This latest chapter of the Folio Society’s set on Historical Trials is from the turbulent era before the American Revolution. In March 1770 a mob of townsmen were taunting and threatening a sentry who called out the guard. The guard arrived after running a gauntlet of townsmen, and soon after they fired into the crowd, killing five.
Naturally, tensions rose even higher at this, and the soldiers and officers were put on trial for murder. It was early on shown that the officers did not give an order to fire, and in fact worked to stop the firing, so they were cleared. It was to the credit of the Americans that two Patriot lawyers, John Adams and Josiah Quincy. The defense attempted to show that the troops had a right to self-defense, and were justified in thinking that the mob, throwing objects, yelling death threats and armed with clubs was a threat and attacked first. The soldiers that could not be witnessed as shooting one of the dead men were acquitted outright, and the other two were convicted only of manslaughter and given light sentences.
While the massacre was used to whip up support for the Patriots in other colonies, I think it speaks well of those on the spot that they still considered themselves bound by law and that they defended the hated British soldiers.