Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute

Crispus Attucks

Crispus AttucksWHERE shall we seek for a hero, and where shall we find a story?
Our laurels are wreathed for conquest, our songs for completed glory.
But we honor a shrine unfinished, a column uncapped with pride,
If we sing the deed
That was sown like seed
When Crispus Attucks died. -- Irish poet John Boyle O'Reilly

From PBS Resource Bank--
In 1770, Crispus Attucks, a black man, became the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre. Although Attucks was credited as the leader and instigator of the event, debate raged for over as century as to whether he was a hero and a patriot, or a rabble-rousing villain.

In the murder trial of the soldiers who fired the fatal shots, John Adams, serving as a lawyer for the crown, reviled the "mad behavior" of Attucks, "whose very looks was enough to terrify any person."

Twenty years earlier, an advertisement placed by William Brown in the Boston Gazette and Weekly Journal provided a more detailed description of Attucks, a runaway: "A Mulatto fellow, about 27 Years of Age, named Crispus, 6 feet 2 inches high, short cur'l hair, his knees nearer together than common."

Attucks' father was said to be an African and his mother a Natick or Nantucket Indian; in colonial America, the offspring of black and Indian parents were considered black or mulatto. As a slave in Framingham, he had been known for his skill in buying and selling cattle.

Poet O'Reilly's poem continues --
And honor to Crispus Attucks, who was leader and voice that day;
The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick, Carr, and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution, his hand first clenched at the crown;
His feet were the first in perilous place to pull the king's flag down;
His breast was the first one rent apart that liberty's stream might flow;
For our freedom now and forever, his head was the first bid low.
* * * * * * *
And so, must we come to the learning of Boston's lesson to-day;
The moral that Crispus Attucks taught in the old heroic way;
God made mankind to be one in blood, as one in spirit and thought;
And so great a boon, by a brave man's death, is never dearly bought!

Crispus Attucks' Grave