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Lot 27: Gerry, Elbridge. Autograph letter, 4 pages (12 ½ x 7 ¾ in.; 318 x 197 mm.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
27. Gerry, Elbridge. Autograph letter signed, 4 pages (12 ½ x 7 ¾ in.; 318 x 197 mm.), “Watertown,” 20 June 1775 to the Massachusetts Members of the American Continental Congress just three days after the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. The signature was added in another hand to identify the author of the letter; margins reinforced, light browning.
Elbridge Gerry provides the Massachusetts Members of the American Continental Congress a detailed eyewitness account of the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Gerry writes in full: I Recd. The Letters, with which you were pleased to favor me by Mr. Fessenden, on Saturday last being the 18th Instant, at a Critical Time for the Army posted at Cambridge. The Evening preceding Orders were Issued in Consequence of a Consultation between ye General Officers an Committee of Safety to take possession of Dochester Hill and Bunkers hill in Charlestown which I must confess gave me most Sensible Pain on hearing, more especially as it had been determined about Ten Days before by ye Same Council & a Junction of the Committee of Supplies by their desire, that it would be attended with a great expence of Ammunition by Ordinance and that therefore it was inexpedient & hazardous.
As soon as it was discovered by ye Enemy on Saturday Morning a firing began from the Lively in Charlestown River & also from ye Batteries in Boston, which was returned against the Latter by the American Forces until it Subsided on their Side of ye Enemy & only one Man was lost in ye Morning. Our Forces exerted themselves in getting entrenched & Soon discovered that a Warm engagement must take place: notwithstanding which Care was not taken to place a Sufficient Number of Artillery & Cannon on ye Hill to defend it. At Noon the Enemy bro’t in Two or Three Ships of the Line with which the Lively, & Batteries at Boston, they endeavored to Dislodge our Forces. Soon after they landed about 3000 Regulars & a warm Engagement began, in which our Forces in the Intrenchment behaved like Heroes, but were not Sufficiently provided with Artillery nor timely reinforced from Cambridge. They soon found it necessary to Abandon an intrenchment on a Hill to the Eastward of Bunkers Hill & Made a Stand at ye Lines on the Hill last mentioned. The Town then being put in Flames by the Enemy the Enemy advanced by a Furious Fire kept up for sometime on both Sides until ye Enemy Forced ye Lines & depended on pushing their Bayonets. Our Forces after being overpowered in ye Intrenchments left them to the Enemy who are now posted there, and retreated about 3 Quarters of a Mile toward Cambridge where they have four One of which is on a high Hill opposite or near ye Stone House 7 so situated that with good Conduct we expect an Efectual Stand.
Our good, our beloved Friend Doctor [Joseph] Warren was on Bunkers Hill when the Lines were forced & is no more. He was two Day before Chosen Second Major General, Accepted on Friday & on Saturday dyed like a Hero. We can only drop a Tear for our worthy Brother & Console ourselves with ye. Consideration that his Virtues and Valour will be rewarded in Heaven. The Reports relative to our loss in variant from 20 to 80 Killed & wounded but I cannot think we shall find it quite so inconsiderable & from ye best Judgment wh. I can form at present believe it will turn out about 150 or 200--this is a Matter we decline noticing here at present, Altho we don’t neglect to Speak of ye Loss of the Enemy which I suppose is fully equal to our own. We labour, we are retarded, we suffer for want of a General at Cambridge. Ward is an honest Man but I think wants the Genius of a General on every Instance, Command, order, spirit Invention & Discipline are deficient; what then remains that produced this Choice, I know not. General [John] Thomas is from his Character & Conduct a fine fellow, his camp at Roxbury is always in order without trouble to Congress or their Committees, ye other at Cambridge ever wanting & never right. I hope We shall not suffer from this Accident. Colo. [James] Fry of Andover is in ye Cabinet intended a Major General & Colo. [William] Heath first Brigadier General and I suppose will be chosen and Commission this Day, but we must have the Assistance of Military skill wherever to be found on the Continent. It will I fear be difficult intirely to drop [Artemus] Ward. If he is superseded by Washington & posted at Cambridge with him and General Thomas &c. at Roxbury I cannot but think we shall be in a Good Situation provided it is timely effected. General [Charles] Lee must be provided for & heartily engaged in the Service without being Commissioned at present. He is a Stranger & cannot have the Confidence of a Jealous people when struggling for their Liberties. He will soon become familiar & be courted into office. I revere him as an Officer and wish he had been born an American. It affords Consolation that the Congress have or are taking Command of these Matters. We notice their Resolve in wh. The Army is Called the American Army. May the arrangement by happy & Satisfy each Colony as well as afford us good General.
Medicine is much wanted & Docr. [Benjamin] Church has given us an Invoice of necessary Articles, which we beg may be ordered here from Philadelphia as soon as possible. I notice what is said relative to powder. No Exertion has been wanting in the Committee of Supplies since I have been acquainted with it, to procure this Article. Colo. Bower we depended on for 200 half Barrels & were disappointed, & the plan of fortifying lines with heavy cannon was not then in Contempation. We must hold our Country by Musketry principally until Supplies can be got to expel the stance of the Humanity of the Enemy after they had obtained ye Hill; not Satisfied with burng. The other part of Charlestown they proceeded to set Fire to Houses on the Road to Winter Hill. The Newhampshire & Connecticut Forces as well as ye Massachusetts in the Heat of Battle suffered much. I suspect some of our inferior Officer are wanting & one is under Arrest. We have lost Four pieces of Artillery & nothing more at present. We are in a worse situation than we shall in future Expeience in many Instances, & great exertions are necessary. The Committee of Supplies have a Good Share at present from Sunrise to 12 at Night constantly employed for several Days but we have now a little abatement. Hall of Medford was excused from ye Committee on Acc. Of a Weak Constitution & the Congress Judiciously chose one of a Strong Constitution to supply the place. Another Engagement is Hourly expected may the great controller of Events order it for the Happiness of these Colonies. I have just Recd. A Letter which puts it beyond Doubt that ye Enemy have sustained a great Loss. Capt. [John] Bradford is an Intelligent Man but whether the Loss is equal to 1000 I cannot say. I inclose you ye the Original itself. Complaints from all Quarter of Disorder in the Camp at Cambridge, that it is more like an unorganized Collection of People than a Disciplined army. I cannot rest on this precipice; & engaged as the Commee. Is shall find time to move this Day that a Committee of Observation be immediately chosen to enquire into & assist in & Rectify the Disorder of the Camp untill they shall subside.
Good G-d that a Congress so vigilant should have chosen a lifeless T--for such an Important trust. Will ye Hona. Mr. Hancock assist ye Committee in having the Invoiec sent us forthwith--ye Notes of ye Colony can be made as payment without delay. They carry 6 pCent Interest are negotiable & received in all ye Government accts. Readily & without Hesitancy. The committee of Supplies are greatly obliged by his proposal relative to the Du[t]ch. Docr. Church proposes ye Boston Donations for this Purpose since the Notes are equal with the Cash in this Colony.
An extraordinary contemporary eyewitness account of a major event in American history, written just three days after the Battle of Bunker Hill by the signer of the Declaration of Independence from Rhode Island.
Provenance: The Collection of Philip D. Sang, Sotheby’s, New York 26 April 1978, lot 101.