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 William Hickling Prescott House

William Hickling and Susannah (Amory) Prescott’s house survives, and is owned by The Colonial Dames of America in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and can be visited.


from the Colonial Dames’ website:


55 Beacon Street ~ Boston, MA 02108



2016 Open Dates:

Saturdays in April;
Wednesdays and Saturdays in May, June, July, August and September;
Saturdays in October

Tours run from 12-4 p.m.


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George Ticknor on The Prescott Family

William Hickling Prescott and George Ticknor (1791-1871) were close friends, and as they were both historians, colleagues as well. When Prescott died, Ticknor decided to pay both personal and professional tribute to him by writing his biography.

In the Appendices of the resulting book, Ticknor included a “brief-ish” summary of the Prescott family in America, including both stories of the colonel and stories of the judge.

Here is Appendix A of Ticknor’s Life of William H. Prescott, 1863.





THE Prescott family belong to the original Puritan stock and blood of New England. They came from Lancashire, and about 1640, twenty years only after the first settlement at Plymouth and ten years after that of Boston, were established in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, where not a few of the honored race still remain.

Like most of the earlier emigrants, who left their native homes from conscientious motives, they were men of strongly marked characters, but of small estates, and devoted to mechanical and agricultural pursuits, — circumstances which fitted them as nothing else could so well have done for the trials and labors incident to their settlement in this Western wilderness. But, even among men like these, the Prescotts were distinguished from the first. They enjoyed, to an uncommon degree, the respect of the community which they helped to found, and became at once more or less concerned in the management of the entire Colony of Massachusetts, when those who took part in its affairs bore heavy burdens and led anxious lives.

John, the first emigrant, was a large, able-bodied man, who, after living some time in Watertown, established himself in Lancaster, then on the frontiers of civilization. There he acquired a good estate and defended it bravely from the incursions of the Indians, to whom he made himself formidable by occasionally appearing before them in a helmet and cuirass, which he had brought with him from England, where he was said to have served under Cromwell. His death is placed in 1683.

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William Hickling Prescott: A Sketch from 1911

The following biographical sketch appeared in The 1911 Encyclopedia, based on a century-old version of Encyclopedia Brittanica. The original URL is now broken.





American historian, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on the 4th of May 1796. His grandfather was Colonel William Prescott (1726 -1795), who commanded at the battle of Bunker Hill; and his father was a well-known lawyer. He received his earlier education in his native city, until the removal of his family in 1808 to Boston. He entered Harvard College in the autumn of 1811, but almost at the outset his career was interrupted by an accident which affected the subsequent course of his life. A hard piece of bread, flung at random in the Commons Hall, struck his left eye and destroyed the sight. After graduating honorably in 1814 he entered his fathers office as a student of law; but in January 1815 the uninjured eye showed dangerous symptoms of inflammation. When at last in the autumn he was in condition to travel, it was determined that he should pass the winter at St Michaels and in the spring obtain medical advice in Europe. His visit to the Azores, which was constantly broken by confinement to a darkened room, is chiefly noteworthy from the fact that he there began the mental discipline which enabled him to compose and retain in memory long passages for subsequent dictation; and, apart from the gain in culture, his journey to England, France, and Italy (April 1816 to July 1817) was scarcely satisfactory. The verdict of the physicians was that the injured eye was hopelessly paralysed, and that the preservation of the sight of the other depended upon the maintenance of his general health. His further pursuit of the legal profession seemed to be out of the question, and on his return to Boston he remained quietly at home. On 4th May 1820 he was married to Miss Susan Amory. Prior to his marriage he had made a few experiments in composition, but he now finally decided to devote his life to literature. A review of Byron’s Letters on Pope in 1821 constituted his first contribution to the North American Review, to which he continued for many years to send the results of his slighter researches. He next turned to French literature, and to the early English drama and ballad literature. Of the direction and quality of his thought at this time he has left indications in his papers on Essay-Writing (1822) and on French and English Tragedy (1823). In pursuance of his method of successive studies he began in 1823 the study of Italian literature, passing over German as demanding more labor than he could afford. In the following year he made his first acquaintance with the literature of Spain under the influence of his friend and biographer, Ticknor; and, while its attractiveness proved greater than he had at the outset anticipated, the comparative novelty of the subject as a fie]d for research served as an additional stimulus.

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Castle Freeman’s Portrait of William Hickling Prescott

The following biographical sketch by Castle Freeman appeared in HARVARD magazine, in 1996, and is a very nice, almost conversational, immensely readable introduction to this man. (Used here by kind permission of the author.)





Best remembered as the author of The Conquest of Mexico, W.H. Prescott was the preeminent American historian in an age when works of history took up more space in the literary world than they do today. The son of a well-to-do lawyer prominent in civic affairs, whose own father was one of the heroes of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Prescott received the expected Greek and Latin schooling as a boy and entered Harvard at 15.

It was at Harvard that Prescott suffered the injury that did so much to shape his life and work. He was hit in the left eye by a piece of hard bread during a food fight. Eventually the other eye was also affected. For the rest of his life, his weak and painful vision meant that he could seldom read for more than a couple of hours a day and couldn’t see to write. A part of his fame has had to do with the notion that Prescott was a blind genius, conjuring in utter darkness the vivid scenes of his great histories. In fact he was never completely blind, but the obstacle to his chosen work was not much less than total blindness would have been.

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An Introduction to William H. Prescott

The grandson of Col. William Prescott, like his father – also William – but now with a middle initial H, for Hickling after his maternal grandfather Thomas Hickling. [See my posts here, here, and here.] He was subsequently known simply as “William Prescott, the historian.”

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a very good, very concise, biographical overview of William H. Prescott. They based it on the massive work by Prescott’s friend, George Tichnor, Prescott’s Life, 1864.



William Hickling Prescott


The URL for this short essay is:

William Hickling Prescott was an historian and author distinguished for his writings about the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire. His most well-known books include The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic (1837), History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843), History of the Conquest of Peru (1847), and his unfinished History of the Reign of Philip the Second (Vol. I and II, 1855; Vol. III, 1858). Prescott’s histories received critical and popular success during his lifetime, and today, although outdated, they are still widely known and read in the historical community.


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Hon. William Prescott

The son of Col. William Prescott, also William, was known during his life, which was devoted to the law, as Hon. William Prescott. Here is a brief biography.



Hon. William Prescott, painted by Gilbert Stuart


from the Prescott Memorial, pp.75-76.


Hon. William b. at Pepperell, Aug. 19, 1762. In 1776, at the age of fourteen, he was placed under the instruction of “Master Moody,” the then celebrated teacher of Dummer Academy in Newbury, Essex Co., Mass. Here he remained three years, when he entered Harvard College, where he graduated in 1783, with high honors. His father, partaking largely of that liberality so common among the officers of the Revolutionary army, had accumulated hut a small estate, and young Mr. Prescott found it necessary to be earning something to help him finish his professional education, upon which he was about to enter; accordingly he took charge of an academy at Beverly, where he continued two years, and where he studied his procession, (that of law,) with the Hon. Nathan Dane, an able and learned jurist and statesman. While here he received an invitation to become a member of Gen. Washington’s household, to act as a private teacher while he was prosecuting his legal studies, but. previous engagements compelled him to decline the proffered boon, and his classmate in college, Mr. Tobias Lear, obtained it.

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A Prescott Writes About a Lawrence

In the long  list of works by William Hickling Prescott, there is this: the Memoir of the Hon. Abbott Lawrence (available here at the Internet Archive).

It’s an interesting account, not least because it was written by another of our ancestors, but also, only somewhat off topic, because Prescott is the only researcher I know of (and I think, all things equal, he’s a pretty reliable one)  who definitively places Samuel Lawrence at Bunker Hill, in the thick of the fighting.

I think, also, that Uncle Johnny (John Endicott Lawrence, Sr.) must have read this account and really internalized it, as it contains several of the stories he related to me on my visits to him.

At any rate, have a read…

















IN the following pages, we shall endeavor to present a sketch of the life and character of Abbott Lawrence, now that the grave has closed over him, and while his virtues are yet fresh in the memory of his countrymen.

The name of Lawrence is one of the earliest to be found among the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts. John Lawrence, the first emigrant of the name, was established in Watertown as early as 1635, and may have come over at the same time with Governor Winthrop. He afterwards removed, with his wife, to Groton, where lie lived to a good old age; leaving, at his death, a numerous family of sons and daughters. From one of the former was descended the subject of the present memoir. His father, Samuel Lawrence, was a soldier of the Revolution. On the breaking out of the war with the mother-country, he was among the first to bear arms; and was one of the little band of heroes who accompanied Colonel Prescott, and fought by his side at the battle of Bunker’s Hill. His regiment was accordingly in the hottest of the action; being stationed at the redoubt, the principal point of attack. It had nearly proved a fatal day to the young soldier, who, besides a wound in the arm, had his hat pierced by a musket-ball, which grazed his temples, and carried off part of the hair. He remained in the army till 1778, filling the post of adjutant under General Sullivan at Rhode Island. He was a man of much firmness of character, of unblemished integrity, and of such frank and open manners as made him popular with his townsmen. He lived till 1827; long enough to receive the best reward of a parent, in witnessing the complete success of his children.

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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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