Innocent blood crying to God from the streets of Boston


John Lathrop

Innocent blood crying to God from the streets of Boston. A sermon occasioned by the horrid murder of Messieurs Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, with Patrick Carr, since dead, and Christopher Monk, judged irrecoverable, and several others badly wounded, by a party of troops under the command of Captain Preston: on the fifth of March, 1770. And preached the Lord’s-Day following


—The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

I NEED not inform you, my hearers, that the bloody and most cruel action of last Monday evening led me to the choice of the words which have now been read, for the theme of the following discourse. We should be criminal to let such an awful affair pass over without taking notice of it in a religious manner.

THE unparallelled barbarity of those who were lately guilty of murdering a number of our innocent fellow-citizens will never be forgot.

THE now lisping child will rehearse the _to his attentive offspring, when revolving years have covered his head with silver locks. Future generations will read the account with sorrow, indignation and surprize: sorrow for the dead, who sell victims to the merciless rage of wicked men: indignation against the worst of murderers; and surprize that any rational beings could be so destitute of every human feeling, as wantonly to destroy those who never did, or thought of doing them any hurt.

BUT we have seen the gloomy time when our brethren were murdered before our eyes, and our most public streets were deeply dyed with innocent blood. How affecting, unutterably affecting, to see our fellow citizens shot to death—their garments rolled in blood, and corpses wallowing in gore, upon our Exchange, the place of general concourse, where our most respectable inhabitants meet every day! But such a scene has been acted—yea the blood of the slain is but now washed from the pavements.

A NOBLE spirit, indeed has appeared on this occasion, not only in securing the presumed murderers that they may be brought to trial; but insisting that all the troops should be removed from among us.

FROM this violent out-breaking, and innumerable disorders that might be mentioned, the whole world may be convinced of the infinite impropriety of quartering troops in a well-regulated city under a notion of assisting the civil magistrate, or strengthening government. I pray God we may never behold a like appearance on a like pretence! It is time for that magistrate to resign, who cannot depend on the assistance of his neighbours and fellow-citizens in the administration of justice. And that government which rejecting the foundation of the law, would establish itself by the sword, the sooner it falls to the ground the better, that in its stead another might be established, more agreeable to the nature of man, and consistent with the great ends of society.

BUT we shall leave these considerations to the improvement of the politicians of the day, and pursue the thoughts which the words read seem naturally to suggest.

WHAT I design, is to shew particularly when it may be said, that innocent blood crieth unto God in the sense of our text, and then make some reflections suitable to the occasion.

FIRST then, Human blood crieth unto God, when it is shed in a wanton or cruel manner, without warrant from the law of the land or law of nations, founded upon and consistent with the law of nature written upon the heart by God himself, to speak in the language of inspiration.

BEFORE there was any such thing as civil government, which is founded on compact or the agreement of a number of people upon some plan to secure their general happiness, every individual had a perfect right to his own person, life, and limbs, and a clear sense of his duty and interest in preserving and defending them against the attacks of any one. These natural notions were planted in our breasts by the God who made us, and would for ever lead us to determine that the life of man is sacred, and his blood not to be shed, unless forfeited by some atrocious crime. In the yet uncultivated wilds of America, so strong are these moral notices, that the man who is conscious of having murdered another, does not pretend to resist the surviving relation, who takes upon himself the office of an avenger of blood, but calmly bows his head to receive the fatal blow. Hence well observes St. Paul, that the heathen, which have not the (written) law, are a law unto themselves: their understandings

and consciences witnessing the justice of the divine decree, that, he who sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. To refuse, or unreasonably delay doing justice upon the murderer, is to let the blood of the innocent, like that of Abel, cry unto God for vengeance.

THE murderer forfeits his right to life even in a state of nature, where there is no civil authority; in that case every man is in some sense a minister of justice, and may execute the law which God has written upon his heart. And whether that universal practice which obtains among the savages, of the nearest kinsman pursuing & slaying the murderer of his relation, is not strictly justifiable upon principles of natural law, will I think scarce admit of a question.

THUS much is plain, we have no security for life in the neighbourhood of a person having a disposition & power to destroy us: self-preservation therefore obliges us, on failure of other expedience, to cut off such a common and dangerous enemy. And it seems as if all who found him, whether related to the slain or not, might fall upon and dispatch him.

How strong a sense of this appears in the sad expostulation of guilty, self-condemned Cain?—Every one that findeth me shall slay me.

FROM the case of Abel, who was murdered before the promulgation of any law in that behalf, it is sufficiently evident that the blood which was unjustly shed called aloud to God for vengeance, whether it was his will that the shedder should be destroyed by a relation of the slain, or by whoever met with him; or whether, acting as Supreme Judge, he reserved the execution to himself.

WE add secondly, The blood which is shed contrary to the revealed law of God calls to him from the Ground.

GOD shewed his absolute abhorrence of murder from the beginning: he denounced a tremendous curse against him who was first guilty of it. From the nature of the crime, and the fear which Cain expressed, it is more than probable that murder was punished by death in the most early ages, though we find no express law requiring it till after the flood, when the solemn declaration, in part cited before, was made. And surely your blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand

of a man, at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man. In these words the value of human life is fixed; a guard is set upon it by God himself, and that penalty is fully expressed which the Author of Life is pleased should be incurred by him who unjustly dares to take it away.

THE life of man is highly valued—for in the Image of God made he man. This value was set upon the life of man, even when he was a sinner; for notwithstanding the depravity of human nature, none of God’s works in this part of the system are worthy to be compared with the children of men. They are capable of higher services and more refined enjoyments than the beasts that perish.

THEY are therefore protected with more care. Even the irrational creature, who is capable of neither moral good nor evil, must be killed, if by a wild ungovernable rage he should destroy a man. No less excusable is the rage of man if he really intended to kill, unless in defence of his own life under absolute necessity, he shall surely be put to death, according to the immutable sentence of the great Jehovah!

THE _ of innocent blood cannot be allayed, but by the death of the guilty! There is no evading this law where the murder is indublicably proved—no liberty to acquit the criminal—God, the supreme legislator, has given the magistrate no authority to alter or disponse with his law, or mitigate the punishment in any manner or degree. He shall surely be put to death! And if that punishment is not inflicted, innocent blood will cry from the ground—it will cry for vengeance to fall not only on the murderer wherever he is, but upon those, whoever they are, that divert the course of justice, and cause the murderers to go unpunished.

THESE capital punishments are doubtless very disagreeable to put an end to the life of one’s fellow-men is shocking.

THE tender seeings of human nature strongly, strongly plead in behalf of the criminal, and beseech the judges if possible to shew mercy. But should any degree of tenderness—should the strongest inclination to mercy—or should all the horrors of an execution influence a conduct so contrary to the law of God? When the Lord of heaven has declared he shall surely die, and more over added, thou shalt not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood.

shall any pretend to pity—shall any, at the expence of incurring the vengeance due to blood-guiltiness, dare to acquit, to spare, or solicit a pardon!

THIRDLY, Human blood crieth from the ground, when it is shed contrary to the laws of the community within which it is spilled.

CIVIL government, if good, is founded upon the law of nature, or the revealed law of God—the divine pleasure is an universal law, eternally binding upon all rational creatures; whether this pleasure be known by certain notions of right and wrong, which all men have within them—by the declarations of holy men who have been favoured with intimate acquaintance with God—or by immediate revelations from the Deity himself.

THAT he who formed the universe should be lord and king, is a conclusion few, if any, will deny. This only absolute Monarch has an indisputable right to make such laws, and establish such rules of government, as he knows will best suit the nature and mutual relations of all his subjects, and serve best to promote and secure the general happiness of all.—

THAT it is the will of God his creatures should be happy, is very evident from his own most solemn declarations. It is also in a good degree evident from the unextinguishable thirst, after it, placed by God in eve|ry sensitive being. All wish for it; and however diverse our notions of happiness may be, ‘the eternal sigh’ covets it with most ardent desire and steady attention.

IT is utterly unworthy, and inconsistent with every idea of infinite wisdom and power, of inexhaustible fullness and unbounded beneficence, to suppose the Creator of man designed him only a composition of appetites, wants, and desires, for the reasonable gratification of which he has made no provision. Infinitely more shocking would be the presumtion, that he had left him open to all invasions from beasts of prey, and men more sa|vage than the beast, and neglected to furnish him with means of defence or escape.

ONE of the strongest affections or inclinations of the human mind is that for society.—The Lord God said, It is not good that Man should be alone. The whole species, indeed every order of creatures, seem designed as meet-helpers to each other. All the difficulty in civil and social life is, righteously to determine how much help we have a right

to expect or demand of each other and what shall be a just consideration for such assistance. The Author and Finisher of our faith has graciously solved this grand question, in a divine axiom, as copious and descriptive, as plain and suitable to the human understanding. All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is THE LAW—the eternal and immutable reason of things constituted to promote and secure the happiness of all.

GOVERNMENT, in whatever form it may be established, can rightly aim at no other, and possibly at no higher end. Even the government of the Supreme Ruler of the universe is not pretended to aim at any thing more or greater!—

THE general good is therefore the end of all just government; and all the rules of conduct, agreed upon, all the statutes, laws, and precepts, enacted and promulged, are made with a view to promote and secure the public good: and therefore the very nature and design of government require new laws to be made whenever it is found that the old ones are not sufficient; and old ones to be repealed, whenever they are found to be mischievous in their operation. Yea, if the essential parts of any system of civil government are found to be inconsistent with the general good, the end of government requires that such bad system should be demolished, and a new one formed, by which the public weal shall be more effectually secured.—And further, if under any constitution of government the administration should vary from the fundamental designs of promoting and securing the common good; in such case the subjects are in duty bound to join all their strength to reduce matters to their original good order, whatever may be the fate of those wicked men who for ends of their own would subvert the RIGHTS of the people.—

As no right is more sacred than that of every innocent man to enjoy his own life, and the law of nature authorizes every individual to defend his life, that system which was given by God to his people contains a number of very particular laws to secure the lives of the innocent, and most positive injunctions for the extirpation of such as are guilty of innocent blood, as has been mentioned in the former part of this discourse. In no point are the laws of our excellent constitution more express; for what peace can be more sacred than the peace of God and the king, which every quiet subject has a right to; which nothing can destroy?

FROM all the foregoing considerations it is plain, if any one by design slay another, or any-way cause an innocent person to be put to death, that innocent blood crieth unto God from the ground: it crieth for vengeance. It crieth to all who see it, or hear of its being shed. It crieth to the murderer himself, and requires him to submit to justice, and receive his punishment. It crieth to those that are witnesses, and requires them to give faithful testimony of what they know. Whoever knows of murder and does not give information thereof, that the guilty may be brought to justice, will have innocent blood crying for vengeance to fall upon him. Innocent blood crieth to the magistrate, that the murderer be secured and brought to trial; it crieth to the judges, and requires that they see it avenged. And if innocent blood is not heard and avenged according to the strict requirements of the law of God and the laws of every good system of civil government, it will continue to cry, not only against the murderer, but the government and land, which suffers murderers to go unpunished.

THUS have I mentioned, as particularly as seemed necessary, when it may be said that human blood crieth unto God in the sense of the text.

AND what a solemn cry of innocent blood is now going up to heaven from our streets! The scene lately acted among us is on many accounts the most-afflicting that ever this place beheld! When consuming fires have repeatedly swept down a great number of our houses, the inhabitants escaping the flames viewed the loss of their substance as chargeable to the malevolence of no one: but in the late dreadful affair we saw the agents, and had nothing but destruction to expect from their unbounded and unbridled rage, had they happened to have force enough to have put their horrid designs in execution.

THE barbarous murder of young Snider on the 22d of last Month was distressing to all who had any feelings of humanity; but how aggravated was the horrid affair of last Monday night!

IT is pretty evident from several plain testimonies, and a variety of circumstances, that a number of the troops, with other sons of Belial, were determined to murder the inhabitants—They began in several parts of the town—The alarmed people rang the bells to collect an aid for their security; and when they had obliged the first riotous soldiers to retire, and were dispersing, not expecting any further disturbance, a party of the troops fired upon a number of innocent people, unarmed and under no apprehension of such cruel treatment!

WERE our brethren killed by avowed enemies in time of open war, we should be grieved, it is true, but we could not complain; death and slaughter may then be expected: but in a time of profound peace, to have troops quartered among us on pretence of supporting government, where government has ever been supported as well as in any part of the known world—to be abused by common soldiers—to be assaulted by them in some or other part of the town almost every evening—to be wounded with the instruments of death—yea, finally, to see our brethren killed in cold blood—to behold their mortal gasps, and hear their dying groans—but I desist—the rehearsal of these things is too much for me. Who can reflect on the horrors of that night without shuddering! What were our fears, when the inhabitants, roused by the murder of their brethren, were hurrying together—When the troops were all paraded, and with fire arms presented stood ready to attack or defend, from the just indignation of an enraged multitude, and nothing less than a general slaughter could be expected! To God alone be praise, that in this critical moment his divine power was displayed, and the remainder of wrath in so signal a manner restrained!

No less conspicuous was the good hand of God in moving the hearts of those in power to exert themselves for the immediate relief of the people from further fears and dangers, to which a longer continuance of the troops in town would have subjected them. The wisest of men has well observed, and too siensibly have we found it verified, that persons cannot well dwell together unless they are agreed. The human heart must undergo a strange revolution before it can look kindly on the instruments of its ruin and destruction! We trust in God’s unerring Providence, that so unnatural a society will never be the subject of another experiment—That the civil magistrate will never again be furnished with such a band of assistants, as will rescue criminals cut of his hands, and even put his life in danger in the execution of his office.—That the lower and looser part of our youth may never again have such additional temptations to forsake the paths of virtue and religion.

FINALLY, that we may be allowed to live in the full enjoyment of all those important rights and privileges, both of a civil and religious nature, with which the God of our fathers has been pleased to favour this part of his heritage; let us take heed to our ways, let us by a pious and exemplary behaviour persuade men that Liberty and Religion are worth contending for—Let us chearfully conspire with our Lord and Master to do good unto all, even to the evil and unthankful. Let justice flow down our streets as a river, and righteousness as an overflowing stream—Let the sabbaths of the Lord, which have been too long profaned by the noise of drums and other martial instruments, be now sanctified by the reverent and peaceful exercises of religion. Let the late affecting spectacles of mortality—the awful pomp of so uncommon a funeral, excite us all to preparation for our own dissolution. Though we hope not to be murdered and cut off by the hand of violence, we are yet mortal. We must all die, it may be suddenly. Let us then seriously engage and unweariedly persevere in the service of the Lord, that whenever we are called from this very precarious state, we may be found doing tho will of our great God and Redeemer, and at last be admitted into eternal glory.


Re-printed and sold by Edes and Gill, opposite the new court-house in Queen-Street. 1771