Crispus Attucks fought to be free. Born into slavery in the Massachusetts colony, he was the son of an enslaved African father and a Wampanoag mother. Standing 6-foot-2, he was strong and savvy and knock-kneed. By age 27, he escaped slavery and headed to the coast, where he earned a living as a stevedore, working as a whaler on sea, and a rope-maker on land. In addition to staying one foot ahead of slave patrols, Crispus also had to keep an eye out for British soldiers, who would forcibly conscript American seamen to the British Navy, and who competed with American stevedores for jobs along the coast. Yet, for twenty years, he did just that, building himself a life at sea and in Massachusetts.
Crispus Attucks was murdered by British soldiers March 5, 1770, over a barber’s bill. The British had steadily increased their military presence in Massachusettes to clamp down on civil unrest over ever-increasing tax laws on the colonists. However, their presence only served to depress wages further, exacerbating the tensions, and fights between colonists and redcoats broke out frequently. One evening, after one redcoat refused to pay his barber bill and another threatened anyone who complained, group of colonists — including Crispus, who had only the night before returned from the Bahamas — confronted the them. The colonists hurled insults and snowballs at the soldiers. When one soldier was struck by a wooden staff, the redcoats opened fire on the colonists, killing five and wounding six. Crispus was shot first, taking two bullets in the chest. Future US President John Adams defended the soldiers, and all were acquitted save two, who were punished by having their thumbs branded.
Crispus is remembered today as the first casualty of the American Revolution:
And to honor Crispus Attucks
who was the leader and voice that day:
The first to defy, and the first to die,
with Maverick, Carr, and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution,
or mob or crowd as you may,
Such deaths have been seeds of nations,
such lives shall be honored for aye.
— John Boyle O’Reilly
Black lives matter.