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The Boy Who Saw the Battle of Bunker Hill

The Boy Who Saw the Battle of Bunker Hill

Editor’s note: Today in the United States it’s Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have lost their lives defending their country. Today, let’s pray for families who have lost a loved one in battle or in service. Enjoy this excerpt of 100 Bible Verses That Made America.


June 17, 1775

Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8

After the Boston Tea Party, the British issued punitive measures against Boston, which prompted the Colonies to convene the First Continental Congress in 1774. John Adams of Massachusetts traveled to Philadelphia, leaving his wife, Abigail, and their children in Braintree, near Boston, which was quickly becoming a battle zone. British troops began swarming the area, and shots were fired at nearby Lexington and Concord.

Abigail was the daughter of a minister and a force to be reckoned with, but she grew increasingly anxious for her children’s safety. On June 15, she wrote her husband, “We now expect our seacoast to be ravaged; perhaps the very next letter I write will inform you that I am driven away from our yet quiet cottage... We live in continual expectation of alarms.

Courage, I know we have in abundance... but powder — where shall we get a sufficient supply?”1

Seven-year-old John Quincy felt the strain, too, later writing, “My mother with her infant children dwelt every hour of the day and of the night liable to be butchered in cold blood or taken and carried into Boston as hostages by any foraging or marauding detachment of men.”2

On June 17, Abigail and her children heard the guns and cannons that marked the beginning of the Battles of Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill. As the British started up the slopes, a command reportedly passed through the American lines: “Don’t shoot until you see the white of their eyes.”

When the guns began firing, the sound traveled for miles. Hearing the roar of the cannons and the sounds of the battle, Abigail took John Quincy and hiked to the top of Penn Hill, where they watched the battle unfold across the bay. The Boston neighborhood of Charlestown went up in flames, and the winds blew the heat and smoke into their faces. Waves of British soldiers fell while charging up Bunker’s hill. The Patriots were driven back, and it was the bloodiest battle thus far in the War. The next morning Abigail wrote John, and in the middle of her letter, she burst into the cherished scriptures sustaining her, especially a passage from Psalm 62:

The day — perhaps the decisive day — is come, on which the fate of America depends. My bursting heart must give vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear friend, Dr. Warren, is no more, but fell gloriously fighting... “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 to His people. Trust in Him at all times, ye people, pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Charlestown is laid in ashes. The battle began upon our intrenchments upon Bunker’s Hill, Saturday morning about three o’clock, and has not ceased yet... It is expected they will come out over the Neck tonight, and a dreadful battle must ensue. Almighty God, cover the heads of our countrymen, and be a shield to our dear friends! How many have fallen, we know not. The constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we cannot eat, drink, or sleep.3

John Quincy Adams never forgot the carnage that filled his seven-year-old eyes as he stood transfixed by the cannons, gunfire, charging soldiers, dying troops, burning city, and unfolding history. He later said it made an impression on his mind that haunted him the rest of his life. Even in old age he couldn’t bring himself to attend celebrations associated with the events of that day.4

“I saw with my own eyes the fires of Charlestown and heard Britannia’s thunders in the battle... and witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled them with my own,” he wrote.5

Abigail finally turned and left the bloody panorama, leading her son back home where she made him promise to repeat the Lord’s Prayer every morning before rising from bed, a practice he kept the rest of his life.6

Thus the little family watched, prayed, trusted God, poured out their hearts to Him — and melted Abigail’s collection of pewter spoons into musket balls for the Patriots.7

  1. Abigail Adams, Letters of Mrs. Adams, 1 (Boston: Charles C. Little & James Brown, 1840), 36–37.
  2. Harlow Giles Unger, John Quincy Adams (Boston: De Capo Press, 2012), 12.
  3. Adams, Letters of Mrs. Adams, 39–40.
  4. Nathaniel Philbrick, Bunker Hill (New York: Viking, 2013), 293.
  5. Edward Everett Hale, ed., Old and New, 10 (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1875), 508, quoting John Quincy Adams, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, vols. 1–2, Charles Frances Adams, ed. (Philadelphia: Lippincott & Company, 1874).
  6. Unger, John Quincy Adams, 17. 7. Unger, John Quincy Adams, 17.

Excerpted with permission from 100 Bible Verses That Made America by Robert Morgan, copyright Robert J. Morgan. 

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Scripture is our very foundation. It’s God’s library of books of love to us that we must cling to, not just in trials, fear, and suffering, but in times of peace and calm as well. How has scripture changed your life and sustained you? ~ Devotionals Daily