This is Dedicated to Major John Pitcairn

Many of you are aware of my excessive interest in the patriot leader and Son of Liberty, Joseph Warren. In fact, the first novel in my series, Angels & Patriots, is dedicated to Dr. Joseph Warren and another man, who was not an American patriot—Major John Pitcairn.

I’m not sure at what point (or why) in my research, these men peaked my interest. Perhaps, it was because both men have largely been forgotten, yet they each played a vital role in the infancy of the Revolutionary War. I read and studied them until I felt I could make an attempt to write about them from their point of view, I perceived them as having some of the same characteristics— integrity, honesty, charm, and heroism.

Both Warren and Pitcairn were mortally wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, on June 17, 1775. Their deaths were recorded in a 1786 painting by John Trumbull – The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. This version shows the location of Warren and Pitcairn in the historically inaccurate painting.

john-trumbull-battle-of-bunker-hill

There is more information on Dr. Joseph Warren, (who died at 34) than on Major John Pitcairn (who died at 52). A biography about Warren’s life was published in 2012.

I found no dedicated writings about Pitcairn aside from resources on the internet, and a video game, Assassin’s Creed III (2012), in which Pitcairn is ultimately assassinated. Pitcairn was cast as an antagonist in the TV mini-series Sons of Liberty (2015). I wondered why he was singled out as a “bad-guy” when history describes Pitcairn as having a sense of honor and the respect of both the Loyalists and the Patriots of Boston.

After reading accounts of Pitcairn’s life, I tried to picture him as a man, not just a bunch of statistics, dates, and speculation. Ironically, there are no known likenesses of him.

John Pitcairn was baptized at St. Serf’s, Dysart, a port town in Fife, Scotland, on December 28, 1722 (Old Calendar – 1723). His date of birth is not recorded separately, so it may have been the same day.

In his early 20s, John married Elizabeth Dalrymple. Their first child, Annie, was born in Edinburgh in 1746, the year John was commissioned a Lieutenant in Cornwall’s 7th (Marines) Regiment. The couple went on to have six sons and four daughters.

The Marines were disbanded for a time and reformed on a permanent basis in 1755. John retained his lieutenancy. In the Marines, commissions were not purchased. John didn’t reach the rank of Major in the Chatham Division until 1771, at age 48. His son, William, followed him into the Marines.

In December 1774, as unrest spread in the Colony of Massachusetts, he arrived in Boston with some 600 Marines drawn from three divisions: Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. The Plymouth Marines were not properly trained, had unfit officers, had no proper weather clothing or equipment, and were undisciplined. Some of the men sold their equipment to buy rum.

Here, I saw John as a humanitarian with a sense of duty and responsibility for his marines. Not as a naive task master, but as a sensible mature man who understood that respect far out lasted threats and punishments. He found it hard to apply harsh discipline. By example and patience, he managed to drill them into shape. He lived in the barracks with his men to keep them sober and succeeded in gaining their respect.

On the night of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage ordered a handpicked assembly of 800 troops to gather on the shores of Back Bay, in Boston. Their clandestine mission was to capture rebel weapons hidden in Concord. Gage assigned Colonel Francis Smith as officer in charge, with Major Pitcairn as Smith’s second.

Pitcairn was in charge of the companies in the vanguard of Smith’s column of British regulars. These men weren’t Pitcairn’s marines; therefore, he was unfamiliar with them and their skills. When his vanguard marched into Lexington, led by Lieutenant Jessie Adair, they accidentally veered down the wrong road and marched toward Captain John Parker’s line of militiamen. Pitcairn was genuinely horrified. I tried to imagine his sense of urgency as he galloped across Lexington Green shouting for his companies in the van to halt and hold their fire.

Still, a shot rang out, and eventually eight provincials lay dead.

After the bloodshed later that day in Concord, the exhausted and frightened British troops retreated from Concord to Boston under constant rebel fire. Pitcairn tried to maintain order among the ragged ranks even after his horse was shot, forcing him to walk.

Two months later, on June 17, 1775, John Pitcairn and his marines were ordered to stand ready as reinforcements for British General William Howe’s regulars as they attempted to march on a little rebel redoubt hastily constructed on the wrong hill on the Charlestown peninsula.

I imagined Major Pitcairn and his marines as they rushed the redoubt; Pitcairn waving his bayonet at the rebels and yelling, “Now, for the glory of the Marines!” I wondered what John’s son, William, saw and thought when a rebel in the redoubt aimed his musket at his father.

Did John Pitcairn see the man who was about to mortally wound him? What were his thoughts when he realized he had been shot in the chest? I’ve read that he knew the shot was fatal, but there had to be more rushing through his mind. Legend says he fell into his son’s arms, and was bleeding so badly that William was covered in his blood.

History paints John Pitcairn as a brave sensible man even as he faced his own death. He was taken by boat back to Boston, and put to bed in a house on Prince Street. General Gage sent a loyalist town physician, Dr. Thomas Kast, to tend to Pitcairn.

John insisted that he get his affairs in order before allowing the doctor to examine him. Hours later, Dr. Kast pulled John’s waistcoat away from his wounded chest. John hemorrhaged to death. His son cried out to the marines, “I have lost my father!”

John was buried in the crypt of Christ Church, the Old North Church, in Boston. The fatal bullet and his uniform buttons were returned to his wife and children.

JohnPlaqueMajor John Pitcairn
Fatally wounded
while rallying the Royal Marines
at the Battle of Bunker Hill
was carried from the field to the boats
on the back of his son
who kissed him and returned to duty
He died June 17, 1775 and his body
was interred beneath this church

John’s birthplace, the old manse of Dysart, was demolished over a century ago. The marble plaque John erected to his parents’ memory in 1757-8 in St. Serf’s was destroyed by vandals in the early nineteenth century, after the kirk fell into ruin. As a result, until recently there was nothing to commemorate John in his hometown.

DysartPlaque

In October, my husband and I are taking a return trip to Boston. We shall pay our respects to Major John Pitcairn.

Resources

  1. http://www.silverwhistle.co.uk/lobsters/pitcairn.html
  2. http://colonialamericans.weebly.com/major-john-pitcairn.html
  3. http://drbenjaminchurchjr.blogspot.com/2011/12/major-john-pitcairn.html
  4. Painting of “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” by John Trumbull the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
  5. Borneman, Walter R. American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to RevolutionNew York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print.
  6. Hand-colored engraving described as “The shooting of Major
    Pitcairn (who had shed the first blood at Lexington) by the
    colored soldier Salem.” Courtesy of J. L. Bell

 

 

 

From Life to Legend: Dr. Joseph Warren 1741 – 1775

“Even in this unfortunate event he has served his country, for he has taught the sons of Freedom in America, that the laurel may be engrafted upon the cypress, and that true glory may be acquired not only in the arms of victory, but in the arms of death.”

~~ A eulogy for Joseph Warren published in Philadelphia; 1775 (author unknown).

The Day: perhaps the decisive day is come on which the fate of American depends. My bursting heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his country-saying better to die honourably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the gallows. Great is our loss…and the tears of multitudes pay tribute to his memory…

~~Abigail Adams in a letter to her husband, John Adams: June 1775

On June 11, we celebrated Dr. Joseph Warren’s 276th birthday. Happy 276th Birthday Dr. Joseph Warren  Today is the 242nd anniversary of his death at Bunker Hill.

For this tribute, we will join Joseph Warren in the months that comprised his swan song: April – June 1775.

In early April 1775, after the adjournment of the Provincial Congress in Concord, John Hancock and Samuel Adams didn’t return to Boston for fear they would be arrested or hung. Instead, the two leaders of the American rebellion, sheltered at the home of Reverend Jonas Clarke in Lexington.

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Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, MA

Joseph ran a spy ring for the Sons of Liberty out of his home medical office. On the evening of April 18, he received word from one of his informants that, under orders from British General Thomas Gage, troops were assembling on the shore of Back Bay. Gage’s troops were readying to march to Concord, where a stockpile of rebel armaments was stored.

Joseph knew the armaments in Concord had been well-hidden or moved in early April; therefore, weapons were not his primary concern. He feared for John Hancock’s and Samuel Adams’ lives if the British discovered them hiding in Lexington. Joseph summoned Paul Revere and William Dawes to his home on Hanover Street in Boston, and then dispatched them to warn Hancock and Adams, and the countryside that the British regulars were out.

On the morning of April 19, Joseph received news of fighting in Lexington. He slipped out of Boston, and made his way to Menotomy to attend a Committee of Safety meeting. During the meeting, messengers came and went, delivering the latest news.

Afterward, Joseph fought alongside General William Heath. Heath and his men fired on the British as they retreated to Boston along what is now called Battle Road. Joseph was nearly killed when a musket ball hit a pin in his hair.

Despite his unabashed courage, Joseph knew the gallows awaited him if he returned to Boston. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, he lodged at Hastings House in Cambridge, close to the Provincial Congress and Committee of Safety meetings.  With John Hancock and Samuel Adams soon to depart for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Joseph had emerged as the de facto leader of what a militia captain described as “the intended revolution”. [1]

On April 20, under the auspices of the Committee of Safety, Joseph issued a colony-wide, almost threatening, circular letter urging men to enlist in the provincial army. He wrote, “Death and devastation are the instant consequences of delay . . .” [2]

A few weeks later, Joseph was elected to the loftiest political position of the rebellion—president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. As president, he also presided over the Provincial Congress’ various committees.

In late April, Captain Benedict Arnold told Joseph and the Committee of Safety there was a stockpile of aging cannons in the poorly guarded Ft. Ticonderoga. The committee sent Arnold, equipped with two hundred pounds of valuable rebel gunpowder, to confiscate the cannons. It was a portent of what was to come.

benedict arnold
Colonel Benedict Arnold

Several skirmishes erupted between the British and the Americans, leaving the store of rebel gunpowder severely depleted. Joseph, General Artemas Ward, and Moses Gill, the chairman of the Committee of Supplies, sent a plea to New York to send as much gunpowder as they could spare. The supply never arrived.

By June 15, it was clear that the British were about to make a preemptive strike on Roxbury, Dorchester, and Charlestown. Joseph, who now held a major general’s commission, and the Committee of Safety decided that the provincial army must make a preemptive move of their own despite the shortage of gunpowder.

At 9:00 p.m. on Friday, June 16, nearly one thousand provincial soldiers under the command of Colonel William Prescott assembled on the common in Cambridge opposite Hastings House. Joseph was not among them as they marched toward Charlestown. General Israel Putnam and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Gridley, commander of an artillery regiment, joined Colonel Prescott just outside of Charlestown Neck.

Colonel Prescott and his men commenced building a redoubt on the Charlestown peninsula under the cover of night. The Committee of Safety’s order was to build a redoubt on Bunker Hill, but by mistake Prescott and his men built the redoubt on an unnamed (later called Breed’s Hill) hill closer to Boston.

Joseph was nowhere to be found on the morning of June 17. There are speculative reasons for his absence, but what is clear is that Joseph suffered from a sick headache that afternoon. Around 3:00 pm his former medical apprentice, Dr. David Townsend, arrived at Hastings House with the news that the men on Bunker Hill were being fired upon by the British.

After Joseph donned his elegant wedding suit, he and David made their way to Charlestown Neck. David stayed to care for men who had been wounded in the battle. Joseph went on to Bunker Hill. He encountered General Putnam. Putnam relinquished his command to major general Joseph Warren, but Joseph refused saying that his commission was not finalized, and he had come to fight as a volunteer.

180px-WarrenPutnam
Joseph Warren (right) offering to serve General Israel Putnam as a volunteer.

When Joseph entered the redoubt, Colonel Prescott and his 150 exhausted men, raised a cheer of Huzza! Huzza! The sight of their leader joining the fight invigorated them. Like Putnam, Prescott relinquished his command to Joseph, and again Joseph refused saying that he had come to fight as a volunteer.

The rebels had, thus far, repelled the British regulars. What ended the American resistance was neither lack of courage nor unstoppable British resolve. It was the depleted supply of rebel gunpowder. The British regulars, grenadiers, and marines swarmed the redoubt. The rebels tried to make their last stand by swinging their muskets or throwing rocks at the British. Colonel Prescott ordered a retreat.

Joseph was one of the last remaining men in the redoubt. There has been much debate about what happened next. What is known is that Joseph was shot, at close range, in the face just below his left eye, and probably by someone who recognized him. His biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman, wrote that Joseph would have died instantly, unlike the scene depicted in John Trumble’s painting, “The Death of General Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill”.

The_death_of_general_warren_at_the_battle_of_bunker_hill
The Death of General Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill

The British stripped Joseph of his fine clothes, mutilated his body, and buried him in a shallow grave with a farmer. Exactly who and when Joseph’s body was mutilated has been lost to lore. His youngest brother, Dr. John Warren, attempted to find Joseph’s body, but he was stopped by British sentries at Charlestown Neck.

Joseph’s body wasn’t recovered until after the Siege of Boston ended in March 1776. The corpse was badly decomposed. Paul Revere identified him by a tooth he had made for Joseph.

Joseph Warren shouldn’t have been on the battlefield that day. The people needed him to lead the patriotic movement. They needed him as a friend, brother, and physician. His four children were orphaned.

Dr. Joseph Warren sacrificed his life for liberty, and in doing so, became America’s first martyr. His death encouraged the people of a nation yet to born, to keep fighting despite their grief. It’s what he would have done.

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Grave of Joseph Warren in Forest Hills Cemetery

Resources:

Painting of “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” by John Trumbull the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Forman, Samuel A.  Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty.  2012:  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2626357/ Dr. Joseph Warren: leader in medicine, politics, and revolution. George C. Wildrick, MSSM, MBA

Massachusetts Gate pic

[1] (Philbrick pg 163)

[2] (Philbrick pg 163)

10 Interesting Facts About the Sons of Liberty and other American Patriots

In honor of my novel in progress, which I’ve finally given the working title Angels & Patriots Book One: The Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill, I offer you 10 interesting facts about 10 patriots.

John Hancock was raised by his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Lydia Hancock, after his father died when John was a boy of seven.

John Adams was the defense lawyer for the British soldiers who were put on trial for the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were acquitted.

Dr. Joseph Warren became the situational leader of the patriotic cause. He dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to spread the alarm that the British were on the move the night of April 18, 1775.

Samuel Adams was uninterested in money. He failed as a tax collector and neglected his father’s brewery.

Paul Revere rode to spread the alarm and deliver news for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress throughout New England on many, many occasions other than the night of April 18, 1775.

Dr. Benjamin Church, a trusted compatriot of the Sons of Liberty, was a spy for British General Thomas Gage.

Benedict Arnold donated $500 to the education of Dr. Joseph Warren’s children after Warren died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Israel Putnam was the leader of the Connecticut branch of the Sons of Liberty.

Dr. Samuel Prescott was the man who carried the alarm to Concord that the British were on the move, after Paul Revere and William Dawes were detained by a British patrol in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775.

Abigail Adams urged her husband, John, to take women’s rights into consideration if and when the colonies gained independence. “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment [promote] a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

To read a description of Angels & Patriots: A Novella and get your free download, go to my website salinabbaker.com

OR

Bunker Hill Monument: The Massachusetts Gate

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If you ask someone to name one person who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the answer will probably be a blank stare. If you ask someone to name two Americans who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, you will probably get the same blank stare as an answer.

The answer to both questions is clearly etched in the granite of the Massachusetts Gate at the Charlestown entrance to the Bunker Hill Monument. Sadly, most people don’t recognize either name and, therefore, dismiss both. I did the same.

Then, I began research on the political climate in and around Boston in early 1775 for a novel I’m writing. I discovered a man who was the situational leader of the Sons of Liberty at the time Bunker Hill happened in June 1775 – Dr. Joseph Warren. He stepped into my novel as a major character.

I also researched and wrote in detail about the Battle of Bunker Hill (arguably Breed’s Hill) and the man who led that brave American fight, Colonel William Prescott. If Prescott has any fame, it would be for the order he issued to his men as the British regulars marched toward their redoubt. With their gunpowder supply dwindling, Prescott ordered, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

When Dr. Joseph Warren arrived at the battle, Colonel Prescott offered to relinquish command to Warren, who possessed an uncommissioned major generalship. Warren demurred stating that he had come as a volunteer to help where he could. Warren was shot at close range in the face, as the American’s retreated from their redoubt. He died instantly and became the first martyr of the American Revolution.

When I pursued my personal pictures from a trip to Boston in 2013, I was surprised to find that I had taken pictures of the Massachusetts Gate. What was more surprising was the only two names on the gate – Colonel William Prescott and Dr. Joseph Warren.

BTW, Paul Revere did not participate in the battle as portrayed in the mini-series The Sons of Liberty (although I loved the series). The character they were depicting was actually Colonel William Prescott, and he did not have a horse.