Thomas Preston (British Army officer)

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Thomas Preston (c.1722—c. 1798)[1] was a British officer, a captain who served in Boston in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He commanded troops in the Boston Massacre in 1770 and was tried for murder, but he was acquitted. Historians have never settled whether he ordered his men to fire on the colonists. Preston was originally from Ireland; his people were among the Protestants settled there.[2]

Boston Massacre[edit]

Thomas Preston was an officer of the 29th Regiment of Foot, part of the British garrison in Boston under the overall command of Thomas Gage. He was present at the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770, when British troops fired on colonists of the city, after an aggressive mob had confronted the troops and thrown snowballs, clubs, and rocks at them.[3][4]

Charges were brought against him and other soldiers, but he was acquitted in a trial held in Boston, Massachusetts. Future United States President John Adams was his attorney. It is still unknown whether or not Preston gave the order to fire; many historians believe that he did not. Two of his men, Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy, were found guilty of manslaughter. They "prayed clergy" to avoid the death sentence. Instead, they were branded on the thumb with a hot iron, the letter "M" for murder.[5] Captain Preston was found not guilty.

After his trial, Preston retired from the army. He reportedly settled in Ireland. Adams later recalled seeing him in London in the 1780s, when Adams was serving there as US Minister to Britain.

Legacy and honors[edit]

The communities of East Preston and North Preston, Nova Scotia may have been named for him.

In popular culture[edit]

An actor performing as Preston during a re-enactment of the Boston Massacre in 2007.


  • Hibbert, Christopher. Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes. Avon Books, 1990.
  • Zobel, Hiller (1234). The Boston Massacre. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-00606-3.


  1. ^ Captain Preston's Unknown Biography, Boston Massacre Historical Society
  2. ^ Hibbert p.13
  3. ^ Captain Thomas Preston's Account of the Boston Massacre
  4. ^ Zobel, Hiller B (1970). The Boston Massacre, p. 197
  5. ^ "The Summary of the Boston Massacre Trial". Retrieved 9 November 2010.