Former President John Tyler Eulogizes General Joseph Warren, Killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, As “the first great martyr to the cause of freedom and independence”

No one, he says, would have witnessed the dedication of the statue of Warren “with deeper emotion than myself”

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On June 17, 1775, the British army under General William Howe, supported by Royal Navy warships, attacked the defenses the colonists had erected on Bunker and Breeds Hills. The British troops moved up Breeds Hill in perfect battle formations. Patriot leader William Prescott allegedly encouraged his men “not fire until you see...

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Former President John Tyler Eulogizes General Joseph Warren, Killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, As “the first great martyr to the cause of freedom and independence”

No one, he says, would have witnessed the dedication of the statue of Warren “with deeper emotion than myself”

On June 17, 1775, the British army under General William Howe, supported by Royal Navy warships, attacked the defenses the colonists had erected on Bunker and Breeds Hills. The British troops moved up Breeds Hill in perfect battle formations. Patriot leader William Prescott allegedly encouraged his men “not fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Two assaults on the colonial positions were repulsed with significant British casualties; the third and final attack carried the position after the defenders ran out of ammunition. The colonists retreated to Cambridge over Bunker Hill, leaving the British in control of Charlestown but still besieged in Boston. The battle was a tactical victory for the British because they held the ground, but it proved to be a sobering experience, involving more than twice the casualties than the Americans had incurred, including many officers. The battle had demonstrated that inexperienced Continental militia could stand up to regular British army troops in battle, at a time when the British were considered to have the finest army in the world. It encouraged revolutionaries throughout America, and made the success of such a revolution actually seem possible.

In 1823, Edward Everett, Daniel Webster, famed physician John C. Warren, and others co-founded the Bunker Hill Monument Association, which sought to memorialize that battle with a grand monument. They petitioned the Massachusetts House and Senate for recognition and support and a subsequent Act was passed giving both. Then began the work to draw interest, raise money, design the monument, and build it, a years-long effort that created the first major monument to the American Revolution, and the first public obelisk in the United States. In 1824 and 1825 they began notifying the public of their work, elected their officers, and then wrote a circular eliciting donations, and elected prominent men honorary members. They informed these men, and the responses the committee received back were from many great men of the era, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Oliver Wolcott, Joseph Story, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Soon Simon Bolivar was added to the list.

On the 80th anniversary of the battle, June 17, 1857, the Bunker Hill Monument Association planned a celebration of the inauguration of a statue of Gen. Joseph Warren. The Speaker of House and President of the Senate of the State of Massachusetts invited President James Buchanan and former President John Tyler to attend the festivities, but both had to decline. Tyler sister-in-law, Margaret Gardiner, had died on June 1, 1857, of an overdose of morphine given by a doctor, and the household was in mourning.

Autograph letter signed, Sherwood Forest, Va., June 5, 1857, to the Speaker of House and President of the Senate of the State of Massachusetts, declining the invitation but eulogizing Warren in the warmest terms. “I have felt myself highly flattered by your kind letter of the 25 May written on behalf of the Joint Committee of the two branches of the Legislature and expressing the earnest hope that I would be present in Boston on the 17th Inst. at the inauguration of the Statue of General Warren. And may you be assured that few things would afford me more true pleasure than a compliance with your wishes. But a heavy family bereavement which has plunged into deep affliction all who surround me precludes the possibility of my doing so. There is no one who had he permitted to do so would have witnessed the august ceremonies of the 17th in memory of the first great martyr to the cause of freedom and independence with deeper emotion than myself. Be pleased to make acceptable to the committee you represent my cordial salutations, and accept for yourselves individually assurances of my high consideration.”

This letter was at one time in the papers of George Washington Warren, president of the association and its chief historian and has never before been offered for sale.

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