By Seth Daniel
A national treasure – missing for repair from the Monument for years – has been returned to the Bunker Hill Lodge and is now preserved for many generations to take in its significance.
The Adams Field Cannon has a unique history that apparently started when men from Charlestown stole it from the British in the early parts of the Revolution and, eventually, it ended up mounted to the wall at the top of the Monument.
After years and years of people touching it and defiling it, the cannon was taken down some years ago for restoration. On Bunker Hill Day, June 17, the canon was returned and officially unveiled.
“It’s remarkable that it’s back with us today and back in a conserved state,” said Michael Creasey, general superintendent of the National Parks of Boston.
The companion cannon, named the Hancock, is also owned by the Bunker Hill Monument Association and is on loan to the Minuteman Museum in Concord.
Jack Alves, past president of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, said the importance of the ‘Adams’ cannot be overstated.
“The Adams and Hancock are the two most important remaining artifacts of the American Revolutionary War,” he said. “They are priceless national treasures.”
Author J.L. Bell was present and described the fighting life of the cannon.
It had apparently been brought to Boston in 1768 and was placed at a gunnery to protect the waterfront, somewhere near where the Locks are currently. At that outpost, irritated Colonists had been making away with gun power and frustrating the British.
On Sept. 14, 1774, somehow the two cannons – the Adams and Hancock – vanished over night.
“General Gage had heard that someone had been at the outpost and sent someone over to check on it,” said Bell. “By the time they got over here, the cannons had been cleared out. The men of Charlestown and the oxen of Charlestown had moved all the guns away and hid them under stable ‘dirt’ on a hill in another part of Town.”
From there, they were taken to a school in Boston and put in a wood chest. Legend has it that a British officer was sent to look for the cannon in the school, and the headmaster of the school sat the whole time with his feet on the wood chest.
“The officer was too polite to ask him to move his feet, so he never looked in the wood chest and the cannon remained hidden,” Bell said.
It was then moved to a blacksmith shop in the South End for three months. When the blacksmith began wavering in his commitment to the Colonists, the cannon were moved to the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. It was then transferred out to Concord, but because of rampant spies planted by the British in that town, the canon were smuggled to a farm in Stow. Their paths were lost then, but Bell said it was unlikely the canon were used in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
“They may not have been used here because most of the cannon used in the Battle were captured by the British,” he said.
After the siege of Boston – in which the cannons were used – Samuel Adams was said to have asked Gen. George Washington to give the canons back so they could stay in Boston. Washington was said to have declined.
“We don’t have any idea what he said, but we believe he said there was a war going on and they need the canon to fight that war,” Bell said. “They don’t come back until after the war when Gov. Hancock brought them back.”
National Park Conservator Margaret Breuker said great care was taken to make sure the cannon would last for years to come.
It is currently on display in the Bunker Hill Lodge under glass.