Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

Mary Nicolson to Abigail Adams

John Adams to Abigail Adams

222 Abigail Adams to John Adams, 18 June 1775 AA JA


Abigail Adams to John Adams, 18 June 1775 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
Dearest Friend Sunday June 18 1775

The Day; perhaps the decisive Day is come on which the fate of America depends. My bursting Heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear Friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his Country—saying better to die honourably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the Gallows. Great is our Loss. He has distinguished himself in every engagement, by his courage and fortitude, by animating the Soldiers and leading them on by his own example. A particuliar account of these dreadful, but I hope Glorious Days will be transmitted you, no doubt in the exactest manner.

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Trust in him at all times, ye people pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us.—Charlstown is laid in ashes. The Battle began upon our intrenchments upon Bunkers Hill, a Saturday morning about 3 o clock and has not ceased yet and tis now 3 o'clock Sabbeth afternoon.

Tis expected they will come out over the Neck to night, and a dreadful Battle must ensue. Almighty God cover the heads of our Country men, and be a shield to our Dear Friends. How many have fallen we know not—the constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we can not Eat, Drink or Sleep. May we be supported and sustaind in the dreadful conflict. I shall tarry here till tis thought unsafe by my Friends, and then I have secured myself a retreat at your Brothers who has kindly offerd me part of his house.1 I cannot compose myself to write any further at present. I will add more as I hear further.

Tuesday afternoon 20 June

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 and uncertain as the wind I believe I speak the Truth. I am not able to give you any authentick account of last Saturday, but you will not be destitute of inteligence. Coll. Palmer has just sent me word that he has an opportunity of conveyance. Incorrect as this scrawl will be, it shall go. I wrote you last Saturday morning.2 In the afternoon I received your kind favour of the 2 june, and that you sent me by Captn. Beals at the same time.—I ardently pray that you may be supported thro the arduous task you have before you. I wish I could 223contradict the report of the Doctors Death, but tis a lamentable Truth, and the tears of multitudes pay tribute to his memory. Those favorite lines of Collin continually sound in my Ears

How sleep the Brave who sink to rest, By all their Countrys wishes blest? When Spring with dew'ey fingers cold Returns to deck their Hallowed mould She their shall dress a sweeter Sod Than fancys feet has ever trod. By fairy hands their knell is rung By forms unseen their Dirge is sung Their There Honour comes a pilgrim grey To Bless the turf that wraps their Clay And freedom shall a while repair To Dwell a weeping Hermit there.3

I rejoice in the prospect of the plenty you inform me of, but cannot say we have the same agreable veiw here. The drought is very severe, and things look but poorly.

Mr. Rice and Thaxter, unkle Quincy, Col. Quincy, Mr. Wibert all desire to be rememberd, so do all our family. Nabby will write by the next conveyance.

I must close, as the Deacon waits. I have not pretended to be perticuliar with regard to what I have heard, because I know you will collect better intelligence. The Spirits of the people are very good. The loss of Charlstown affects them no more than a Drop in the Bucket.—I am Most sincerely yours,


RC (Adams Papers); addressed in an unidentified hand: “To John Adams Esqr. in Philadelphia.” MS is badly worn on outer edges, and text is torn by seal, obscuring a few words that are here supplied conjecturally in brackets.


JA's brother Elihu lived on a farm farther inland, in what is now Randolph, Mass.


That is, on the 17th. The letter referred to is the one printed above under 16? June but may have been written on more than one day.


Except for bad spelling and punctuation this is an accurate rendering of William Collins' “Ode Written in the Beginning of the Year 1746,” commemorating the British troops who fell at Prestonpans and Falkirk and published in Collins' Odes, London, 1747. JQA learned these moving lines—among the finest produced in the 18th century—in 1775 and never forgot them. In a draft of a letter he wrote in a faltering hand to an English Quaker, Joseph Sturge, on the subject of war and pacifism, dated March 1846 (Adams Papers), he gave his own recollection of the events AA here describes:

“The year 1775 was the eighth year of my age. Among the first fruits of the War, was the expulsion of my father's family from their peaceful abode in Boston, to take refuge in his and my native town of Braintree.... For the space of 224twelve months my mother with her infant children dwelt, 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, like that actually sent forth on the 19th. of April, to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams on their way to attend the continental Congress at Philadelphia. My father was separated from his family, on his way to attend the same continental Congress, and there my mother, with her children 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 in Charlestown. I saw with my own eyes those fires, and heard Britannia's thunders in the Battle of Bunker's hill and 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.... My mother was the daughter of a Christian Clergyman and therefore bred in the faith of deliberate detestation of War.... Yet in that same Spring and Summer of 1775 she taught me to repeat daily after the Lord's prayer, before rising from bed the Ode of Collins, on the patriot warriors who fell in the War to subdue the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

How sleep the brave, who sink to rest.... Here follows the rest of Collins' “Ode,” with a single word misquoted.

“Of the impression made upon my heart by the sentiments inculcated in these beautiful effusions of patriotism and poetry, you may form an estimate by the fact that now, seventy one years after they were thus taught me, I repeat them from memory without reference to the book.”

JQA's feelings ran so deep on the subject of Bunker Hill battle and Joseph Warren's death that in his Diary he commented with increasing disapproval on the anniversary celebrations of the battle, which grew more and more elaborate during his lifetime. In 1786, for example, he declined to go with his fellow students and the faculty of Harvard College to participate in “a scene of revels, and feasting,” with the head of the table “placed on the very spot where the immortal Warren fell.” And the celebration in 1843 marking the completion of the Monument, with Daniel Webster (“a traitor to the cause of human freedom”) speaking and President Tyler (“a Slave monger”) in attendance, revolted JQA: “I have throughout my life had an utter aversion to all pageants, and public dinners, and never attended one, when I could decently avoid it.... But now with the ideal association of the thundering cannon which I heard, and the smoke of burning Charlestown which I saw on that awful day, combined with this Pyramid of Quincy granite, and Daniel Webster spouting with a Negro holding an umbrella over his head, and John Tyler's nose with a shadow outstreching that of the monumental column; how could I have witnessed all this at once without an unbecoming burst of indignation or of laughter?”

A cairn of stones at the summit of Penn's Hill in Quincy was erected in 1896 to mark the spot where AA and JQA reputedly viewed the battle and conflagration. The ceremonies dedicating it were simpler than those on Bunker Hill in 1843; see Wilson, Where Amer. Independence Began , p. 257–259, with illustration. But whether JQA would have approved of them is problematical.