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The Boston Massacre: A Family History

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A dramatic untold ‘people’s history’ of the storied event that helped trigger the American Revolution The story of the Boston Massacre—when on a late winter evening in 1770, British soldiers shot five local men to death—is familiar to generations. But from the very beginning, many accounts have obscured a fascinating truth: the Massacre arose from conflicts that were as personal as they were political.     Professor Serena Zabin draws on original sources and lively stories to follow British troops as they are dispatched from Ireland to Boston in 1768 to subdue the increasingly rebellious colonists. And she reveals a forgotten world hidden in plain sight: the many regimental wives and children who accompanied these armies. We see these families jostling with Bostonians for living space, finding common cause in the search for a lost child, trading barbs and and sharing baptisms. Becoming, in other words, neighbors. When soldiers shot unarmed citizens in the street, it was these intensely human, now broken bonds that fueled what quickly became a bitterly fought American Revolution.    Serena Zabin’s The Boston Massacre delivers an indelible new slant on iconic American Revolutionary history. 

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Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of February 2020: This book’s subtitle, “A Family History,” sends a clear signal that this isn’t your usual Boston Massacre story—and thank goodness for history professor Serena Zabin’s interest in digging deeper into the 1770 event that pivoted the American colonies closer to revolution. With an eye for the attention-arresting detail, Zabin follows a dozen key players as British troops are first housed among the tax-resistant Bostonians in an antagonistic 1768 decision by the army’s officers, and then begin to desert into the New England countryside in record numbers. At the same time, Zabin highlights the juicy stories of soldiers’ marriages to local lasses, soldiers’ wives’ attempts to keep their families together, and drunken scuffles on the street to examine the complicated relationships that propagated during the British regiments’ years in Boston. Diary entries, personal letters to friends and fiery letters to newspapers, sarcastic ditties sung at social events, and court and church records expose the complex interactions between the residents of Boston and the soldiers encamped among them. Zabin’s sense of humor, her interest in exploring historical crannies others have ignored, and a firm grasp of human behavior make The Boston Massacre a lively and convincing history that illuminates an oft-cited incident in a new and exhilarating way. —Adrian Liang, Amazon Book Review

Review

“A well-written, thoroughly interesting addition to the social history of the American Colonies.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Penetrating and lyrical, Zabin’s Boston Massacre offers startling revelations on every page. To read this “family history” is to tread the cobbled streets of eighteenth-century British America, peering into shops, barracks, bedrooms, and government halls along the way. Zabin’s account ripples far beyond Boston on the vexed night of March 5, 1770, offering fresh understandings of the cause of liberty and its consequences. The American Revolution—indeed, early urban warfare itself—will never look the same.” 
​–Jane Kamensky, Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University, and author of A Revolution in Color:  The World of John Singleton Copley
 
“An intimate, complex, and moving picture of the friendships and family connections between Britons and Bostonians, in the throes of revolutionary change. Zabin’s eloquent account illuminates the ways in which the actors in this nation-making and empire-breaking drama experienced the rupture and transformation of the world they made together.” 
–Peter S. Onuf, author, with Annette Gordon-Reed, of Most Blessed of the Patriarchs:  Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination
 

About the Author

SERENA ZABIN is a professor of history and director of the American studies program at Carleton College. She is the author of Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York and The New York Conspiracy Trials of 1741: Daniel Horsmanden’s Journal of the Proceedings. She is also the codesigner of a forthcoming serious video game about the Boston Massacre, Witness to the Revolution.

A dramatic untold ‘people’s history’ of the storied event that helped trigger the American Revolution The story of the Boston Massacre—when on a late winter evening in 1770, British soldiers shot five local men to death—is familiar to generations. But from the very beginning, many accounts have obscured a fascinating truth: the Massacre arose from conflicts that were as personal as they were political.     Professor Serena Zabin draws on original sources and lively stories to follow British troops as they are dispatched from Ireland to Boston in 1768 to subdue the increasingly rebellious colonists. And she reveals a forgotten world hidden in plain sight: the many regimental wives and children who accompanied these armies. We see these families jostling with Bostonians for living space, finding common cause in the search for a lost child, trading barbs and and sharing baptisms. Becoming, in other words, neighbors. When soldiers shot unarmed citizens in the street, it was these intensely human, now broken bonds that fueled what quickly became a bitterly fought American Revolution.    Serena Zabin’s The Boston Massacre delivers an indelible new slant on iconic American Revolutionary history. 

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