During the nighttime hours of June 17, 1775, cannon explosions in the distance awoke John Quincy Adams and his mother Abigail. John Quincy was only eight years of age, the eldest son of John Adams, who was then a delegate in Philadelphia at the Second Continental Congress. The night of terror with the British troops attacking the Patriots on Bunker Hill in Boston seared memories of terror in the young Adams child. Over 70 years later, he wrote about the incident and that frightening time in their lives.
He penned the recollections of his family’s expulsion from Boston the year before, taking refuge in their Braintree farm. He described Boston as a “walled and beleaguered town,” under the control of the British under General Thomas Gage. For twelve months John Quincy, his mother and siblings lived on their farm in the fear that Gage’s troops would invade the homes in the countryside and butcher them “in cold blood.” With his father gone, the burden on John Quincy must have seemed overwhelming.
And then on June 17, their fears were flamed anew with the roar of guns and cannons in the distance:
“…on the 17th. Of June lighted the fires of Charlestown -- I saw with my own eyes those fires, and heard Britannia's thunders in the Battle of Bunker's hill and witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled with them my own, at the fall of Warren a dear friend of my father, and a beloved Physician to me. He had been our family physician and surgeon, and had saved my fore finger from amputation under a very bad fracture.” (Massachusetts Historical Society)
Dr. Joseph Warren was known to John Quincy as his family physician. But to the Revolutionaries in Massachusetts, Warren had become a major leader in the Patriot cause. According to Nathaniel Philbrick in Bunker Hill:
“Over the course of the two critical months between the outbreak of hostilities at Lexington Green and the Battle of Bunker Hill, he (Warren) became the most influential patriot leader in the province of Massachusetts…While his more famous compatriots John Adams, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams were in Philadelphia at the Second Continental Congress, Warren was orchestrating the on-the-ground reality of a revolution.”
|John Quincy Adams|
For John Quincy Adams, the Battle of Bunker Hill became a personal loss, one from which he never seemed to completely recover. According to Philbrick, “Even after John Quincy Adams had grown into adulthood and become a public figure, he refused to attend all anniversary celebrations of the Battle Of Bunker Hill.”
The memory must have been far too painful, even for a future President of the United States.
Video from John Adams
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When I was a girl I walked up the 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, the granite edifice that memorializes this famous battle of the American Revolution. You can still visit the monument, but the stairs are currently closed for repairs. For more information on the Bunker Hill Museum, click here.
Admission is free.
Elaine Marie Cooper grew up in Massachusetts, visiting the sites where the American Revolution began. You can read her historical fiction about the opening days of that war in Fields of the Fatherless.