8 THINGS WE KNOW ABOUT CRISPUS ATTUCKS
On the evening of March 5, 1770, British troops fired into a crowd of angry American colonists in Boston who had taunted and violently harassed them. Five colonists were killed. The event, which became known as the Boston Massacre, helped fuel the outrage against British rule—and spurred on the American Revolution.
Among those killed by the British, the first victim was a middle-aged sailor and rope-maker of mixed African American and American Indian descent named Crispus Attucks, accounts suggest. Attucks has been celebrated not just as one of the first martyrs in what became the fight for American independence, but also as a symbol of African Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality.
Despite Attucks’ fame, relatively little information about him has survived. Based upon various sources, including historians’ accounts, news coverage and the transcript from the 1770 murder trial of the British soldiers involved in the confrontation, here are eight things that we do know about Crispus Attucks.
He was multiracial. According to the New England Historical Society, Attucks is believed to have been born sometime around 1723 in the vicinity of Framingham, Massachusetts, possibly in Natick, a “praying Indian town” established to provide a safe haven where local natives who had been converted to Christianity could live without fear of being attacked by colonists or other Indians. His father was an enslaved African and his mother was a native woman who was a member of the Wampanoag tribe. She may have been descended from John Attucks, who was hanged for treason during King Philip’s War, a native rebellion against the English settlers, in 1675-1676. According to Frederic Kidder’s 1870 history of the massacre, Attucks’ family lived in an old cellar.
He had escaped slavery. Attucks seems to have spent most of his early life enslaved by a man named William Browne in Framingham. But when he was 27, Attucks ran away. In a newspaper advertisement published in 1750, Browne announced the escape of a “Molatto fellow” named Crispus, and described him as 6'2" with short, curly hair. He was also apparently knock kneed. Attucks was wearing a bearskin coat, buckskin breeches and a checked shirt when he fled. Browne offered a reward of 10 British pounds plus expenses for his capture and return. But Attucks was never apprehended. As Neil L. York details in his book The Boston Massacre: A History with Documents, Attucks initially was identified in coroners’ documents as “Michael Johnson,” and may possibly have used that alias to avoid detection.
He was a seaman. After his escape, Attucks made his way to Boston, where according to the New England Historical Society, he became a sailor, one of the few trades open to a non-white person. (Around the time of the American Revolution, one-fifth of the 100,000 sailors employed on American ships were African American.) Attucks worked on whaling ships, and when he wasn’t at sea, he found work as a rope-maker. On the night that he died, Attucks had just returned from the Bahamas, and was on his way to North Carolina.
He was a big man. Attucks was six inches taller than the average American man of the Revolutionary War era, and testimony at the trial of the British soldiers indicted for his death depicted him as having a robust physique. John Adams, the future U.S. president who acted as one of the soldiers’ defense attorneys, used Attucks’ musculature—and his mixed-race lineage—in an effort to justify the British troops’ fear of him. Adams described Attucks as “a stout mulatto fellow, whose very looks was enough to terrify any person,” according to the trial transcript.
He was angry at the British over competition for work. As Douglas R. Egerton writes in his book Death Or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America, Great Britain paid its soldiers so poorly that many of them found it necessary to take part-time jobs when they were off-duty. Competition from the influx of troops threatened to depress the wages of American workers such as Attucks. Additionally, as an experienced seaman, Attucks faced the danger of being seized by one of the British press gangs that Parliament authorized to forcibly draft sailors into the Royal Navy. His ire toward the British apparently was intense.
According to Egerton’s book, on the evening of the massacre, Attucks was drinking at a pub with other seamen at a local tavern when a British soldier wandered in and inquired about part-time employment. Attucks was among the patrons who cursed the soldier and harassed him until he fled the establishment.
“Nobody was talking about American independence in March 1770,” Egerton says. “And so while we know so little about Attucks, my guess is that as a mariner, he was far more concerned with basic economic survival than making any ideological gesture.”
He was a tough, fearless street fighter. According to testimony at the soldiers’ trial, Attucks was at the front of the mob that went to confront the British soldiers. His brazen defiance took considerable courage, since he had escaped slavery, he faced the risk of being arrested and returned to servitude.
“The prudent thing to do for a man like Attucks was to back away from that confrontation, but he did not,” Egerton says. Instead, according to trial testimony, Attucks brandished two wood sticks, one of which he gave to a witness named Patrick Keaton. Another witness, an enslaved man named Andrew, described Attucks—“this stout man”—stepping into the fray and swinging his stick at Captain Thomas Preston, and then knocking away a soldier’s gun and hitting him in the face or head. According to Andrew, Attucks grabbed the solder’s bayonet in his other hand and then yelled for the crowded to “kill the dogs, knock them over,” just moments before the soldier regained control of his gun and shot him.
The jury acquitted the soldiers of murder in the deaths of the five Americans, though two of them—Matthew Kilroy and Hugh Montgomery—were convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter and branded on their hands as a punishment and then released.
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Socks For The Elderly 2021
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The city of Jacksonville, Texas is celebrating its 150th birthday! The celebration will begin January 2022 and continue throughout the year. There will be special activities and events all year long! The Sesquicentennial Committee wants to ensure the entire community is not only included but actively participates. The Fred Douglass Alumni Association and Fred Douglass Community Development Corporation are asked to collaborate with the city as the 100th anniversary of Fred Douglass High School will be observed and celebrated in 2022 as well.
Some events and activities included in initial discussion are: digging up time capsule buried 50 yrs. ago and burying a new time capsule, Black History celebrations, Easter Egg Hunt, Rodeo, Tomato Fest, Golf Luau, city fireworks, kite contest, and parade.
As the Sesquicentennial Committee begins to plan activities, it is imperative that history from all areas of the community is acknowledged and included. If you have Jacksonville Black history information, ideas for observances/activities, and/or overall suggestions, please send to Tracey Wallace at [email protected]
We are hoping to raise $3000 to help students with college expenses during Fred Douglass School 100 Year Anniversary and Jacksonville's Sesquicentennial next year. Will you consider partnering with us to help more students? Please consider a gift of $100 (or any amount) because every student deserves a chance to attend college. Just go to www.fdcdc.org to make your gift.
A seed was planted laying the groundwork for our future community garden. Read more about the seed below:
Thank you for reviewing and providing feedback on the proposal to establish a community garden on the property in the Lincoln Park area where the Fred Douglass schools were once located. I am writing to share some of the benefits of this project.
Since 1991 (30 years), the Fred Douglass Alumni Association (FDAA) has had a goal of putting a structure on the property to house programs that will help re-build the surrounding community. However, efforts to reach that goal have not been successful. Therefore, we are proposing a different approach for utilizing the property, which we feel will serve our community and help us reach our goal. Attached is a list of some of the benefits that can be realized by this project.
We strongly believe that the community garden concept is the "right" kind of project to start first in the community. As soon as possible, we are going to launch a fundraising plan to raise money for this community garden project and subsequently, a building structure.
George Davis suggested that we contact the agriculture department at Jacksonville ISD schools to engage their participation in this project, which is a great idea. The talents and abilities of FDAA members, with various backgrounds, are needed to help with this project. Next month we will be reaching out to the elementary schools to start developing relationships.
Our Fred Douglass Family includes a fine group of people operating as a team with the common objective of keeping the Fred Douglass dream alive and improving the community. All of us play an important part in making this happen. I am pleased and honored to be part of the Fred Douglass Family, and I am looking forward to all of us working on this important community project together.
Willie J. Howard
Historic Fred Douglass School Opening Provided a Pathway to Success for Black Students
M.B. Davis wrote in the 1956 yearbook, The Dragon. He wrote the following to the graduating class, "You have an excellent motto, 'The Door to Success is labeled PUSH.' I urge that you allow the meaning expressed in this motto to serve as an inspiration to you through the years to come. Your contacts and experiences at Fred Douglass High should give you a good foundation upon which to build a life of service to your community, your nation, and yourself. With every good wish, I am, yours truly, M.B. Davis."
Fred Douglass High School Success Stories
In follow up to the article recognizing pathways to success by FDHS, we want to highlight the many successful students from the historic FDHS. This month's featured success story is Mary Louise King-Guinn. Please submit information on other FDHS success stories in PDF format to [email protected]
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