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)

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