J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New Bunker Hill Visitor Center Opens Tomorrow

I was planning this entry to highlight tomorrow’s ceremonial opening of the Bunker Hill Monument’s new visitor center and museum, and lucked out in having this front-page Boston Globe story do all the reporting for me. The Globe also had a local story last weekend the trowel Lafayette used to help lay the monument’s cornerstone.

For over a century the main interpretive site at the monument has been the 1902 classically-styled lodge, and the main visual tool was a rather nice scale model of the battle—low-tech but effective. The new visitor center is a two-story building across the street from the park. That building, formerly a branch library, displays a new “cyclorama” mural of the battle by Arlington painter John S. Coles. The monument itself has a new exterior lighting scheme.

(The Globe article is off on the battle’s casualty count when it says, “The redcoats lost more than 1,000 troops, compared to about 400 dead among the colonists.” Those are the approximate figures for the dead and wounded. The British suffered 226 dead, the provincials about 160 by the end of the summer. The Battle of Bunker Hill was a victory for the British military, but more costly than any battlefield loss during the rest of the war.)

For a few days I’ll post items about the Battle of Bunker Hill, at least when I can get to a computer. As for tomorrow’s ceremony, the Boston National Historical Park events calendar says it starts at 10:00 A.M. and runs through noon. (Which is, alas, in conflict with Harmonious Blacksmith.)


Robert S. Paul said...

Something to visit when I head to Boston next month!

Anyway. you mentioned Lafayette laying the cornerstone; Was this as a Freemason?

I know he was introduced to Masonry here in the states, and there are a few paintings of Washington in his apron laying the cornerstone for the White House.

It would be interesting to read more about a Brother Mason from that era. I think he often get overshadowed by the others.

J. L. Bell said...

Freemasons were heavily involved in the ceremony to begin building the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825. There were Masonic trowels and aprons involved, I recall.

Freemasonry certainly claims Lafayette, but apparently there's no definite evidence of when or where he joined the movement. However, his name appears on Masonic documents starting from 1775. In 1825 he was on an extended tour of the U.S. of A. to avoid the high cost of living in Paris, I understand. The American people were delighted to have such a major figure of the Revolution coming to so many ceremonies, but the marquis might have shown up for the opening of an envelope.

Freemasons in Boston had built a monument to Dr. Joseph Warren on the Bunker Hill battlefield after the war was over. He had been the head of the St. Andrew's Lodge in town when he died. I believe the base of that pillar is still displayed at the current obelisk's site.

In the decade after work started on the Bunker Hill Monument, the Anti-Masonic Party flourished briefly in Northeast politics. That might have contributed to a slowdown in the building. The monument wasn't completed until 1842, and my impression is that Freemasonry wasn't so prominent in the dedication ceremony.

The Tour Marm said...

To J. L. Bell:

A clarification of why Lafayette spent sixteen months in the US:

In February of 1824, the United States by Presidential (James Monroe) and Congressional Proclamation invited Citizen Lafayette to tour the country he helped to create as a nineteen year old officer. Since he had lost most of his inheritance (and title) as a result of the French Revolution, Congress appropriated $200,000 dollars and a township of land to reward him for his patriotism. In addition to that, American citizens were to raise money through subscriptions in order to lavishly entertain him with feasts, receptions, parades, and other tributes.

A young Rober4t E. Lee was his escort in Alexandria.

Lafayette visited Jefferson twice, a year before the latter died.

The culmination of Lafayette's visit was a reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill (Breed's Hill) on its 50th anniversary.

Lafayette's portrait painted during his visit hangs in the US House of Representatives.

While I am obviously not a Freemason, I do know that Lafayette's portrait is displayed in the National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA (where I live). He had been made an honorary member of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge #22.

This leads me to believe that he was indeed a bona fide Freemason, as were many of the officers of the Continental Army. I think Freemasonry spread throughout our new republic because of these officers, which greatly influenced our nation.

J. L. Bell said...

Freemasonry seems to have been established in the major American ports before the Revolution. The war and the social disruption it produced appear to have opened up the movement to younger and less wealthy men, and it became an avenue for social connections and social mobility.

The fact that Warren, Washington, and other prominent Revolutionary leaders had been active Freemasons well before the war also made membership attractive to young officers and striving businessmen in the new republic.