Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial

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Crispus Attucks one of five killed in the Boston Massacre

Recently I shared a post about a statue of an African-American that my husband and I found when we were exploring a park in Charleston, North Carolina.  One of my readers wondered how many statues there are in the USA of African-Americans.  That started me on a search to find other statutes honoring them.

As a fan of President John Adams I have often read about the Boston Massacre which occurred on March 5, 1770.  Colonists who were very resentful of the British soldiers  stationed in Boston began to gather and taunt a small group of the soldiers daring them to shoot and pelting them with snow, ice and oyster shells.

As often happens when mobs take action, it appears one of the colonists struck a soldier with a rock and they reacted by firing their muskets into the crowd.  Three Americans were killed instantly and two more suffered wounds from which they soon died.

Attucks was the first colonist to fall and thus became one of the first to lose his life in the cause of American independence.  His body laid in state at Faneuil Hall in Boston until March 8.  Colonists printed pamphlets dubbing the event the “Boston Massacre” and made its victims instant martyrs.  Rather than a mob out of control they became symbols of liberty.  At the time blacks could not be buried in the same cemetery as whites, but in this instance Attucks was buried along with the others killed that night. All five victims were buried in a common grave.

John Adams took quite a chance on any future political career when he defended the British soldiers in court against the charge of murder.  Adams described Attucks as the self-appointed leader of the mob’s attack.

Every year leading up to the Revolutionary War the citizens of Boston observed the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

In 1858 a  “Crispus Attucks Days” was established and a memorial was erected to the five martyrs:  Crispus Attucks, James Caldwell, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray and Samuel Maverick.

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While this is not a statue dedicated to Crispus Attucks alone, it is quite remarkable that, given the attitude of that age toward blacks, that he was buried with the others and included in this memorial.

Ten to 15 black soldiers fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.  Although two of these men were recognized early for their bravery, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, it quickly became clear that while the founding fathers spoke of all men being created equal, they did not include enslaved blacks in that category.  Sadly, the 5,000 to 8,000 blacks who contributed to the cause of liberty both in combatant roles in battle and in noncombatant roles were never given recognition for their service and never granted the liberty the War was supposed to give to all men.

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Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina.  What a beautiful place to visit.  Shady walks with old, old oak trees covered with Spanish moss.

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Beautiful pond with ducks and a fountain.

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But also a place of history.  I recently wrote about the first Memorial Day celebration in the park.

Former Slaves and the First Memorial Day Celebration

In exploring the park, we also found more history that was never in the history books in school.  We turned a corner in one of the walkways and there was a statue of a black man with a book under one arm and a bag of tools in his other hand.  Who was he and what was a statute of him doing in this beautiful park?

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Denmark Vesey, a self-educated slave who planned a massive rebellion.  In one hand is a Bible and a bag of carpenter tools is in the other.

Being history nuts, my husband and I could not walk away without knowing this man’s story.

Denmark Vesey was sold when just a young boy to a slaver captain, Joseph Vesey in 1781.  Assuming his master’s name, Denmark accompanied his master on several voyages before they settled in Charleston, South Carolina.

Denmark was able to purchase his freedom in 1800 and began working as a carpenter.  He taught himself to read and soon read about the Haitian slave revolt in the 1790’s.  He joined the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817 becoming a leader and preaching in his own home every week.  Whites in Charleston constantly monitored the meetings often disrupting services and arresting members.

Vesey preached from the Old Testament telling the story of the Israelites enslavement in Egypt and how Moses led them to freedom.

Frustrated because he was not allowed to purchase freedom for his family, unhappy with being a second-class citizen and knowing first hand the oppressive conditions of the slaves, he organized a revolt.  The plan called for the slaves to attack guardhouses and arsenals, seize their arms, burn and destroy the city and free all the slaves.

Scholars do not agree on how many blacks were actually involved in the planned rebellion but estimates say it could have been as many as 9,000.

Warned by a house servant, the rebellion was thwarted before it could begin.

Some 130 blacks were arrested with 35 hanged.  Vesey was one of those 35.

Angry whites burned the African church and resticted even further the few rights the slaves in Charleston had.

Vesey became a martyr for African-Americans and a symbol for the abolitionist movement.  The increased loss of freedom and added oppression of the slaves helped to continue to pull the country toward Civil War.