Crispus Attucks is remembered as the first martyr of the African American Revolutionary War. His exact date of birth is not known, but it is estimated that he was born sometime around 1723. Very little is known about his origins; he may have been a slave or a free man. Some accounts define him to be a slave hailing from Framingham, Massachusetts. His father was African American and his mother was native American, which makes him of mixed race. An advertisement from a local newspaper in 1750 states that slave owner William Brown had offered a reward for 10 pounds in return for a runaway slave named Crispus, whom he describes as being a Molato, around 6 ft 2 in tall and 27 years of age. Whether or not this advertisement refers to Attucks is a point of contention for historians.
Attucks never returned to the farm, and instead joined a trading ship as a dock hand. He worked on board the ship, and also worked as a rope maker. Life on board the ship involved long journeys. In 1770, his ship temporarily landed in Boston on a return voyage from the Bahamas and was due to leave for North Carolina soon. There was already a lot of tension and conflict between the British soldiers and the colonists at the time. On March 2, 1770, there was a fight between a group of Bostonians and some British soldiers. A few nights later, a British soldier entered a local pub where a crowd of angry Bostonians started jeering at him. Attucks was amongst those present in the pub. The crowd began to taunt a British soldier, which led other British soldiers to join in their comrade’s defense.
When things got heated, the British opened fire at the Bostonian soldiers which caused the death of 5 men, Crispus Attucks being one of them. This episode was a major contributing factor towards war with the British. The incident was further incited when the British soldiers were completely pardoned on the grounds of “self defense”, by choosing to claim the “benefit of clergy” which basically meant that they were above the law. Future U.S. President John Adams defended the British, and labeled the Bostonians to be an unruly, wild mob which left the British soldiers with no choice but to open fire. Attucks was charged as being the major culprit and instigator of the incident, although his level of involvement differs according to the accounts of different eye witnesses.
Several people took up the cause, which led Attucks and the others to gain martyr status. Among them was Samuel Adams, a cousin of John Adams, who named the event “the Boston Massacre”. A painting of the occasion was made by the artist Henry Pelham and the event received widespread interest. The five martyrs including Crispus Attucks were buried in Granary Burying Ground, despite the fact that burying blacks and whites together was frowned upon. Through his death, Attucks has achieved a level of fame far more vast than he could have imagined in his lifetime. Several monuments have been erected in his honor, such as a monument on the Boston Common erected in 1888. In 1998, the U.S. Treasury issued “The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar” which featured a picture of Attucks on the back side.