Bunker Hill: Misnamed battle sparks a social media skirmish
BOSTON >> The Battle of Bunker Hill — one of the greatest misnomers in U.S. history — has sparked a social media skirmish.
The 1775 battle, a rallying point for American colonists trying to overthrow British rule, mostly was fought a musket shot away on nearby Breed's Hill. Descendants and supporters of the Breed clan are dueling with traditionalists online, and the dispute is part of a new book, "Wicked Pissed: New England's Most Famous Feuds."
Even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh caught flak after tweeting a reminder that June 17 was Bunker Hill Day. Loyalists chided him that it rightfully should be called Breed's Hill Day.
"It's one of those things we're stuck with, like the myth that George Washington had wooden teeth," said Dan Shippey, founder of the Orange, California-based Breed's Hill Institute, a nonprofit historical organization promoting the ideas behind the American Revolution. "I don't think we'll ever straighten it out."
Few, if any, dispute the facts. Thousands of outnumbered and outgunned American colonists laid siege to the British army on the hill in Charlestown, Boston's oldest neighborhood. The British won the battle but suffered far more losses than their revolutionary foes, who proved to themselves and the rest of the world that they weren't pushovers.
Early accounts erroneously referenced Bunker Hill — and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, dozens of Boston-area businesses and institutions are named for Bunker Hill, including a community college, a high school, a golf course, a security company and an insurance agency.
The National Park Service, which runs the park surrounding the 221-foot granite obelisk that marks the spot, has no plans to rename it — though it does use hashtags such as (hash)BreedsHillNotBunkerHill on social media posts in a halfhearted attempt to set the record straight.
Perpetuating the fog of war at a site that annually draws hundreds of thousands of inquisitive students and tourists, virtually every sign invokes Bunker Hill. A single plaque mentions Breed's Hill.
If you're a Breed, that's a pitifully insufficient footnote to nearly two and a half centuries of history.
"It's kind of annoying that the Bunkers get all the credit. They have bridges and aircraft carriers named after them. They feel quite empowered by a misnamed battle," said Jed Breed, 32, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based entrepreneur and 13th-generation descendant.
It's not for a lack of trying: At least since 1892, the nation's Breeds have brandished a family manifesto clamoring for a name change.
"We respectfully submit: The name 'Battle of Breed's Hill' should be adopted, because the battle was begun there, the redoubt stood there, (American Gen. Joseph) Warren fell there, the battle was decided there," it declares.
Nothing doing, said Gil Bunker, president of the Bunker Family Association.
"Sure, the Breeds would like it renamed, but we don't want it changed. It's more or less in cement now," said Bunker, 81, of Turnersville, New Jersey.
Ted Reinstein, a reporter for WCVB-TV in Boston and author of "Wicked Pissed," captures in his book what he calls the "historic outrage."
"Like any self-respecting New Englander, I knew the battle of Bunker Hill was fought on Breed's Hill, but I never thought the battle might still be going on. That came as a bit of a revelation to me," he said.
Joan Breed, of Lynn, Massachusetts, sees flickers of hope. Her grandchildren's history books speak of Breed's Hill. "So there's progress," she said.
And the Breeds vs. Bunkers dispute is far more cordial than the fiery Hatfields vs. McCoys feud. Three years ago, the Bunkers gathered at the obelisk for a 100th reunion and invited the Breeds to engage in a friendly tug of war. The two sides used a piece of rope from the U.S.S. Constitution, docked nearby.
"It was a tie," Bunker said.