Friday, October 14, 2011


Prescott Statue at Bunker Hill
On October 13, 1795, William Prescott died at age 69. His claim to fame was as the commander of the American (rebel) forces in Charlestown, Mass., for the Battle of Bunker Hill. Although the source of the famous quote is disputed (Gen. Israel Putnam is also credited), most historians believe that it was Prescott who shouted to his forces as the British regulars attacked, "Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes!" With this, Prescott exhorted his troops to conserve their rapidly dwindling ammunition.

Prescott was born on February 20, 1726, in Groton, MA, to Benjamin and Abigail Prescott. He was 32 years old when he married Abigail Hale, and their one son, also named William, was born in 1762. This son eventually had a son, named William H. Prescott, who became a noted historian and author. Other descendants of Prescott live in Massachusetts today.

Back to our original William: His military aptitude began early. He joined the provincial militia and served under William Pepperell in the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg. The French and Indian War escalated, and in 1754, Prescott found himself engaged in the Battle of Fort Beausejour in New Brunswick, Canada. His conduct in the French and Indian War prompted an offer to join the Royal Army, which honor he turned down.

In the years of growing unrest predating the American Revolution, Americans formed militia companies throughout the colonies, and Prescott was made a colonel in command of the Pepperell militia. The Lexington Alarm of April 1775 alerted the militia companies of Pepperell, Groton, and Hollis, and they immediately marched for Concord. They arrived too late in the day to join the others who harassed the British regulars all the way back to Boston, but these units joined the new army which camped in Cambridge and laid siege to Boston, bottling up His Majesty's forces.

Two months later, the small army found itself looking those Crown forces in the eye from hastily erected earthen fortifications on Breed's Hill. Although the British regulars finally drove the rebels from the little fort, the Americans considered the engagement a victory: they had withstood two onslaughts of the British forces, and only retreated when their ammunition ran out. Prescott was the last of the rebels to leave the peninsula. The British suffered significantly high losses in proportion to the scale of the battle, with about fifty-percent casualties in killed and wounded.

Prescott House in Pepperell, MA
Following this engagement, the Continental Congress made Prescott colonel of the 7th Continental Regiment. He saw service in the 1776 defense of New York and in the 1777 Saratoga campaign, after which he retired from active service for the duration of the war, possibly because of injuries. He returned to the field in 1786 to suppress Shea's Rebellion.

Besides his farming as a civilian in later life, Prescott served in the Massachusetts General Court for a number of years.

A town was named after him, but it ceased to exist in 1938 when the Quabbin Reservoir was created, flooding several towns. His house in North Pepperell still stands.

William Prescott: Wikipedia

Photo: Prescott statue and Bunker Hill Monument photo from National Park Service

Photo from Wikipedia: Prescott's House in Pepperell, MA (photo taken in 1941)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Introducing The Musick of Prescott's Battalion Blog

William Prescott at Bunker Hill
On the night of June 16, 1775, Colonel William Prescott of Pepperell, Mass., led a rag-tag collection of 1200 citizen soldiers to a low hill in Charlestown, a neck of land overlooking Boston Harbor. At his direction, this nascent army - Prescott’s Battalion - began digging, and within 12 hours had erected a string of earthworks on what was later identified as Breed’s Hill, the elevation south of Bunker Hill, closer to the harbor and strategically a better location than Bunker Hill.

The next morning, June 17, the series of attacks by the British regulars on the crude fortifications and the Americans’ repulse became the now-famous Battle of Bunker’s Hill. To Col. William Prescott is attributed the cry, “Don’t fire until you see the white of their eyes,” a caution to conserve limited ammunition by making every shot count.

Prescott’s Massachusetts Regiment was formed of militia companies from around Pepperell which had responded in April 1775 to the Lexington Alarm and “the shot heard ‘round the world.” During the Siege of Boston,  the regiment quartered with the rest of the raw, young army for nearly a year in Cambridge and Roxbury Camps, on the outskirts of the British-occupied city. After the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, many soldiers re-enlisted, serving throughout the American Revolution in various companies and regiments.

Ten companies, each of a hundred men, formed a regiment. Ideally, each company had one fifer and one snare drummer; this music was massed into a music company for regimental or battalion activities, including camp duties, relay of commands, and entertainment. The Musick of Prescott’s Battalion represents that massed regimental music.

At Longfellow's Wayside Inn, Sudbury, MA
Colonial New England Martial Musick, Inc., incorporated in 2006 and functions publicly as The Musick of Prescott’s Battalion. Our mission is to perform music that was likely heard among the ranks of the raucous, undisciplined volunteers in Cambridge Camp and Roxbury Camp during the formative days of the American Revolution.

Our uniforms are anything but. Early-war military dress illustrates different interpretations of a uniform, including French & Indian War leftovers, captured British uniforms, and everyday civilian wear. You’ll see us in a mélange of civilian clothing and accoutrements of the era, from the tatters of the street urchin to the tailored coat of the merchant, from the neatly mended hand-me-downs of the indentured servant to the short utility jacket of the common laborer. Patterns and fabrics have been researched, and authenticity is emphasized.

Equal attention – and more – is paid to our music. We select our tunes from a wide variety of sources dating from 1640 to 1820, with the focus on pre-1800 music. Sources from both sides of the Atlantic include 17th and 18th Century composers and public broadsides, music collections and tutors published throughout the 18th Century, and unpublished manuscripts. Before the war generated new military tunes, the common man’s favorites included dance tunes, ballads sung in the pubs and ordinaries, instructors for flute, violin, guitar, and harpsichord, and homespun music performed at community gatherings.

These tunes, from the famous to the obscure, hale primarily from the British Isles, Ireland, and the North American colonies, with a sprinkling from the French and Germans. Much of this music was composed for dancing, a highly popular form of entertainment in the 17th and 18th Century Western world. Some comes from the operas of those days, another cultural art form favored by the populace both above and below the salt.

Many tunes were published repeatedly over the course of 150 years: this was the music of the common man. Common and sometimes vulgar. Today, the Musick of Prescott’s Battalion sub-specializes in tunes with naughty names, reflecting our common man’s interest in women and drink, often in the same tune. A lot of awful pretty tunes out there have some pretty awful names. But since we don’t sing the lyrics, we suffer less risk of offending tender ears.

Besides being a place to post activity reports for The Musick of Prescott’s Battalion, this blog will highlight these tunes and their history, naughty or not. Learn the lyrics for “Would You Have A Young Virgin.” Discover the antiquity and continued popularity of “Lilliburlero” which has been used in the 21st Century as background music for a baby-formula commercial. Come along with us and have fun with this music!