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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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two Swords from the Battle of Bunker Hill

It’s that time of year, when Boston 1775’s thoughts turn to the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June.

Boston Magazine’s website just featured one of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s most striking artifacts of that fight: the crossed swords of Col. William Prescott of the Massachusetts army and Capt. John Linzee of the Royal Navy:
Both men figured prominently in the battle—Linzee’s ship fired upon Prescott’s men—and their weapons were passed down through their respective families. Nearly 50 years after the conflict, the bitterness of war gave way to the power of love when Prescott’s grandson—William H. Prescott—married Susan Amory, a descendant of Linzee.
The merchant John Rowe listed the guests at his niece Susannah Inman’s marriage to Capt. Linzee on 1 Sept 1772. According to The Linzee Family of Great Britain and the United States of America, the Linzees had a daughter they named Hannah Rowe Linzee, who married Thomas Coffin Amory. That couple’s child Susannah married the historian William H. Prescott, who bequeathed the swords to the society in 1859.

Another Linzee granddaughter, born Elizabeth Tilden Linzee, married James Sullivan Warren, a grandson of Dr. John Warren and great-nephew of Dr. Joseph Warren, who died at Bunker Hill. And a Linzee great-granddaughter married a grandson of Paul Revere.

The Rev. Nathaniel Frothingham missed the M.H.S. meeting when those swords arrived, but he was nonetheless inspired to write this poem about them:
The Crossed Swords
Transferred from Mr. Prescott’s Library to that of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Swords crossed,—but not in strife!
The chiefs who drew them, parted by the space
Of two proud countries’ quarrel, face to face
Ne’er stood for death or life.

Swords crossed, that never met
While nerve was in the hands that wielded them;
Hands better destined a fair family stem
On these free shores to set.

Kept crossed by gentlest bands!
Emblems no more of battle, but of peace;
And proofs how loves can grow and wars can cease,
Their once stern symbol stands.

It smiled first on the array
Of marshalled books and friendliest companies;
And here, a history among histories,
It still shall smile for aye.

See that thou memory keep
Of him, the firm commander; and that other,
The stainless judge; and him, our peerless brother,—
All fallen now asleep.

Yet more: a lesson teach,
To cheer the patriot-soldier in his course,
That Right shall triumph o’er insolent Force:
That be your silent speech.

Oh, be prophetic too!
And may those nations twain, as sign and seal
Of endless amity, hang up their steel,
As we these weapons do!

The archives of the Past,
So smeared with blots of hate and bloody wrong,
Pining for peace, and sick to wait so long,
Hail this meek cross at last.

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