Father’s Day brought me a copy of Nathaniel Philbrick’s recently published book, “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution” which I’m sure is a fine addition to his already impressive list of works on American history (In the Heart of the Sea, Last Stand, Mayflower). For whatever reason, Bunker Hill has not received the notice due to it as a critical event not only in the American Revolution but in the creation of our country itself. In his introduction, Philbrick announces his intent to explore that topic in this sentence: “Thus, the Battle of Bunker Hill is the critical turning point in the story of how a rebellion born in the streets of Boston became a countrywide war of Independence.”
The Battle of Bunker Hill also had some bearing on the creation of Lowell nearly a half century later. Recall that the first skirmish of the War of American Independence occurred in April at Lexington and Concord. The aftermath of that incident was that the British troops involved returned to Boston with thousands of colonial militia from around New England in pursuit. Rather than disperse, the militia took up positions around Boston and stayed there in what looked like a siege without artillery (at the time). It was the colonial’s occupation of the high ground in Charlestown (Bunker and Breed’s Hill) just two months after Lexington and Concord that caused the British to attack. While the British eventually took the hill, it was at such great cost in casualties that it caused even those in England who sympathized with the colonists to believe a state of war existed. The high casualties of Bunker Hill also dissuaded the British commanders in Boston from making any additional attempts to break the siege. That failure to break out, plus the colonial’s acquisition of artillery during the winter courtesy of Henry Knox and Fort Ticonderoga, caused the British and their Loyalist followers to evacuate the city in March of 1776. The Loyalists who departed, never to return, were the city’s elite. Into the void thus created moved the second echelon of Massachusetts elite, a group that had until then been centered in Newburyport at the mouth of the Merrimack River. One of the leaders of this new group of Massachusetts elites was John Lowell whose son, Francis Cabot Lowell, went on to create the first full-scale textile mill in America in Waltham in 1814. It was the ideas of Francis Cabot Lowell that were transmitted here in the early 1820s which is why our city bears his name. Had the Loyalists never left Boston, the Lowell family might never achieved the financial and social prominence that permitted young Francis to formulate and then implement his vision of large scale textile production.