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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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Delia Jarvis and the Battle of Bunker Hill

In The Life of James Otis, of Massachusetts (1823), William Tudor, Jr., included this anecdote about the Battle of Bunker Hill in a footnote:
The anxiety and various emotions of the people of Boston, on this occasion, had a highly dramatic kind of interest. Those who sided with the British troops began to see even in the duration of this battle, the possibility that they had taken the wrong side, and that they might become exiles from their country. While those whose whole soul was with their countrymen, were in dreadful apprehension for their friends, in a contest, the severity of which was shewn by the destruction of so many of their enemies.

After the battle had continued for some time, a young person living in Boston, possessed of very keen and generous feelings, bordering a little perhaps on the romantic, as was natural to her age, sex, and lively imagination, finding that many of the wounded troops brought over from the field of action were carried by her residence, mixed a quantity of refreshing beverage, and with a female domestic by her side, stood at the door and offered it to the sufferers as they were borne along, burning with fever and parched with thirst.

Several of them grateful for the kindness, gave her, as they thought, consolation, by assuring her of the destruction of her countrymen. One young officer said, “never mind it my brave young lady, we have peppered ’em well, depend upon it.” Her dearest feelings, deeply interested in the opposite camp, were thus unintentionally lacerated, while she was pouring oil and wine into their wounds.
This week I came across more versions of that anecdote which reveal that the “young person living in Boston” was Tudor’s own mother. A granddaughter later wrote that said she had not just given drink to the soldiers but also “had them brought in and attended and comforted as best she could.”

All the while, this young woman, born Delia Jarvis, was reportedly worrying for her future husband, the young lawyer William Tudor, who was with the provincial army. Delia Tudor would outlive her husband and son and see the Bunker Hill Monument dedicated in 1843.

According to the introductory material in Deacon Tudor’s Diary (1896), yet another book published by the same family, the “refreshing beverage” that Jarvis gave to the soldiers was tea. I wouldn’t have guessed that from the description.

TOMORROW: Another detail left out of the 1823 anecdote.

(The picture above is one of several from the late 1800s that show Bostonians anxiously watching the Battle of Bunker Hill across the Charles River. This example appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1875 and comes courtesy of the Boston Public Library and Wikipedia.)


JJ said...

Back in September, I made the trip to Boston from NYC to specifically see the Bunker Hill Monument, Battle of Lexington and Concord sites, Dorchester Heights Monument (cab driver had a rough time with that one) and Washington's Headquarters in Cambridge.

Bunker Hill had a very nice museum and historic site. Nice neighborhood too. And walkable from downtown.

J. L. Bell said...

The Bunker Hill Museum is relatively new and has helped reinvigorate the site of the monument. Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters also has a new focus on the 1775-76 period.

Dorchester Heights is indeed harder to get to, and it offers less once you’re there. It’s not part of the National Park Service or the Freedom Trail so it sees fewer visitors. But maybe there’s a way to reenergize that site as well.

Charles Bahne said...

Dorchester Heights is indeed part of the National Park Service, John, although you're correct that the interpretive options are few. NPS does sponsor some special events there each year.

J. L. Bell said...

Whoops, thanks for the correction. I knew there were events there, but the patchwork of federal, local, and private sites linked to Boston N.H.P. confused me.

JJ said...

It was a heck of an expensive cab ride to and fro. What struck me is that many of the local Park Service employees at Longfellow House and Bunker Hill had never been there a single time. Maybe that's the equivalent of a local NYC NPS employee never having been to Fort Greene in Brooklyn which is an impressive site if you can find it and if you take the time to go.

G. Lovely said...

Lat month some improvements were actually started at Dorchester Heights. Doesn't sound like anything extensive, but anything will help.



J. L. Bell said...

It's a sign of the status of Dorchester Heights in the culture here that that news article appeared in a local section of the paper, not as news for the whole region.

The staff at Longfellow-Washington are relatively new to Boston, but I know they're not alone among folks here who love local history but haven't been to Dorchester Heights. It's not in the way to anywhere unless you're already going to Dorchester, and (like Bunker Hill, to be fair) it's hard to get a sense of the historical event that happened there because the topography and settlement of the area has changed so much.

I commend your dedication, John!

Charles Bahne said...

If I recall correctly, Dorchester Heights was part of the NPS system -- a National Historic Site -- even before Boston National Historical Park was created in 1974. With the creation of Boston NHP, Dorchester Heights became a part of the larger entity.

About 30 years ago, in the early 1980s, NPS did have a couple of staff members permanently assigned to the Heights; the city gave them some office space in an old fire station nearby, and the rangers did a lot of school programs in the neighborhood.