This is the first in a series of posts that will use primary sources – articles from original colonial newspapers – to convey early reports of events in Colonial American history. All of the newspaper images I’ll be sharing with teachers are part of the Edwards Collection of Colonial Newspapers online database. View today’s primary source – a portion of the press coverage of the Battle of Bunker Hill from an issue of The Pennsylvania Evening Post dated November 21, 1775. It focuses on the losses suffered by the colonial troops in the battle, including the death of Doctor Joseph Warren, and mentions the destruction caused to the town of Charlestown. For some historical background: Doctor Joseph Warren attended Harvard and practiced medicine and surgery in Boston. He was a Grandmaster of the Freemasons, a member of the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Committee of Correspondence. Warren drafted the Suffolk Resolves, a copy of which his good friend Paul Revere delivered to the First Continental Congress who endorsed it on September 17, 1774. It was Doctor Warren who sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their messenger rides to Lexington on the evening of April 18, 1775.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed Doctor Joseph Warren a Major General just a few days prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill. When offered the command at Bunker Hill by Major General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott, Warren stated that he would take no command but was there with his musket to serve only as a volunteer. As the British troops gathered for their first assault on the colonists atop Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill), they were taking casualties from sniper fire coming from patriots located in Charlestown. Orders were given to fire carcasses (incendiary shot) from British ships and to send a landing party to fire the town which consisted mainly of wooden buildings. From Boston and miles around, colonists soon witnessed Charlestown in flames. The first assault by the British on the American left flank failed and the second on the redoubt (earthwork fort) itself was also unsuccessful. The British were taking significant casualties – including the loss of many officers. On a third assault, the British captured the redoubt and during this time the brave Doctor Warren was killed.
Today, the Bunker Hill Monument is positioned where the redoubt was once located. Here the patriots made their heroic stand on June 17, 1775. There is a marble statue of Major General Joseph Warren inside the lodge at the base of the monument. Across the street is the excellent Bunker Hill Museum where visitors can learn all about the history of Charlestown, the battle and monument. A short distance away on Pleasant Street stands one of the first buildings constructed after the British burned Charlestown. It is the Warren Tavern – built in 1780 – nearly 230 years ago. Visitors have included George Washington in 1789 and Paul Revere.
Teachers: Online access to the complete article on the Battle of Bunker Hill from an original issue of The Pennsylvania Evening Post dated November 21, 1775 is available to participants in our school programs. Here is a partial list of primary sources we offer (PDF).
With over 4,000 square feet of exhibit space, the Bunker Hill Museum (located just across from the monument itself) tells the story of the battle and monument in an absorbing and captivating fashion. The museum, open for just over two years, has become a popular destination for teachers making the journey over to Charlestown to see the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument. On the first floor of the museum, visitors learn about the history of Charlestown and the building of the monument through attractive displays and artifacts. The cornerstone was laid on June 17, 1825, the 50th anniversary of the battle, by honored guest Marquis de Lafayette. Senator Daniel Webster gave the address that day. From cornerstone to capstone, it took 17 years (1825-1842) to complete the project. The 221 foot high monument was dedicated on June 17, 1843 with Senator Daniel Webster again giving the oration, this time before a crowd of 100,000 people including President John Tyler.
The second floor of the museum is dedicated to the Battle of Bunker Hill which, as most of us know, was actually fought on Breed’s Hill – the site where the monument now stands. Here British troops numbering about 2,300 met colonial forces of around 1,200 commanded by Colonel William Prescott and Major General Israel Putnam. Outstanding interpretive displays designed by Wondercabinet set the stage for the battle, introduce British and patriot leaders, and take visitors through all three British assaults on colonial positions along the rail fence and earthen redoubt and breastworks. Patriot leader Doctor Joseph Warren was killed during the third assault. Above all of the displays on the second floor is a remarkable cyclorama (reproduction 19th century painting-in-the-round) showing the battle from every angle. You’ll also find artifacts including a British drum captured in the battle, and swords and cannon balls used in the fight. A better understanding of the battle is made possible through a diorama/scale model updated with an impressive sound track and light show. The Bunker Hill Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm and admission is free.