Crispus Attucks was born a slave in Framingham, Massachusetts. His father was brought to America from Africa, and his mother was said to be a Natick or Nantucket Indian. In colonial America, the offspring of black and Indian parents were considered black or mulatto.
Attucks was known for his skill in buying and selling cattle. He had escaped bondage in 1750 and a advertisement in a well known newspaper called “Boston Gazette” pinpointed Attucks “Ran away from his Master William Brown from Framingham, on the 30th of September, a Molatto Fellow, about 27 years of age, named Crispas, 6 feet two inches high, short curl’d hair, his knees nearer together than common: had on light colour’d bearskin coat.” Brown was offered to pay 10 pounds for the return of Attucks.
Attucks, however, managed to escape for good, spending the next two decades on trading ships and whaling vessels coming in and out of Boston. Attucks also found work as a rope maker.
As British control over the colonies tightened, tensions escalated between the colonist and British Soldiers. The Colonist also felt the competition from British Soldiers, who often took part-time jobs during their off-duty hours and worked for lower wages. On Friday March 2, 1770, a fight erupted between a group of Boston rope makers and three British Soldiers. Three nights later on the night of March 5, 1770, a British man looking for work entered the Boston pub, only to be greeted by a contingent of furious seamen, one of whom was Attucks.
Attucks and a group of about thirty Bostonians marched up to King street to a Custom House and approached a British guardsman and started taunting him. When seven other British Soldiers (known as redcoats) came to the lone soldier’s rescue. The situation escalated quickly, and the colonist began throwing snowballs and sticks at the British soldiers. Unable to calm the situation the British fired on the angry group and killing Attucks, and three other men, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, and James Caldwell.
Attucks was reported to be the first that fell, which made him the first casualty of the American Revolution. He was shot by British Soldier William Warren, with one shot lodged into his chest.
Eight British soldiers were arrest and charged murder. The British Soldiers were defended by John Adams (who later became the second president of United States). John Adams successfully defended the accused British Soldiers, arguing the soldiers fired in self-defense and called the crowd “a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs.”
Six of the eight soldiers were acquitted on the grounds of self-defense, while the other remaining two received a conviction of a lesser charge than manslaughter. Faced with the prospect of hanging, the soldiers pled benefit of clergy, and were instead branded on their thumbs.
By the 1850s, African Americans had long hailed Attucks as a Revolutionary Patriot and as symbol of loyalty, black citizenship, and racial pride
Martin Luther King Jr. referred to Crispus Attucks in the introduction of Why We Can’t Wait (1964) as a example of a man whose contribution to history provided a potent message of moral courage.
In 1988, Untied States minted a coin in honor of Attucks to mark the 275th anniversary of his birth and to celebrate African Americans Revolutionary Patriots.