Attucks, Crispus(?1723–70) Revolutionary figure; birthplace unknown. Little or nothing is known for sure of his exact origins, but it is generally believed that he was a mulatto and that he was either an escaped or freed slave. (In 1750 a notice for a runaway slave named "Crispus" appeared in a Boston newspaper.) He may well have been a sailor on a whaling ship or at least he worked around the Boston wharves. He was later described as a large man "whose looks was enough to terrify any person," but that may have been the perception of someone uncomfortable with African-Americans. In any case, on March 5, 1770, he evidently joined a group of Boston men and youths who—annoyed at the British authorities trying to enforce new tax laws—had begun to throw snowballs at a lone British soldier guarding the State House. Fearing that the situation was getting out of control, a captain called out a small unit of the guard. As the crowd began to throw stones along with their taunts and push came to shove, the threatened soldiers fired, hitting 11 colonists; five died on the spot or later, and among them was Attucks. Exactly what his role had been is not known but he was quickly made into a hero; he is the only participant in the so-called Boston Massacre whose name has passed into popular legend. In 1888 a statue of Attucks, by the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was dedicated on Boston Common.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.