Hello, and welcome to the return of my now-quarterly King's Ginger adventures! Something a little different to kick off, and certainly more far-flung than usual. I found myself in Boston this autumn and took a day to follow in the King's footsteps from around 150 years before. He was treading the path of the American Revolutionaries of almost a century before as well, adding up to an interesting history lesson for those of us who know little about the history of the United States. Join me for the Battle Of Bunker Hill and the King's 1860 Royal Tour of North America!
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place in 1775, and was an early part of the American Revolutionary War – the long and acrimonious divorce of the United States of America from Great Britain. It's not a war we ever get taught about in history lessons over here, though most of us have heard of some of the key events in the leadup – like the Boston Tea Party in 1773, which was not a genteel gathering with hot drinks and neatly cut finger sandwiches but a protest in which men dressed as Native Americans (thus aligning themselves with the country of their residence and not the one of their ancestry) dumped 342 chests of tea in Boston harbour as a statement against the import laws and tax on tea. We probably know about this event because of the shocking waste of tea but I didn't know anything about its root causes, which were the increasing tensions between the two nations (mostly because of taxes imposed by Britain and massively over-regulated trade rules – if you'll pardon the over generalisation), which resulted in outright war breaking out in April 1775, between both old and New England.
Photo from the Bunker Hill Museum
The Americans didn't have an army, but they had a militia – also known as the Minutemen. According to that ever-reliable source, Wikipedia, the British had about 4,000 men stationed in Massachusetts – well-trained and well-equipped redcoats. When the Battle of Bunker Hill kicked off in June 1775, approximately 3,000 British soldiers fought 2,400 colonial troops and, despite the odds being stacked against them, and the eventual outcome being declared a loss for the American side, the British Army lost far more men. The battle's outcome gave the Patriots (as they are referred to over in the States) the confidence to go and take the redcoats on again and they would eventually triumph and win their complete independence from us (obviously!).
That's an extremely potted history of the Battle of Bunker Hill of course, and you may be wondering what it has to do with King Edward? Let me fill you in.
The Prince of Wales by Matthew Brady, New York 1860 (Wikipedia)
Nearly 100 years after the famous Battle, in the autumn of 1860, 18-year-old Prince Albert Edward of England set off for an official tour of North America. The Royal Family had been invited over a few years earlier by Canadian officials (who had fought for Britain in the Crimean War), but Queen Victoria had declined to go on the long transatlantic voyage and all her children were too young to go in her place. According to the New York Time, It was Prince Albert who persuaded her to send Albert Edward not only to Canada but to America too. Thinking about it, given that the war of independence happened less than 100 years earlier, I'm not too surprised at her reluctance to send her eldest son halfway across the world to meet with the revolutionary nation. However, as I have mentioned on here before, Bertie was quite the naughty young man and didn't get on at all well with his mother... even before she blamed him for the death of Prince Albert a year later. So perhaps if anyone was to be reluctantly sent over there, it was him!
He set off on 10th July 1860, bound for Canada, where he dedicated the new Victoria Bridge in Montreal. It wasn't until September 20th that the prince and his entourage reached America, docking at Detroit and then travelling to Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg before arriving in Washington on the 3rd of October. He did all the usual sightseeing – the Capitol Building and George Washington's house, and attended a reception at the White House, of course.
The next bit of the trip was interesting. Here's a quote from the New York Times:
The only controversy of the trip arose over whether or not to visit the South. Sectional tensions were high in that momentous election year, and Southern politicians hoped to gain positive publicity for their cause through a royal visit to model plantations. The colonial secretary accepted an invitation to Richmond, Virginia, where Edward attended church and toured the state capital. The prince, though, refused to visit a plantation and insisted on being driven back promptly to Washington. From there, the royal party traveled by rail to Baltimore and Philadelphia, and then sailed for New York City.
It offers no reason for the prince's refusal but since his father, Prince Albert was a noted abolitionist, it's fair to assume that he was also strongly anti-slavery. Yet another reason to appreciate his Majesty for being a thoroughly decent bloke!
In New York, there were various adventures including parades, a lavish ball for 3,000 people, which was gatecrashed by a further 2,000, causing part of the temporary dance floor to collapse (luckily not with the prince on it) and other adventures. But since this story is meant to be about Boston and Bunker Hill, we will have to move onto this part of the trip before it becomes a novel!
Revere House, Boston (Wikipedia)
On the 17th October, the party set off for Boston on a specially upgraded train. It's described in 'The New England tour of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales' published the same year, as the 'handsomest travelling car to ever run on rails', with velvet sofas and carpet, a solid silver 'ornamental waiter', gold goblets and even an elegant office, complete with writing desk. Arriving to Boston at 4pm, the Prince and his entourage then passed through various streets in the city, cheered on by thousands of cheering men and women.
The royal party stayed in Revere House, a fancy hotel which sadly burned down in 1912. Rooms were upgraded for the Prince's stay, of course. It was reported while staying there that, 'The Prince is a hearty eater but drinks very moderately' – the 18-year-old had much to learn, it seems.
Ralph Farnham, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society
The next morning, the 18th October, the Prince met with the last remaining veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Ralph Farnham. Described as a 'reluctant celebrity', Mr Farnham was 104 when he was invited to Boston for a celebration of his life. He was also put up at Revere House, where he had a fifteen minute reception with Bertie. He wanted to pay his respects and prove that the animosity of the past was forgotten, though he was quoted as joking, “I hear so much in praise of the Prince of Wales that I fear the people will all turn Royalists.”
Crowd on Boston Common (YouTube)
A busy day continued with a visit to the Capitol and Boston Common (where a crowd waited for the Prince), a concert and finally, a Ball. While this contemporary report doesn't describe the Prince's attire for the evening, it does describe many of the ladies' outfits in a lot of excessive detail! The first outfit described the wife of Governer Banks who was 'attired in a rich heavy purple silk figured in gold which produced quite a brilliant effect. The dress was worn with short sleeves trimmed with point lace and partially covered with a point lace bertha with gold trimmings. Diamond earrings and a headdress of white feathers with a heavy purple velvet ribbon at the back added much to the effect of her toilet.' Sounds lovely. You can read about all the ladies' outfits, should you want to know them in incredible detail here.
The Ball had to have a special police presence and the decoration costs outstripped the receipts from selling tickets. But since the Prince reportedly danced until 4am, it seems it was worth it!
The following day, the Prince visited the college, and Mt. Auburn Cemetery (which I tried to see myself but couldn't get there) before heading to the Bunker Hill Monument, just as I did.
The huge granite obelisk was erected between 1827 and 1843, the gap of 16 years being down to constantly running out of funds. It was only completed after Mrs Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a women's magazine, had a 'Ladies Fair' in 1840 and raised a whopping $30,000 from Boston's well-to-do women. The Bunker Hill Lodge at the foot of the obelisk was built later in the 19th century, and I'm not sure if it was there when the Prince visited, but the statue of General Joseph Warren (who perished in the battle) it now houses definitely was.
While I got a lift there with the friend I stayed in Boston with, the Prince was 'conveyed hence at a speed highly complimentary to the skill of the reinsman and the muscle of the steeds.' And I was disappointed to learn that he only 'passed round the base of the Monument admiring its lofty proportions and visited the statue of Warren', and didn't, in fact, climb the 294 steps to the top (which felt like a lot more) and pause to admire the view.
...Not that the landscape would have look like that at the time! Still, here's the proof that I climbed the monument and survived the jelly legs that ensued. And also that I visited Dr Warren!
Returning momentarily to the Battle itself, which I learned about in the adjacent Bunker Hill Museum, it really wasn't immediately clear that the British won (I had to Google it it). This was down to the fact that was really only a 'Pyrrhic victory' - one that came at a devastatingly high toll. We lost so many men that we may as well have lost... as we eventually went on to do. Nonetheless, it gave rise to the famous quote, 'Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes'.
After Bunker Hill, the Prince went to visit the Library of Boston before heading to Portland and from there returned back to England, turning 19 somewhere on the Atlantic. The New York Times reported that, 'While nothing specific had been accomplished during the prince's American tour, Edward, Queen Victoria, and the British people were pleased by the warm welcome the United States had extended to the British prince.' This was his first official Tour, and he went on to do more, including visiting Egypt the following year, as well as taking on many more state duties as Queen Victoria retreated further and further from public life after the death of Albert, also the following year.
All these years later, the lucky people of America can get their hands on KGL, although it's definitely harder to find and my host and I had to visit multiple liquor stores of suburban Boston to find a bottle! But it led me to post his question on the KGL Facebook page: how many bottles of King's Ginger can you fit into the Bunker Hill Monument? It's a trick question because, like so much, the bottles are bigger over there!
I hope you have enjoyed the return of this feature and my brief history of the King's visit to Bunker Hill. His Majesty will be back again in time for Christmas!
Back to the present day, if you;d like to try a brand-new cocktail, may I recommend this Movember special? It's all in aid of an excellent cause.