Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Damned Lobsterbacks" and the Boston Massacre

The evening of March 5, 1770 was like any other evening in colonial America...well...almost. As young Private Hugh White of the British Colonial 14th Regiment took his post in front of Boston's custom house, one wonders if he sensed the impending doom that would shortly come. As the evening progressed, young Private White was met by his superior, Captain John Goldfinch, and the two men "exchanged in pleasant conversation." The conversation was to be interrupted, however, by the intrusion of a young local apprentice named Edward Garrick. Garrick accused the soldiers of several misdeeds, all of which were ignored by the British soldiers. Angry that his accusations were being swept aside, Garrick attacked the men through obscenity, calling the British soldiers, "a bunch of damned lobsterbacks." This insult was apparently sufficient provocation to cause Private White to strike Garrick on his head with the stock of his musket.

Upon seeing and hearing this altercation, scores of Boston citizens rallied to defend the young Garrick. As we all know, tensions were high to begin with, and the people of Boston did not need much provocation to start a riot. In literally minutes, the crowd gathered to roughly 300. Seeing the possibility of a riot, Captain Thomas Preston sent reinforcements to help support Private White and the other soldiers present. The crowd had already surrounded white, backing him up all the way to the customs door. As the other British soldiers arrived to help White, several were knocked down by the crowd, which caused the British soldiers to fix bayonets.

As the crowd continued to grow, more and more Bostonians joined in the chorus of obscenity that was directed to the British. Chants of "damned lobsterbelly" and "fight you wretched, damned lobsterbacks" brought the level of tension to its ultimate crescendo. As the snowballs, oysters, and insults continued to be hurled at the British (who were, quite frankly, having a very difficult time getting organized), several soldiers began to point their muskets at the crowd. This new sign of force caused even more snowballs to fly, and harsher insults to be shouted. Seventeen-year-old Samuel Maverick dared the soldiers to do their worst. "Come on and fire you damned lobsterback!" The rest of the crowd also joined in, yelling "Fire, Fire, FIRE!!!"

As we all know (even though the specifics are greatly debated), the British fired into the crowd, striking 11 random people. Young Samuel Maverick was instantly killed, along with four other Bostonians.

In the weeks after the "massacre," several of young Samuel Maverick's closest friends decided to join the movement for revolution. Many of them joined the army as soon as possible (most of them were under the age of 16). When asked why he had joined, the young William Greenwood (a friend of Samuel Maverick), stated "to kill those damned lobsterbacks."


David Mabry said...

Many of the young men of Boston were upset at the soldiers for taking the apprenticeship and odd jobs available in Boston to supplement their pay. In fact, it is reported that Garrick and White had an altercation earlier that day over that very thing. Many residents of Boston have stated that you could feel the rising anger in the air. After the taxes, the Quartering Act, more soldiers being posted and then the employment situation. Add a night of drinking into it.....and you have a "massacre".

Lindsey Shuman said...

I read somewhere that the prhase "lobsterback" is actually a myth, and that colonials never used it. Anybody know if that is true?

David Mabry said...

Lindsey, did you get this from the Boston 1775 blog? From the evidence that I have seen it seems that the true etymology of this term, name or slur, depending on how you see it, was post-revolution. No one in any of the numerous primary sources that I have read have used it, including the testimony from colonists and soldiers at the Boston Massacre. They called the soldiers "bloody rascals"!!! Check out the blog I mentioned for more. It was informative.