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November 24, 2017

William Austin: Timeline, Battle of Bunker Hill, Law Career, and Peter Rugg, the Missing Man


William Austin's parent's house burnt down on June 15, 1775 (3 years before William was born) during the Battle of Bunker Hill, which caused the family to move to Lunenburg, until their house could be rebuilt.³

Austin was born on March 2, 1778 in Lunenburg, Massachusetts³

Graduated from Harvard¹

Austin was appointed as a schoolmaster and chaplain in the Navy. He sailed aboard the USS Constitution.³

At the request of the Charlestown Artillery Company,³ Austin wrote and delivered an oration on the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill (located in Charlestown, Massachusetts).¹

Moved to London for eighteen months to attend Lincoln’s Inn to study law.³

Published Letters from London, which is about his time in London.¹

In Rhode Island, Auden was in a duel with James H. Elliot, due to a misunderstanding at a political contest; Auden only received a small wound from the duel. Auden was also in a second duel, but that one was with Charles Pickney Summer.¹

Published An Essay on the Human Character of Jesus Christ, which discussed his Unitarian interest.¹

Served as a delegate from Charlestown, Massachusetts at the Convention for Revising the Constitution of Massachusetts; he debated some of the proposed amendments.³

Served as a member of the Massachusetts Senate for the County of Middlesex.³

Published Peter Rugg, the Missing Man in the New England Galaxy ¹

Published The Sufferings of a Country Schoolmaster in the New England Galaxy on July 8, 1825³

Published The Late Joseph Natterstrom in the New England Magazine in July of 1831.¹

Published The Man with the Cloaks, a Vermont Legend in the American Monthly Magazine in January of 1836.²

Published Martha Gardner in the American Monthly Magazine in December of 1837.

Austin died on June 27, 1841 in Charlestown, Massachusetts at the age of 63.¹

William Austin as Told by His Son, James Walker Austin

During the Revolution all of the Austin name were patriots, stanch and active (pp. v)

During Austin's college years, he was chosen to become a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "a person winning high scholastic distinction in an American college or university and being elected to membership in a national honor society founded in 1776." Austin declined his invitation to the Phi Beta Kappa Society for two main reasons: one, he disliked the idea of secret societies; and two, he was upset that a particularly worthy student (presumably a friend or scholastic rival) had not received an invitation.³

William Austin died when James was just a boy, so he had to learn about his father through his older brother, Arthur Williams Austin, and others who knew his father well.

Battle of Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill is also known as the Battle of Breed's Hill, because the majority of the fighting took place on Breed's Hill. This battle was the first major combat of the American Revolution. Bunker Hill and Breed Hill were both located in Charlestown (across the Charles Rivers from Boston); Bunker Hill was the taller of the two, but the colonists fortified the top of Breed Hill. The British soldiers landed ashore in Charlestown without any issues, but when they approached Breed Hill they were fired at by the colonists who had hidden behind barricades that they had been stuffed with grass, hay, and any other brush they could find. The British troops second attempt to seize Breed Hill was successful, they managed to force the colonists to retreat from the hill. the British lost an estimated 1,000 troops while the colonists only suffered approximately 450 casualties. Two weeks later, General George Washington (who later became the 1st President of the United States) took command of the colonists in Charlestown; he brought with him heavy artillery and guns, which presented a serious threat to the British troops. Washington drove the British out of Boston and Boston Harbour in March of 1776. Though the colonists lost the Battle of Bunker Hill, they won an even greater gift: confidence; the fact that they were inexperienced, but still able to inflict serious causalities on the British Army bolstered their morale in the American Revolution.⁶

Austin, the Lawyer

William Austin's classmate Willard, mentions Austin in his essay Memories of Youth and Manhood,  describing him as a lawyer:

For his professional life he studied law, and practised in this profession as an attorney, counsellor, and advocate. His ideas indeed were quick and often brilliant, but his temperament was impulsive, and he failed in that degree of illustrative amplification and that continuity of thought which are necessary to lead common minds to the desired conclusion(pp. x).³

Austin was a Democrat and served as a member of the Massachusetts Senate for the County of Middlesex from 1822 to 1824.³

Peter Rugg, the Missing Man

Peter Rugg, the Missing Man is a short-story comprised of a series of glimpses of a man, named Peter Rugg, who spends his life traveling towards Boston, but never managing to get there. Peter Rugg and his child left Boston around the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770 and have been traveling ever since. Higginson asserts that:

The explanation is that he was overtaken by a storm at Menotomy now Arlington, a few miles from Boston, and that being a man of violent temper he swore to get home that night or never see home again. Thenceforth he is always travelling; a cloud and a storm always follow him, and every horse that he sees his approach feels abject terror (pp. 13).²

Peter Rugg, the Missing Man was written for the New England Galaxy, and was published on 10 September 1824,² and is formatted to look like correspondence:

From Jonathan Dunwell of New York to Mr. Herman Krauff ⁴

This story is an example of a framed narrative the outer frame being Dunwell writing to Krauff, and the inner frame being the story of Peter Rugg. The first half of the story is told in Dunwell's present day of 1820, and the second half of the story is told in his present day of 1825. Peter Rugg's story begins around the Boston Massacre of 1770.

The story's inspiration likely came from The Wandering Jew,¹ which is an ancient Christian legend about

a character doomed to live until the end of the world because he taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion.⁵ 

The basis for the this Christian legend is thought to be referenced in The Bible in John 18: 20-22.⁵

Thomas Wentworth Higginson believed that Austin's style influenced Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing, who was a twenty-year-old college student at the time that Peter Rugg, the Missing Man was published. Higginson believes that Hawthorne was greatly intrigued and influenced by Austin's writing style, especially his use of penumbra; additionally, Hawthorne began to experiment with penumbra in his own writing.²

penumbra which he throws about his delineations, so that they seem neither real nor unreal; and the reader needs no sudden bridge to bring him back, when needful, to the common day (pp. 9).² 


¹ Austin, William, 1778-1841. Peter Rugg: the Missing Man. Worcester: F.P. Rice, 1882.

² Austin, William, 1778-1841. Peter Rugg, the Missing Man. Boston: J. W. Luce & co., 1910.

³ Austin, William, 1778-1841. Literary Papers of William Austin, With a Biographical Sketch by His Son, James Walker Austin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1890. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t77s89v56

⁴ Austin, William. "Peter Rugg, the Missing Man." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Oxford UP, 1992, pp. 33-61.

⁵ "Wandering Jew." Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, 20 July 1998, https://www.britannica.com/topic/wandering-Jew. Accessed 20 November 2017.

⁶ "Battle of Bunker Hill." Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, 7 July 2017, https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Bunker-Hill. Accessed 21 November 2017.

The Bible. The Visualized Bible: King James Version, Tyndale House Publishers Inc, 1984.

"Stanch." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stanch.

"Phi Beta Kappa." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Phi%20Beta%20Kappa.

The Battle of Bunker Hill Map
Frye,Charlies E. Array of American Forces on the Field at the Battle of Breeds Hill. 13 August 2011. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Accessed on 21 November 2017. (Adapted by Frye from a larger printed map at the Library of Congress, which can be found at G3764.B6S3 2004 .F7)

Lady Justice
By Deval Kulshrestha [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1660_blk_19329_zoom.png