Making History:

Poster of the Boston Massacre
Paul Revere's famous poster of the Boston Massacre

A Guided Exploration of Historical Inquiry


Written by

Kristin Robinson

  • Getting Familiar with Book Builder

  • The Process of Historical Inquiry Checklist

  • What do Historians Do?

  • Making Historical Inquiry Your Own: Choosing a Time Period and Topic

  • Getting an Overview and Creating your Essential Question

  • Gathering Sources

  • Working with the Sources

  • Digging into Visual Documents

  • Looking at the Details of Visual Documents

  • Collecting Evidence from Visual Documents

  • Considering Bias in Visual Documents

  • Evaluating Evidence from Visual Documents

  • Addressing the Essential Question with Visual Documents

  • The Preston Deposition:  Digging into Written Documents and Looking at the Details

  • The Preston Deposition:  Collecting Evidence

  • The Preston Deposition:  Considering Bias

  • The Soldiers' Depositions:  Digging into Written Documents, Looking at the Details and Considering Bias  

  • Evaluating Evidence from Written Documents and First Person Accounts

  • Addressing the Essential Question with Written Documents and First-Person Accounts

  • Corroborating Facts Across Sources

  • Putting it all Together:  Creating a Thesis Statement

  • Putting it All Together: Making your Report Plan

  • Putting it All Together:  Supporting your Argument

  • Putting it All Together:  Choosing your Project Format

  • What's Next?

  • Teaching and Learning Resources


Getting Familiar with Book Builder


Meet the Coaches

In this book, you will see coaches that ask you questions and give you ideas and models of how to approach the process of historical inquiry.  Use these coaches to help you work through your own project, or to get ideas on how to work with different kinds of documents. 

Image of coaches Pedro, Hali and Monty
You will see these coaches at the bottom of almost every page

These coaches are guides to help you with your own historical inquiry. 

  • Pedro asks questions to get you started thinking. 
  • Hali gives you ideas and examples of how to approach the work.
  • Monty explains why the work is important to your inquiry. 

Click on any of the coaches at the bottom of each page when you want ideas or suggestions for your inquiry.


Response areas

You will also notice that there is a place for you to write your responses to the prompts and questions throughout the book. Anything you type in there will be saved temporarily while you are using this book.  You can click on the  View My Responses  button at the bottom of any page to see the work you have done today.  Make sure to copy the work to a word document each day, before you leave the book.


TextHELP Text-to-Speech (TTS)

You may have already noticed that there is a TextHELP toolbar floating over your Book Builder story.  This is a "Text-to-Speech" tool (also known as TTS).  You can use TTS to have the computer read the page text aloud.  

Watch the animation below for a demonstration of how to use TTS. Then, try out the TextHELP TTS tool by having it read this page to you.

text-to-speech tool demonstration
Highlight the text and click on the green arrow to start reading, and click on the orange square to stop reading.
Vocabulary Support

In this book you will see words that are underlined with a dotted line . This means that the word is connected to a glossary that is built into this book.  You can click on any underlined word to see its definition instantly. 


Any words that you see underlined and in a bright blue color that look like a hyperlink are exactly that!  I've linked some of the text to websites that I think will help you better understand the documents.

The Process of Historical Inquiry:

Choose a time period or theme

Narrow your inquiry to a specific topic or event

Do background research to get an overview 

Develop your essential question

Gather your sources

Work with each source:

  • Collect evidence
  • Consider bias
  • Evaluate evidence
  • Use the evidence to answer your essential question

Corroborate the evidence across sources 

Put it all together: make your argument

  • Develop a thesis statement that clearly states your argument
  • Create a report plan
  • Support your argument with evidence and evaluation of your sources
  • Decide on your report format (written report, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • Clearly state your conclusions

What do Historians Do? 

Historians evaluate ideas and events that took place in the past.  They investigate change over time and try to come up with explanations of why or how things happened.  


lithograph of Boston and a magnifying glass
Using a magnifying glass to take a closer look at a lithograph of Boston, MA.



The first challenge historians face is, "What should I study?"


To help with this challenge, historians first choose a time period or theme.  Next, they narrow the focus down to something specific, like a particular event that took place in the past.  Then, they get an overview of the event by doing some background research.  


These first steps usually uncover something that gets a historian wondering---maybe it's something that doesn't seem to make sense, or some facts seem to contradict.  This kind of problem leads a historian to ask questions about the topic or event.  These essential questions keep a historian focused on a goal while doing historical inquiry. 





The Process of Historical Inquiry starts with:

Making Historical Inquiry your own: Choosing a topic and time period


How do I get started?



My historical inquiry:


In the example coming up in the next few pages, the time period I’m studying is the American Revolution.  My specific topic is a fight that took place in Boston on March 5, 1770--an event that later became known as the Boston Massacre.  At this event, we know that British soldiers shot and killed American colonists.  



Photo of a gravestone
Photo of the gravestone of 5 people who died during the Boston Massacre.

My time period:                American Revolution

My specific topic/event:  The Boston Massacre



Take Action:

Start your own Historical Inquiry

  • choose a time period
  • narrow your focus to a particular topic or event 

Use the coaches for ideas on how to get started.  You can use the response area to take notes, or save your ideas in another document. 


Getting an Overview and Creating your Essential Question:

What do I already know about my topic?  What do I want to find out?

I want to think about what I already know about the Boston Massacre and then do some background research with a few secondary sources to see what else I can find out about my topic.  

What I know already:

  • British soldiers were stationed in Boston after the French and Indian War
  • British soldiers killed 5 American colonists
  • It happened in Boston in 1770
  • This is one of the most important events leading up to the American Revolution

What I found out by doing some general reading and research:

  • There was a lot of conflict between the people of Boston and the soldiers from 1768 onward
  • John Adams,  American colonist and patriot, defended the British soldiers and commanding officer Captain Preston
  • Some of the soldiers, including Captain Preston, were found innocent at their trial

What are some questions I have after doing this background research?

After doing my background research, something doesn't make sense to me.  I know that John Adams was a well-known American patriot; even as early as 1770, Adams hated the British in Boston.  Why would he be willing to defend the British soldiers? Was there something about the event that would make sense of this? 

And how could the soldiers have been found innocent when they killed 5 people?  Were there circumstances that could explain or justify the soldiers' actions?  I'm going to use my essential question to explore these ideas and guide my research.


My Essential Question:

Why would British soldiers shoot and kill American colonists at the Boston Massacre?


Take Action:
Get an Overview and Create your Essential Question

  • Think about your topic and what you already know.  Look at other descriptions of the event to get an overview.
  • What questions or problems do you see now?  Use these 'wondering' questions to create your essential question. 
  • Write your essential question in the Book Builder response area or in a Word document.

Gathering Sources

What kinds of documents should I look at?

I want to use sources that will show me the different sides of the story.  I also want to look at different kinds of sources, like paintings, testimony or diaries.  I know that there is evidence for what happened in more than just printed documents!

My Sources


I have chosen three types of sources to use to help answer my question—

  1. A poster of the Boston Massacre, made by Paul Revere
  2. Captain Preston's deposition, given at his own trial 
  3. Depositions from the trials of the British soldiers who shot into the crowd
image of sources
A poster, the cover of the trial depositions and trial testimony of Boston Massacre

When you choose sources, think about including:

  • written accounts
  • diaries
  • court testimony
  • newspapers
  • political cartoons or posters
  • maps
  • songs
  • images
  • places
  • videos
  • movies

What other kinds of documents can you think of to investigate a historical question or problem?


Take Action:
Gather your sources

Choose sources that you think will tell different sides of the story or that tell the story in different ways.  Be creative—images, songs or cartoons and text are all good historical sources.


Working with the Sources


How do I get information from my sources?



Now I get to dig into my sources.  I will look closely at each of the documents and collect evidence.  Then, I will think about the evidence I have found and how it can help me answer my essential question. 



The answer to my essential question will be my thesis statement.  Some historians also call this their 'argument.'  When I build my historical inquiry report, I will use evidence from my sources to support my thesis statement.



Three sources of evidence
A poster, Preston's account, and trial testimony of Boston Massacre




The Process of Historical Inquiry continues with:

  • Collecting evidence from sources
  • Evaluating or interpreting the evidence
  • Putting the evidence to work to answer your essential question

Digging into Visual Docments: 

What do I see in the source that helps me understand my topic?  

First, I'm going to look at the poster to see how it can help me understand the event and answer my essential question,  'Why would British soldiers shoot and kill American colonists at the Boston Massacre?'

I see that this poster was "engraved, printed and sold by Paul Revere," a Boston printer and silversmith.  I found out that this poster was widely distributed and seen by a lot of people very shortly after the Boston Massacre took place.

Poster of the Boston Massacre
A poster showing British soldiers shooting into a crowd of American colonists.

Click here for an online version of the poster.  Use it to take a closer look.

What do you think?

What can a poster tell you about an event, and how does it communicate the information? Check Pedro, Hali and Monty for ideas on how to find and understand information in this kind of source.  



Looking at the Details of Visual Documents: 

What details in the source help me understand my topic? 

I have an overview of what my document says about the Boston Massacre.  Now, I want to take a closer look at the poster to see what it reveals about the author's opinion of the event. 

I focus on sections of the poster that are circled to collect my evidence.  Next, I'll evaluate the evidence I have collected. Then I will think about how this information addresses my essential question

Detail of Boston Massacre poster with highlighted areas
Detail of Boston Massacre poster

Click here for an online version of the posterYou can use it to take a closer look.


What do you think? 


What do you notice in the poster?  How are line, color and position used to convey this poster's message? As you consider the evidence from this poster, think about these questions:  what do these details tell you about the Boston Massacre?  What do they tell you about what Paul Revere wanted you to think?  


Historical inquiry continues with:  
  • Collecting evidence from sources
  • Evaluating or interpreting the evidence
  • Putting the evidence to work to answer your essential question 



Collecting Evidence from Visual Documents:

What information have I collected from my source?


poster of the Boston Massacre
A poster showing British soldiers shooting into a crowd of American colonists.

Click here if you want to view an online version of the poster.

Evidence from the poster:

  • Two separate groups--colonists on left, British soldiers on right
  • Colonists are in an unorganized crowd
  • Soldiers are in tight military formation
  • Colonists leaning backward, away from soldiers
  • Soldiers lean forward, toward group of colonists
  • The highlighted sections show British officer holding up his sword, leaning forward. May be giving order to soldiers?
  • Two colonists bleeding on the ground. The red color of the blood matches the red of the soldiers' uniforms
  • Text calls event 'Bloody Massacre'
  • Poem below image calls action of British soldiers 'murderous'
  • writing below image calls colonists killed in the event the 'unhappy Sufferers'


Take Action:
Collect Evidence

Look through one of your visual sources --a poster, photograph or cartoon--and record all the things that you notice, including details and specifics from your source.  You can use one of the document analysis worksheets at the links below to guide you in collecting your evidence. 

Considering Bias in Visual Documents

What is the point of view of my source?  

The purpose of a visual source may seem obvious; it shows what it looked like at the time the source was made, right?  Not necessarily!  Visual sources that seem factual may be trying to persuade or deceive the viewer, and this includes posters and photographs. 

With a few questions in mind, though, I can uncover the bias of a source and still get valuable information from it.  These are the questions I use when looking for a source's perspective:  

  • Who created the document?
  • Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the potential bias of the source?
  • Where was the person during the event?
  • Why did the person create this document?  Could this person have anything to lose or gain?
  • What are some key parts or words in the document that I think reveal bias?
poster of the Boston Massacre
A poster showing British soldiers shooting into a crowd of American colonists.

 Click here for an online version of the poster.


I'll use these questions to consider the bias of this source:

  • Who created the document?
    Paul Revere created this poster

  • Is there anything I know about the person that helps me understand the potential bias of the source? 
    Paul Revere is a famous American patriot; five years later, he was one of two riders who warned that "the British were coming" to seize the military supplies stored in Concord, Massachusetts.  I expect  that his bias would be in favor of the Boston crowd and against the soldiers.

  • Where was the person during the event?
    From my background reading, I know that Revere was NOT at the Boston Massacre

  • Why did the person create this document? 
    Paul Revere wanted to get his version of what happened at the Boston Massacre out as quickly as possible, and to as many people as possible.  Why? To influence what people in Massachusetts and the other colonies thought of the British soldiers and because he wanted to sell as many posters as possible.  He did want to make money, too!

  • What could this person have to lose or gain? 
    Revere could make a lot of money from this poster, but only if it was really interesting or sensational.  A boring poster would not sell very well.

    Revere also was one of the many businessmen in Boston who wanted the British troops out.  They were making it difficult for the port of Boston to be prosperous.

  • What are some key parts or words in the document that I think reveal bias?
    Words in the poster that show bias:
    Title:  Bloody Massacre
    Poem at bottom:
    "With murdrous Rancour stretch their bloody Hands
    Like fierce Barbarians grinning over their Prey,
    Approve the Carnage and enjoy the Day."

    Parts of the image that show bias:
    Expressions on soldiers faces (crazy looking!)
    Sign that reads, "Butchers Hall" behind the soldiers
    Soldiers marching in step toward the crowd
    Red of blood matches the red of the soldiers' uniforms


Take Action:
Consider the bias of a source

When you consider the bias of a source, think about:

  • who made the document?
  • is there anything that I know that will help me understand potential bias?
  • where was the person who made the document during the event?
  • why did this person make the document?
  • did this person have something to lose or gain by influencing opinions about the event?
  • are there key parts of the document that reveal bias?

Evaluating the Evidence from Visual Documents: 

What "story" does my source tell me about my topic?

I've collected evidence and considered the bias in my source.  Now I want to step back and think about what this information says to me about the Boston Massacre.  I will use the evidence from the document as the basis of my  interpretation, or evaluation, of the source.

My evaluation of the poster: 

The organization of the British soldiers and disorganization of the American colonists seems really important in this poster.  The British soldiers are shown as an organized army, deliberately stepping forward together toward the crowd of colonists. The soldiers stand in a military formation with an officer, who seems calm and controlled, motioning forward. The Americans, in contrast, are shown as an unorganized crowd of simple people. I believe that any viewer of this poster would ask themselves, "how could this be a fair fight?  How could a small bunch of disorganized colonists provoke this well-disciplined army?" 

Poster of the Boston Massacre
A poster showing British soldiers shooting into a crowd of American colonists.


Take Action:
Evaluate your visual document

You've collected data from your visual document, now add meaning to it with your evaluation, or interpretation.  Base your evaluation on the facts as well as your understanding and experience.  Make sure to tie your evaluation to evidence in the document.


Addressing the Essential Question with Visual Documents

How does this source answer my essential question? 

I have gathered and thought about the evidence from my source.  Now I will use this evidence to answer my essential question.

My Essential Question: 

Why would British soldiers shoot and kill American colonists at the Boston Massacre?


  • This poster makes the case that the actions of the British soldiers were planned and organized.  On one side, the soldiers are shown as moving forward in a close military formation.  This 'control' and 'organization' portrays the control and organization of the British actions.  The soldiers did not accidentally shoot the colonists, nor were they in a panic, the poster shows.  Rather, they deliberately shot into a crowd of colonists and were, perhaps, even ordered to do so by their officer.  
  • The evidence from this poster also shows that the soldiers had no justification for their organized attack on the colonists.  The crowd was disorganized and, in fact, leaning away from the British soldiers--the crowd was shown as trying to get away from the British.  The crowd of Bostonians are not shown as provoking the soldiers in any way.  On the contrary, the Americans are shown as victims of the British military.
  • Finally, the use of color to visually tie together the British uniforms with the blood of the fallen colonists strengthens the identification of the soldiers with the 'bloody massacre.' The color of the very clothes they wear connects them with violence, blood, and murder.


Poster of the Boston Massacre
A poster showing British soldiers shooting into a crowd of American colonists.


Take Action:
Discuss how the evidence addresses your essential question

Put the information you have collected and your evaluation of that evidence to work.  

  • Think about how the facts, details and your interpretation help answer your essential question 
  • What questions remain unanswered?  Think about what you can do to answer them. 

Digging into Written Documents and Looking at the Details:  The Preston Deposition

What do I see in the source that helps me understand my topic?

Now I get to consider trial testimony from the Boston Massacre.  First-person accounts are as close as we can get to 'being there.'  However, people often disagree about what they see and hear even if they are at the same event. 

I'll start with the deposition (testimony that is written down and given to a court) given by Captain Preston, the officer in charge the night of the Boston Massacre, during his own trial.  I highlight sections that I think are important or interesting as I read the document.   

A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England
Front page of trial depositions
Excerpt from the Deposition of Captain Thomas Preston, March 12, 1770.

(Text Digital Source:  The Boston Massacre Trials.  Click on the link if you would like to read more of this deposition)

It is [a] matter of too great notoriety to need any proofs that the arrival of his Majesty's troops in Boston was extremely obnoxious to its inhabitants....  One of their justices, most thoroughly acquainted with the people and their intentions, on the trial of a man of the 14th Regiment, openly and publicly in the hearing of great numbers of people and from the seat of justice, declared "that the soldiers must now take care of themselves, nor trust too much to their arms, for they were but a handful; that the inhabitants carried weapons concealed under their clothes, and would destroy them in a moment, if they pleased."  This, considering the malicious temper of the people, was an alarming circumstance to the soldiery.   Since which several disputes have happened between the townspeople and the soldiers of both regiments….   

On the 2d instant two of the 29th going through one Gray's ropewalk, the rope-makers insultingly asked them if they would empty a vault.  This unfortunately had the desired effect by provoking the soldiers, and from words they went to blows. …The insolence as well as utter hatred of the inhabitants to the troops increased daily.…

On Monday night about 8 o'clock two soldiers were attacked and beat…. About 9 [o'clock] some of the guard came to and informed me the town inhabitants were assembling to attack the troops….    In my way there I saw the people in great commotion, and heard them use the most cruel and horrid threats against the troops.   In a few minutes after I reached the guard, about 100 people passed it and went towards the custom house where the king's money is lodged.   They immediately surrounded the sentry posted there, and with clubs and other weapons threatened to execute their vengeance on him.   ….  This I feared might be a prelude to their plundering the king's chest.   

I immediately sent a non-commissioned officer and 12 men to protect both the sentry and the king's money, and very soon followed myself to prevent, if possible, all disorder….   [The soldiers] soon rushed through the people, and by charging their bayonets in half-circles, kept them at a little distance. ….  The mob still increased and were more outrageous, striking their clubs or bludgeons one against another, and calling out, come on you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels, fire if you dare, G-d damn you, fire and be damned, we know you dare not...

They advanced to the points of the bayonets, struck some of them and even the muzzles of the pieces, and seemed to be endeavouring to close with the soldiers.… one of the soldiers having received a severe blow with a stick, stepped a little on one side and instantly fired, on which turning to and asking him why he fired without orders, I was struck with a club on my arm, which for some time deprived me of the use of it, which blow had it been placed on my head, most probably would have destroyed me. 

On this a general attack was made on the men by a great number of heavy clubs and snowballs being thrown at them, by which all our lives were in imminent danger, some persons at the same time from behind calling out, damn your bloods-why don't you fire.  Instantly three or four of the soldiers fired, one after another, and directly after three more in the same confusion and hurry.  The mob then ran away, except three unhappy men who instantly expired ….  The whole of this melancholy affair was transacted in almost 20 minutes.

What do you think? 

What does this document tell you about what made the soldiers shoot the colonists?  Check Pedro, Hali and Monty for ideas on how to find and understand information from this type of source. 


Historical inquiry process continues with:

  • Collecting  evidence 
  • Evaluating the evidence
  • Discussing how the evidence addresses your critical question


Collecting Evidence: The Preston Deposition

What information have I collected from this source? 

I want to record all the information in this deposition that might help me answer my essential question.  I also want to note anything that just seems interesting.  Who knows--the stuff that just seems interesting may turn out to be really important to my research! 

Preston Deposition:

  • The people of Boston insulted and provoked the British troops in the weeks before the massacre
  • There had been several fights between the troops and the people of Boston in the days and weeks before the massacre
  • An incident took place 3 days before the massacre that resulted in a fight between some soldiers and rope-workers
  • There was a fight early on March 5th (the day of the massacre) and two soldiers were beaten
  • A 'mob' gathered around a single soldier who was guarding the custom house, where the king's money was kept.  This soldier called for help and twelve other soldiers came to help him
  • A 'mob' of about 100 people threatened the soldiers with words, clubs, moving close to the soldiers' bayonetes, and by throwing things at them
  • One soldier was hit by a club and then shot into the crowd
  • Three or four other soldiers then fired into the crowd
  • 3 colonists were instantly killed, 4 others seriously injured and then the crowd ran away 


Take Action:
Collect evidence from your written documents

  • record information that you think will help answer your essential question
  • record facts and details that just seems interesting (you may use them later) 

Considering Bias:  The Preston Deposition

What is the point of view of my source? 

This source gave me a lot of information, but how do I know what it says is true? To find out, I need to consider the bias of the source.

Just as I considered bias in the Boston Massacre poster,  I ask myself these questions as I think about a written document:

  • Who created the document?
  • Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the bias of the source?
  • Where was the person during the event?
  • Why did the person create this document?  Could  this person have anything to lose or gain? 
  • What are some key parts or words in the document that I think reveal the bias?

Who created the document?

  • This testimony is from the British captain of the troops at the Boston Massacre

Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the bias of the source?

  • I know that Preston was the officer in charge of the British troops the night of the Boston Massacre.  I also know that he was charged with murder because of the deaths of the Bostonians.  I expect his bias, then, to be to defending the British troops' actions and blaming the Boston crowd.

Where was the person during the event? 

  • Preston describes events at which he was not present--the fight at the ropeworks, the fight when the two soldiers were beaten, when the custom-house guard was surrounded--so he has no first-hand knowledge of these events

Why did the person create this document? Could this person have anything to lose or gain? 

  • Preston gave this deposition to explain his actions and to defend himself at his trial for the Boston Massacre. He has everything to lose if he does not do a good job defending himself--he could be hanged for murder!  Preston is defending himself and would want to make himself and his troops look blameless in his testimony.  

What are some key parts or words in the document that I think reveal the bias? 

  • words like 'obnoxious,' 'malicious,' 'cruel and horrid,' a 'mob' to describe the colonists, so shows his anti-townspeople bias


Historical inquiry process continues with:

  • Considering the bias of a source


Digging into Written Documents, Looking at the Details and Considering Bias:  Depositions from John Wilme, Jeffrey Richardson, John Gray and Ebenezer Bridgham at the Soldiers' Trials

What information in my source helps me understand the topic?  What is the point of view of my source? 

Many people gave legal depositions when the soldiers were put on trial for the colonists' deaths.  These gave me a lot of new information to think about! As I read through these depositions, I asked myself, how do these depositions help me understand what made the soldiers shoot the colonists? 

I read through the depositions once.  Then, I went back to dig into the detail of these documents.  I used my highlighter to mark parts that I think are important for my historical inquiry.


Testimony from the trials of the British Soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre 

Title page from collection of depositions from soldiers' trial
Cover page from testimony from the soldiers' trials

(Digital Source:  The Boston Massacre Trials Page.  Click the link if you would like to read more depositions from the trials)

1.   From the deposition of John Wilme

"I, John Wilme, of lawful age, testify that about ten days before the late massacre, Christopher Rumbly of the 14th regiment, was at my house...[and]...did talk very much against the town, and said if there should be any interruption, that the grenadier's company was to march up King street...and that he had been in many a battle; and that he did not know but he might be soon in one here; and that if he was, he would level his piece so as not to miss; and said that the blood would soon run in the streets of Boston...."

Collecting Evidence:  John Wilme

  • describes a soldier's attitude toward the people of Boston
  • conversation took place 10 days before Massacre
  • soldier talked against the town of Boston
  • soldier said he would shoot into a crowd
  • soldier said blood would "soon run" in streets of Boston 

Considering bias:

Who created the document?

  • John Wilme

Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the bias of the source?

  • John Wilme and his wife lived in Boston.  Both gave nearly identical depositions during the soldiers' trial.

Where was the person during the event?

  • He was not at the Massacre, but is testifying about what one of the soldiers said about the people of Boston before the event. 

Why did the person create this document? 

  • as testimony at the soldiers' Boston Massacre trial

What could this person have to lose or gain? 

  • Since Wilme lived in Boston, he may need to consider the feelings of the people that live near him.  Could he be concerned with alienating his neighbors?

What are some key parts or words in the document that I think reveal the bias?

  • he is already calling the shooting a 'massacre'--I think this shows bias against the soldiers.
  • 'spoke against the people of the town,' 'blood would soon run in the streets of Boston'--these phrases were pretty graphic and, along with the fact that the witness is a Bostonian, makes me think that this witness was biased against the soldiers.

2.   From the deposition of Jeffrey Richardson

"I, Jeffrey Richardson, of lawful age, testify and say, that on Friday, the second instant, about 11 o'clock, A.M., eight or ten soldiers of the 29th regiment, armed with clubs, came to Mr. John Gray's ropewalks [ropemaking shop], and challenged all the ropemakers to come out and fight them... ."

Collecting Evidence:  Jeffrey Richardson

  • discusses what happens at the ropewalks on March 2nd
  • soldiers came to ropewalks armed with clubs
  • soldiers challenged the workers to a fight

Considering bias:

Who created the document? 

  • Jeffrey Richardson; he sounds like he might be one of the workers at the ropewalks.

Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the bias of the source?

  • Since Richardson was one of the rope workers, he is likely to already have a bias against the soldiers. The dislike that the rope workers and the soldiers have for each other is already well known. 

Where was the person during the event?

  • At the ropewalks.

Why did this person create the document?

  • As part of a deposition at the British soldiers' trial for shooting into the crowd. 

What could this person have to lose or gain?

  • If Richardson was part of the fight at the ropewalks, maybe the earlier fight at the ropewalks, the one that led to the massacre later, could get him in trouble. He might be held responsible for the soldiers' actions at the massacre if the ropeworkers were found to be the cause of the first fight.

What are some key parts or words of the document that I think reveal the bias?

  • The way he says, "challenged all the ropemakers to come out and fight them" makes me think that he is anti-soldier.  

3.   From the deposition of John Gray

"...this put me upon immediately waiting upon Col. Dalrymple, to whom I related what I understood had passed at the ropewalk days before. He replied it was much the same as he had heard from his people; but says he, 'your man was the aggressor in affronting one of my people, by asking him if he wanted to work, and then telling him to clean his little-house [outhouse].' For this expression I dismissed my journeyman on the Monday morning following; and further said, I would all in my power to prevent my people's giving them any affront in future. He then assured me, he had and should do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in order...."

Collecting Evidence:  John Gray 

  • Gray was at the ropewalks
  • describes a conversation he had with Col. Dalrymple
  • soldier, looking for work, was told he could clean the ropewalks' outhouse
  • British soldiers believe they were insulted at ropewalks on March 2nd

Considering bias: 

Who created the document? 

  • John Gray, the owner of the ropewalks

Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the bias of the source?

  • The ropeworks is likely selling rope to the British navy for their ships, as well as to the Boston merchants.  Gray would probably like to stay friendly with both sides because he sells to both. 

Where was the person during the event?

  • He was having a conversation with the British Colonel.  It does not sound like he was present during the first fight at the ropewalks.

Why did this person create the document?

  • as testimony at the soldiers' trial

What could this person have to lose or gain?

  • As master of the ropewalks, Gray probably could be in a lot of trouble if it was found that he did not do enough to keep his workers away from the soldiers.

What are some key parts or words of the document that I think reveal the bias?

  • he seems very deferential toward the Colonel when he says that he will do 'all in his power' to keep his workers from giving affront to the soldiers again.  He seems neutral to me.

4.  From the testimony of Ebenezer Bridgham

"They stood with their pieces  before them, to defend themselves; and as soon as they had placed themselves, a party, about twelve in number, with sticks in their hands, who stood in the middle of the street, gave three cheers, and immediately surrounded the soldiers, and struck upon their guns with their sticks, and passed along the front of the soldiers, toward Royal-Exchange-lane, striking the soldiers' guns as they passed...I saw the people near me on the left, strike the soldiers' guns, daring them to fire, and called them cowardly rascals, for bringing arms against naked men...."

Collecting Evidence: Ebenezer Bridgham

  • describes the scene at the Boston Massacre
  • the crowd was about 12 people
  • the crowd surrounded the soldiers
  • the crowd hit the soldiers' guns with sticks
  • crowd verbally abused the soldiers
  • crowd dared the soldiers to fire 

Considering bias:

Who created the document?

  • Ebenezer Bridgham

Is there anything I know about the person that will help me understand the bias of the source?

  • no

Where was the person during the event?

  • He was not part of the crowd, but standing nearby watching what happened at the Boston Massacre

Why did this person create the document?

  • testimony for the soldiers' trials

What could this person have to lose or gain?

  • I don't know

What are some key parts or words of the document that I think reveal the bias?

  • describes soldiers 'defending' themselves, the crowd cheering and describes the taunts of the crowd toward the soldiers.  He sounds pro-soldier to me.



Take Action: 
Gather your evidence

  • Take a 'first pass' through your sources to get the main idea or tone of what the author says
  • Go back through the source and highlight the parts that help you understand what happened
  • Collect and record your evidence from each source
  • Consider the bias of your sources 


Evaluating Evidence:  Written Documents and First-Person Accounts

What "story" does my source tell me about my topic?

Now that I have collected evidence from the trial depositions, I want to evaluate the sources.  When I evaluate, I use the evidence in the documents,  connect it to the background knowledge about the event that I’ve already learned, and use them to create my interpretation of the event. 

My evaluation of the Preston deposition:

  • Preston puts the Boston Massacre in the larger context of British soldier/townspeople relations, and stresses the need of the soldiers to defend themselves in this hostile place.  He writes about the events in the weeks leading up to the Boston Massacre, and focuses on the danger the British soldiers felt that they were in from the people of Boston. Preston says that the incident at the ropewalks (2 weeks before the massacre) was very insulting to the soldiers and resulted in a fight. He also says that the townspeople were daring the soldiers to fire into the crowd right before the massacre, and that the crowd called the soldiers cowards for not firing.  He says that the crowd hit the soldiers with sticks and snowballs and knocked one soldier down.  After reading this account, it seemed inevitable that the soldiers would shoot because they needed to defend themselves.    

My evaluation of the John Wilme deposition:

  • The soldiers’ state of mind seems really important in John Wilme’s deposition, which helps fill in what the British soldiers were thinking about the people of Boston in the days before the Boston Massacre.  According to Wilme, the soldier he spoke with expected to shoot into a crowd of townspeople, and even seemed to be looking forward to this.   If this was the attitude of a typical soldier, it makes sense that the British soldiers were looking for any opportunity to fight, and even kill, the people of Boston.
My evaluation of the Jeffrey Richardson deposition:
  • The fight at the ropeworks was important to many of the people giving depositions at the trial.  In Richardson’s account, the soldiers are shown to be aggressors, coming to the ropeworks with clubs and threatening the workers without any provocation.   At the end of this deposition, I wonder, why did the soldiers come to attack the ropeworkers?  I need to find out more about the ropeworks and why the soldiers and workers are fighting for this to make sense to me.
My evaluation of the John Gray deposition: 
  • From reading the deposition, it becomes clear that John Gray was the owner of the ropeworks.  Gray seems to want to be very ‘neutral’ in his account of what happened at the ropeworks and is very careful to not be too negative against the British soldiers.  Gray does not seem to have witnessed the events at the ropeworks, and his deposition is mainly a recounting the discussion he had later, with the Colonel Dalrymple.  Mr. Gray explains that the Colonel felt that the ropeworkers were to blame for the event because they rudely told the soldiers to  clean their outhouse. This insult resulted in a fight between the soldiers and the ropeworkers a few hours later.  As a result of the argument, Mr. Gray  told Col. Dalrymple that he had fired the ropeworkers that caused the insult and argument. Col. Dalrymple said that he would keep the soldiers away from the ropeworks.  Gray is careful to point out that he and Col. Dalrymple did everything they could to keep these antagonists away from each other.
 My evaluation of the Ebenezer Bridgham deposition:
  • This deposition is about the Boston Massacre itself.  Bridgham appears to have been near the site of the Boston Massacre, but was not part of the crowd.  He describes the crowd as small—around 12 people—but they were belligerent.  The crowd gathered, surrounded the soldiers and walked by them while hitting their guns with sticks. The crowd also taunted the soldiers—daring them to fire into the crowd.  In this account, the crowd seemed to be nearly attacking the soldiers and it seems almost reasonable that the soldiers fired into the threatening crowd.


Take Action: 
Evaluate your Evidence 

You've collected data from your first-person documents,  now add meaning to them with your evaluation.  A good evaluation:

  • is based on the facts, your understanding and your experience 
  • is tied to evidence in the document
  • includes some reading ‘between the lines’


Addressing the Essential Question:  Written Documents and First-Person Accounts

How does this source answer my essential question? 

To put this evidence to work, I need to think about how these first-person accounts help me answer my essential question: 

Why would British soldiers shoot and kill American colonists at the Boston Massacre? 

These first-person accounts help me fill in some of the information that I felt was missing when I looked at just the poster.  
The poster showed the Boston Massacre, but did not include any of the events or feelings that led up to the event.  These first-person documents help explain different motivations for the actions of the British soldiers.

  • Captain Preston’s deposition describes how the soldiers stationed at Boston felt threatened and abused by the people of Boston. 
    How does it answer my essential question?   The British shot the Bostonians because the soldiers had been and were being threatened by the townspeople.
  • Wilme’s deposition makes the soldiers look ‘bloodthirsty’ and ready for a fight.
    How does it answer my essential question?   The British shot and killed the people of Boston because they were bloodthirsty and looking forward to seeing American blood flowing in the streets.
  • Richardson’s deposition says that the soldiers were the aggressors.
    How does it answer my essential question?
      The British shot and killed the people of Boston because it was part of a long series of fights between the soldiers and the townspeople. 
  •  John Gray’s deposition says that both sides were ready for a fight. 
    How does it answer my essential question?  The British shot and killed the people of Boston because they did not stay away from each other.  The massacre, it seems, was part of a lager, ongoing grudge between the two sides
  • Bridgham's deposition is an eye-witness account of the Massacre and describes the crowd around the soldiers as small, but provoking the soldiers.
    How does it answer my essential question?   The British shot and killed the people of Boston because they were protecting themselves from the threatening crowd.  

My thoughts:

The picture that these depositions paint, no matter which 'side' they take, is of a city that is full of tension.  Many townspeople in Boston hated the British soldiers. The British soldiers hated the townspeople as well.  This mutual hatred had bubbled up in the past-- in fights and other confrontations.  The shooting into the crowd at the Boston Massacre seems like it was just another fight in this ongoing story of the hatred between the two groups.


Take Action:
Use the evidence to address your essential question

Corroborating Facts Across Sources:

How do the facts and information I gathered compare across sources? 

Now that I've gathered and evaluated evidence and sources, I want to corroborate some of the facts surrounding the event.   Corroborating facts makes them more convincing.  The more sources that corroborate a fact, the more likely it is to be true.  

I want to find out if my sources agree on the facts and their opinion about the event, or if they disagree.  I also want to see if the bias of the source important in shaping the information the source gives.  Some facts emerged that seem especially important to my inquiry.  These facts, and how each source addressed them helps me corroborate information about the event. 

Listing the facts:

The some facts were:

  • There was a history of tension between the soldiers and Boston townspeople
  • One side was to blame for the fight at the ropewalks
  • The crowd moved toward/away from the soldiers right before the Massacre
  • The crowd did/did not provoked the soldiers right before the Massacre
  • The soldiers had a reason for firing into the crowd 

I also want to connect how the documents considered these facts in light of the bias I already uncovered.  To do this, I used a table to organize my data, corroborate the facts and help me see the 'big picture.'

Comparing facts across sources:


Graphic organizer displaying document names, questions and data
Table listing six documents and their data on six questions

(to enlarge the page and see the table in more detail, press 'Ctrl' and '+' at the same time)


Now I have a much clearer idea of what each document says and what its bias is.  I'm ready to put the pieces of my inquiry together and take the next step:  putting the evidence to work for my essential question. 



Take Action: 
Corroborate information across sources

  • list the facts
  • compare the facts across sources
  • consider conflicting accounts
  • consider the bias of the sources

Putting it All Together: Creating your Thesis Statement

How do I synthesize all this information into an argument?

My thesis statement is my answer to my essential question. It is based on the evidence, my analysis and the facts I corroborated from my sources.  My thesis statement can be one sentence, or a few sentences.  What is important is that my thesis statement clearly states my argument, and that I can support my argument with evidence and my evaluation of the sources.

My Essential Question: Why would British soldiers shoot and kill American colonists at the Boston Massacre?

My Thesis Statement:  Although Bostonians tried to depict themselves as innocent victims of British tyranny, long-simmering tensions between the townspeople of Boston and the soldiers themselves led almost unavoidably to the event that came to be known as the Boston Massacre.  Bostonians were resentful of the British soldiers stationed in their town.  The soldiers were bitter at the abuse and isolation they faced every day from the townspeople.  The tension between these two groups resulted in a series of fights and disputes between the townpeople and soldiers, of which the Boston Massacre was just one incident.    


Take Action:
Create your thesis statement.  For ideas and a tool to help you get started on your thesis statement, go to the Persuasive Essay Thesis Builder website.


Putting it All Together: Making your Report Plan

How do I share the ideas and opinions I have about my topic?

My historical inquiry is only done when I've organized and reported my findings.  To help me organize my ideas, evidence, and the flow of my argument, I always create an outline of my report plan.

My outline can be a rough 'sketch' of what I plan to write, or it can be detailed and list the different types of evidence I will use to support each section.  I know I may change the outline as I go through the process of writing and revising my report, but what is most important is that my outline gives me my overall plan.

Each section of my outline is a section of my argument. Each section has a central topic, which I will support with evidence and explanation.  Added together, all the sections will support my thesis statement.  

I've done my outline in two ways: one using a graphic organizer and another using a written outline.  You can do your outline in the way that helps you best in planning how you will write up your research.  Draw, audio record, write notes--do what helps you stay focused on your research goal!


An example of my plan, in a graphic organizer:


Graphic organizer of a research writing plan
My writing plan presented in a graphic organizer


An example of my plan, in a written outline:

I.  Local colonists depicted themselves as innocent victims of British tyranny

II.  There was a long history of tensions between the people and soldiers in Boston

III.  The people of Boston resented the British soldiers presence   

IV.  The British soldiers were resentful of the people of Boston    

V.  The tensions between the groups led to the soldiers shooting into the crowd of townspeople

VI.  Conclusion


Take Action:
Create your report plan

  • State your overall thesis
  • List and organize your topic sentences
  • Find evidence and your evaluation that supports each of your topic sentences
  • State your conclusions

Putting it All Together: Supporting your Argument

How do I make my argument more convincing?

Since my thesis is the answer to my essential question, I want to make it convincing by supporting it with evidence from my sources.  Evidence doesn't always speak for itself, though.  I need to explain how each piece of evidence supports my thesis.   

Below is an example of what I do to strenghten my argument to make it more convincing.  I wrote the topic sentence of my first paragraph and notes to myself to remind me of information I need to fill in to support my argument.


First paragraph topic sentence:
The local colonists depicted themselves as the innocent victims of British tyranny

  • Find evidence - like facts, examples, quotations, or statistics that back it up or support the topic sentence of this paragraph.
  • Explain how the evidence supports the topic sentence

Another example that shows that the local colonists depicted themselves as the innocent victims of British tyranny is...

  • Find more evidence - facts, examples, quotations, or statistics that back it up or support the topic sentence of this paragraph.
  • Explain how this second piece of evidence supports the topic sentence.


Take Action:
Support your argument

Support each part of your argument with evidence and explanation.   If you need some help, u
se the Persuasive Essay Thesis Builder to generate your project outline.  It includes prompts to remind you to support your argument with evidence and evaluation.

Putting it All Together: Choosing your Project Format

How do I choose the best format to present my argument?

I have a lot of choices for how to present my argument;  I can do an essay, make a poster, create a PowerPoint presentation, or make a podcast.  Whichever format I choose, I want it to be the one that lets me show my argument in the most convincing form. 

I decided to report my inquiry findings in a PowerPoint presentation.  I know I am a convincing speaker and I think that the images that I found, combined with the written evidence, my analysis, and explanation will create an interesting and convincing report.   

Three slides of Presentation title "A matter of too great notoriety"
First three slides of my PowerPoint presentation


Each slide of my PowerPoint will be a section of my argument.  Added together, all the sections will support my thesis statement. To make sure I've done a great job, I'll use a Research Project rubric to self-check my presentation before I turn it in.


Take Action:
Choose your project format

Your historical inquiry report can be presented in many different ways. Pick the one that you think will best present your argument and help convince your audience. A written essay, PowerPoint, or poster presentation are all good ways to present your findings.  What other ways can you think of to present your work?

What's Next?

Well, I've finished my inquiry on the Boston Massacre. You may come to a different conclusion about this event, but I'm convinced of my thesis and that I have supported it with evidence from my sources.

That doesn’t end the story for me, though. My research and writing made me think of a lot of new questions about what led up to this event.

  • Why did these Bostonians hate the British so much?
  • Did most people in Boston feel this way?
  • When did the conflict between the British and Americans truly begin?

My conclusions about historical inquiry

My inquiry project made me see that history is not something that is already finished.  Every time someone looks at documents and evidence they are "making history" anew.  Each person brings their own ideas, experience and interpretation to sources.  And each time they do, that person creates a new story out of history.

Teaching and Learning Resources

This page is a sampling of the many resources for you and your students to use to learn more about Universal Design for Learning, the process of historical inquiry and organizing and presenting information.  Enjoy!

UDL Resources:

  • Teaching Every Student (TES) Website:                               
    This website supports educators in learning about and practicing Universal Design for Learning (UDL.)  UDL is a framework that can help turn the challenges posed by high standards and increasing learner diversity into opportunities to maximize learning for every student.

  • CAST UDL Guidelines:                                            
    The UDL Guidelines provide you with an at-a-glance framework to consider how to make the curriculum work best for all learners. 

  • CAST UDL Lesson Builder:                                                                   
    This UDL Lesson Builder will help you to create, save, edit, and print your own lesson plans using the principles of UDL and its applications.   

Historical Methodology Resources:

  • Recent Research in Historical Thinking, Understanding, and Teaching: Selected References     
    From the Organization of American Historians, a list of key research articles on teaching historical thinking, up to the year 2000.

  • ERIC Digest:  Teaching Historical Thinking:                                               
    Over the past decade, cognitive studies researcher Samuel Wineburg has conducted empirical studies to compare the way historians think about primary and secondary sources with the thinking processes of high school students and teachers. Wineburg's research demonstrates the importance of domain-based or subject-specific thinking in the teaching and learning of history. This Digest addresses Wineburg's conception of historical thinking and its application to the teaching and learning of history in schools.

  • Exerpt from Historical Thinkining and Other Unnnatural Acts by Samuel Wineburg

  • Promoting Historical Inquiry:  The Gather Model:
    GATHER is an acronym for 6 discrete steps of historical inquiry.  This site provides a clear overview and explanations of each of the steps in the process.

  • Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History-Testimony v. Evidence  
    Reading documents as “evidence” and not simply as “testimony” allows historians to move beyond the questions “is this statement true?” or even “was the author biased?” -- beyond the intended purpose of the document or even the concerns of those who created it -- to find material and make inferences pertaining to the larger question of interest to historians.  Tip:  explore the rest of the Canadian Mysteries site for lessons and support materials for teachers and students in using interactive digital history environments.

  • The Historian’s Sources:  An introduction to effective use of primary sources:
    This lesson introduces students to primary sources -- what they are, their great variety, and how they can be analyzed. The lesson begins with an activity that helps students understand the historical record. Students then learn techniques for analyzing primary sources. Finally, students apply these techniques to analyze documents about slavery in the United States.

  • Making Sense of Evidence:  How to make effective use of primary sources:  
    This site helps students and teachers make effective use of primary sources. “Making Sense of Documents” provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.

Lessons and Activities:

  • Analyzing the Purpose and Meaning of Political Cartoons:             
    In this ReadWriteThink lesson, high school students learn to evaluate political cartoons for their meaning, message, and persuasiveness. Students first develop critical questions about political cartoons. They then access an online activity to learn about the artistic techniques cartoonists frequently use. As a final project, students work in small groups to analyze a political cartoon and determine whether they agree or disagree with the author's message.

  • It’s no Laughing Matter:  Analyzing Political Cartoons:      
    What makes funny cartoons seriously persuasive?  Cartoonists' persuasive techniques do. All cartoonists have access to a collection of tools that help them get their point across. Some of these techniques work "behind the scenes." You might not even notice them unless you know what you are looking for. In this activity, students get to take apart real-world cartoons--and learn how to spot the methods behind the message.

  • Picturing Modern America 1880-1920:                         
    This site engages students in the practice of doing history the way historians do, using primary documents from the Library of Congress .  Promoting critical and visual literacies in service of historical inquiry, the site includes the 'Image Detective,' 'Investigations,' and 'Exhibit Builder' activities. 

  • How To Teach With Historic Places Lesson Plans:

Primary Source Resources:

  • See, Hear and Sing:  Multimedia Sources from the Library of Congress               
    Created for students, "America's Story from America's Library" is designed to encourage students to have fun with history while learning at the same time. This site engages students in using the digital resources of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the largest in the world.  

  • The Learning Page at the Library of Congress:
    The Learning Page is designed to help educators use the American Memory Collections to teach history and culture. It offers tips and tricks, definitions and rationale for using primary sources, activities, discussions, lesson plans and suggestions for using the collections in classroom curriculum.

  • U.S. National Archives Experience: Lesson Plans & Teaching Activities
    The U.S. National Archives provides digital access to primary source documents, including written documents, artifacts, cartoons, maps, motion pictures, photographs, posters and sound recordings.  The Educators Lesson Plans & Teaching Activities site includes downloadable  'Analysis Worksheets' for evaluating these different types of primary sources and educator-created lessons.

Free tools to organize information:

  • Clipmarks
    Clipmarks is a free, online tool to help collect and organize information online

  • is a free, online concept mapping tool.  Supports users in organizing information and ideas visually.


Guides for writing:

Rubrics, Guides and Tools