Citizens’ Letters RE The Actions of One Capt. John Linzee, RN

Up to this point, I’ve kept the spotlight on Col. William Prescott, and this has seemed sensible given limitations of space and the need to sequence these posts. There is another of our ancestors, however, less famous, but not really any less interesting, who was also present at the Battle of Bunker Hill. And he is owed his moment, too. He was a British naval captain, commanding HMS Falcon, a sloop-of-war, and it was his sworn duty to direct canon fire to the hill, killing or wounding as many Americans as possible. His name was Capt. John Linzee, RN.

The two hundred and fifty year-old joke in our family, though, if something like a joke can be salvaged from such a day, is that this is not simply a case of having two ancestors at the same military action. After Prescott and his men had won their war, and after Linzee had retired to – of all places – Milton, MA, their grandchildren, Prescott’s grandson and Linzee’s granddaughter, would actually fall in love and marry. And eventually, the swords of the two men, would hang together, crossed, in their descendant’s library. But I’m getting ahead of myself. All things in good time.

Before getting into Linzee’s life and career, here’s a preamble of sorts, something to set the scene: two letters from colonists to the powers that be, complaining about a particular British captain and his sloop.



ETC., 1774‑1775.


Mrs. Bowdoin to the Committee of Safety.


Dorchester, June 4,1775.

Gentlemen:—Mr. Bowdoin has just received the enclosed deposition and being in a very weak state, desires me to inform you, that for some time past, the Falkland, sloop of war, commanded by Capt. Linzey, has been cruising about the islands called Elizabeth islands, near Martha’s Vineyard: that the said sloop’s boats have, divers times, landed armed men on the said islands, who have abused the inhabitants, stove their boats, and by force taken away a considerable part of their property, as may more fully appear by the said deposition.

It is humbly apprehended, if about one hundred armed men were properly posted on the said islands, they would be a sufficient force to defend the inhabitants, and protect their stocks of cattle and sheep, which are very considerable, and which have, hitherto, every year, furnished divers parts of this colony with fat sheep and cattle for provisions, and particularly with a large quantity of wool for our home manufactures.

I beg leave to make this representation, that you may take such measures as your wisdom shall dictate; and am, most respectfully, in Mr. Bowdoin’s behalf, who is part owner of one of said islands,

Gentlemen, your most obedient humble servant,

Elizabeth Bowdoin.

To the honorable Committee of Safety.






ETC., 1774 ‑ 1775.


Deposition of Elisha Nye.


May 31, 1775.

Elisha Nye, innholder, living on one of the Elizabeth islands, commonly called Naushan, and near to Tarpolin Cove, testifieth and saith, that some time about the 5th of May, the sloop of war called the Falkland, commanded by Capt. Linzey, came into the cove, and as soon as the vessel had come to anchor, the captain came on shore with his boat’s crew, all armed, and came to the house, and said unto the deponent, “you need not be scared,” upon which, he told him it was enough to scare any body to see so many men come on shore armed; and the women were all fled, and to where he knew not; upon which, Capt. Linzey told him to call them in, for he did not mean to hurt any body—upon which promise, I and my family were satisfied. Soon after that, the captain asked me to walk with him; which he complied with; and in the course of the walk, he demanded to know what stock I had, and added, to tell him right, for if I did not, he would take all that he met: upon which, I gave him the account. Then the captain told me, the deponent, if I sold any of them, he would take the remainder by force: upon which, I told him, if he were here when they were fit for market, he might have them, paying the price I used to have. Soon after, he went to Rhode Island, and returned back in a few days; after which, he used to pass and repass the island almost every day, mostly in company with the doctor of the ship, leaving down the fence repeatedly, which let the cattle often mix together, which I told the doctor was a great damage: the doctor’s answer was, “ then you may put it up yourselves, for I will not; “ and he often talked in an abusive, insulting manner, that he, the doctor, would soon take what he wanted, without any pay.

On the 26th instant, a sloop came into the cove, with about twenty passengers, men, women, and children, in great distress for provisions, and made application to me for supplies. Capt. Linzey knowing that, his boat having boarded her, sent his boat on shore, and forbade my letting them have any. Then I advised them to apply to Capt. Linzey, and see if they could not prevail upon him to let them have some; accordingly they went; afterwards, the captain of the sloop told me, that he absolutely refused them, and said, “damn the dog that would let them have any! and if they were not gone immediately, he would sink them: “ upon which, they set sail immediately without any supplies. And further, the deponent declareth, that the doctor came on shore, and said, that the captain’s orders were, that I should go with him, the said doctor, and destroy all the boats belonging to the island. I told him I could not go upon such business as that; he said he would send me on board the ship if I did not go; upon which, I found I must comply, and accordingly went with him, and saw him, the doctor, stave three boats.

On the 29th, about eight o’clock, in the evening, he, the said doctor, came on shore, and told me he had come for my sheep, upon which, I told him they were out in the pasture, and I could not get them into the pen it being dark, but would fetch them in as early in the morning as he pleased; the answer from the doctor was, “ damn you! what did you turn them out for? “ the reason, I told him, was, that they had got out their own sheep, and did not say any thing about when they should want mine, and I thought it best the sheep should be let out to feed; upon which, the said doctor said to me, “ damn you! go on board the ship and I’ll see what they were turned out for; “ I told him, I would not, but would go and try to get the sheep up; he said “ well, damn you! make haste! “ and swung his sword over my head,—but upon trial I found it so dark, I could not get them in; and, on my return, was informed that he, the doctor, had sent on board for more help to carry me and my brother on board the ship; upon which, with the abuses and threats I had received before, I thought it time to make my escape, which I did, to the main land, and begged the assistance of the people, who readily came to my assistance. When I returned, which was about three o’clock, in the morning, some of my family told me, they had been on shore, armed, and taken all my calves, being seven in number; two of the poorest and smallest, they sent on shore in the morning; the others, with four sheep they had some days before, they carried off without paying any thing for them. I do further declare, the abuses and threats I received, from Capt. Linzey and the doctor, were the occasion of my moving off the island, leaving my interest. And I declare, that I never refused Capt. Linzey, or any other person belonging to any ship of war, entertainment in my house, or a supply of provisions that I had on my farm, and could spare. And I further declare, that on the night of the 29th instant, the aforesaid doctor, as my wife informs me, came on shore and demanded my gun, with his sword in hand, which she delivered to him, and I have not seen it since, though it was the only weapon of defence that I had on the island.

The value of the sheep, calves, and gun, which they took from me, and the use of my horse and well, are as follows, viz.:


Four sheep,                                                £2 16 0

Three calves, four months old,                   3 6 0

Four quarters of veal, sixty

pounds, sold,                                                 2 8 0

One gun taken out of my house

by the doctor of

the ship, of great value,                               3 00

Riding my horse and use of

my well                                                           3 00


£15 6 0


Elisha Nye.

Barnstable, ss. May 31, 1775.

Sworn to, before

Thomas Smith, Justice of the Peace.




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