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Massacre in Boston

Jacob Lawrence American

Not on view

On a winter night in 1770, a squad of British soldiers opened fire on an agitated group of colonists outside Boston’s Custom House. Resentful of the Crown’s restrictions of their rights, they taunted and threw rocks at the redcoats. Gunfire erupted, and five Americans died in the melee. Lawrence’s electrifying rendering foregrounds Crispus Attucks, a seaman of African and Wampanoag descent, who escaped enslavement to join the patriots’ cause. He became the first martyr of the American Revolution. Lawrence pictured the hero crouching at the center of the composition, gripping his chest and spewing blood. The artist did not mention Attucks by name, but the historical figure was well documented in a clipping file at the Schomburg Library, in Harlem, where Lawrence conducted his research for the Struggle series.

Massacre in Boston, Jacob Lawrence (American, Atlantic City, New Jersey 1917–2000 Seattle, Washington), Tempera on hardboard

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Photography by Bob Packert/PEM