Among the most recognized and important early American prints, Paul Revere's The Bloody Massacre is one of three nearly identical portrayals of the pivotal event of March 5th 1770, the others produced by Henry Pelham and Jonathan Mulliken.
Revere was the first to publicly distribute the depiction; however, he was not the original draftsman of the composition. Revere's engraving was advertised for sale in the March 26th editions of the Boston Evening Post and the Boston Gazette with the following explanation: "A Print, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street." Two days later Revere noted in his Day Book that he paid the printer/publisher Edes & Gill to produce 200 impressions. Pelham's depiction appeared for sale in the same publications a week later-on April 2nd-with the headline "The Fruits of Arbitrary Power: An Original Print, representing the late horrid Massacre in Kingstreet, taken on the Spot." Pelham had apparently consulted with Revere in confidence on his drawing of the event shortly after the massacre occurred. In a letter dated March 29th Pelham expressed outrage at what he considered a breach of friendship and trust, stating: "If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so." There is no record that Revere responded to this accusation; regardless of how the dispute between the two men was finally resolved, as Clarence S. Brigham states in his quintessential Paul Revere's Engravings, "Certain it is that Revere was an outstanding patriot and saw the opportunity of furthering the patriot cause by circulating so significant a print."
Revere is most famous for his midnight ride, warning his fellow patriots of British advancement before what would be the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was through speed and simplicity that information was most effectively distributed and this approach is what made Revere's Massacre the most successful. Revere was a silversmith by trade, which posed a natural segue to copper engraving. Engraving was foremost a utilitarian medium, the quickest and most effective means of illustrating an event, and one in which copying and sharing was standard practice. Draftsmanship is not what makes his depiction so compelling, it is through this awkward and humble craft that the frenetic energy of the historic event is encapsulated. This depiction, more than any other, remains the strongest reminder of the decisive time when Revolutionary passions were focused on furthering the case for American independence. The hasty coloring of the engravings-which is apparent in their variation and rather unsophisticated handling-corresponds with the fervor and energy of the cause. The jackets of the British troops and the blood of the citizens-rendered in violent red-are the only details which remain consistent between the various impressions. Revere's Massacre relayed a message of opposition to the British occupation and served as propaganda for the anti-British cause. This politically charged depiction of the event-one of the most significant events in the quest for American independence-illustrates through its modest yet urgent handling, the beginning of a uniquely American visual ideology.