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).