Who started the fight?

History is often presented as just having one side. This activity will allow students to discover that there are many points of view of a historical event. What is called the Boston Massacre in United States history can be called a minor skirmish in Great Britain history. Sometimes in history there may not be a clear picture of what took place. Analyzing historical documents can give students insight into events that took place hundreds of years ago.

Lesson Objective

Students will use primary source documents to analyze the causes of the shootings in the Boston Commons known as the Boston Massacre. The students will examine pictures and historical documents to help them analyze different viewpoints. Students will complete an image analysis sheet and an evidence/argument sheet to document their views. Students will create a political cartoon using the evidence presented to show which side started the Boston Massacre.



  1. Day 1
  2. Engaging students –Ask students to think about how the colonials were starting to feel about the acts/laws that were imposed by King George III on the colonies. Ask them to also think about the drawing where the tax collector was tar and feathered.
  3. Whole group lesson— students will look at Alonzo Chappel’s “The Boston Massacre”, ca. 1868. Students will use a framing square to analyze the drawing. Guide students through completing the image analysis sheet as a whole class.
  4. Analysis of Primary Source Drawings: Divide students in two groups-Colonials and British. Each group will look at an historical drawing using framing squares. Paul Revere’s Drawing “The Bloody Massacre” (colonial) and Henry Pelhams “The Boston Massacre” (British). In the two groups students will work in pairs to complete an image analysis sheet for their drawing. They will study each image using framing squares to help them focus on individual parts. They will also look at the whole picture to help them document their observations. They will complete the image analysis sheet to help them make inferences about events in the drawings that they think were factual. Students will ask questions about the images, describe the mood of the image and lastly include any information they already know about the massacre.
  5. Day 2
  6. Engage Students—Show students a 3 minute video clip from the “John Adams” mini-series. The purpose of showing the video to the students is to provide them with another account of the Boston Massacre
  7. Analysis of Primary Source Documents. Review close reading of primary source documents with the whole group. The whole group will close read a witness account from the trial depositions to have them determine which side the witness was on (Colonial or Loyalists?). Discuss why this important as one looks at primary documents.
  8. Put students back into their Colonial or Loyalist group. Have students close read the depositions of Captain Thomas Preston, Benjamin Burdick (barber), Theodore Bliss, and Robert Goddard and the other witness depositions to identify whether the witness was a colonial or loyalist supporter.
  9. Hand out the Argument/Evidence Graphic Organizer to each group. Have students discuss and pick out evidence that proves the other side was guilty of causing the skirmish on the Boston Commons. Students will record the evidence on the graphic organizer using supporting details from the primary source documents.
  10. Day 3
  11. Students will get into their perspective groups to prepare statements to present to the whole class. They will argue which side was at fault using the graphic organizer prepared on Day 2. The goal of the argument will be for the students to decide which side they feel caused the Boston Massacre by trying to prove the opposing side was at fault.


Students will create a drawing of what they think actually happened on the Boston Commons on March 5, 1770 based on the evidence that was presented in court. They will include a caption to show that they have understood the point of view they agree upon.


Boston Massacre Historical Society. http://www.bostonmassacre.net/ (accessed October 23, 2011).

The Bostonian Society. http://www.bostonhistory.org/ (accessed October 31, 2011).

“Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770.
Copy of chromolithograph by John Bufford after William L. Champey, ca. 185.” Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/ (accessed October 31, 2011).

International Reading Association & the National Council for the Teaching of English. Read Write Think. http://www.readwritethink.org/ (accessed October 31, 2011).

“An account of The Boston Massacre from the miniseries John Adams.” SchoolTube. http://www.schooltube.com/video/d59b79cf2097f4bcd78b/The-Boston-Massacre

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