By Hannah Marcel
My first two weeks at the Boston National Historical Park consisted of me settling into living and working here. I participated in ranger safety training and informational historical lectures to help me become familiar with the history of the location as well as how to make safe decisions on the job. The main project that I am currently working on is an annual inventory of the park’s collections. I have also been given time to explore the many historical sites owned by or partnered with the Boston National Historical Park. This gave me a better understanding of the city’s history and provided deeper context to the artifacts that I have been working with. While some artifacts are related to sites along the Freedom and Black Heritage Trails, most in the Boston Navy Yard collections are related to the Navy Yard itself and the USS Cassin Young. Since my time has consisted of orienting myself with the park I am going to provide you, the reader, with a brief orientation to the Boston National Historical Park as well.
Boston is a vibrant coastal New England city in Massachusetts, perhaps most well known for the role that it played in the American Revolutionary War. The national park partners with local historical sites to provide visitors with an immersive tour of locations important to Boston’s Revolutionary War. This is done through the Freedom Trail, a path through the city marked by a red brick line, taking visitors to many Revolutionary era sites. The park also maintains the Black Heritage Trail where visitors can further explore Boston’s African American history.
The headquarters of the park, however, is the Charlestown Navy Yard. This is the site of both the USS Constitution and the USS Cassin Young. The USS Constitution was constructed in 1794 and is still considered an active naval ship. The Navy maintains the USS Constitution in partnership with the Park Service. The USS Cassin Young is a World War 2 era naval ship that fought in the Pacific during the war. The Charlestown Navy Yard is home to a variety of historical structures that are utilized in many different ways. The former Marine Barracks, now used by the Park Service as an office and dorm space, is the location that I will be living during my time here. It was nice to get a chance to settle into this historic structure and become more familiar with the park!
Dive Deeper: What happened at the Battle of Bunker Hill? How did the date of this deadly battle turn into a Charlestown tradition of Patriotic Celebration?
What was the battle of Bunker Hill?
After skirmishes in Concord and Lexington a few months prior (shout out to the Minute Man National Historical Park Interns) British commander, General Thomas Gage, was under pressure to put an end to the rebellion. The British commanders had drafted a plan to occupy the high ground on the edges of Boston, including the Charlestown locations of Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, to gain a tactical advantage and swifty end the colonial uprising. On the night of June 16th 1775, however, around 1,200 troops were ordered to climb atop Breed’s Hill and create a fortification. At dawn on the 17th, British lookouts noticed the structures. Cannonfire was ordered on the fortification while British reinforcements were brought across the river and into Charlestown. After British reinforcements arrived, an attack was ordered. The American soldiers, already low on ammunition, were told to wait until the British soldiers were closer in order for the shots to have a more devastation impact. This is the moment that it is rumored a commanding officer yelled the famous words “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” After three attempts the British military pushed the colonists off of Breed’s Hill. Roughly 1,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded compared to 300-500 American casualties. This battle was a significant moment in the American Revolution as it energized the soldiers and proved that they were going to be more difficult to fight than the British had previously thought. For a more in depth look at the battle, visit https://www.nps.gov/bost/learn/historyculture/bhm.htm
What is the history of the Bunker Hill Day Holiday?
On Sunday, June 16th, the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown celebrated Bunker Hill Day with festivities including food and a parade. The parade included Park Service staff, local politicians, fire and police departments, marching bands, patriotic floats, and even a multitude of historical reenactments. Despite my excitement in participating in this Charlestown Tradition, I wondered how this tradition came about. Luckily the Bunker Hill Monument Museum had the answer. Recognition of the holiday began as memorial services and grew in size when the monument was dedicated in 1843. An influx of Irish immigrants arrived in Charlestown and the new population turned the Bunker Hill memorials into a celebration of Charlestown and the community that they had established there. The parade provides a good opportunity to see the blend of culture in Boston, including participants from Boston’s Irish and Italian communities. For more information on this holiday, visit https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/bostonians-lay-cornerstone-for-bunker-hill-monument.html