King Street

The enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre

The enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre

Currently on display in the Old State House are artifacts that represent two hundred years of the enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre. Take a peek into the case in this post about one of those items, Joseph Warren's anniversary oration from 1772.

A new strike off an old plate: the 1970 version of Paul Revere's print

A new strike off an old plate: the 1970 version of Paul Revere's print

In 1970, the Imprint Society approached the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Archivist of the Commonwealth with a request to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Boston Massacre by releasing restrikes taken from Revere's original plate.

The Coroner's Report on Crispus Attucks

The Bostonian Society is preparing for one of its biggest events of the year, the Boston Massacre Commemoration and Reenactment.  This year, the event will occur on March 5 and will mark the 246th anniversary to the day.  In honor of this upcoming anniversary, we're sharing an important document from our collection that is associated with this event - the Coroner's Report on Crispus Attucks.  Little is known of Attucks, but he is remembered as one of the victims of the Boston Massacre. This document is the original coroner's jury report on the body of Crispus Attucks, who is referred to as Michael Johnson in the report.

A facsimile (copy) of the coroner's report is currently on display in the Colony to Commonwealth exhibit in the Old State House, but in 2003 the original was returned the archives.  After being on display for many years, the ink on the paper had started to fade as a result of being exposed to light.  To mitigate any further deterioration, the original is now kept in dark storage and only taken out for special occasions.  In previous years, the report has been on display around March 5, as a special way to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  This year, however, it will remain in storage, so writing about it our blog is a way to share its history while preserving its future.

When violence broke out in front of the Old State House on King Street, Attucks was the first casualty.  On March 12, 1770 the Boston Gazette and Country Journal published an account of the incident and described
Attucks as "a mulatto man, named Crispus Attucks, who was born in Framingham, but later belonged to New Providence and was here in order to go to North Carolina, also killed instantly; two balls entering his breast one of them in special goring the right lobe of the lungs, and a great part of the liver most horribly."  After lying in state for three days at Faneuil Hall, Attucks was buried at the Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston, along with the other victims of the Boston Massacre. 

The coroner's report was filed on March 6, 1770 - only one day after the Boston Massacre occurred.  The full text reads as follows:

"An Inquisition Indented, taken at Boston within the said county of Suffolk, the sixth day of March in the tenth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third by the Grace of God, of Great-Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Before Robert Pierpont, Gent. one of the Coroners of our said Lord the King, within the county of Suffolk aforesaid; upon the View of the Body of Michael Johnson [Crispus Attucks] then and there being Dead, by the Oaths of William Palfrey, William Flagg, William Crafts, Enoch Rust, Robert Duncean, William Baker Junior, Samuel Danforth, Benjamin Waldo foreman, Jacob Emmans, John McLane, William Fleet, John Wise, John How[illegible], Nathaniel Hurd

State Street Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770 (1890.0042)
By W.L. Champney, lithographed by J.H. Bufford

good and lawful Men of Boston aforesaid; within the Country aforesaid, who being Charged and Sworn to enquire for our said Lord the King, When by what Means and how the said Michael Johnson came to his death: Upon their Oaths do say, that the said Michael Johnson willfully and feloniously murdered at King Street in Boston in the County aforesaid on the Evening of the 5th instant between the hours of nine & ten by the discharge of a Musket or Muskets loaded with bullets, two of which were shot thro' his body by a party of soldiers [illegible] known then and there headed and commanded by Captain Thomas Preston of his Majesty's 29th Regiment of Foot against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King [illegible].

In Witness whereof, as well I the Coroner aforesaid, as the Jurors aforesaid, to this Inquisition have interchangeably put our Hands and Seals, the Day and Year aforesaid."

It was then signed by each member of the coroner's jury, and a square of paper was affixed next to each signature.

The coroner's report came to the Society as a donation in 1891 as part of the Leffingwell Collection.The Indictment of Captain Preston (MS0119/DC973.3113) was donated at the same time. Both of these documents are important additions to our archives, because they shed light on the aftermath of the events of March 5.

Though the coroner's report will remain in storage this March, another special document will be displayed.  Stop by the Old State House from March 4 - 7 for the rare opportunity to see Paul Revere's print The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

King Street in the 1700s

The Old State House was built at the head of King Street, now known as State Street. As its grand name implied, King Street was the most important street in Boston for government and commerce.

Using a variety of historical documents we can reconstruct a mental image of what it might have been like to walk out of the Old State House 250 years ago. It would be apparent that you were no longer in 21st century Boston as soon as you stepped out of the door. The salty sea air blowing in from Long Wharf was pungent with the aromas of horse manure, rum-soaked taverns, musty bookstores, hot forges, coffee house kitchens, and more. The calls of seagulls carried over a town as noisy as modern Boston, alive with the clattering of iron-clad cartwheels clattering over rough pebblestone streets, the cries of merchants barking their wares, ships bells chiming, children playing, and craftsmen and sailors hard at work.

The Little Admiral, 1916.0024
18th century newspaper advertisements reveal the goods that were bought and sold on this street. The fashionable shopped here for "All sorts of goldsmith and Jewelry wares," "women's fine horse-hair & beaver hats," "black bone lace, fine white cap lace, gimp and snail trimming," which the advertisers assured were "suitable for the season." For the hungry, shops sold "Chocolate, Bohea and Green Teas, raw and roasted coffee," "Choice Connecticut pork," "Choice Butter by the tub" and "The best Jarr Rasins." And for the scholarly, bookstores here sold "A large assortment of books on Law, Divinity, Gardening, Paper books and Pocket books… at the lowest prices."

Still, one of the main reasons to come to King Street was to socialize and drink. A block from the Old State House, on the corner of Kilby Street, stood the Bunch of Grapes, the Marlborough Arms, and the Queen's Head; three of Boston’s oldest Taverns. There was also the Admiral Vernon Tavern on Merchant's row. “The Little Admiral,” pictured above, is a a shop sign from a few doors down which is thought to portray Vernon, and is now part of our museum collection. King Street also had a number of coffee houses. In spite of their name, these genteel establishments served mostly alcohol rather than coffee.

Studying the shops on King Street gives us a richer picture of the thriving and lively town that Boston was on the eve of the American Revolution.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager

King Street?

The Old State House sits at the intersection of Washington Street and State Street in downtown Boston, so why is the title of our blog On King Street?  What Bostonians know of today as State Street was called King Street when the Old State House was built in 1713.  During and after the Revolutionary War residents of Boston did not want to have one of their main city streets named after a King that they no longer supported.  In 1784 King Street was changed to State Street, though there are references to Bostonians referring to the street by other names before the official name change. 

Detail of 1775.3 BOS
In the 1700s, King Street was populated with businesses, taverns, and coffee houses.  It is one of the oldest streets in Boston, and the view from the Old State House’s balcony down the street to Long Wharf remains one of the few views in Boston that has not changed drastically in over three hundred years. 

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post with more details about King Street and interesting facts about the Old State House’s 18th century neighbors that Revolutionary Characters Manager, Daud Alzayer, has discovered after extensive research on the history of King Street.

For even more information about the history of Boston streets, check out The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston by Annie Thwing.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager