A Casualty Not Counted: Faith Trumbull Huntington and the Battle of Bunker Hill

“I cannot pretend to describe the Horror of the Scene within the Redoubt when we enter’d it,” British Marine Lt. John Waller wrote to a friend on June 21, 1775, four days after the British Pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, “’twas streaming with Blood & strew’d with dead & dying Men the Soldiers stabbing some and dashing out the Brains of others was a sight too dreadful for me to dwell any longer on.”[1]  All said and done, the bloody exchange claimed 226 British and 450 Patriot lives, with still over 1,000 more wounded, captured, or missing from both belligerents.[2]

This unspeakable carnage, which proved too distressing for even a seasoned British Marine to recount, surely imprinted itself in the hearts and minds of all who witnessed it—but not all witnesses to the battle’s shocking scenes were soldiers. One was a young woman named Faith Trumbull Huntington. She too would find the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill, and the anxieties and unknowns of her world at war, heavy burdens to bear.

Double Portrait of Governor Jonathan and Faith Trumbull, John Trumbull, 1778, Connecticut Historical Society

Born in 1743 to Jonathan and Faith Trumbull in Lebanon, daughter Faith came of age in a prominent and respected Connecticut family, which also included younger brother John Trumbull, born in 1756, who was destined to become one of the era’s most important artists. On May 1, 1766 Faith married Jedidiah Huntington, and the couple welcomed a son, Jabez, in September 1767. At the onset of the war, the Trumbulls and the Huntingtons quickly mobilized and made known their patriot loyalties. Faith’s father, at that time the Royal Governor of Connecticut, refused to deliver manpower to support the British army’s advances against the colonists in Boston, and became a patriot hero whom George Washington held in high esteem. Jedidiah advanced to colonel in the Connecticut militia, and soon saw action at the Siege of Boston. Faith’s father, husband, and brothers dedicated themselves to the patriot cause. Her sister Mary was married to a member of the Sons of Liberty and future signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Jedediah Huntington, John Trumbull, about 1790, Bequest of Frederick Jabez Huntington, Connecticut Historical Society

With the family entrenched in the increasing warfare in Spring 1775, Jedidiah arranged for Faith and some friends to visit him and his fellow officers at Roxbury. While there, Faith found herself witness to (other sources assert actually in the midst of) the Battle of Bunker Hill. Faith saw horrors that she could not shake and, for perhaps the first time, came face-to-face with very real dangers that threatened the lives of her father, brothers, and husband. Beset by these scenes, Faith fell into a deep depression, believing herself to be “most deservedly forsaken and hated by God, her friends and all mankind, and was the most ungrateful and wicked creature on earth.” In the preceding months Faith experienced alternating bouts of “calm tranquility and composure,” which would give way to “great and surprising pain and distortion.” One can only imagine her mental and physical torment that beset Faith for the next five months.

On November 24, Jedidiah saw his wife where she stayed in the home of Joshua Henshaw in Dedham. Eager to return to his post and confident that his wife’s mood had improved, Jedidiah left. It was the last time he saw his wife alive. Shortly after Jedidiah’s departure, Faith hanged herself in the bedroom.

Faith’s young son Jabez had remained with his grandparents in Lebanon while his mother received care and treatment with the Henshaw’s in Dedham. Two letters from young Jabez—barely 8 at the time—addressed to “Dadda and Mamma” survive in the archives at Yale. Both date from November 1775, weeks before his mother’s tragic death. They are a heartbreaking reminder that so many casualties of war often occur off the battlefield. Her death would not be counted in the official tally after Bunker Hill.

Faith’s obituary ran in the Providence Gazette on December 30, 1775. Its author placed the blame for her death squarely on the shoulders of “the authors of American oppression, and the public calamity,” perhaps in an effort to give Faith’s death meaning as a martyr for the cause. As Maggie Meahl’s recent article in The Connecticut History Review asserts, historians are quick to define Faith’s life by her tragic death, if her story is told at all.[3] For historians of the Revolutionary War to truly do Faith justice, we must remember her more fully. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, and a friend. She was deeply religious, a strong but sensitive soul, and witness to one of the most horrifying battles of the war.

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, John Trumbull, 1786, Yale University Art Gallery

Years after the war Faith’s younger brother John Trumbull completed a masterwork, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The collections notes for one of Trumbull’s copies of the painting at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston references John’s likely observation of the battle from his post in Roxbury, but makes no mention of the impact the battle had on his family. Trumbull completed many copies of the painting, as well as profited from a successful print run. One wonders if the memory of his late sister, who witnessed the real events of the day, was with him as he put paint to canvas to tell the story of the scene that caused her to take her own life.

Faith too was an artist—three of her expertly stitched needle works are housed in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Library.[4]

Milking Scene Needlework, attributed to Faith Trumbull, 1754, Gift of Jonathan Trumbull Rogers, in memory of Eleanor Root Silliman Rogers; The Newman S. Hungerford Museum Fund, Connecticut Historical Society

[1] June 21, 1775 Letter from Lt. J. Waller to a Friend, Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003. Accessed on 3/14/21 at https://www.masshist.org/bh/wallerp1text.html.

[2] Casualty figures taken from American Battlefield Association, “Bunker Hill.” Accessed on 3/14/21 at https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/bunker-hill.

[3] Maggie Meahl, “Faith Trumbull Huntington: An Eighteenth-Century Woman Encounters War,” Connecticut History Review, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Spring 2019), pp. 3-34.

[4] Kate Steinway, “The Artists was a Young Girl,” ConnecticutHistory.org, 2013. Accessed on 3/14/21 at https://connecticuthistory.org/faith-trumbull-the-artist-was-a-young-girl/.

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