25 June, 1775 Letter to his Mother Notes on Peter Brown Entry in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors
A Letter from Peter Brown of Westford
Mother, Sarah Brown of Rhode Island
Following the Battle of Bunker Hill
Cambridge June 25, 1775
Dear and Hon'd Mother
As per my Duty to you, I would inform you of my present state and employment, being rather scrupulous whether you ever may receive these lines, shall give but a short sketch of affairs, which if otherwise I would.
Before these long threat'ned difficulties begain among us, I had plan'd out to go to Connecticut where I expected to work the Summer; but the Allwise in his providence hath very differently plann'd my summers work, which I hope may turn to his Glory and my good.
I suppose I need not acquaint you of the manner in which the enemy first approach'd us at Concord, it is more than probable you have had it in print long since. When I was first alarmed I was at Westford, whither I went to take leave of my Friends, and settle some affairs that I had in hand, was call'd about Day light, or a little after, and rode as post that forenoon, before I could get to Concord, after which I pursu'd with the rest and fought that day, tarried at Cambridge that Night, being forbid to go home. Soon after this there was an Army establish'd all business then being stagnated, and a great deal wholly broke up. I did not know what I could do better than to enlist. Therefore being hearty in the cause I did it directly (and listed) under Captn Oliver Bates, in Collo Prescott's Regiment with whom I tarried a while till he our Captain was taken sick and went home, when Mr. Joshua Parker by succession took his place, and makes his ground good, in whose company I remain yet, where I do a Clerk or Orderly Sergants business; which requires much care but the duty is easier, and the pay higher than a private soldier. ---- Friday the 16th of June we were orderd to parade at six o'Clock with one days provisions and Blankets ready for a March somewhere but we knew not where but we readily and cheerfully obey'd the whole that were call'd for, were these three Collo Prescotts, Frys, and Nicksons Regiments -- after tarrying on parade till Nine at Night, we march'd down, on to Charlston Hill against Copts [Copp's] hill in Boston, where we entrench'd & made a Fort, ten rod long, and eight wide, with a Breastwork of about eight more, we work'd there undiscovered till about five in the Morning, when we saw our danger, being against Ships of the Line, and all Boston fortified against us. The danger we where in made us think there was treachery and that we were brought there to be all slain, and I must and will say that there was treachery oversight or presumption in the Conduct of our Officers, for about 5 in the morning, we not having more than half of our fort done, they began to fire (I suppose as soon as they had orders) pretty briskly for a few minutes then ceas'd but soon begun again, and fird to the number of twenty minutes (they killed but one of our men) then ceas'd to fire till about eleven o'clock when they began to fire as brisk as ever, which caus'd many of our young Country people to desert, apprehending the danger in a clearer manner than others who were more diligent in digging & fortifying ourselves against them. We began to be almost beat out, being fatigued by our Labour, having no sleep the night before, very little to eat, no drink but rum, but what we hazzarded our lives to get, we grew faint, Thirsty, hungry and weary. --- The enemy fir'd very warm from Boston, and from on board their Ships till about 2 o'clock when they begain to fire from Ships that lay in Ferry way and from a Ship that lay in the river against us, to stop our reinforcement, which they did in some Measure one cannon cut three men in two on the neck, Our officers sent time after time for Cannon from Cambridge in the Morning & could get but four, the Captn of which fir'd a few times then swung his hat three times round to the enemy and ceas'd to fire, then about three o'clock there was a cessation of the Cannons roaring, soon after we espied as many as 40, boats or barges coming over, full of troops it is supposed there were 3000 of them, and about 700 of us left, not deserted, besides 500 reinforcement that could not get nigh enough to us to do us any good till they saw that we must all be cut off of some of them then they ventur'd to advance. --- When our Officers perceivd that the enemy intended to Land, they ordered the Artillery to go out of the fort & prevent, it if possible from whence the Artillery Captn took his pieces and return'd home to Cambridge with much haste, for which he is now confined and it is expected must suffer death. --- The enemy landed, fronted before us, and form'd themselves in an oblong square, in order to surround, which they did in part. After they were well form'd they advanced towards us, in order to swallow us up, but they found a Choaky mouthful of us, 'tho we could do nothing with our small arms as yet for distance, and had but two cannon, and no gunner, and they from Boston, and from the shipping firing and throwing Bombs, keeping us down, till they almost surrounded us. --- But God in Mercy to us fought our battle, and tho' we were but few in number, and suffer'd to be defeated by our enemy, yet we were preserv[ed] in a most wonderful manner, far beyond our expectation and to our admiration for out of our Regiment there were but 37 kill'd 4 or 5 taken captive, about forty seven Wounded & Oh may I never forget Gods distinquishing Mercy to me, in sparing my Life, when they fell on my right hand, and on my left, and close by me, they were to the eye of reason no more expos'd than myself. --- When the Arrows of death flew thick around me, I was preserv'd while others were suffer'd to fall a prey to our cruel enemies O may that God whose Mercy was so far extended in my preservation, grant me his grace to devote my future Life to his devine service. --- Nor do I conclude that the danger is yet over, unless God in his Mercy either remove our enemy, or heal the breach --- but if we should be call'd again to action I hope to have courage and strength to act my part valiently in defence of our Liberties & Country trusting in him who hath hitherto kept me, and hath cover'd my head in the day of battle, and altho' we have lost four out of our Company & several taken captive by the enemy of America, I was not suffer'd to be touched I was in the fort when the enemy came in, Jump'd over the wall and ran half a Mile, where balls flew like hail stones and Cannon roared like thunder, but tho I escap'd then it may be my turn next after asking your Prayers must conclude wishing you the best of Blessings, still remain your Dutiful Son
Peter BrownPS, I wish very much to come and see you, 'tis in vain to think of that now, I desire you to write to me, direct to Peter Brown Cambridge, to be left at Colo Prescotts Chambers in the South Colledge, & send by way of Providence to Roxbury from whence it will be likely to come safe my love to Polly, Sally & Patty have not leisure to write to them in particular, and Conveyance very uncertain, hope they will excuse me this time.
To day at Cambridge, to morrow
To morrow the Lord only knows where PBrown
Transcribed from a facsimile
of the original letter found in
The Battle of Bunker Hill, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1968.
[Note: One obvious mistake made by Brown: Rather than "Prescotts, Frys, and Nicksons Regiments", it was Prescott's, Frye's and Bridge's Regiments which were sent on the night of June 16th]
Notes on Peter Brown:
While his letter describing the
action on Breed's Hill is regarded to be the most detailed enlisted man's
account ever found, relatively little is known about Peter Brown. There
are no records that he was born in Westford. It is also not clear
how much time he spent in Westford. However, three town documents
show that he was living in Westford since at least early 1774. His
signature can be found on the 1774 Covenant
(dated 4 July) which indicated support for non-importation of British goods
following the closure of the port of Boston. He is also found on
the March and November, 1774 Westford tax lists. He was recorded
as having no taxable personal property and paid only the nominal poll tax.
The tax list also indicates that he lived in the southern district of the
town (roughly that portion which is south of present day I-495).
Entries in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors
Peter Brown's entries (there are
two) in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary
War, 1775-1783 are consistent with the account given in his letter,
BROWN, PETER, Westford. Private, Capt. Jonathan Minot's co., Col. James Prescott's Regt. which marched on the alarm of 19, April 1775; service 7 days.
BROWN, PETER, Westford. Corporal, Capt. Joshua Parker's co., Col. William Prescott's Regt.; enlisted April 19, 1775 [service not given]; also, same co. and regt.; order for advance pay dated Cambridge, 9 June, 1775; also muster roll dated Aug. 1, 1775; enlisted 21 April 26, 1775; service 97 days; also, company return dated Sept. 27, 1775; also, order for bounty coat or equivalent in money dated Cambridge, Nov. 1, 1775.
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