The Battle of Bunker Hill Seen As A Family Affair, And Other Odd Observations

My cousin, Elisha Lee, raised an interesting point last fall. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that if you could go back in time and visit certain key events as they happened, such as the Battle of Bunker Hill, you could more or less pick out numerous ancestors fighting, if not side by side, then at least on the same field. At that particular moment, they had nothing to do with each other, no outstanding connections other than their shared service, but within a century or so, they would, many of them, be united by the bonds of family. The same could be said of the ill-fated Quebec expedition, which saw its members imprisoned by the British.

With this thought experiment in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of events where we either know or are pretty sure that certain ancestors would have likely crossed paths with one another.

I’ve also included a couple other quirky lists, which might just double as Jeopardy topics. These include:  “Tutored by John Adams,” and “Father/ Son Military Service in the Same War.”

Where else were they going to go?


Passage on the Mayflower & Life in the Early Massachusetts Bay Colony

  • William Bradford
  • John Alden and Priscilla Mullens Alden
  • William Mullens and Alice Mullens
  • Edward Doty
  • Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris Allerton
  • John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley Howland
  • John Tilley and Joan Hurst Rogers Tilley


The Battle of Lexington and Concord

  • Timothy Bigelow, Sr.
  • Samuel Farrar, Sr. (aged 66 at  the time!)
  • Samuel Farrar, Jr.
  • (Note: Samuel Lawrence and the Groton company marched at the alarm, but didn’t arrive in time.)


The Battle of Bunker Hill

  • Willam Prescott
  • John Linzee
  • Samuel Lawrence
  • Samuel Farrar, Jr.
  • Jonathan French, Sr.
  • Elishama Brandegee


Quebec Expedition and Life as a POW

  • Timothy Bigelow
  • Elishama Brandegee


The Surrender of Burgoyne

  • William Prescott
  • Samuel Farrar, Jr.


Tutored by John Adams

  • Timothy Bigelow
  • William Paine


Father/ Son Military Service in the Same War

  • Timothy Bigelow, Sr. & Timothy Bigelow, Jr.
  • Samuel Farrar, Sr. & Samuel Farrar, Jr.


If you can think of others, drop me a line!

The Prescott-Linzee “Crossed Swords”

And now we come to the famous crossed swords…


On the library wall of one of the most famous writers of America, there hang two crossed swords, which his relatives wore in the great War of Independence. The one sword was gallantly drawn in the service of the king, the other was the weapon of a brave and honoured republican soldier….

Thackeray , The Virginians


Prescott Linzee Crossed Swords from MHS medium sized


As I said when I introduced the subject of Capt. John Linzee, it is at least somewhat ironic that the American commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Col. William Prescott, and the captain of the British war sloop Falcon, John Linzee, RN, charged with providing cover fire for the redcoats attacking the hill, should one day produce grandchildren who would fall in love and marry.

Eventually, the swords referenced by Thackeray made their way out of W.H. Prescott’s library, and were placed on a tablet, currently displayed at the Massachusetts Historical Society.


The following statement accompanies the tablet:

17 JUNE, 1775,
14 APRIL, 1859,

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Linzee’s Entry in Falcon’s Log, The Day of The Battle; Graves’ Report

From the Falcon’s website.

Linzee’s log entry, and Graves’ report, following Bunker Hill…



Journal of His Majestys Sloop Falcon

John Linzee, Commanding

June 1775
Saturdy 17
At Single Anchor in Boston Harbour
A M Recd 20 Men from the Sommersett. Weigh’d and Shifted to the Entrance of Charlestown River and by Springs on our Cable got our Broad side to Bear on the Rebells and began to fire with Round Grape & Small Arms.   Continued to fire on the Rebells till 4 P M at which Time Charles Town took fire   Our Boats Empd Carrying Wounded men over to Boston

1. PRO, Admiralty 51/336.
And Graves’ report…

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The Falcon’s Logs, and Other Papers

These are the ship’s log entries, naval communications, newspaper notices, etc. relating to HMS Falcon during the period that Captain John Linzee commanded her.

They are available at


Lords Commissioners of the British Admiralty

to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves1

By &c.

Captain [John] Linzee, Commander of His Majesty’s Sloop the Falcon, (by whom you will receive this) being directed to put himself under your command and follow your Orders for his further proceedings; You are hereby required and directed to take him under your command accordingly, and employ him, and the said Sloop, in such manner as shall appear to you best for His Majesty’s Service entrusted to your care. Given &c. the 29th Jany 1775.

By &c. P. S.

J. Buller
A. Hervey

  1. PRO, Admiralty 2/99, 261, NYHS Transcript.

Source: Naval Documents of the American Revolution, I, 391

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The Chronology of HMS Falcon’s activities – Jan  thru Aug 1775

This following is a chronology of the activities of HMS Falcon commanded by Capt. Linzee in the months just prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Dates in blue are hyperlinks, current as of Aug 2016, connecting to a website containing the ship’s logs, journal entries, official naval dispatches, and letters describing the events.

For more, see URL:




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More Detail On HMS Falcon’s History and Statistics

For the truly numbers-oriented naval history folks, not a large crowd I admit, there is this. Like the Roman Empire before it, the British Empire was a marvel of administrative record keeping. That such information, at this level of detail, could be available approximately 250 years after the fact, is a wonder.

I sometimes think that most of what future historians will have to go on from our era is a lot of styrofoam floating across what used to be Florida, and cat videos.


Falcon image of schematic

Sheer draft of the actual ship, from Britain’s National Archives, by kind permission of the HMS Falcon group


And now the numbers…by permission of the good people at… The Falcon’s history, and statistics.


Nominal Guns 14 BWAS-1714
Nationality Great Britain
Operator The Royal Navy
Ordered 1768/10/27 BWAS-1714
Keel Laid Down 1769/04 BWAS-1714
Launched 1771/06/15 BWAS-1714
How acquired Purpose built BWAS-1714
Shipyard Portsmouth Dockyard BWAS-1714
Ship Class Swallow Class
Designed by Thomas Slade BWAS-1714
Constructor Thomas Bucknall BWAS-1714
Category Unrated BWAS-1714
Ship Type Ship-Sloop
Foundered 1779/09/20 BWAS-1714


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The History of HM Sloop-of-War Falcon

The history of the sloop, of which John Linzee was captain on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill, is actually a fascinating one. Luckily, the ship has been “adopted” by a group of naval reenactors in Florida, and in the course of their activities they have constructed an exhaustive history of her– which they have generously permitted me to reproduce here. Many thanks!

It is worth pointing out that the Falcon’s ultimate fate was to be lost, with all hands, in Penobscot Bay– a body of water well known to members of our family.


The short version, for the casually curious, is contained in these two photos of text from the HMS Falcon website (by permission)…

Falcon 1

Falcon 2


A more detailed version, for the curious among us, also from the Falcon website, is here (also by permission)…

27 October 1768:   The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty ordered a new “SWALLOW-class” sloop to be built;    a  “sloop-of-war  14,  302 burthen,  95  x  27  feet,  the bottom to  be  copper-sheathed…”.  This class of sloop  was designed  by  master shipwright  and  Surveyor of  the  Navy,  Thomas Slade,  who also designed  H.M.S. VICTORY and other vessels.

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A Timeline of Capt. John Linzee’s Life and Naval Career

Capt. John Linzee, RN assumed his first command at the age of twenty-seven, and seems to have been present, for better or worse, at a surprising number of the significant naval engagements that occurred during the Revolutionary War.

In the posts ahead, I’m going to focus largely on his presence at the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill, but there is fascinating material scattered across the web dealing with both his life as a whole and his participation in these other events. The archivist in me would love to reproduce all that material here in toto, and probably fair use laws would allow some creative excerpts, but rather than go that route, I’ll simply put up the links.


Capt. John Linzee R.N. 1743-1798 alt

Portrait of Capt. Linzee attributed to Sir George Chalmers. The original is in the museum at the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston.


Here below, as a quick thumbnail sketch, I will offer the following brief timeline of Capt. Linzee’s very full career. It comes from the HMS Falcon website, a naval reenactment group dedicated to the history of the sloop, and is used with their generous permission.


from the HMS Falcon site,

25 March 1743:    Born  in  Dorsetshire  and  raised  at  Portsea,  Portsmouth, Hampshire, England,  one of three known children of  Captain John Linzee, Sr. of the Royal Navy and his wife, Rose.

‪ ‪28 February 1767: Appointed as master’s mate aboard ROMNEY (50 guns).

‪ ‪19 November 1767: Commissioned as a lieutenant and served aboard the LANCASTER (66 guns) as third lieutenant.

‪ ‪22 October 1768: Appointed to temporary command of schooner HALIFAX (6).

‪ ‪28 March 1769: Appointed as second lieutenant of ROMNEY.

‪ ‪26 May 1770: Appointed as first lieutenant aboard ROMNEY.

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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.

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Bunker Hill: Maps, Art, Illustrations, Flags

In the course of gathering material about Prescott and Bunker Hill, I’ve assembled a largish number of period artworks, illustrations, flags, photographs of statues, etc. Too many to place among the articles as tasteful visuals. So, I put them in two locations.

  1. You can see a few of them, as part of a montage, below.
  2. Or, you can check them all out as an album on the Facebook counterpart of this page,  here.

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