“Better to die honorably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the gallows.”

I subscribe to Bill Bennett’s radio program and I get regular daily emails as an kind an American history almanac.  Today I had one that stuck me, and thus I share it.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 18, 1775

Shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Abigail Adams wrote one of the many letters she penned to her husband, John, then in Philadelphia serving in the Second Continental Congress. On a hill near her farm with her young son, Johnny, she had watched the smoke of the battle rising above Charlestown. She wrote partly to tell her husband that their friend Dr. Joseph Warren had been killed in the fight.

Dearest Friend, The Day, perhaps the decisive Day is come on which the fate of America depends. My bursting heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his country—saying better to die honorably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the gallows. Great is our loss. He has distinguished himself in every engagement, by his courage and fortitude, by animating the soldiers and leading them on by his own example. . . .

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Trust in him at all times, ye people pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us—Charleston is laid in ashes. . . .

How [many ha]ve fallen we know not—the constant roar of the cannon is so [distre]ssing that we can not eat, drink, or sleep. May we be supported and sustained in the dreadful conflict. I shall tarry here till tis thought unsafe by my friends, and then I have secured myself a retreat at your brother’s, who has kindly offered me part of his house. I cannot compose myself to write any further at present. I will add more as I hear further.

American History Parade

1812 The United States declares war against Britain in the War of 1812.
1873 Suffragist Susan B. Anthony is fined $100 for trying to vote in the 1872 presidential election (a fine she refuses to pay).
1928 Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, as a passenger on a flight piloted by Wilmer Stultz (she later becomes the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic).
1948 Columbia Records unveils the latest in audio technology: a long-playing, 33? rpm phonograph record.
1983 Sally Ride becomes America’s first woman in space when she blasts off aboard the space shuttle Challenger.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Michel says:

    And yet Christ was hanged from the cross in a death that seemed ignominious to those of his time, including the apostles who all ran away.

  2. Facta Non Verba says:

    Words to reflect on as we approach this year’s Fortnight for Freedom.

  3. Charivari Rob says:

    It makes me want to read some history to figure out where she was that day. If the farm in question was the birthplace historic site in Quincy…

    I’m pretty sure some hilltop nearby would probably give a view of Charlestown, yes. It’s interesting to contemplate, though, that (a) the smoke of gunpowder could be distinguished at that distance (in an era where every house was burning wood) and (b) the cannon could be heard at that distance (admittedly, it was in many ways a world of much less artificial noise)

  4. JonPatrick says:

    He was born in what is now Quincy (then part of the town of Braintree) but after he married Abigail, he moved to Boston where he practiced law I believe.

  5. Joe in Canada says:

    Martyrem non paena sed causa fecit. We’ll see how long your rebellion against the Crown lasts.

  6. ckdexterhaven says:

    The John Adams book by David McCullough is an American treasure. The amount of letters that John and Abigail wrote to each other over the years are an amazing look at their personalities, but also a great insight to other leaders of the day. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had an amazing written correspondence after they both left the White House. And they both died on the 4th of July, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. It’s one of my favorite books.

  7. Brian K says:

    “Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.” – Winston Churchill

  8. Laura Lea says:

    Father Z’s post today certainly reflects what he values, and what we all should value as well. In more ways than one.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Well, people need to make little decisions daily that lead up to the big ones. Thanks for the encouragement.

  10. Imrahil says:

    I tend to make one exception.

    Those who went to war with best intentions, yet, overcome by emotional weakness and without being traitors, committed a deed of cowardice which the State thought necessary to punish by death.

    They, too, are fallen on the field of honor – even if their specific enemny was their own interior pig-dog.

  11. brhenry says:

    I am confused. Are the dates of “accomplishments” of American women
    intended to be laudable?

  12. Kathleen10 says:

    I’m long convinced the Americans of the past were vastly better in most ways than most of the contemporary versions. And Churchill was amazing.
    One of my private fears consists of knowing that we are surely going to experience a significant event that changes the game plan for many Americans, and knowing we do not, as a majority, have the fortitude, the courage, the decency, the insight, to carry on and get things done as our forefathers did. Some have to suffer in order to appreciate liberty and freedom, and we are incredibly spoiled, fat, and indolent.
    Imrahil, I do not understand your comment.

  13. PostCatholic says:

    Nice letter from a Unitarian hero. There’s a little monument, kind of like a cairn, on the spot where she and her son John Quincy Adams watched the battle.

  14. Maltese says:

    History is written by those who write history.

  15. Charivari Rob says:

    Thank you, PostCatholic – that made it easy to find the spot.

    About 11-11.5 miles as the crow flies from the cairn to the Bunker Hill Monument (yes, I know that the geography of the Battle isn’t as simple as that).

    It wasn’t just the ground battle at Breed’s Hill. The battle also involved bombardment by British ships in the harbor. Some of those cannons would be closer to the cairn than the 11-11.5 miles

  16. John Nolan says:

    18 June is also the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Walk around that battlefield, still recognizable after 198 years, and it is chastening to think how many men died in such a small area. [I had the same sense when I visited Antietam and Lake Trasimene and Omaha Beach and… and… and… Visiting battlefields is important.]

  17. PostCatholic says:

    It’s a nice spot in a quiet suburban neighborhood now, Charivari Rob. It’s difficult to see Charlestown from it, but at a time when the ‘town was on fire and the Boston skyline was three storeys tall, it’s not beyond imagining.

    Suburbanbanshee, you might be interested to know the historic island pentagonal fort that guarded Boston Harbor (much like the fort at the base of New York’s Statue of Liberty) is named in honor of Dr Warren. You often fly over it when leaving Boston’s airport. (There’s also another like it on approach, Castle Island/Fort Independence.)

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