The first person to die in the Boston Massacre was an African-American sailor named Crispus Attucks. Not much is known about Crispus Attucks prior to his death in 1770, but his actions that day became a source of inspiration for both white and black Americans for years to come.
Attucks was born around 1723; his father was an African slave in Boston, and his mother was a Natick Indian.
His life up until he was 27 years old is a mystery, but in 1750 Deacon William Brown of Framingham, Mass., placed a notice in the Boston Gazette that his slave, Attucks, had run away. Brown offered a reward of 10 pounds as well as reimbursement for any incurred expenses to anyone who caught Attucks.
No one captured Attucks, and by 1770 he was working as a sailor on a whaling ship. On March 5, he was having lunch near Boston Common along with other sailors from his ship, waiting for good weather so they could set sail. When he heard a commotion outside, Attucks went to investigate, discovering a crowd of Americans clustered near the British garrison.
The crowd had gathered after a barbers apprentice accused a British soldier of not paying for a haircut. The soldier struck the boy in anger, and a number of Bostonians, seeing the incident, gathered and shouted at the soldier.
Other British soldiers joined their comrade, and they stood as the crowd grew larger.
Attucks joined the crowd. He took leadership of the group, and they followed him to the custom house. There, the American colonists began throwing snowballs at the soldiers guarding the custom house.
The accounts of what happened next differed.
A witness for the defense testified at the trials of Captain Thomas Preston and eight other British soldiers that Attucks picked up a stick and swung it at the captain and then a second soldier.
The defense laid the blame for the actions of the crowd at Attucks feet, painting him as a troublemaker who incited the mob. This may have been an early form of race-baiting as other witnesses refuted this version of events.