A 10-year-old Loyalist girl named Dorothea Gamsby watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from a window. She was staying with her uncle, Sir George Nutting, when the American Revolution broke out. She didn’t go home because of the danger in traveling back to her parents, who lived in the countryside.
Dorothea Gamsby stayed in Boston until Evacuation Day, when she sailed away with her aunt and uncle. It would be many years before she saw her parents again. She wrote a recollection of the battle to her granddaughter many years later.
The Battle of Bunker Hill
…the Colonys were ripening to rebelion, bloodshed and civil war. They sent a host of troops from home. Boston was full of them and they seemed to be there only to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, but one day there was more than usual commotion. Uncle said there had been an outbreak in the country, and then came a night when there was bustle, anxiety, and watching. Aunt and her maid walked from room to room, sometimes weeping. I crept after them unable to sleep when everyone seemed wide awake and the streets full of people. It was scarcely daylight when the booming of cannon on board the ships in the harbour shook every house in the Citty. My uncle had been much abroad lately and had only sought his pillow within the hour but he came immediately to my aunt’s room, saying he would go and learn the cause of the fireing and come again to inform us. He had not left the house when a servant in livery called to say that the rebels had colected in force on Breed’s Hill, were getting up fortifications, and that Governor Gage requested his presence.
‘There must be a brush,’ he said, ‘for General Howe has ordered out the troops to dislodge them.’
There they were, the audacious rebels! hard at work, makeing what seemed to me a monstrous fence. ‘What is it they are going to do, aunt, and what are they makeing that big fence for?’
‘They mean to shoot our King’s soldiers, I suppose,’ she said, ‘and probably the fireing is intended to drive them away.’
‘But, Aunt, the cannon balls will kill some of them. See, see, the soldiers and the banners! O, Aunt, they will be killed! Why can’t they stay out of the way?’
Pomp and Brilliance
The glittering host, the crashing music, all the pomp and brilliance of war moved up toward that band of rebels, but they still laboured at their entrenchment; they seemed to take no heed. The bullets from the ships, the advanceing column of British warriors were alike unnoticed.
‘I should think they would begin to get out of the way,’ said my aunt.
Every available window and roof was filled with spectators, watching the advanceing regulars. Every heart, I dare say, throbed as mine did and we held our breath, or rather it seemed to stop and oppress the labouring chest of its own acord, so intensely we awaited the expected attack, but the troops drew nearer and the rebels toiled on. At length one who stood conspicuously above the rest waved his bright weapon; the explosion came attended by the crash of music, the shrieks of the wounded, the groans of the dying.
My aunt fainted.
Poor Abby, (the maid), looked on like one distracted. I screamed with all my might. The roar of artilery continued, but the smoke hid the havoc of war from our view. The housekeeper attended to my aunt and beged for somebody to go for Dr. (Joseph) Warren, but everybody was to much engaged with watching the smokeing battlefield.
Little did they know Dr. Joseph Warren died during the battle.
O, how wild and terrific was that long day! Old as I am, the memory of that fearful contest will sometimes come over my spirit as if it had been but yesterday. Men say it was not much of a fight, but to me it seems terrible. Charleston was in flames, women and children flying from their burning houses sought reffuge in the citty.
Dismay and terror, wailing and distraction impressed their picture on my memory, never to be effaced. By and by drays, carts, and every description of vehicle that could be obtained were seen nearing the scene of the conflict and the roar of artillery seaced. Uncle came home and said the rebels had retreated. Dr. Warren was the first who fell that day. Then came the loads of wounded men attended by long lines of soldiers, the gay banners torn and soiled, a sight to be remembered a lifetime. I have read many times of the glory of war but this one battle taught me, however it be painted by poet or novelist, there is nothing but wo and sorrow and shame to be found in the reality.
For a soldier’s eyewitness account of the battle, click here. This story last updated in 2022.