots, and he made his way to Boston at age 27 after escaping slavery. He worked on whaling ships and was also a rope-maker. At 6-foot-2, he was an imposing man, six inches taller than the average American man, and future U.S. president John Adams described him as someone “whose very looks was enough to terrify any person.”
Attucks and others faced the danger of being seized by the British and forced to join the Royal Navy. On that wintry night, Attucks led the crowd that confronted the British soldiers, “the first to defy, the first to die,” the famous poem declared.
An estimated 10,000 people — more than half of Boston’s population — joined in the procession of the five caskets to Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock were later buried. A Boston monument honoring Attucks bears John Adams’ words: “On that night, the foundation of American independence was laid.”
Martin Luther King Jr. called him one of the most important figures in Black history, “not for what he did for his own race, but for what he did for all oppressed people everywhere.” Schools, museums and foundations throughout the U.S. now bear Attucks’ name. In 1998, the U.S. Mint issued a silver dollar to honor him.