Over 225 years ago, on June 17th 1775, the neighborhood surrounding 91 Main Street was in flames. Charlestown was deliberately set on fire by incendiary shot from the British warship H.M.S. Lively anchored in Boston Harbor. The wood framed town burned quickly, including Main Street (up to what is now Thompson Square). Over 400 houses would ultimately be consumed by fire.

The cause of this great conflagration was the building of a dirt redoubt or fort on the summit of Breed’s Hill. This redoubt overlooked the harbor and the City of Boston. It was built by New England troops under the orders of the Committee of Safety. Word had reached the Committee that the British planned to attack and seize Dorchester Heights, Roxbury, Charlestown and Cambridge on June 18th. It was decided to fortify the Charlestown peninsula as soon as possible. This act of Colonial provocation was to result in the largest battle ever fought in New England.

The Battle for Bunker Hill was complex, involving elements of land, sea and artillery forces. The costs on both sides were very high. The British lost 226 killed and over 900 wounded, (almost one half of total forces engaged)! One quarter of all British officer casualties in the entire war occurred on the slopes of Breed’s Hill! American losses were 135 killed and 400 wounded. Most of these losses were during the retreat to Cambridge. All this in the short span of 90 minutes!

The annals of history are clogged with writings of the “glorious” armies of Alexander, Darius, Julius Caesar, Napoleon and even Hitler - men whose dreams of world conquest were realized by and with the sword. The Battle for Bunker Hill was not an act of aggression against a weak opponent. Indeed, the New Englanders were going up against the greatest army in the world in June 1775. With the exception of the ill-conceived attempt to invade Canada, the American Revolution was not about the conquest of neighboring lands for booty and land. It was not the superiority of one religion or one ethnic group over another. It was about man’s eternal and rightful quest for freedom and self-determination.

The Battle for Bunker Hill was, in its simplest terms, a group of farmers and tradesmen from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut in a homemade dirt fort thumbing their noses at the greatest military power on earth. The great power struck back and would continue to strike back for seven more years until the popularity of the war in England resulted in its just end.

Charlestown remained under British occupation through the following March when Boston and its neighboring towns were evacuated on Saint Patrick’s Day 1776.