A Few Prescott Anecdotes

These are just some things I liked… Stories about Prescott.

Before we get to them, allow me a brief digression.

The dogged pursuit of names and dates and places of birth in genealogy really couldn’t interest me less. Taken on their own, they’re about as tantalizing as grocery receipts. Maybe a little more, but not much.

However, they do serve a purpose… And that purpose is not entirely dissimilar from the scaffolding material scientists and marine activists drop into the ocean to encourage the rebirth of coral reefs. Put the armatures in, and, the hope is, the life will find its way back.

It’s recollections like the ones below that are for me the living, breathing, color-filled reef of family history research…

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Photographs, here and below, are of the statue of Prescott at the Bunker Hill Monument.

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from the Prescott Memorial, pp. 58-9, footnotes,

 

Dr. Oliver Prescott, Jr., who was a nephew of Colonel William Prescott, and intimate in his family, and who was a young man at the time of the Revolution, had frequently heard his uncle, the colonel, relate a variety of anecdotes and incidents in his experience while in the army. He subsequently wrote sketches of the three brothers, (to wit) his father, Dr. Oliver, senior, and his uncles, Colonel William and Judge James, for his own use and amusement and that of his family, in which be has recorded many interesting anecdotes and incidents in their lives and experi­ence riot hitherto published, all of Which he saw or beard them relate. These sketches are now in the possession of his daughter, Miss Harriet Prescott of Cambridge, Mass., from which she has very kindly permitted the following extracts to be selected:

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On the morning of the battle, Governor Gage, the British Commander, viewed the American Works from an elevated position in Boston (Copp’s Hill), and called upon the Tory refugees to see if they knew the commanding officer. Abijah Willard, a mandamus  councilor, whose wife was a sister to Colonel Prescott, having viewed the works with a glass, informed Gage that he knew the commander well. ‘It is my brother-in-law, Prescott.’ ‘Will he fight?’ asked Gage. ‘Yes,’ replied Willard ‘That man will fight Hell and if his men are like him you will have a bloody work, to-day.’

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The command of the detachment sent to Bunker Hill has by some writers been stated to have been given to General Putnam, but it appears that General Putnam was not in the redoubt during any part of the action. He came into the intrenchments that morning some time before the action commenced and ordered a division of the men to carry away the intrenching tools from the works that they might not be taken by the enemy, and at the same time he engaged to send these men back together with a reinforcement. But the men did not return nor was a reinforcement sent. Colonel Prescott met General Putnam, after the action, near Charlestown neck, and inquired the cause of his failing to fulfill his engagement. General Putnam replied, ‘I could not make the dogs go.’ Colonel Prescott then stated ‘If you had said to them come, you would have found men enough.’ This state­ment (writes Dr. O. Prescott, Jr.) I received from Colonel Prescott, himself, who never forgave Putnam for this breach of promise. Dr. Prescott states that several other officers who were in that action gave the same account of Putnam’s conduct on that day.

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The breast work or redoubt was only constructed of such earth as the party had thrown up after the middle of the night and was not more than breast high to a man of medium height. Colonel Prescott being a very tall man, six feet and two er three inches in height, his head and shoulders and a considerable portion of his body must have been exposed during the whole engagement. He wore a three-cornered cocked hat and a ban-yan or calico coat. His clothing was repeatedly spattered with the blood and the brains of the killed and wounded. Colonel Prescott did not leave the redoubt until many of the enemy had taken possession of it. They made numerous attempts to pierce his body with their bayonets, all of which he dexterously parried with his sword, and he escaped without a wound. The writer (Dr. O. Prescott, Jr.) saw the waistcoat and the banyan coat after the engagement, and they had several holes pierced by the bayonets of the British in their attempts at his life.

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The following anecdote the writer had from Colonel Prescott himself: While stationed with his regiment near New York in 1776, the out guards brought in a British deserter. As they approached the camp the deserter observed to the guards, ‘that officer yonder is Colonel Prescott.’ The guard informed the Colonel of the fact. ‘How came you to know me?’ inquired Colonel Prescott. ‘I saw you on Bunker Hill, replied the soldier, ‘and recollected you immediately.’ ‘Why did you not kill me at that time?’ asked Colonel Prescott. ‘ I tried my best,’ said the soldier ‘I took deliberate aim at you more than once when I thought it impossible for you to escape. I also pushed at you several times with my bayonet when you were as near as I could have wished, and after several of us had taken possession of your works.’ ‘You are a brave fellow,’ said Colonel Prescott, ‘come into my tent and I will treat you.’”

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While on the retreat from the scene of conflict Colonel Prescott came to a house on Charlestown Street, near the ‘neck,’ where were three or four men who had just prepared a bowl of punch, and which they presented to Colonel Prescott before having tested it. This, to a man suffering with fatigue and parched with thirst, was a most gratifying and acceptable offering. Prescott took the bowl, but before he had time to partake of its contents a cannon ball passed through the house, upon which the men immediately fled, leaving Colonel Prescott to drain the bowl by himself and at his leisure.

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