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Massachusetts Historical Society




The Crossed Swords of Prescott and Linzee



Sword specifications | Plaque inscriptions | Crossed Swords Image Large file


Colonel William Prescott (1726-1795) wore his sword when he commanded the provincial forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. This was the first major military engagement of the Revolution, and troops from all over New England flocked to Charlestown to support the cause. From the nearby Mystic River, the British sloop-of-war Falcon, commanded by Captain John Linzee (1743-1798) cannonaded Prescott and his troops throughout the battle. Although the provincials lost the day, it was a costly victory for the British and became a legend in American military and patriotic lore.


Captain Linzee had earlier been in command of the sloop-of-war Beaver at Newport in 1772 when its tender, the schooner Gaspee, was seized and burned by Americans in a celebrated incident. He married Susanna Inman of Boston in 1772 and in 1792 resigned from the Royal Navy, returned to America, and permanently settled here with his family.


In 1820, the grandson of Colonel William Prescott married a granddaughter of Captain John Linzee (see Biographies). In a gesture of national and personal reconciliation, the actual sword worn by Colonel Prescott at Bunker Hill and that of Captain John Linzee upon his retirement from the Royal Navy were placed together on a tablet, each crossing the other through a carved wreath of olive leaves.


The Prescott sword descended in the family to Colonel Prescott's grandson, the historian William Hickling Prescott. The Linzee sword, which probably dates from a period after the Battle of Bunker Hill (1780), was given by Captain Linzee's son John Inman Linzee to William Hickling Prescott who married Linzee's niece Susan Amory. "The swords that had been worn by the soldier and the sailor on that memorable day came down as heirlooms in their respective families, until at last they met in the library of the man of letters, where, quietly crossed over his books, they often excited the notice alike of strangers and of friends." One of these strangers was William Thackeray, who visited Prescott in 1852. Six years later he opened his novel The Virginians with the lines:

"On the library wall of one of the most famous writers of America there hang two crossed swords, which his relatives wore in the great war of Independence. The one sword was gallantly drawn in the service of the king, the other was the weapon of a brave and honored republican soldier. The possessor of the harmless trophy has earned for himself a name alike honored in his ancestors' country and in his own, where genius like his has always a peaceful welcome."

The Prescott sword was bequeathed to the Massachusetts Historical Society by W.H. Prescott in 1839, but he returned the Linzee sword to his wife. However, so that the two swords should not be separated, Mrs. Prescott and her cousin Thomas C.A. Linzee also presented the Linzee sword to the Society, where the plaque is presently displayed.


Shortly after the swords came to the Historical Society, when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) visited the Society's rooms on Tremont Street during his American tour in 1860, he glanced in passing at a number of artifacts on display but "he paused longer to learn the story of the two swords bequeathed to us by Prescott, now crossing each other over our folding-doors, as an emblem of good will between England and the United States."


The union with the Prescott family was one of several with families of former colonial leaders.  In 1846, another Linzee granddaughter married the great nephew of General Joseph Warren, and two years later, in 1848, Linzee’s great-granddaughter married a grandson of Paul Revere. Shortly after his return to Massachusetts to reside permanently, Captain Linzee himself provided the first steps at reconciliation with America.  He was sued by a Mr. Tucker of Dartmouth for the seizure, in 1775, of certain (apparently invaluable) sheep.  While having done so during wartime and as part of his military duty, Captain Linzee nevertheless paid Mr. Tucker in full for his “damages” and without reimbursement by the British government.


Throughout its history, America has had a special relationship with England; at times the worst of enemies, but more often the strongest of allies.  Captain Linzee’s life seems in many ways to mirror the complexities of that relationship. Despite the political vicissitudes and obligations of duty that so directed his life, Captain Linzee retained for this land a deep sense of affection, family, and ultimately, home.


Sword Descriptions


Linzee Sword
Small-sword for an officer of the Royal Navy.
Blade: L. 33" (83.8 cm(, W. (at hilt) 13/16" (2.1 cm), L. overall 39-1/2" (100 cm).
Hilt: English, probably 1780-3, gilded brass (Norman's type 112), engraved with laurel leaf sprays on either side of hafted arm panoply, inscribed, blade side of shell. Sword of Capt. John Linzee R.N. / who Commanded / the British Sloop of War Falcon / while / acting, against the Americans at the / Battle of Bunker Hill. June 17, 1775., other side, engraved overall with a jumble of naval colors, ordnance and short, foul anchors, hand and staff weapons of the period. Blade: German (Solingen), late eighteenth century; for about one-half length from tip, plain and highly polished; from this point, finely fireblued, and etched longitudinally with fire-gilt decoration of intertwined, foliated strapwork, foliated tendrils, martial trophienes and a gowned female figure with sword; etched, on both faces of forté just below the shoulders in gilded cartouche; Mc /fecit / Sohlingen. Gift of Susannah Amory Prescott and Thomas C.A. Linzee, 1859


Prescott Sword
Silver-hilted small sword.
Blade: L. 29-7/8" (75.9 cm), W. (at hilt) 1-7/16" (3.7 cm); L. overall 36" (91.4 cm)
Hilt: American, by Jacob Hurd of Boston (1702-1759), second quarter of eighteenth century; symmetrical, bivalve shell-guard, waisted at plane of blade (Norman's type 112, stamped on inner side of the revers shell:IHURD. Blade: plain, unmarked steel, hollow ground, triangular section; inscribed, on obverse shell: The Sword of l Col. William Prescott; on reverse shell: and worn by him at the Battle of bunker Hill June 17, 1775. Bequest of William Hickling Prescott, 1859.


Plaque Inscriptions (left to right)


The sword of Colonel William Prescott, worn by him while in command of the Provincial Forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill, 17 June 1775; and bequeath to the MASS:HIST:SOCIETY by his grandson, William H. Prescott.


These swords for many years were hung crossed in the library of the late eminent historian William Hickling Prescott in token of international friendship and family alliance. They are now preserved in a similar position by the Mass: Historical Society in memory of the associations with which they will be inseparably connected.


The sword of Captain John Linzee, R.N. who commanded the British Sloop of War Falcon while acting against the Americans during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Presented to the MASS:HIST:SOCIETY, 14 April, 1859, by his grandchildren, Thomas C.A. Linzee and Mrs. Wm. H. Prescott.


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