|Birth name||John Pitcairn|
28 December 1722|
Dysart, Scotland, Great Britain
|Died||17 June 1775
|Buried at||Old North Church
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Great Britain|
|Service/branch||HM Marine Forces|
|Years of service||1746-1775|
Early life and education
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 British Marines assigned to support the British forces in the increasingly restive colony.
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.
John Pitcairn married Elizabeth Dalrymple (1724–1809), a daughter of Robert Dalrymple. Together they had four other sons and four daughters. One son Robert Pitcairn was a midshipman in the Royal Navy. On 3 July 1767 the 15-year-old boy sighted an unknown island in the south Pacific which would become known as Pitcairn Island. But Robert was aboard an East India Company that vanished without trace en route to the Comoros Islands in 1770. Another daughter, Catherine Pitcairn, married Charles Cochrane, son of the 8th Earl of Dundonald and a first cousin of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.
In popular culture
- Pitcairn appears in April Morning, a 1961 novel by Howard Fast depicting the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Pitcairn is also a character in the novel Johnny Tremain.
- 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.
- Pitcairn is a supporting character in the History Channel's Sons of Liberty three-part miniseries which aired in 2015. He is portrayed by actor Kevin Ryan.
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