Happy June, Southie! I hope you are taking advantage of this beautiful spring and all that our neighborhood has to offer: Beaches! Restaurants! Parks! Museums! We are so lucky to have all that we do, but three centuries ago things were very different here in Boston. In previous History Lessons, we learned a bit about the Siege of Boston and how it ended with the help of the cannons on Dorchester Heights. We Bostonians celebrate those events every year on Evacuation Day (March 17th).
During the Siege of Boston, the Battle of Bunker Hill took place. This battle occurred on June 17, 1775 and was an official Suffolk County holiday (no school!) until 2009. Why do we commemorate Bunker Hill Day? That, my friends, is the subject of this History Lesson!
Boston in 1775 looked very different than it does today: there was a lot less land, and a LOT more water. Charlestown was its own town back then; it was not a part of Boston and wasn’t even in the same county (it was in Middlesex County not Suffolk). The first bridge wasn’t even built until 1786 connecting Boston with Charlestown (residents of Charlestown didn’t vote to join Boston until the 1870s).
But to the Battle! Like Dorchester during the Siege, Charlestown had its advantages, especially the elevation of two of its hills: Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill. The American forces fortified those heights and the British wanted them. The Battle of Bunker Hill is considered to be the first major battle of the Revolutionary War and it was the first time the newly formed, inexperienced colonial army really fought the highly trained, better-equipped British army. If you studied the American Revolution at all in school, you’ll remember that it was the Battle where “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” was shouted to the colonial army.
Technically the British won the Battle of Bunker Hill, but their casualties were high: over one thousand men were killed or wounded, and a lot of their casualties were officers.The British outnumbered the Americans and were much better trained and yet they suffered much higher losses. Even though the Americans “lost” they realized how much damage they could inflict on the British and the British realized they were in for a serious fight and wouldn’t be able to just steamroll over the American forces. The Battle of Bunker Hill gave the colonists hope that they would be able to defeat the British and gain their independence.
Every June, Charlestown normally celebrates Bunker Hill Day with a massive parade on the Sunday preceding the 17th of June but, for the past two years due to Covid19, the Parade has been cancelled. We can sympathize, can’t we Southie! Next year, expect a HUGE celebration in Charlestown on Sunday, June 12th, 2022.
If you want to learn more about the Battle, you can visit the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. Happy Bunker Hill Day, y’all!