A portrait of Pitcairn.

John Trumbull's The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. At right center Major Pitcairn falls into the arms of his son

John Pitcairn (28 December 1722 – 17 June 1775) was a British Marine who was stationed in Boston, Massachusetts at the start of the American Revolutionary War.

Pitcairn was born in late December 1722 in Dysart, a port town in Fife, Scotland. His parents were the Reverend David and Katherine (Hamilton) Pitcairn. His father was descended from the ancient Scottish family of Pitcairn. He was married to Elizabeth (1724–1809), daughter of Robert Dalrymple.[1] He entered the Marines and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1746. He served in Canada during the French and Indian War as a Captain, and was promoted to Major in 1771. In 1774 he arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in command of 600 Marines to support the occupation.

Major Pitcairn was respected by the citizens in Boston as one of the more reasonable officers in the occupying force. Nevertheless, he was in command of the advance party when the first shot (the original shot heard 'round the world) was fired at Lexington, Massachusetts on 19 April 1775 starting the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He had a horse shot out from under him, and even lost a pair of matched pistols when the column's baggage was abandoned. American leader Israel Putnam carried them through the rest of the war.

At the Battle of Bunker Hill Pitcairn commanded a reserve force of about 300 Marines. They landed at the south end of the Charlestown peninsula. When the first assaults failed, he led his men up the hill toward the American position, only to fall to a rifle shot, said to have been fired by a black former slave named Peter Salem. He toppled into the arms of his son, William, also a Royal Marine, who cried, "I have lost my father!" Some of the Marines tried to console the young officer, while others, overcome with emotion, moaned. Pitcairn was carried back to Boston, and died of his wound within hours. He is buried at the Old North Church in Boston.

John Trumbull's famous painting of the Battle of Bunker Hill depicts his death. However, it contains several errors and anachronisms. No known picture of Major Pitcairn survives. Another son, Dr. David Pitcairn (1749–1809) was used as a model by Trumbull. The uniform depicted was not adopted by the Marines until the 1780s. Pitcairn is shown falling at the bunker at its capture from the American force, but he was shot while starting the ascent of the hill. Pitcairn is also depicted in the scene of the Battle of Lexington in the U.S. Capital rotunda.

Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific (known chiefly for its part in the mutiny on the Bounty) was named for another son, Robert, who was a midshipman in the British navy. While on watch on a voyage led by Captain Philip Carteret, he was the first to sight the unknown island on 3 July 1767.

A daughter, Catherine, married Charles Cochrane, a son of the 8th Earl of Dundonald and a first cousin of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.

Popular Culture[edit | edit source]

The character Major Pitcairn appears in April Morning, a 1961 novel by Howard Fast depicting the Battle of Lexington and Concord.[2] Pitcairn is also a character in the novel Johnny Tremain.

Pitcairn is a supporting antagonist in the video game, Assassin's Creed III.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ Pitcairn family from thepeerage.com
  2. ^ Fast, Howard (1961). April Morning. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-27322-1. 

External links[edit | edit source]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
NAME Pitcairn, John
DATE OF BIRTH 28 December 1722
DATE OF DEATH 17 June 1775

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