And to honor Crispus Attucks who was the leader and voice that day: The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick, Carr, and Gray. Call it riot or revolution, or mob or crowd as you may, such deaths have been seeds of nations, such lives shall be honored for aye...
Biographer Mitch Kachun, as well as multiple 19th century Framingham town histories, have drawn a connection between Attucks and John Attuck of Framingham, a Narragansett man who was hanged in Framingham in 1676 during King Philip's War. The word for deer in the Narragansett language is 'Attuck.' Kachun also noted a possible connection to a probable Natick woman and possible Attucks mother or relative named Nanny Peterattucks, who is described as a 'negro woman' in the 1747 estate inventory of Framingham slaveholder Joseph Buckminster and, along with Jacob Peterattucks, as 'probable descendant of John Attuck, the Indian' in an 1847 history of Framingham. Other sources refer to their surname as Peter Attucks. In a 1747 history of the Hoosac Valley, a British colonial soldier named Moses Peter Attucks, living in nearby Leicester, is described as 'negro slave of John White; elsewhere he is listed as Moses Attucks Jacob Peterattucks and Nanny Peterattucks are recorded as slaves with Joseph Buckminster in 1730, and in 1740 Jacob with Thomas Buckminster, who was appointed by Framingham in 1739 to lead a commission for preservation of deer in the area. Historian william C. Nell reported an 1860 letter from a Natick resident, also printed in an 1860 edition of The Liberator newspaper that read, "several persons are now living in Natick who remember the Attucks family, viz., Cris, who was killed March 5th; Sam, whose name was abbreviated into Sam Attucks, or Smattox; Sal, also known as Slattox; and Peter, called Pea Tattox. . . .my mother, still living, aged 89, remembers Sal in particular, who used to be called the gourd-shell squaw, from the fact that she used to carry her rum in a gourd shell. . .the whole family are said to be the children of Jacob Peter Attucks. . .it has been conjectured that they are of Indian blood, but all who knew the descendants describe them as negroes." The letter continues, "his sister [Sal] used to say that if they had not killed Cris, Cris would have killed them."
Prince Yonger has been posited as the father of Attucks. However, Yonger did not arrive in Massachusetts until the mid-1720s, after Attucks was born, and did not marry Nanny Peterattucks until 1737, after which point they had children, who are noted in multiple histories but among whom Crispus is not mentioned: "a son, who died young, and Phebe, who never married." Neither Phebe nor the son are recorded with the Attucks or Peterattucks surname.
In the fall of 1768, British Soldiers were sent to Boston in an attempt to control growing colonial unrest, which had led to a spate of attacks on local officials following the introduction of the Stamp Act and the subsequent Townshend Acts. Radical Whigs had coordinated waterfront mobs against the authorities. The presence of troops, instead of reducing tensions, served to further inflame them.
After dusk on March 5, 1770, a crowd of colonists confronted a sentry who had chastised a boy for complaining that an officer did not pay a barber bill. Both townspeople and a company of British Soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot gathered. The colonists threw snowballs and debris at the Soldiers. A group of men including Attucks approached the Old State House armed with clubs. A soldier was struck with a piece of wood, an act some witnesses claimed was done by Attucks. Other witnesses stated that Attucks was "leaning upon a stick" when the Soldiers opened fire.
Attucks was born in Framingham, Massachusetts. Town histories of Framingham written in 1847 and 1887 describe him as a slave of Deacon william Brown, though it is unclear whether Brown was his original owner. In 1750 Brown advertised for the return of a runaway slave named Crispas. In the advertisement, Brown describes Attucks and his clothing when he was last seen. He also said that a reward of 10 pounds would be given to whoever found and returned Attucks to him. Attucks's status at the time of the massacre as a free person or a runaway slave has been a matter of debate for historians. Attucks did become a Sailor and whaler at some point and he spent much of his life at sea or working around the docks along the Atlantic seaboard. In an 1874 article in The American Historical Record, Jebe B. Fisher recounts a passage in the memoirs of Boston Tea Party participant George R.T. Hewees, which stated that at the time of the massacre Attucks "was a Nantucket Indian, belonging on board a whale ship of Mr. Folgers, then in the harbor, and he remembers a distinct war whoop which he yelled. . .the mob whistling, sreaming, and rending like an Indian yell." Many historians believe Attucks went by the alias Michael Johnson in order to avoid being caught after his escape from slavery. He may only have been temporarily in Boston in early 1770, having recently returned from a voyage to the Bahamas. He was due to leave shortly afterwards on a ship for North Carolina.
Despite the lack of clarity over whether he was a slave at the time of the massacre, Attucks became an icon of the anti-slavery movement in the mid-19th century. In the 1850s, as the abolitionist movement gained momentum in Boston, supporters lauded Attucks as having played a heroic role in the history of the United States.