Battle of Bunker Hill Distresses Abigail Adams, 10 Miles Away

Abigail Adams just had to see the Battle of Bunker Hill for herself, despite her husband’s warnings that she and the children must ‘fly to the woods’ in the face of danger. Instead, she took seven-year-old John Quincy to the top of Penn’s Hill near their home in Braintree. From a granite outcropping they watched the smoke rise from Charlestown 10 miles away as the cannon thundered in their ears.

Abigail Adams, 1766 (Benjamin Blythe)

Abigail Adams, 1766 (Benjamin Blythe)

John Adams was away, journeying to Philadelphia to meet with the Continental Congress. Abigail wrote to him the next day as the cannon still roared.  ‘My bursting heart must find vent at my pen,’ she wrote.

Charlstown is laid in ashes. The Battle began upon our intrenchments upon Bunkers Hill, a Saturday morning about 3 oclock & has not ceased yet & tis now 3 o’clock Sabbeth afternoon. Tis expected they will come out over the Neck to night, & a dreadful Battle must ensue.

Bunker Hill Distresses Abigail Adams

John Quincy Adams recalled the Battle of Bunker Hill in a letter that was as overwrought 71 years after the event as his mother’s was the next day. In March 1846, he wrote to English abolitionist Joseph Sturge that his mother was  ‘liable every hour of the day and of the night to be butchered in cold blood, or taken and carried into Boston as hostages, by any foraging or marauding detachment of men.’

During those early months of the war, he wrote, she lived in,

…unintermitted danger of being consumed with them all in a conflagration kindled by a torch in the same hands which on the 17th. Of June lighted the fires of Charlestown — I saw with my own eyes those fires, and heard Britannia’s thunders in the Battle of Bunker’s hill.

Even on the day after the battle, Abigail Adams couldn’t eat, drink or sleep because the noise of the cannon was so distressing. In her letter, she promised her husband she’d take refuge at his brother’s if their friends told her she was in danger.

Two days later she picked up her pen again:

I have been so much agitated that I have not been able to write since Sabbeth day. When I say that ten thousand reports are passing vague & uncertain as the wind I believe I speak the Truth.

There was one thing of which she was certain: Their dear friend Dr. Joseph Warren had been killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. John Quincy Adams,

…witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled with them my own, at the fall of Warren a dear friend of my father, and a beloved Physician to me. He had been our family physician and surgeon, and had saved my fore finger from amputation under a very bad fracture.

With thanks to John Adams by David McCullough.




  1. Vicki Stevens

    June 17, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    She was a truly amazing woman.

  2. Geoff Webb

    June 17, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    She looks like Giamatti could have played her, too;)

  3. Lisa Andre

    June 17, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Penn’s Hill? When it was still a part of Braintree?

  4. Jade Lally

    June 17, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    This is so moving, I can’t imagine watching my city burn with my son by my side.

  5. Jade Lally

    June 17, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    This is so moving, I can’t imagine watching my city burn with my son by my side.

  6. Jessica Downing-Ford

    June 17, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    The original Boston Strong 🙂

  7. Scott L. Ratcliffe

    June 17, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    She has more brains than today’s First Lady will ever have.

  8. Diane Tufts

    June 18, 2014 at 8:42 am

    like typical upper class people, they watched the battle without getting their hands dirty, while my husband’s family fought in it bravely. (you won’t hear THAT in a history lesson though)

  9. John Francis Ryan

    June 18, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Would Dr . Warren be the exception to the rule , Diane .

  10. Robert

    January 26, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Wow such ignorance and racism in some posts. The ignorance is many people of weatlh fought in the revolution and made great sacrifices. Dr warren was killed at bunker hill. Je was very prominent Bostonian. And the dig at Michelle obama is wrong and racist. She is an amazing accomplished woman.

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