CHARLESTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS. 17 June 1775. Located on the peninsula opposite Boston, Charlestown was settled in 1630 and in 1775 had a population of 2,700 people. All but about 200 had evacuated the town when the siege of Boston started, and those remaining seem to have fled before the battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. Parties of American soldiers, including detachments sent by Colonel William Prescott from his regiment at the redoubt on top of Breed's Hill, used the abandoned dwellings of Charlestown as cover from which to fire on the British left wing commanded by Brigadier General Robert Pigot. Samuel Graves, the vice admiral in command of the Royal Navy's North American squadron, commented:
The General [William Howe] observing the mischief his left wing sustained by the fire from Charles Town, the Admiral [Samuel Graves] asked him if he wished the place burned, and being answered yes, he immediately sent to the ships to fire red hot balls (which had been prepared with that view), and also to [the Royal Navy-manned] Copse [Copp's] Hill battery [at Boston] to desire they would throw carcasses into the town, and thereby it was instantly set on fire in many places, and the enemy quickly forced from that station. (French, p. 231)
Americans called this justifiable action an atrocity and pilloried Howe for burning the town. Charlestown was rebuilt after the British evacuated Boston in March 1776.
French, Allen. The First Year of the American Revolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934.
Lossing, Benson J. The Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. 2 vols. New York, 1851.
revised by Harold E. Selesky