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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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Memory of Peter Brown after Bunker Hill

Coming back to the Battle of Bunker Hill, one of our very best accounts of the event comes from an American soldier from a Westford company named Peter Brown. On 25 June 1775 Brown sent a detailed description of that fight to his mother. That document is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which offers a digitized version for everyone.

I quoted from Peter Brown’s letter in 2011, adding (based on the M.H.S.’s page about him) that we have few other details of his life beyond this document.

In February of this year a commenter dubbed lifford gave me a pointer to a history of Lunenburg which has more to say about Peter Brown. So I used that tip, and of course Google Books, to get beyond the common name “Peter Brown” and find more information.

It appears that Brown’s letter first appeared in print in the June 1875 issue of Potter’s American Monthly. A correspondent from Belfast, Maine, named John L. Locke prefaced the document this way:
The original of the following letter, rusty with age and worn by frequent handling, has the following address on its back: Mrs. Sarah Brown, Newport, Rhode-Island. The writer of the letter was Peter Brown, son of Wm. Brown, of Newport, R.I. He was married to Miss Olive Dinsmore, of Boylston, Mass., Oct. 24, 1781. At the close of the Revolution, in 1783, Mr. and Mrs. Brown went to Lunenburg, Mass., and in the locality known as “Flat Hill” commenced house-keeping operations. His grandson, Wm. Lifford Brown, now occupies the place. Of their 8 children, 4 were sons, and 4 were daughters. Mr. Brown died in Lunenburg, July 15, 1829, aged 76 years. He and all his family except one who died in Boston, were buried in the South Cemetery in Lunenburg.

The original letter, of which this is an exact copy, is now in possession of Mrs. Charlotte Lewis, of Lunenburg, who is a lineal descendant of Peter Brown, the writer.
Later that year the New England Historical Genealogical Society reprinted Brown’s letter and Locke’s preface in an appendix to a collection of Centennial Orations Commemorative of the Opening Events of the American Revolution. That publication was mostly a reprint from the society’s Register in 1875, but the Brown letter was added to the appendix late and therefore never got included or indexed with the Register volumes. Only 275 copies of the standalone collection with the letter were printed.

Then we come to lifford’s source, George A. Cunningham’s “History of the Town of Lunenburg.” Cunningham died in 1875, so he must have prepared that genealogical study before the publications above, but his work was never published. Until recently it appears to have existed only as a typescript at the Lunenburg Historical Society.

Then a grant allowed the society to digitize the document, and it’s now available (with a poor O.C.R. transcription) through archive.org. As pages 97-98 show, Brown served in various town and church offices in Lunenburg after the war. He and his wife Olive had eight children (the youngest of which I see was named Lifford).

Finally, Find-a-Grave has catalogued Peter and Olive Brown’s grave, as shown above. Its inscription reads:
In memory of
Mr. Peter Brown,
who died July 15, 1829,
Æt. 76.

In memory of
Mrs. Olive,
wife of Mr. Peter Brown,
who died April 20, 1828,
Æt. 70.

He was a soldier in the revolution,
was one of those who persued
the British in their retreat from
Concord to Boston, was in the
Battle on Bunker’s Hill. He was an
honest man and a devoted Christian.

She was a faithful wife,
an affectionate Mother,
and a sincere Christian.

Their surviving children, William & Mary,
have erected this stone to the memory
of their Parents.

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