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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The Prescott Homestead at Pepperell

The following excerpts come from a text called Beside Old Hearthstones, available online here.

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from  Beside Old Hearthstones, Chapter 3.

 

Prescott Homestead Pepperell, MA

THE Prescott family home is on the northern border of the town of Pepperell, and on the rising around that soon merges into the hills of the Granite State….

…Weary with the tumult of war, Colonel William Prescott, in the spirit of a Cincinnatus, returned to his home, and resumed the peaceful employment of cultivating his paternal acres.

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Oliver Prescott, Remembered by Rev. Timothy Alden

Oliver Prescott should, by now, need very little introduction. The Rev. Timothy Alden, on the other hand, was a Protestant minister in New England, active in the early 19th century. He was also an associate of the Rev. Jonathan French, an ancestor from my mother’s side. In 1814, Alden published a sort of anthology of various things he and others had written; a mix of biography and brief obituaries…summaries, in one form or another, of people’s lives. To my 21st century mind, it’s a distinctly odd book. At any rate, I found among its pages the following tribute to the multi-talented doctor, general, and judge, Oliver Prescott. As it was written by and for people who knew the man, it is pretty much a primary source, and worth including here.

[A brief word on punctuation: I have more or less left the text as is, which includes a failure to capitalize titles, such as Rev. or Dr., etc., and other customs different from our own. Where absolutely necessary, I have edited lightly, to preserve the flow of the prose.–LSL]

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A collection of American epitaphs and inscriptions, with occasional notes 2nd ed. by Alden, Timothy

Published 1814 by [S. Marks, Printer] in New-York .

Online text available here.

 

GROTON, MASS.

299. Erected to the memory of the hon. Oliver Prescott, esquire, M. D. A. A. S. M. M. S. S. who departed this life, 17 November, A. D. 1804, aged 73 years, 6 months, and 9 days ; also, of Mrs. Lydia Prescott, consort of the above said Oliver Prescott, and daughter of the late David Baldwin, esq. of Sudbury, who died, 27 Sept. A.D. 1798, aged 62 years, 11 months, and 11 days.

Note.— The following sketch of the character of the hon. judge Prescott is drawn, principally, from a sermon, delivered, on the sabbath succeeding his interment, by a very respectable and worthy clergyman, who had enjoyed a long and intimate personal acquaintance with him, and who had the means of correct information.

He was born at Groton, Massachusetts, 27 April 1731. His father was the hon. Benjamin Prescott, of the same town, a very distinguished statesman, who died, 3 August 1T38, in the 43 year of his age, v/hen the subject of this article was about 7 years old. His mother was Abigail, daughter of the hon. Thomas Oliver, of Cambridge, a near relation of the provincial governour of that name. She died at Groton, 13 September, 1765, in the 69 year of her age. Judge Prescott w as educated at Harvard university, Cambridge, where he received his first degree in 1750. During the course of his collegiate studies he acquired and supported a distinguished character, not only for the regularity of his behaviour, but for his great literary attainments ; and this has been the case ever since that period. Accordingly, he was early noticed and his name enrolled as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Soon after receiving his baccalaureate he commenced the study of physick under the tuition of doctor Roby, of Sudbury, a disciple of the celebrated Boerhaave. His distinguished professional acquirements, his prompt and unremitting attention to his patients, his peculiarly tender and pleasant manner of treating them in their distress, his moderate charges, and forbearance towards the poor and the general success, which attended his practice, operated to render him, for nearly half a century, one of the most popular, while he was, unquestionably, one of the most eminent and useful physicians in the commonwealth. As an instrument in the hand of Providence, he saved the lives of thousands. His high standing, among his brethren of the faculty, gave him a place in the Massachusetts Medical Society at the time of its institution. He was also an honorary fellow of several Medical Societies out of the commonwealth. He was likewise president of the Middlesex Medical Society, and, many years previous to his death, received from Harvard university the honorary degree of doctor of physick.

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Dr. Oliver Prescott

Oliver Prescott received less press in his lifetime than his world famous brother, but was in many ways an equally – if not more –  fascinating person, for reasons that the following makes clear. This is also from the Prescott Memorial, pp.59-60.

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Doctor Oliver b. April 27, 1731 ; m. Feb., 1756, Lydia. daughter of David and Abigail Baldwin, Esq., of Sudbury, b. Oct. 15, 1735; ten children. He graduated at Harvard College 1750, and was distinguished at college for his literary attainments and correct deportment. He studied physic with Dr. Roby of Sudbury, who had been educated in Europe, and a disciple of the renowned Boer­haave, and was an eminent physician. He settled in Groton, his native town, and for many years was extensively patronized, not only by that, but by the neighboring towns. It is said by his biographer that he had a careful and trusty horse, on whom he would frequently sleep when deprived of his rest in bed. His distinguished professional acquire­ments; his prompt and unremitted attention to the sick; his tender and pleasant demeanor while treating them in their distress; his moderate charges and forbearance toward the poor, together with the general success which attended. his practice, operated to render him for nearly half a century, one of the most popular, while he was one of the most eminent and useful physicians in the Common­wealth. He was one of the original members of the Mass. Medical Society at its incorporation in 1781, and an hono­rary member of sundry medical societies. He was presi­dent of the Middlesex Medical Society during the whole period of its existence.

Dr. Oliver Prescott, Groton, Massachusetts - Treated the wounded at Lexington & Concord and Bunker Hill, a Major General of Massachusetts Militia, State Muster Master document.

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An Old Woman’s Memories of Col. Prescott

As Col. Prescott was a modest man of fairly humble financial means, there are no formal portraits, busts, etc. [Though, note, there is this.] A wonderful oral description, however, does survive… It is found in Beside Old Hearthstones, available online here.

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Some interesting facts are here added in regard to the personality of Colonel William Prescott, given by his grandniece, Mrs. Sarah (Chaplin) Rockwood, to Dr. Samuel A. Green. Her father was Rev. Daniel Chaplin, D.D., of Groton; and her mother was Susanna, eldest daughter of Judge James Prescott, brother of the colonel. She was ten years of age when the hero of Bunker Hill died.

She describes him as a tall, well-proportioned man, with blue eyes and a large head. He usually wore a skull-cap; and he parted his hair in the middle, wearing it long behind, braided loosely, and tied in a club with a black ribbon, as was common in those days. He had a pleasant countenance, and was remarkably social and full of fun and anecdotes. He was dignified in his manner, and had the bearing of a soldier.

Authorities agree on the value of early impressions; and we can but credit this description of the personal appearance of Colonel Prescott, for it was indelibly stamped upon the youthful Sarah Chaplin when sitting upon the knee of the old soldier.

…She attained the remarkable age of one hundred and four years.

The Sword of Bunker Hill NO CONNECTION

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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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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Who Really Was in Command at Bunker Hill? Prescott.

During the early 19th century, an idea took hold among a handful of academics that Col. Prescott was in fact NOT the American commander at Bunker Hill. He was. Writing near the centennial of the battle, Francis Parker was one of those who helped firmly establish the truth once and for all, and this was the article he used to accomplish that task.

A note on the references in this text…numbers occurring in parentheses represent the original document’s footnotes. Numbers in superscript following these are the new annotations for this site/ blog entry. –LSL

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BUNKER’S HILL BATTLE

AND ITS COMMAND.

“Honor to Whom Honor is Due”

Francis J. Parker, writing c. 1875

 

By the first of June, 1775, the increasing numbers of the invest­ing forces, and their improved organization, had begun to create discomfort in Boston. Every avenue except that by sea was absolutely closed to supplies. Cattle, hay and fuel, which the British supposed to be safe on the islands in the harbor, had been captured or destroyed, and the loss of them was severely felt—more severely because of recent additions to the numbers of the beleaguered army, requiring an increased supply of food and forage. In these affairs about the harbor several spirited skir­mishes had occurred between the belligerents, and the result of them had been to give the Americans confidence in themselves, and to make the royalists more uneasy under their restriction. The British had therefore determined to occupy the Charlestown peninsula, which could easily be defended by works at the Neck, and the possession of which would give them considerable grass and pasture, and afford them another opportunity of sallying out by land.

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A Letter from Col. Wm. Prescott to John Adams Describing The Battle of Bunker Hill

On August 25, 1775, William Prescott wrote a letter to John Adams, in which he described the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Both a photo of the actual letter, and the more readable text below, are available on The Massachusetts Historical Society’s website.

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Camp at Cambridge August 25. 1775

Sir

I have recd. a Line from my Brother which informs me of your desire of a particular Account of the Action at Charlestown, it is not in my Power at present to give so minute an Account as I should choose being ordered to decamp and march to another Station.
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The Battle of Bunker Hill, From Both The Land and The Sea

This account is from The Linzee Family, by John W. Linzee. It is particularly good in laying out the placement and respective roles of the British naval vessels involved.

The best few lines describe an exchange between General Gage and his subordinate, Willard:

Gage:“Who is in command of the Americans,” [and] “will he fight?”

Willard: “Yes, sir… he is an old soldier and will fight as long as a drop of blood remains in his veins.”

Gage: “The works must be carried.”

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THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL

On the outbreak of the revolutionary conflict, Colonel William Prescott, a farmer of Pepperell, Mass., and a veteran of the Louisburgh expedition of 1746, also later with Winslow in the conquest of Nova Scotia, and known as a leader of dash and daring, attended on the 16th of June 1775 the secret call to arms on Cambridge common.

Already the Committee of Safety, in answer to their appeal, had collected from the New England towns about fifteen thousand men. Two regiments from New Hampshire were commanded by Colonel Stark and James Reed; three Rhode Island regiments under Colonels Varnum, Hitchcock and Church were on hand with General Green at their head; and three Connecticut regiments were led by Generals Israel Putnam, Joseph Spencer and Colonel Samuel H. Parsons. General Artemas Ward, the commander in chief of Massachusetts, was generally, though not officially, recognized as leader of the combined military forces.

The recommendation of the Committee of Safety to occupy Bunker Hill, was approved on the 16th of June. No time could be lost, as Generals Howe, Burgoyne and Clinton had reached Boston with reinforcements from England, and General Gage had determined to occupy Bunker Hill in Charlestown, which controlled Boston on the north, and Dorchester Heights which commanded Boston on the south, on or about the 18th of June.

A band of raw recruits, consisting of Prescott’s, Fry’s and Bridge’s regiments, about two hundred Connecticut troopers under Capt. Thomas Knowlton, and Capt. Samuel Gridley’s artillery company, were ordered by General Ward to proceed about nine at night, under the leadership of Colonel William Prescott, and to entrench themselves on Bunker’s Hill. The night was clear, a prayer for their safety by the Rev. Dr. Langdon, president of Harvard College, started them on their eventful march. They arrived at their destination in two hours, poorly armed and inadequately provisioned; the total force was a trifle over twelve hundred men, augmented when crossing Charlestown Neck by a few hundred reinforcements and General Putnam and Major Brooks.

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