Friday, May 10, 2013

Abigail Adams and John Quincy Adams on the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Battle of Bunker Hill – Watching the fight from Copp’s Hill, in Boston. By Winslow Homer. Wikimedia.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 18-20, 1775. Massachusetts Historical Society. Also here.

Sunday June 18, 1775

Dearest Friend

The Day; perhaps the decisive Day is come on which the fate of America depends. My bursting Heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear Friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his Country—saying better to die honourably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the Gallows. Great is our Loss. He has distinguished himself in every engagement, by his courage and fortitude, by animating the Soldiers and leading them on by his own example. A particuliar account of these dreadful, but I hope Glorious Days will be transmitted you, no doubt in the exactest manner.

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Trust in him at all times, ye people pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us.—Charlstown is laid in ashes. The Battle began upon our intrenchments upon Bunkers Hill, a Saturday morning about 3 o clock and has not ceased yet and tis now 3 o'clock Sabbeth afternoon.

Tis expected they will come out over the Neck to night, and a dreadful Battle must ensue. Almighty God cover the heads of our Country men, and be a shield to our Dear Friends. How [many ha]ve fallen we know not—the constant roar of the cannon is so [distre]ssing that we can not Eat, Drink or Sleep. May we be supported and sustaind in the dreadful conflict. I shall tarry here till tis thought unsafe by my Friends, and then I have secured myself a retreat at your Brothers who has kindly offerd me part of his house. I cannot compose myself to write any further at present. I will add more as I hear further.

Tuesday afternoon [20 June]

I have been so much agitated that I have not been able to write since Sabbeth day. When I say that ten thousand reports are passing vague and uncertain as the wind I believe I speak the Truth. I am not able to give you any authentick account of last Saturday, but you will not be destitute of inteligence. Coll. Palmer has just sent me word that he has an opportunity of conveyance. Incorrect as this scrawl will be, it shall go. I wrote you last Saturday morning. In the afternoon I received your kind favour of the 2 june, and that you sent me by Captn. Beals at the same time.—I ardently pray that you may be supported thro the arduous task you have before you. I wish I could contradict the report of the Doctors Death, but tis a lamentable Truth, and the tears of multitudes pay tribute to his memory. Those favorite lines [of] Collin continually sound in my Ears

How sleep the Brave who sink to rest,
By all their Countrys wishes blest?
When Spring with dew'ey fingers cold
Returns to deck their Hallowed mould
She their shall dress a sweeter Sod
Than fancys feet has ever trod.
By fairy hands their knell is rung
By forms unseen their Dirge is sung
Their [There] Honour comes a pilgrim grey
To Bless the turf that wraps their Clay
And freedom shall a while repair
To Dwell a weeping Hermit there.

I rejoice in the prospect of the plenty you inform me of, but cannot say we have the same agreable veiw here. The drought is very severe, and things look but poorly.

Mr. Rice and Thaxter, unkle Quincy, Col. Quincy, Mr. Wibert all desire to be rememberd, so do all our family. Nabby will write by the next conveyance.

I must close, as the Deacon w[aits.] I have not pretended to be perticuliar with regard to what I have heard, because I know you will collect better intelligence. The Spirits of the people are very good. The loss of Charlstown affects them no more than a Drop in the Bucket.—I am Most sincerely yours,


John Quincy Adams’s account of the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The third page of his manuscript letter to Joseph Sturge.

John Quincy Adams to Joseph Sturge, March 1846. Excerpt. Massachusetts Historical Society. Also here. Full manuscript of letter here.

The year 1775 was the eighth year of my age – Among the first fruits of the War, was the expulsion of my father’s family from their peaceful abode in Boston, to take refuge in his and my native town of Braintree – Boston became a walled and beleaguered town – garrisoned by British Grenadiers with Thomas Gage their commanding General, commissioned Governor of the Province – For the space of twelve months my mother with her infant children dwelt, liable every hour of the day and of the night to be butchered in cold blood, or taken and carried into Boston as hostages, by any foraging or marauding detachment of men, like that actually sent forth on the 19th. Of April, to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams on their way to attend the continental Congress at Philadelphia – My father was separated from his family, on his way to attend the same continental Congress, and there my mother, with her children lived in unintermitted danger of being consumed with them all in a conflagration kindled by a torch in the same hands which on the 17th. Of June lighted the fires of Charlestown – I saw with my own eyes those fires, and heard Britannia’s thunders in the Battle of Bunker’s hill and witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled with them my own, at the fall of Warren a dear friend of my father, and a beloved Physician to me. He had been our family physician and surgeon, and had saved my fore finger from amputation under a very bad fracture – Even in the days of heathen and conquering Rome the Laureate of Augustus Caesar tells us that wars were detested by Mothers – Even by Roman mothers. . . . My mother was the daughter of a Christian Clergyman and therefore bred in the faith of deliberate detestation of War. . . . Yet in that same Spring and Summer of 1775 she taught me to repeat daily after the Lord’s prayer, before rising from bed the Ode of Collins, on the patriot warriors who fell in the War to subdue the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

How sleep the brave, who sink to rest. . . . [Here follows the rest of Collins’ “Ode,” with a single word misquoted.]

Of the impression made upon my heart by the sentiments inculcated in these beautiful effusions of patriotism and poetry, you may form an estimate by the fact that now, seventy one years after they were thus taught me, I repeat them from memory without reference to the book.

John Quincy Adams in 1843
Abigail Adams in 1766