Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crispus Attucks

"Come on you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare, God damn you, fire and be damned, we know you dare not."
Whether he actually composed and delivered that poetical line on that March 5 in 1770 is hard to say. We do know that a bunch of guys were getting pretty fed up with the destruction of their economy by a monarch they considered a faraway tyrant with no local sovereignty. These were men whose livelihoods were based on the maritime industries in and around Boston. For six years, the bromide "taxation without representation" colored every business transaction, hung in every tavern, tagged every ship and ropemakers' walk and sailmaker's loft.
It would have been pretty simple for guys like Crispus Attucks -- who was a sailor on a whaling ship (and no longer thought of as merely a runaway slave who had skipped out on his plantation gig in Framingham). If the King sent soldiers to enforce zany taxes and strange quartering acts, so what? The soldiers had guns and took colonists' jobs and pressed their shipmates into service. Attucks -- and the other men shot and killed that day : Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr -- weren't lawyers or landowners or businessmen or clever pamphleteers. They knew that they would be cannon fodder and target practice in some war, nameless tools of another kind of tyrant. If there was an Adams to immediately praise their bravery and make them martyrs, there was an Adams who would defame them in court, defending the men who had fired on them that March 5.
Clearly, each has a point. And for everyone who looks upon the Boston Massacre as the very provocation to sail for Revolution, there are still those who believe that it was only another fall of the dog, another turn on the capstan that merely hauls a yard.
In the anger of a rabble, Crispus Attucks found a voice. He raised that voice and raised his fist because he knew what it was like to be enslaved. And he knew -- unquestionably -- what freedom felt like.
For he had sailed.

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