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 29, 2014

Dr. Richard Hope’s “great contusion”

A month ago I was in London, visiting the British Library and the National Archives (as well as friends).

One set of documents I looked at in the latter institution was a collection of fifteen letters from Dr. Richard Hope, surgeon attached to His Majesty’s 52nd Regiment of Foot from 1756 to 1776.

These are private letters, and there’s no official reason for them to have been deposited in the National Archives. It looks like a man who worked in the Public Record Office from 1866 to 1912 once owned the letters and simply left them there. Their catalogue designation is PRO 30/39/1.

So far as I can tell from Google, only one author has cited Hope’s letters: Geoffrey L. Hudson in a study of British military medicine in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This, therefore, might be the first time anyone’s quoted the doctor’s account of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Almost a month after the fight, on 12 July, Dr. Hope sat down to write to one of his relatives “at Eastcot near Harrow on the Hill” in Ruislip. He began:
When you read in the Papers an account of the late battle on Charlestown hights it will give you satisfaction to get intelligence that I am in the land of the living. I could not escape quite scot free, but being obliged to advance in the very front of the works I had a hair breadth escape of being shot thro’ the thigh. Luckily for me the ball struck on a large bunch of keys that I had that day contrary to custom put into my breeches pocket, which changed the line of direction: one of the keys was almost buried in my thigh and occasioned a great contusion that makes me very lame; yet I quitted not the field nor missed any part of my duty.
TOMORROW: Dr. Richard Hope describes the battle.

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