Colonel William Prescott's House
(looking NW) in Pepperell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
William Prescott (February
20, 1726 – October 13, 1795) was an American colonel in the
Revolutionary War who
commanded the rebel forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Photographed on June 18, 1941.
Prescott is one of a number of persons to
whom the order to his soldiers, "Do not fire until you see the
whites of their eyes", is attributed, in order that the rebel
troops may shoot at the enemy at shorter ranges, and therefore more
accurately and lethally, and so conserve their limited stocks of
was born in Groton,
Massachusetts to Benjamin Prescott (1696–1738) and Abigail Oliver
He married Abigail Hale (1733–1821) on
April 13, 1758, and they had one son, also named William, in 1762.
Prescott owned a house in Pepperell, Massachusetts, on Prescott
served in the provincial militia in King George's War where he served in the
1745 Siege of
Louisbourg under William
Pepperrell. He may have played a role in the naming of
the town of Pepperell, Massachusetts after his commander when it was separated from
Groton in 1753. In 1755, when the French and Indian War widened, he saw
action at the Battle of Fort Beausejour.
He turned down an offer to join the
for his service in that
American Revolutionary War
In 1774, when Massachusetts towns began forming militia companies,
Prescott was made a colonel commanding the Pepperell company.
that was raised on the evening of April 18, 1775 that British
troops were marching on Concord reached Pepperell about 10 am on April 19.
immediately alerted the companies of Pepperell, Hollis, and Groton, and rode toward Concord.
companies arrived too late to participate in the day's
battles, but they became part of the small army that
laid siege to
American military commanders were alerted to British plans to
capture undefended high ground at Dorchester Heights and Charlestown, Prescott was chosen to lead 1,200 men onto the
Charlestown peninsula and erect defenses on Bunker Hill on the night of June 16,
1775. The next day, his troops, which were tired
from working to construct a redoubt and
other defensive works, and only had limited ammunition, formed the
centerpiece of the American defenses when the British attacked the
In spirited battle, Prescott's men twice
threw back British assaults on the redoubt. When the British made a
third attempt, his men were almost out of ammunition; after an
initial volley, he ordered a retreat from the redoubt. He was one
of the last men to leave the redoubt, parrying bayonet
thrusts with his ceremonial saber
. While the British successfully captured Bunker
Hill, the poorly-organized colonial forces inflicted significant
casualties, and the British were unable to capitalize on their
victory; Prescott is widely seen as having played a key role in the
battle, keeping the relatively poorly-trained militia under his
Congress established the Continental Army it sent George Washington to take command of the
forces besieging Boston.
Prescott received a colonel's commission,
and his unit became the 7th
. The regiment saw service in the 1776
defense of New
. While he appears to have given up command of
the regiment after that campaign, he apparently participated in
some capacity in the 1777 Saratoga
campaign, for he is depicted in the painting of the
Surrender of General Burgoyne at
Saratoga by John
Trumbull,which hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
His departure from military service may be
due to injuries sustained in an accident on his farm.
Prescott served in the Massachusetts General Court
later years, and served in militia called out to suppress the
in 1786. He died
His grandson William H. Prescott
was a noted historian and
author, who married the granddaughter of Captain John Linzee,
captain of the HMS Falcon
, one of the British ships that
fired on Bunker Hill.
former town of Prescott, Massachusetts, was named in his honor. The town was
disincorporated in 1938 as part of the building of the Quabbin
Reservoir, and the land now makes up Prescott Peninsula,
which divides the main branches of the reservoir.
Prescott's likeness was made into a statue for a memorial for the
Battle of Bunker Hill.
Prescott's house is located in North Pepperell,
Prescott appears as a character in Thomas Wm. Hamilton's science fiction
novel Time for
, ISBN 978-1-60693-224-7.
- Surrender of General Burgoyne
- (Paperback: ISBN 0-8050-6099-5)