Crispus Attucks, Supposed to be Murdered

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in about Warren

Date: March 22, 1770

“Benjamin Church, Jun., of lawful age, testify and say, that being requested by Mr. Robert Pierpont, the Coroner, to assist in examining the body of Crispus Attucks, who was supposed to be murdered by the soldiers on Monday evening the 5th instant, I found two wounds in the region of the thorax, the one on the right side, which entered through the second true rib within an inch and a half of the sternum, dividing the rib and separating the cartilaginous extremity from the sternum, the ball passed obliquely downward through the diaphragm and entering through the large lobe of the liver and the gall-bladder, still keeping its oblique direction, divided the aorta descendens just above its division into the iliacs, from thence it made its exit on the left side of the spine. This wound I apprehended was the immediate cause of his death.

The other ball entered the fourth of the false ribs, about five inches from the linea alba, and descending obliquely passed through the second false rib, at the distance of about eight inches from the linea alba; from the oblique direction of the wounds, I apprehend the gun must have been discharged from some elevation, and further the deponent saith not.


Source: In: Bowdoin, James, Joseph Warren, and Samuel Pemberton. A Short Narrative Of The Horrid Massacre In Boston, Perpetrated In The Evening Of The Fifth Day Of March, 1770. By Soldiers Of The XXIXth Regiment; Which With The XIVth Regiment Were Then Quartered There: With Some Observations On The State Of Things Prior To That Catastrophe. Boston: Edes & Gill; T. and J. Fleet. Related primary source is the original Coroner’s Report, cataloged as object no. 1892.0056.005, Boston: Bostonian Society.

Commentary:  Though the deposition is dated March 22nd, Dr. Church’s autopsy of Mr. Attucks probably took place during the day following the fatal violence. Other physicians and perhaps medical apprentices could have been present, though such details are not recorded in surviving documents. The deposition is dated more than two weeks following the event. By then the British soldiers who had been involved in the incident on King Street were already jailed and indicted for murder.

Dr. Church includes a statement that the fatal shot was fired from an elevation, an assertion comporting with accusations, not supported by testimony at trial months later, that some miscreant fired on the rowdy Patriot crowd from the second floor of the reviled Customs House. Not mentioned by Dr. Church was the observation that the path of the fatal gunshot could as easily been explained by Mr. Attucks leaning forward toward the armed soldiers at the instant of his mortal wound. In any case, the black man’s blood flowed as red as his white compatriots in this early confrontation of what eventually was to become a quest for independence.

More seems to be known for certain of Crispus Attucks’ demise than of his life. He is thought to have been originally from Framingham, claimed mixed African and Native American descent, and was a sailor by vocation.

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