"Who goes there?" he cried, in the gruff, peremptory tones of a soldier's challenge. The young men, being Boston boys, felt as if they had a right to walk their own streets without being accountable to a British redcoat, even though he challenged them in King George's name. They made some rude answer to the sentinel. There was a dispute, or perhaps a scuffle. Other soldiers heard the noise, and ran hastily from the barracks to assist their comrades. At the same time many of the townspeople rushed into King Street by various avenues, and gathered in a crowd round about the Custom House. It seemed wonderful how such a multitude had started up all of a sudden.
The wrongs and insults which the people had been suffering for many months now kindled them into a rage. They threw snowballs and lumps of ice at the soldiers. As the tumult grew louder it reached the ears of Captain Preston, the officer of the day. He immediately ordered eight soldiers of the main guard to take their muskets and follow him. They marched across the street, forcing their way roughly through the crowd, and pricking the townspeople with their bayonets.
A gentleman (it was Henry Knox, afterwards general of the American artillery) caught Captain Preston's arm.
"For Heaven's sake, sir," exclaimed he, "take heed what you do, or there will be bloodshed."
"Stand aside!" answered Captain Preston, haughtily. "Do not interfere, sir. Leave me to manage the affair."
Arriving at the sentinel's post, Captain Preston drew up his men in a semicircle, with their faces to the crowd and their rear to the Custom House. When the people saw the officer and beheld the threatening attitude with which the soldiers fronted them, their rage became almost uncontrollable.
"Fire, you lobsterbacks!" bellowed some.
"You dare not fire, you cowardly redcoats!" cried others.