Yesterday I quoted a gentleman in Machias, Maine, quoting Col. William Prescott on “The first man who fell in the battle of Bunker Hill.” A similar anecdote appeared in Samuel Swett’s lengthy essay on the battle, first published as an appendix in an 1818 edition of David Humphreys’s biography of Gen. Israel Putnam:
This fire [from H.M.S. Somerset] was for some time without effect, but the men venturing in front of the works, one of them was killed by a cannon shot. A subaltern informed Col. Prescott, and inquired of him what should be done. “Bury him,” he was told.—Swett later published this essay as a standalone book, and in that edition he named his source:
“What,” said the astonished officer, “without prayers!” A chaplain, who was present, insisted on performing service over this first victim, and collected many of the soldiers around him, heedless of peril.
Prescott ordered them to disperse; but religious enthusiasm prevailing, the chaplain again collected his congregation, when the deceased was ordered to be taken and buried in the ditch. At this time a number of the men went off and never returned.
We did so [printed the anecdote] on the authority of Col. Prescott himself, and one of his Capts. as reported to us by Hon. Wm. Prescott, of Boston, the only son of Col. Prescott, and who has ever worthily supported the honour of his name.So both versions of the story come ultimately from Col. Prescott. They apparently reached print through different routes, with slightly different details. I think in the end they basically confirm each other.
TOMORROW: Who was that first American casualty at Bunker Hill?