John Pitcairn

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This article is about the British marine. For the industrialist, see John Pitcairn, Jr..
John Pitcairn
28 December 1722 – April 1775
Birth name John Pitcairn
Born (1722-12-28)28 December 1722
Dysart, Great Britain
Died 17 June 1775(1775-06-17) (aged 52)
Boston, Massachusetts
Buried at Old North Church
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch HM Marine Forces
Rank Major
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Dalrymple

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

Early life and education[edit]

Pitcairn was born in 1722 in Dysart, a port town in Fife, Scotland. His parents were the Reverend David Pitcairn and Katherine (Hamilton) Pitcairn. He entered the Royal Marines, was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1746, 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 Royal Marines assigned to support the British forces in the increasingly restive colony.


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

John Pitcairn was respected by the citizens in Boston as one of the more reasonable officers in the occupying force. He was in command of the advance party that marched on Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775, which began the American Revolution. His horse was shot from under him, and he lost a pair of matched pistols when the column's baggage was abandoned. Patriot leader Israel Putnam would carry them through the rest of the war.

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

John Trumbull's painting of the Battle of Bunker Hill depicts Pitcairn's death, though with several errors and anachronisms. Since no portrait of him is known to exist, Pitcairn's son David Pitcairn was used as a model by Trumbull. The uniform depicted in it was not actually adopted by the Royal Marines until the 1780s. Pitcairn is shown falling at the crest at its capture from the American force, while he was actually shot starting to climb the hill. Major Pitcairn is also depicted at the painting of the Battle of Lexington in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Personal life[edit]

John Pitcairn married Elizabeth Dalrymple (1724–1809), a daughter of Robert Dalrymple.[1] Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific was named for his son, Robert, a midshipman in the Royal Navy. While on watch on a voyage led by Captain Philip Carteret, 15-year-old Robert Pitcairn was the first to sight the unknown island on 3 July 1767. A daughter, Catherine Pitcairn, married Charles Cochrane, a son of the 8th Earl of Dundonald and a first cousin of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Pitcairn is a supporting antagonist in the video game Assassin's Creed III. Pitcairn is portrayed to support the Templar goals of total world domination, and in this case, controlling America in the name of the Templar order. In the game, he is assassinated on his horse by the protagonist, Native American half British Assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton, from high in the trees at the Battle of Bunker Hill.


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

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