Bunker Hill Monument
BUNKER HILL MONUMENT
The Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Massachusetts, stands as one of the best examples of a Revolutionary War monument, preserving the memory of that war over centuries and contributing to American patriotism and identity. The monument, a 221-foot-high obelisk, was intended to stand as an eternal marker of American bravery at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and although it has largely served that purpose its meaning has also changed subtly over the years, reflecting the changing nature of the public memory of the Revolutionary War.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first full-scale military engagement of the Revolutionary War, and although the British won the battle the Americans proved that they were capable of fighting head-on against better trained and prepared professional soldiers who were among the most impressive military forces of that time. The battle took place on June 17, 1775, on Breed's Hill (often confused with the nearby Bunker Hill, from which the battle took its name).
The first monument erected on Bunker Hill (as Breed's Hill is popularly known) was a wooden pillar dedicated in 1794 to the memory of the most famous hero of the battle, Joseph Warren, by the King Solomon's Lodge of Freemasons. Although the wooden monument did arouse some interest as a tourist site, the larger battlefield was left largely undeveloped and unmarked until 1823, when a new generation of elite New Englanders, including Daniel Webster and Edward Everett, incorporated themselves as the Bunker Hill Monument Association.
They purchased portions of the battlefield, raised money, and set about planning a large memorial.
Although they fell short of their $75,000 goal, the association raised enough money to lay the cornerstone of their monument and go ahead with a massive ceremony that coincided with the visit of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette in June 1825. The celebration took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle itself and was one of the largest American patriotic civic occasions up to that time. Participants estimated that 100,000 people turned out to witness the mile-long procession from Boston to Charlestown, which included government dignitaries, Lafayette, and veterans of the battle. Thousands gathered on Bunker Hill to watch Lafayette lay the cornerstone, to partake of refreshments, and to listen to a speech by Daniel Webster.
The plans for the monument were ambitious by the standards of the day. Horatio Greenough, then a student at Harvard College, had been awarded first prize in a design competition for the monument, although Robert Mills, later the architect of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., maintained that the ideas he submitted for Bunker Hill had actually been used in its construction. Boston engineer Laommi Baldwin also worked on the design, and construction plans were prepared by architect Solomon Willard. The Monument Association bought its own granite quarry in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1825, and from 1827 to 1828 the granite was transported to Charlestown using the country's first railway system.
The Bunker Hill Monument was conceived as a way to express the gratitude of the American people for the sacrifices of the American soldiers who fought at the battle, but fund-raising went slowly, and construction lagged. By 1828, most of the granite had been quarried but funds to continue raising the monument were lacking. In 1830, believing that the lack of attention to the monument indicated a weakening of American patriotism, Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign in her Ladies Magazine to raise funds from American women to complete the monument. The Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, Amos Lawrence, and merchant Judah Touro, pledged significant funds. In 1840, Sarah Hale organized a Ladies' Fair in Boston, where a number of women's organizations raised the final $30,000 to complete the work. The monument was dedicated on June 17, 1843.
Visible for miles around, the Bunker Hill Monument served as a symbol of patriotism and New England pride throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the following centuries. During the Civil War, a large American flag flew from the monument's top. By the time of the Bunker Hill centennial in 1875, the monument had also become a symbol of local pride in Charlestown, which was increasingly populated by Irish immigrants. The monument was deeded to the state of Massachusetts in 1919 and later became part of the Boston National Historic Park. It now occupies a place on Boston's historic Freedom Trail. The Bunker Hill Monument Association conducts annual commemorative exercises at the monument, which is one of the most popular Revolutionary War markers in the United States, symbolic of both American nationalism and local pride.
Musuraca, Michael. "The 'Celebration Begins at Midnight': Irish Immigrants and the Celebration of Bunker Hill Day," Labor's Heritage 2 (1990): 54–57.
Purcell, Sarah J. Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Sarah J. Purcell