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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Sunday, June 16, 2019

An Archive about Commemorating Bunker Hill

The Raab Collection is offering for sale an archive of documents collected by the Bunker-Hill Memorial Association as it built the monument in Charlestown and commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Raab Collection webpage says the collection was “assembled in the 1870s” and refers to “George Washington Warren’s binding.” Warren (1813-1883) wrote The History of the Bunker Hill Monument Association in 1877, having been a mayor of Charlestown.

Most of the documents appear to be about promoting and planning the Bunker Hill Monument, even including budget estimates. That stone tower was the project of the generation that came after the Revolutionaries, in many cases literally. The leading voice was William Tudor, Jr., son of the first Judge Advocate General of the Continental Army. The engineer was Loammi Baldwin, Jr., son of the officer who oversaw the northern edge of Boston harbor during the siege.

The association also organized the commemoration of 1825. The Marquis de Lafayette came to Boston to help lay the tower’s cornerstone. Daniel Webster delivered an oration, just as he would nearly two decades later when the stone obelisk was finally finished. Both men are represented in the archive. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison couldn’t come, but they sent letters included here.

The volume includes some first-person accounts of the battle, such as a short statement by Robert Steele about his experience as a provincial drummer:
I Robert Steele of Dedham in the County of Norfolk… Listed 17 days before Bunker Hill fight in Col [Ephraim] Doolittle’s Regiment. After Major Mores [Willard Moore] was wounded, I was ordered down the hill to get some run [rum] to dress his wounds with Benjamin Blood. When we got to the shop the man was down cellar to keep out of the way of the shots which were fired from the gun boats that lay in the river. He asked who was there we told him our errand he then said take whatever you want. We delivered some rum and ran back as soon a possible but before we had time to reach spot they were retreating.
I quoted a longer telling from Steele back here. Note that that letter rendered his companion’s name as Benjamin Ballard, not Benjamin Blood; Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors agrees with the former. The picture of Steele’s letter in the archive show he was also asking for money since he’d lost his pension for not being poor enough.

I’d be pleasantly surprised if there are detailed new accounts from veterans in this collection. Warren’s history and the Raab Collection would no doubt highlight those. Rather, it’s about the effort to memorialize the event.

At least one collection of such accounts did come out the semicentennial event as historians swarmed over the old soldiers who attended. I’ll discuss what happened to that archive in this year’s run of postings on the history and memory of Bunker Hill.

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