The First to Die for American Independence

Crispus Attucks was born in Massachusetts around 1723. His heritage is under dispute, but most historians believe he was a combination of African and Native American ethnicity. There is also some dispute as to whether he was a free man or a runaway slave.

Crispus became a sailor and whaler and worked at sea and on docks. He changed his name to Michael Johnson, giving credence to the thought that he had escaped from slavery.

The American colonies were becoming increasingly restive as England was imposing more restrictions on them. Mobs had formed at the waterfront to disrupt ships coming and going from England. England sent troops to quell the violence but only made the situation worse.

An incident in 1770 became later known as the Boston Massacre. A dispute over a bill not being paid by a British officer led to the officer being assaulted. This escalated into a battle between British troops and townspeople.

Five townspeople were killed and six were wounded. Crispus was struck with two bullets and was the first to die in what is considered the first skirmish in America’s fight for independence. He was 47 years old.

John Adams, who would later become America’s second President, defended the soldiers. He accused the townspeople of being a motley group, using language which is considered offensive today.

Crispus and the other townspeople were buried in the Granary Burying Ground where many of America’s most notable founders are buried. He may have been the first person of color to be buried in what was considered to be a cemetery for white people.  A monument was erected on the Boston Commons honoring Crispus and the others who died in the Boston Massacre. A poem written and presented at the unveiling of the monument reads in part: “The first to defy, and the first to die…”

Just imagine how we think of our nation’s history. How many of us realize that the first person to die in the fight for American independence was part African American and part Native American? Why is that? Our nation’s history should not become a victim of our culture wars.

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“First man to die for the flag we now hold high was a black man.” – Stevie Wonder (one line in his song, Black Man)

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