Dr. Joseph Warren. Patriot Leader in the Turmoil to Revolution by Harry Schenawolf

The Death of General Joseph Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull

“…[If] it appears that the only way to safety is through fields of blood, I know you will not turn your faces from our foes, but will undauntedly press forward until tyranny is trodden underfoot…”

                                    Dr. Joseph Warren, March 5, 1775, three months before he was killed in battle.


On the blackened summit of Breed’s Hill, 900 farmers and tradesmen labored throughout the night to construct a fort that would test the might of the British army.  One man spent that night laboring over the decision to put those men in danger that he, as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and Major General of militia, had reluctantly endorsed.  It was a decision that would sever any hope of reconciliation between thirteen American colonies and their mother country England.

It was too early in the conflict to recognize the enormous impact of the coming day’s action.  Too soon to realize that the Battle of Bunker Hill would send shock waves through an emerging nation and all of Europe.  These were not the thoughts that kept Dr. Joseph Warren awake far into the early hours of that fateful day, on June 17th, 1775.  The questions he struggled with were more personal.  Could he order men into battle and remain a safe and comfortable twelve miles distance from the fight?  Could he ask those to face an uncertain death and yet he not be prepared to do so himself?  After years of rhetoric to fight to the death that he and his fellow activists in the patriotic cause readily bandied, could he now turn from a fight that would prove his words. And had he remained in his study in Watertown, could he casually read a summation of the battle and mull over casualty reports?

Major General Joseph Warren

When dawn cast the first rays of light and Joseph Warren laid his head for a short rest, he no doubt had made his decision.  History is not witness to the details of the doctor harnessing his horse and riding east into a scorching sun.  Across Charlestown Peninsula where he skirted the bombardment of British ships.  Past Bunker Hill where General Putnam remained far from musket fire and into the hastily finished fortification on Breeds Hill.  There General Warren refused Colonel Prescott’s offer of command.  Instead Warren left the command in more capable hands and borrowed a musket from a sergeant to fight among the ranks.  Unlike the bombastic claims of some of his political colleagues, he was true to his words. In Virginia, Patrick Henry had cried out before his countrymen, ‘give me liberty or give me death.’  Later, when called upon to put such courageous words to action, Henry adopted the phrase, ‘give me liberty to avoid death’.  On the eve of departing Virginia to report to General Washington who was confronting a British armada in New York City, he resigned his commission as colonel of his Virginia regiment.  One so noble in the rhetoric of self-sacrifice preferred the life of a political gentleman and the comforts of his home, to the sounds of cannon.


Dr. Joseph Warren spoke from the heart and followed the principals of an honorable man.  His words were not hollow, written to impress his fellow scholars, nor as fodder for future historians or glorified harpies of war.  Though skilled with the pen that fanned the flames of rebellious propaganda, his correspondence, for the most part,  was not overly saturated by the use of flowery diction nor the jingoistic prattle of so many saber rattlers of the time.  He acted upon his words with determination and in so doing, suffered the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind a promising future and four orphaned children.  Further examination of the man and his correspondence with friends from his years at Harvard until the fateful day when he was killed, indicate that Warren may have had a death wish to gloriously fall in battle.  Warren is considered the first true martyr of the American rebellion and for some years, until faded by time and events, his fame was more so than that of George Washington.

Warren’s Herculean activities during the decade before his death at the age of 34 left a legacy largely overshadowed by the accomplishments of other forefathers:  He was dedicated to the patriot cause, rising to lead the major committees that protracted the build up to war.  For his efforts with the Committee of Safety and organizing the militia around Boston into an army, he was commissioned a major general.  He advanced medical knowledge though research, established one of the first apprentice medical education programs in the colonies, and practiced medical care for the poor and underprivileged.  Warren was capable at seeing both sides of an issue and gaining the respect from both his colleagues and the enemy.  He was comfortable conversing in the parlor among society’s finest citizens, and could readily sit with ease in the presence of Boston’s most hardened laborers and ‘mechanics’.  He could look beyond class and wealth to value a person for whom they were, and appreciate that which each soul was capable of contributing to society.  Historians can only wonder what fate would have awaited one so versatile in prose and firm in commitment had he survived that hot summer’s day on Breed’s Hill.

Childhood & Harvard

A Tory writer wrote of Warren, “from ambition only, from a bare-legged milk-boy to being a major general.”  However, the milk-boy’s roots came from a profitable agricultural family.  The family’s lineage is aristocratic and can be traced far back to one of William the Conqueror’s knights who, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, was lavishly awarded land and a lordship by the newly crowned king. While England was brewing towards Civil War, in 1620, Warren’s forefathers settled in New England.

colonial-apple-orchardOn May 29, 1740, Warren’s father, Joseph Warren Jr., (son of Joseph Warren Sr. & Deborah Williams, born in Roxbury on Feb. 2, 1696) married Mary Stevens, (born July 2, 1713, the daughter of Dr. Samuel Stevens and Mary Calef Stevens, of Roxbury). Joseph Warren was born the year after on the 11th of June, 1741.  Warren’s father was highly esteemed and respected by the community and held several municipal offices including alderman and deacon. Mary, Warren’s mother, lived a long life, dying on January 7, 1803 at the age of 90.  Warren was admitted to Harvard College at the age of fourteen.  That same year his father died.  Joseph the senior was renowned for his apple orchards.  He introduced the Boston community to a new apple labeled the Warren Russet.  On October 23, 1775, Warren’s father was high on a ladder.  It is believed he was reaching for an apple when he slipped and fell, breaking his neck and dying almost instantly.  Historical records differ if Warren’s younger brother John[1], then aged 3, witnessed his father fall, or was sent by his mother to summon the father and met two laborers bearing his father’s body toward the house.  Warren rushed home upon the news, however soon afterwards returned to Harvard.

eighteenth-century-harvardHarvard proved to be the breeding ground of later rebellious leaders of the Whig party whose persistent activism and propaganda, lead by Samuel Adams, class of 1740, eventually erupted in all out war.  Others included James Otis, 1743, John Hancock, 1754, John Adams, 1755 – same year as Warren, and Josiah Quincy, 1760, same year that Warren graduated at age 19.

It may be argued that while at Harvard, Warren’s earliest passion was born.  It would mature into a sense of self-sacrificing citizenship in the face of overwhelming obstacles.  In the years after graduation, in speeches and letters to friends, he continually alluded to placing principles before personal safety, ultimately leading to his martyrdom at Bunker Hill. From July 3 – 14, 1768, Warren directed Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato for several repeat performances.  The figure Cato committed suicide rather than submit to tyranny.  The play also inspired a generation of revolutionaries to put their country and honor before their well being and do battle against a perceived unjust government.  Famous of all was Nathaniel Hale, whose last words quoted Cato before hanged as a spy: “What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country.”

The death of General Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec by Benjamin West

From 1755, Warren’s first year at Harvard until graduation in 1759, the French and Indian War continued to rage throughout the American frontier.  His first taste of military discipline came with the Marti-Mercurial Band, a group of Harvard students who learned to drill and handle a musket.  But for Warren and his fellow students, the allure of the military was made greater with the death of British General James Wolfe on September 13, 1759.  He died in battle while leading his troops in the defeat of the French at Quebec.  Wolfe was the ultimate model of an impressionable youth’s visionary of honor and nobility: a true hero who did not shy away from danger to answer the call to arms, forfeiting his life for his country in a glorious victory.  All of Massachusetts celebrated Wolfe’s death in song, poetry, and verse. Cato and war, deeds of great men, the seeds of a moral obligation to humanity; these were planted on Warren’s youthful conscience, to bear fruit at the most critical moment of his shortened life.

Studies to be a Doctor of Medicine

A physician bloodletting a woman’s arm. Doctors believed that diseases were caused by the blockage of body vessels and blood needed to be extracted to revive the flow.

Warren, upon graduation in 1759, taught Latin at the Roxbury Grammar School for one year.  He decided, very early in his career, against teaching and pursued a post-graduate Master of Arts Degree to enter the medical profession.  The degree allowed one to study off campus in preparation to present and defend a dissertation.  Warren began an apprenticeship under renowned physician Dr. James Lloyd[2] who, in 1761, had recently returned from England. After two years of study, Warren was ready to defend his dissertation.  His topic argued against the commonly held notion that all diseases were caused by a blockage of bodily vessels requiring bleeding. In 1762, Warren satisfied Harvard’s requirements, receiving his Masters of Arts degree, but continued on as an apprentice under Lloyd. The fee of 100 £ was paid directly to Lloyd and was not affiliated with the college.

Colonial physicians were expected to be competent in medicine, surgery, and obstetrics.  Warren was most proficient in pharmaceuticals (chemistry being his forte at Harvard) and practiced all aspects of the physician’s duties, including birthing many children.  However, records show that there are few instances of his performing surgery.  In an age of pre-anesthetics and pre-antiseptic, the philosopher John Locke put it best that surgery was brutal, brief, dirty, and all too often deadly affairs.   One instance of Warren avoiding surgery involved the future president, John Quincy Adams, son of renowned patriot and the future second president, John Adams.  In December, 1773, seven year old Quincy Adams badly broke the fingers of one hand.  Surgeons recommended the usual treatment for such injuries, amputation.  Warren treated John Adam’s son who eventually gained complete use of his fingers.  Quincy Adams never forgot the gentle kindness he received from one who was a close family friend and to the boy, became a second father.

Freemasonry ritual

While still studying medicine, Warren began rubbing elbows with Boston’s middle class; mechanics, tradesmen, shopkeepers, and dock workers.  He entered the Masons of the St. Andrews Lodge and formed a lifelong relationship with a silversmith with whom he would become lasting friends.  When Warren became a leader among the Whig-patriot movement, he would often use this ‘winged messenger of the revolution,’ Paul Revere.[3]  It wasn’t long before Warren obtained the status of Grand Master.  He also began to renew and form relationships with several of Harvard’s graduates.  These especially included those who were questioning British authority like Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Josiah Quincy.  They discussed topics that rang true to Warren’s growing political beliefs.

Begins his Practice in Medicine

smallpox-innoculationWarren began treating patients in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, on June, 15, 1763.  He remained until summer’s end, opening a practice in Boston where he rented space from the tailor merchant John Wheatley.  There he befriended a ten year old slave of the family who proved to be an incredible African American poet, Phillis Wheatley[4]phillis-wheatleyAt the time, Boston’s population averaged 18,000 with many practicing physicians.  Warren slowly built up a steady stream of patients that crossed all spectrums of life from mechanics, artisans, merchants, government officials, social elites, their families, and sea captains.  Many of his patients became lifelong friends.  One of his early patients was sea captain Joseph Rotch.  Interestingly, ten years later, Rotch would be the master of two of the ships that carried East India tea that Warren and his patriotic associates would dump into Boston’s harbor as part of the famed ‘Boston Tea Party.’

Smallpox Inoculation

Warren’s medical practice was beginning to take off when small pox threatened the Boston region during the early months of 1764.  Warren joined a consortium of practicing physicians, Dr. Perkins & Co., to begin inoculating the populace against the dreaded disease.  Inoculation had its own dangers as the patient was exposed to the disease in a controlled environment.  They developed a small case of the pox which in most cases ran its course and formed an immunity to future pox. Inoculations were held at Castle Williams, a military fort on an island in the harbor.  Warren worked alongside Boston’s most respected physicians who enjoyed the patronage of the city’s social elite including Lt. Governor Hutchinson’s family.[5]  By the winter months of that year, there was a full blown epidemic throughout Boston.

Marriage and Growing Politics

James Otis Jr. brother-in-law to Warren. He was a thorn in the side of the British government until declared harmlessly insane.

During the yearlong 1764 crisis of small pox, on September 6th, Joseph Warren and eighteen year old Elizabeth Hooton (1746 – 1773) were married.  She was the only daughter of the late wealthy merchant, Richard Hooten.  The Boston Gazette[6] ran a notice stating that Elizabeth was “an accomplished young lady with a handsome fortune.”  The bond between Warren and Elizabeth also brought into the family James Otis[7] Jr., the fire breathing patriot, and Warren’s new brother-in-law. They rented a home in the north end of Boston on Hanover Street which was a short distance from Faneuil Hall[8] and the old Town House[9].  There were no lavish homes in this area of Boston, rather a community of storefronts, warehouses, and modest dwellings.  They began attending the Congregational Church[10] on Brattle Street of which Samuel Adams was a member and Dr. Cooper[11] the pastor.

Faneuil Hall, Boston. The building had two stories during Warren’s time. A third floor was added after the Revolutionary War.

While Warren was finishing his apprenticeship and setting up medical practice in Boston, political events throughout the colonies were heating up.  In 1761, Writs of Assistance, documents that authorized arbitrary searches by custom officials, but rarely practiced, were given new life by Lt. Governor Hutchinson and searches began in earnest.  This brought a storm of protest and criticism from the infant anti-government movement spearheaded by Samuel Adams.[12]  In April of 1764, when Boston was in the clutches of a feared small pox epidemic, parliament enacted the Sugar Act.  Though the Molasses Act of 1733 imposed a tax of 6 pence per gallon of molasses, it was never enforced due to colonial evasion.  England was reeling under the enormous expense of the Seven Year’s War[13] (French and Indian War in the colonies) and desperately needed revenue. The Sugar Act would reduce the tax to 3 pence per gallon; however it would be strictly enforced.  This act spurred patriot James Otis to term the rousing rhetoric no taxation without representation.  It provided fodder to a growing opposition against Parliament’s jurisdiction and what the patriots believed was in defiance of the colonial charter.

Description and Personality

Richard Frothingham, in his 1865 text on the Life and Times of Joseph Warren, amply describes Warren whose sandy blonde hair and gentle complexion was considered, especially by the ladies, as being quite handsome.  “He had a graceful figure, was scrupulously neat in his person, of thorough culture, and had an elegant address; and these traits rendered him a welcome visitor in polite circles, while a frank and genial manner made him a general favorite.  He had a great love for his fellow man; and being a stranger to the passion of avarice, and even neglectful to a fault in pecuniary matters, he had an ear ever open to the claims of want, and a hand ever extended to afford relief.”[14]  John Adams wrote in a letter dated July 29th, 1775, shortly after Warren’s death:  “Warren was a young man whom nature had adorned with grace and manly beauty, and a courage that would have been rash absurdity, had it not been tempered by self-control.”

Dr. Joseph Warren physician

As John Adams hints, Warren also had a quick temper.  Comparisons can be made to George Washington who had a renowned temper which he keep strictly under control, however was occasionally witnessed by close companions.  Frothingham, quoting early historian George Bancroft[15], writes: “Though of marked amiability of character, he [Warren] was naturally high-tempered, impulsive, and quick to resent an insult; at times he was passionate.  One evening, when the British troops were quartered in the town, he was challenged in a burly way by a sentinel, when ‘Warren knocked him down.’  He could be vehement in the expressions of feeling… when his spirit was stirred by the taunts that British officers were uttering on the Americans…”

Warren seemed to be at home among Boston’s most wealthy as well as sharing a pint of beer among the mechanics and dock workers whose clubs and caucuses he would become an active member.[16]  He was socially well versed in manners, yet could be cordial and graceful among the lower classes and poor.  Perhaps most importantly, besides the many renowned patients of Boston’s society, Warren spent countless hours providing health care to those who could not pay the normal fees for such service.  Often he received no money for treating the downcast and distraught of the city, yet continued to do so throughout his career.

Stamp Act / Whig and Patriot

protest-1765-stamp-actPerhaps Warren was too occupied setting up a new practice, overwhelmed by the small pox epidemic, and adjusting to life as husband and soon to be father, to take notice of or be part of the growing despair over the British government flexing its muscle at colonial expense.  But with passage of the March 22, 1765 Stamp Act, all that changed.  Warren, almost overnight, became an enthusiastic member of the anti-Parliament movement that was building steam, fueled by the fanatical activism of propaganda specialist Samuel Adams.

John Hancock. Owned a fleet of merchant ships. Smuggler and richest man in New England. Chosen as president of the First Continental Congress.

Warren, by 1765, was surrounded by influential friends who provoked discussions on profound questions connected with the natural rights of man and constitutional law.  These issues divided the Boston community into two factions; Whig and Tory[17].  Though Warren began to share Samuel Adams’ Whig perspective on government’s role in their lives, he had friends who stood among the Loyalist viewpoint and favored a strong Parliamentary government, namely his former mentor Dr. Lloyd.  Both parties began to drift into measures which neither originally proposed, nor even desired; and therefore the Tory, to uphold the sovereignty of parliament, grew into the defender of arbitrary power; the Whig, to preserve one’s constitutional rights, asserted national independence.

As mentioned, the Stamp Act was the spark that turned Warren to the Whig point of view.  He undertook a serious examination of the right of parliament to tax the colonies.  Since his days were consumed by a growing medical practice, he spent much of his off hours studying and reading to decide what role he would play in the brewing turmoil.  Over the months and years to follow, this devotion to political causes would demand more and more time, crossing over into his daily practice which caused him to neglect his financial situation.

Within a year after the Stamp Act was enacted; Warren is fully committed to Whig sentiments.  In a letter dated March 19, 1766, to Edmund Dana, a good friend who had moved to England, Warren explains his position on the ‘cruelty’ of levying a tax without representation and the denial of trial by jury.  He also disclaims any separation from England unless the government is left no other choice.  He continued to hold these principals for the next nine years, right up to his speech on Massacre Day, March 6, 1775 (to mark the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre), and just three months before his death.

Prime Minister George Greenville who was responsible for the Stamp Act. King George III removed him after the act was rescinded.

In this early letter to Dana, Warren reveals the Whig activists’ understanding of how powerful the Stamp Act and other such Parliamentary legislation will have on uniting the colonies: “… colonies, until now, were ever at variance, and foolishly jealous of each other.  They are now, by the refined policy of Mr. George Grenville[18], united for their common defense against what they believe to be oppression…”  Warren hints that Grenville’s act was intentional to raise a rebellion thereby allowing the British to exert force to gain the upper hand:  “… the imposition of the stamp duty has induced some to imagine that the minister designed by this act to force the colonies into a rebellion, and from thence, to take occasion to treat them with severity, and, by military power, to reduce them to servitude.”

Like most Whig activists who began calling themselves patriots, Warren ends his correspondence with Dana by sharing the basic opinion that it is not the fault of their king, but of his ministers and advisors who feed His Majesty misinformation.  Most of the colonists continued to believe this throughout the build up towards war and even after hostilities erupted.  So much so that the British forces were not referred to as the King’s Army, but the Ministerial Army:  Warren wrote, “… whatever was proposed by the Stamp Act, of this I am certain, that the regard which the colonies still bear to His Majesty arises more from an exalted idea of His Majesty’s integrity and goodness of heart than from any prudent conduct of his late minister.[19]

Tar & Feather government officials & tax collectors

During the year that the Stamp Act was law, mob rule became common throughout Boston and other colonial cities.  Loyalists and government officials’ homes were invaded and gutted.  Professed loyalists to the crown and government officials were attacked on the streets and some were tar and feathered.  Viral letters disclaiming government actions were published in Whig newspapers.  The act strengthened the correspondence and union of the colonies as protests spread throughout cities all along the coast.  Saner heads tried to gain control, however the only solution became clear to England’s ministers and politicians.  The Stamp Act had been rescinded by the time Warren penned his letter to Dana, though news of the legislation would not reach the colonies for some weeks.  When the news arrived, there was wide spread rejoicing.  For several years, the anniversary of the event was celebrated with parades and festivities.  However this victory did not dishearten Samuel Adams who pressed on as furiously as ever to keep England’s feet to the fire and Parliament’s heavy handedness in the minds of his fellow colonists.

Begins his Role as Samuel Adam’s Right Hand Man / Townshend Acts

Samuel Adams. Principal activist, he devoted his life to the patriot cause becoming a skilled propagandist who foresaw a union of the colonies molded into one voice.

By 1766, Warren had joined a growing union of politically like minded men.  By today’s standards, such a gathering would be considered a youth movement.  Most were in their mid thirties, a few in their mid forties, such as Sam Adams & Hon. James Bowdoin[20], and several, like Warren, were in their early and mid twenties.  Though well read on issues, it can be argued that Samuel Adams convinced Warren to throw himself fully to the cause.  John Adams writes:  “It was the custom of this patriot [Samuel Adams] to watch the rise of every brilliant genius, seek his acquaintance, court his friendship, and enlist him as a co-worker in the common cause…”

Townshend Revenue Act

Samuel Adams did not have long to wait before a new revenue act revitalized the flames of patriotic fanaticism.  England still believed that the colonies should not be allowed to avert taxes that English subjects living in Great Britain were readily paying.  The conservatives argued that the colonists’ standard of living was much higher than average British citizens who were paying far more in taxes than those living in America.  The Townshend Revenue Acts of 1767 was the brain child of its namesake, Charles Townshend.[21]  It would impose duties on paper, glass, painter’s colors, and tea.  It created a Board of Customs and legalized the Writs of Assistance.  It also declared that crown officials who acted under royal instructions, not elected officials, were to have the force of law.  It was an act that once and for all constituted a system of arbitrary power and the Whig colonists erupted in objection.  This act alone gave Samuel Adams plenty of fodder for his propaganda machinery.  And his soldiers, Warren among them, responded with a new zeal to pour out hundreds of written materials that circulated the colonies from Florida to Quebec.  Samuel Adams also found opportunities to demonize a volatile royal governor, Francis Bernard, characterized by the patriots as the devil incarnate.

Royal Governor Francis Bernard

For nine years, since his arrival in Boston in August of 1760, until his removal on August 1, 1769, Francis Bernard,[22] 1st Baronet, and royal governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, had little or no patience for Boston’s misguided activists.  He clearly recognized Parliament’s right to pass whatever legislation it sought fit necessary to govern the colonies.  After witnessing the riots stemming from the Stamp Act, he feared what was in store when the Townsend Acts were implemented.  He favored a direct confrontation with the patriots and was convinced that a demonstration of the King’s power, with troops occupying a few coastal cities, would ‘settle the contest.’  He wrote: “Never were people more divided in opinions, hopes, and fears, than those of Boston now are.  Men of a timid complexion give up the town, and expect greater disturbances than have been hitherto and, at the same time wish for troops to protect them, and are afraid of their coming here… The minds of the common people are poisoned to a great degree.”  Bernard referred to Warren and other patriots as outlaws.  In a letter he wrote to Lord Shelburne dated September 21, 1767, he writes “…[pity that] a rich and populous town should be thus distracted and disgraced by a set of desperadoes (perhaps not a dozen), whose own ruined or insignificant fortunes make the distraction of their country a matter of indifference to them; who, having themselves little to lose, are unconcerned at the consequences of a contest which they are desirous of bringing about, and must be fatal to persons of real worth and property.”[23]

The possibility of armed troops sent to Boston to quell a violent uprising against the hated Townsend Acts, forced the patriots to try a different approach than unleashing the mechanics and confrontational mobs.  On Nov. 9, 1767, a message appeared in the Whig newspaper Boston Gazette.   No doubt to curtail the type of violence that occurred during the Stamp Act protests.  “Let the persons and properties of our most inveterate enemies be safe.  Let not a hair of their scalps be touched.  Let this be the language of all, no mobs, no confusions, no tumults…”  The townspeople took heed for after British troops arrived, there were little if any controversies between patriots, government officials, and loyalists.  But what began at first as a cordial acceptance of their presence, gradually disintegrated into open brawls and eventually bloodshed.

Pens a Public Letter Denouncing the Governor / Governor Reacts

Boston Gazette

Warren’s first confrontation with the royal governor occurred in print.  On February 29, 1768, a scathing letter appeared in the Gazette that personally attacked Bernard and his administration.  It was signed ‘A True Patriot,’ Warren’s chosen pseudonym.[24]  It read in part: “We have for a long time known your enmity to this province.  We have the full proof of your cruelty to a loyal people.  No age has, perhaps, furnished a more glaring instance of obstinate perseverance in the path of malice than is now exhibited… Could you have reaped any advantage from injuring this people, there would have been some excuse for the manifold abuses… But, when a diabolical thirst for mischief is the alone motive of your conduct, you must not wonder if you are treated with open dislike… But it is certain that men totally abandoned to wickedness can never merit our regard, be their stations ever so high…”  He finishes:  “If such men are by God appointed, the devil may be the Lord’s anointed.”

Needless to say, Governor Bernard literally hit the ceiling.  He expected nothing short of complete ruin of the paper and persons involved as compensation for such blatant injury to a representative of the crown.  On March 3rd, 1768, he filed his objections to Warren’s letter to the House of Representatives.  The council concluded that “the article gave the board a real concern, and characterized it as a false, scandalous, and impudent libel on His Excellency.  They agreed that it was insolent and a licentious attack on the government.  However, though they lamented His Highness’s [Gov. Bernard] apprehension of danger or dignity of His Majesty’s government, they could not press the issue because there was nothing to affect the majesty of the King and honor of the court.  Nor was there a name to associate with the letter.  They concluded that “The liberty of the press is a great bulwark of the liberty of the people… therefore, the incumbent duty of those who are constituted the guardians of the people’s rights, to defend and maintain it.”  Bernard was not through.  He sent the issue to the Grand Jury and directed the attorney-general to prosecute.  Hutchinson, as chief justice, delivered an ultimatum to the jury saying “I told them in almost plain words, that they might depend on being damned if they did not find a bill.”  The judges sided with the House and refused to press charges.

Prime Minister William Petty 2nd Earl of Shelburne

Bernard was furious by the decision.  He was in constant communication with his ministers in England.  Throughout 1768 he wrote that unless troops were sent, the whole government, by the following year, will be in the hands of the people.  He complained of the work of the press, letters by committees that circulated throughout the providence and other colonies, and recommended legal proceedings be commenced against all who offend His Majesty’s government.  Lord Shelburne[25] had a cooler head and recommended that contemptible writings were rendered more abortive by remaining in oblivion and nothing should be made of it.  However, he knew that things were beginning to get out of hand and perhaps a more obvious presence of English law was needed in the order of landed troops.

Visions of a Noble Sacrifice

While a student at Harvard, Warren was mesmerized with the prospect of an honorable man willing to do battle against tyranny and injustice in the face of death.  From Cato to role models like General Wolfe[26], he envisioned a romantic disregard for his own safety to achieve the greater good.  Time again he wrote to friends or included in correspondence a willingness to accept death if it were necessary to achieve a just cause; “The calls of my distracted country are paramount to every interest of my own, I willingly leave fame and all its glories to aid in bursting the bonds of tyranny…” and “It is the united voice of America to preserve their freedom or lose their lives in defense of it.”[27]  He wrote to his student and friend William Eustis[28], “These fellows say we won’t fight.  By heavens, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”[29]   And in a letter to Samuel Adams on June 15th, 1774[30], he writes, “Vigilance, activity, and patience are necessary at this time: but the mistress we court is liberty; and it is better to die than not to obtain her.[31]   And his speech commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, as highlighted at the beginning of this article, “the only way to safety is through fields of blood, I know you will not turn your faces from our foes, but will undauntedly press forward until tyranny is trodden underfoot…”

Actor John Kemble in 1816 playing Cato in Joseph Addison’s Play

Historian Richard Frothingham[32] writes, “… as it evidences, the life he sacrificed on Bunker Hill was offered, not under the excitement of the moment, but with a fixed and deliberate purpose.”  On November 21, 1774, Warren writes to his good friend Josiah Quincy[33], “America hath in store her Bruti and Caesii… patriots and heroes, who will form a band of brothers, men who will have… courage and swords, courage that shall inflame their ardent bosoms till their hands cleave to their swords, and their swords to their enemies’ hearts… It is the united voice of America to preserve their freedom, or lose their lives in defense of it.”  After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, he writes to Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut on May 2, 1775, expressing a determination, if need be, to die honorably on the field of battle, “Our relief now must arise from driving General Gage, with his troops, out of the country, which, by the blessing of God, we are determined to accomplish, or perish in the attempt; as we think an honorable death in the field, whilst fighting for the liberties of all America, [preferable] to being butchered in our own houses…”  On May 16th, 1775, one month before his death, Warren writes to Dr. Arthur Lee[34], fellow physician, “… Danger and war are become pleasing, and injured virtue is now armed to avenge herself…”

During the two month period between Lexington and Bunker Hill, Warren’s correspondence was full of fiery rhetoric imploring his countrymen to arm themselves and defend their livelihood against the threat of tyranny.  Two days after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, he writes to the towns within the providence:  “The barbarous murders committed on our innocent brethren… have made it absolutely necessary that we immediately raise an army to defend our wives and our children from the butchering hands of an inhuman soldiery, who, incensed at the obstacles they met with in their bloody progress, and enraged at being repulsed from the field of slaughter, will without the least doubt, take the first opportunity in their power to ravage this devoted country with fire and sword.”

As elder statesman, Elbridge Gerry was a good friend of Warren. He would sign the Declaration of Independence., remaining in politics his entire life. He was vice president under James Madison when dying in office.

The afternoon on June 19th, 1775, Elbridge Gerry[35], an intimate friend and former room-mate at Harvard, implored Warren to remain in Cambridge and not join Putnam and Prescott at Bunker Hill.  Perhaps somewhat romanticized in typical prose of the time, he records Warren’s reply, “It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country.”[36]  So from his early days at Harvard, Warren has come full circle by quoting a similar line from Cato.  By the time Warren rides to his death, he is totally committed to war’s most deadly romance, hinting at a mental state that glorified self-sacrifice.

Juggling his Practice with Multiple Town Meetings and Committees / Boston Massacre

Since the Provincial Convention in September of 1768 until March of 1770 and the infamous Boston Massacre, Warren took part in all town meetings.  He served on multiple committees and drafted countless letters of correspondence.  This while serving up to one hundred patients a day and overseeing a growing number of apprentice physicians.  He was involved in the Liberty Affair in which one of John Hancock’s ships (a renowned smuggler to avoid custom charges) was confiscated for lack of revenue (Hancock at one point owed the English authorities over 100,000 £.  Some would say reason enough for rebellion). England finally agreed with Governor Bernard and landed troops in Boston on October 1, 1768[37] Warren was part of a committee that drafted petitions to remove the troops and to decide where and how they would be housed.

1770 Boston Massacre

Within nine months of the troops arriving, Governor Bernard was ordered to England and left Boston on July 31, 1769. This act was accompanied by a pealing of celebratory church bells and parades of rejoicing.  Hutchinson was made governor.  Shortly afterwards, the 64th & 65th regiments departed Boston leaving behind the original 14th and 29th regiments. Tensions between soldiers and citizens continued to intensify.  British troops staged horse racing through the streets on Sundays.  Military marches became common place. Housing troops continued to be a problem.  Soldiers were accused of taking jobs from the citizenry.  These and other numerous irritants began to infuriate the patriotic populace.  Tensions continued to mount as troops were ridiculed and confronted by citizens while sentries challenged townspeople with harsh words spoken by both sides.  What started as small scale arguments often exploded into a full blown brawl with fists and clubs struck by both sides.  It was only a matter of time before it erupted in deadly violence.  March 6, 1770, a late wintry evening and a lone British sentry was accosted by an angry club welding mob.  The troops sent to quell the disturbance faced an every growing number of threatening citizens.  Ice and sticks were thrown and the troops opened fire.

John Adams by John Trumbull

Five dead with six wounded and propaganda expert Samuel Adams had a field day promoting the martyrs of a massacre that once again acted as a great unifying agent for patriots up and down the eastern seaboard.  A proponent of equality under the law, John Adams agreed to defend the soldiers.

Troops Leave / Townshend Act Rescinded / Committees of Correspondence

With the removal of the British troops in October, 1770, along with the repeal of the Townsend act, the colonies once more quieted down.  This did not mean that Warren and his faction of patriots were any less busy.  The next three years were spent organizing individual provinces and setting up a system of communication between all the colonies that would unify the provinces into what was becoming its own nation.  Samuel Adams had been promoting an idea for some years.  If the towns could unite and be kept in continual contact, it would ultimately develop into a direct correspondence with other colonies.  1774-committee-of-corresondence On November 3rd, 1772, the Committee of Correspondence was born as the executive branch of the Whig Party and had its first meeting.  James Otis was chosen as chairman and twenty one patriots, Warren included, made up its membership.  Committees were drafted to list rights and violations of those rights.  Warren headed the committee of the later.  The Committee of Correspondence added more work and carried a greater responsibility that burdened an already weighted down young physician.  During this period, Warren’s family increased to two sons and two daughters, a slave, plus his brother John who had just graduated from Harvard and was one of his students in his medical apprentice program.

Because the tax on tea remained after the Townsend Act was rescinded, Samuel Adams still had a volatile issue to rally his troops around.  Warren continued to attend all town meetings and all the caucus[38] clubs in which he was an active member. North, South, and Mid Caucus meetings were held regularly and Warren was a key player as influential member of these organizations.  Made up of shopkeepers, mechanics, artisans, and dockworkers, these clubs or ‘Sons of Liberty’ became the storm troopers of the patriot cause. Sam Adams could always count on Warren to coordinate their presence when needed in large numbers. Additionally, Committees of Correspondence were popping up all over Massachusetts towns and the other colonies as far south as Georgia.  Planned protests and actions against British revenue acts became well coordinated in cities throughout the colonies.  This too only increased the demand on Warren’s time.  Besides the continual meetings of the Committee of Correspondence, here is a brief list of some of the committees he either was a member or chaired:

Dec. 25,1772 – permanent working committee

Feb. 23, 1773 – petition on judges salaries

March – Sept. 1773 – perpetual town meetings, numerous north, south, mid caucus meetings

May 1773 – chairman of “Society for Supporting the Bill of Rights”[39]

Sept. 7, 1773 – prepare a circular letter sent to towns in the province and to the other colonies

Nov. 9, 1773, – chairman of three on the tea issue

Dec 8, 1773 – report in newspapers events concerning the East India Company

Dec 17, 1773 – write a report to town committees on events concerning the tea

Dec 30, 1773 – a committee to invite a correspondence with NY & Philadelphia

Jan 8, 1774 – drafted to write response to Newport and Portsmouth

Seventeen Hundred and Seventy Three opened with optimistic determination by the patriots.  John Adams wrote: “The political horizon, aglow with the harbingers of a new American day, seemed to the learned and the unlettered the sign of a providence beckoning them on.  This feeling is seen in every great step towards the goal of nationality.  I state a fact as certain as the Revolution.”[40]  Revolution was a term that began to be bandied more freely among both patriot and loyalist.  Open rebellion was discussed, not against just a ministerial government, but the possibility of casting aside the shackles of the royal family.

Death of Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Hooten, wife of Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley

The year 1773 was also monumental for Warren as his wife, Elizabeth died on February 28th.  The following is a notice in the Gazette:  “On Tuesday last, Mrs. Elizabeth Warren, the amiable and virtuous consort of Dr. Joseph Warren, in the 26th year of her age.  Her remains were decently interred last Friday afternoon.”  One cannot help but think how lonely perhaps Elizabeth was during the eight years that she shared her husband with all of Boston.  He worked throughout the day as a physician and late into the nights, painstakingly writing and planning the next move that his circle of activists were about to make.  She was eighteen when she married Joseph Warren and in the years she remained his wife, she bore him four children; Elizabeth (1765-1804), Joseph (1768-1790), Mary (1771-1826), Richard (1772-1793).  They were all between the age of eight and one when losing their mother.  After her death, the children were moved from Boston to live with Warren’s mother in Roxbury.  Whatever impact her loss had on Warren, he threw himself into his work with an even greater vengeance as the patriots prepared for their response to the tea tax.

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party Dec. 16, 1773

The big issue that consumed the patriots, once the Boston Massacre incident had died down, was what to do with tea being shipped to the colonies by the East India Company.  Boston remained in close communication with the other major shipping centers; New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  Each city was discussing how they would deal with the tea that all agreed would not be sold to colonial citizens.  Some fought the importation through legal means, hoping to send the tea back to England. Some agreed to off load the tea, but to be kept locked in warehouses.  Boston’s answer proved to have the most impact which in turn suffered the gravest response from England.  Since many of the principal players were present for the event, its most likely that Warren was one of the ‘Mohawks’ who dumped  tea off three ships into the Boston Harbor that cold evening on December 16, 1773.  And Great Britain’s reaction played directly into Samuel Adam’s hands.

Prime Minister Lord North, Frederick North Earl of Guilford by Nathaniel Dance

On March 31st 1774, Prime Minister Lord North[41] moved the Boston Port Bill through Parliament.  It became the Boston Port Act and was printed in the Boston journals on May 10th 1774.  It provided for a discontinuance of the landing or shipping of all merchandise at Boston or within its harbor.  It announced in no uncertain terms that an army was on its way to Boston and that British ships of war, by blockading the town for a fortnight, could starve its people into submission. England believed that by punishing Massachusetts, it would dissolve the unity of the colonies.  It was based on the theory that jealousies between the colonies, antagonist interests, and different modes of social life formed an insurmountable barrier to any union. It inferred that Massachusetts, being left to struggle alone, would be crushed.  England’s ministers were listening to former Massachusetts Governor Bernard who was acting as their adviser on colonial interests.  Bernard still believed strongly that the differences between the colonies would never allow a union.  The ministers expected the rest of the colonies to abandon Boston to British martial law.  Bernard and England’s policy makers were soon proven grossly wrong.  They did not account fully for Warren’s pen and Samuel Adam’s meticulously detailed propaganda program that he had been pursuing with a vengeance during the last two decades.  Instead of abandonment, the other colonies rushed to Boston’s defense and sent food and supplies. Meanwhile they founded their own Provincial Congresses to discuss Britain’s fisted handling of Boston and how to form their own resistance to the crown.  With New England and Virginia leading the way, in September, 1774, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, just in time for Warren’s Suffolk Resolves to solidify the cement of union.

Intolerable Acts & the First Continental Congress

Boston’s punishment came in the form of what England termed the Coercive Acts which was quickly changed to the Intolerable Acts by the patriot faction in America.  The Boston Port bill was one of five bills that were included in the act.  The other four were:

  • The Massachusetts Government Act which basically absolved the 1691 Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings throughout Massachusetts (including Committees of Correspondence). It also gave the royal governor a wide range of power in appointments.
  • The Administration of Justice Act granted British government officials immunity to criminal prosecution of capitol offences in Massachusetts. If they were tried, it would have to take place in another province or in England.
  • The Quartering Act required colonists to house and quarter British Troops on demand, including private homes if warehouses, inns, or barracks were not provided.[42]
  • The fifth and final act of the Coercive Acts was entitled the Quebec Act. It extended freedom of worship to Catholics in Canada as well as allowing the Canadians a continuance of their judicial system. This was a direct slap in the face to New Englanders and its Protestants who, by the Coercive Acts, forfeited much of their judicial system and now had to face Catholics living legally along their borders to the north.

These ‘Intolerable Acts’ alone were enough to push aside any resistance by conservatives and moderates within the colonies towards forming a Continental Congress.  Delegates were chosen and sent to meet as a single body to discuss the issues facing not just Massachusetts, but collectively the colonies as a whole.  Convinced that Massachusetts alone would not suffer from such a draconian act, the First Continental Congress was called to meet on September 5, 1774 at Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia.  It was in session until October 26th of that year.

Duties Increase Tenfold as British Troops Arrive Boston / Gen. Gage as Military Governor

General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of North America. Warren thought Gage an able administrator and became a frequent house guest. Both sharing mutual respect

Warren pens a letter on May 11, 1774 to regional towns to meet at Faneuil Hall to discuss Massachusetts’ response to the Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts).  The meeting was held May 12th.  They voted to recommend that the other colonies join in a joint resolution to stop all trade, importation and exportation with Great Britain and the West Indies until the Boston Port Act was repealed.  This was urged as a measure that “would prove the salvation of North America and her liberties.”  The Whigs also hoped that this would once and for all galvanize the colonies into a single national force that would deal with England as a united body of states for all of America.

Warren was zealous to draft the measure, or circular letter as was commonly labeled, that had been approved.  Copies would be sent to all the colonies.  His friend Paul Revere would take the message south in time for the First Congress.  However it was delayed.  British troops arrived and the Commander of His Majesty’s Forces in America, Lieutenant General Thomas Gage[43].  The Whigs had their hands full.  Gage was taking over as Governor of Massachusetts with specific instructions from England on how to deal with insurgents in American.

Margaret Kemble Gage, wife of General Gage. A New Jersey native, critics of Gage accused his wife’s ties to the colonies as the reason he was not more heavy handed with the colonists

On May 17th, Gage arrived from New York City where he had been residing as Commander-in-Chief of British America.  He retained his status as commander of British forces and to this was made Military Governor of Massachusetts, replacing the hated Hutchinson.  Gage had been a soldier and statesman in the Americas since 1755 and the disastrous General Braddock campaign against the French in which Washington was commended for his efforts in during the retreat.  He fought alongside General Amherst[44], eventually taking his position as commander-in-chief of American Forces on November 17, 1763.  He had married a colonist, Margaret Kemble and resided in New York City until assigned the governorship in Boston.  Gage was renowned to Samuel Adams and fellow Whigs for saying in 1770 that “America is a mere bully, from one end to the other, and the Bostonians by far the greatest bullies.”  However, upon his arrival, he was given a fine fanfare with parade, dinner, and toasts by both Loyalists and patriots.  He was considered by most a fair and honest administrator greatly respected by all.

Though Gage was received cordially, his viewpoint as to the cause sought by the patriotic movement was well known. He wrote in 1772 that “… democracy is too prevalent in America.”  He thought that town meetings should be abolished and was in England at the time that the Coercive Acts were written, leaving his thumbprint on that aspect of the legislation.  His popularity with the colonists soon began to wane.  He had been instructed to bring the main agitators and ringleaders to justice and begin initiating the Coercive Acts.  June 1, 1774, former Governor Hutchinson leaves for England and the blockade of Boston is in effect.

Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts until the arrival of General Gage. A native of Boston, he remained loyal to the crown and received the wrath of the patriots.

Though Warren’s politics were in direct defiance of Governor Gage and English law, Warren would be a frequent guest at the governor’s Province House; even after Gage issued a proclamation declaring the Massachusetts Provincial Congress an unlawful body “tending to riot and rebellion.”  Warren liked Gage.  Warren would soon become Gage’s physician.  In a letter to Josiah Quincy Warren writes, “I have frequently been sent to him on committees, and have several times had private conversations with him.  I have thought him a man of honest, upright principals, and one desirous of accommodating the difference between Great Britain and her colonies in a just and honorable way.” Like his king and king’s ministers, Warren was able to separate Gage the man from those loyalist extremists who held his ear.  In the same letter he blamed Gage’s proclamation outlawing the Massachusetts Congress on “that malicious group of harpies whose disappointments make them desirous to urge the governor to drive away everything to extremes. Though Warren’s name was alongside Samuel and John Adams, including John Hancock, of those for whom Gage was to press charges, Warren would remain in close contact and a cordial associate with Gage right up until that fateful day when the first shots were fired at Lexington.

Port Act Takes Effect and Warren Takes Charge / Engaged

First Continental Congress met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia on September 5 until October 26, 1774

By mid-June, 1774, the rest of the colonies made the cause of Boston their own.[45]  Warren’s hand in events during these early weeks of June and beyond were monumental.  He wrote on June 6th in the Evening Post “Act, then, like men.  Appoint a general congress from the several colonies.  Unite as a firm band of brothers, and ward off the evil intended.”   Warren’s words became more and more the mirror of the passions of his countrymen.[46]  On June 17th, the delegates to the First Continental Congress to represent Massachusetts were chosen:  Samuel & John Adams, Thomas Cushing and Robert Treat Paine.  Upon learning this, Gage immediately dissolved all assembly in Boston.  In July, many more British troops began to arrive including the presence of war ships in the harbor.  Donations began pouring in from outside colonies in which Warren was instrumental in organizing; particularly aiding the poor and needy.  Most important was the establishment of the Committee of Safety[47] on July 26th.  Its function was to see to the military needs of the providence and protect the citizenry from any outbreak of hostilities. Its members were James Bowdoin, Samuel & John Adams, John Hancock, William Phillips, Josiah Quincy, and Joseph Warren. Among the numerous duties, the committee was to gather powder and arms in provincial cashes for ready use in case they were attacked by British forces.  They were to serve as a means of defense only.   Warren would eventually chair this organization along with the Committee of Correspondence and the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts.

Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia

On August 10th , the Massachusetts delegates left for the First Continental Congress virtually leaving Warren in charge of events in Boston that were quickly advancing towards open hostilities.  For the rest of August, Warren remained swamped with correspondence from patriot committees throughout the colonies, organizing, keeping those informed of British actions and Boston’s reaction, plus handling a steady supply of donations to help the people of Boston cope with the closed harbor.  He also had to organize Massachusetts’s reply to the Coercive Acts that would be shared throughout the colonies.

Mercy Scollay, Warren’s fiance. After Warren’s death, she helped take care of Warren’s four children. She never married.

Somehow, with all his daily patients, managing his medical students, and nightly commitments to the countless committees, Warren found time to court a handsome schoolmistress. By the end of summer, he was engaged to Mercy Scollay, (1741-1826) daughter of Boston Selectman and fellow patriot, Colonel John Scollay and wife Mercy Scollay.  The engagement period was protracted, possibly because Warren’s practice and politics left little time for the couple.

Suffolk Resolves

The Suffolk Reserves was approved by committee in the Daniel Vose home in Milton, MA.

The Suffolk Resolves brought Warren’s name prominently before the Continental Congress and throughout the colonies.  Soon after Samuel Adams left for Philadelphia and the First Continental Congress, Warren, in charge of the Committee of Correspondence, called a meeting in which most of the towns of Suffolk[48] met and chose delegates, sixty two in all, to attend a convention.  On the 6th of September, 1774, the delegates re-assembled at the house of Richard Woodward, in Dedham.  Every town in Suffolk County was represented.  The delegates chose Richard Palmer as president and William Thompson as clerk.  They chose a committee to draft a proposal in which Warren was the chair.  The assembly adjourned to meet at the Daniel Vose home in Milton on September 9th .  Warren presented his committee’s report, penned by himself which became known to history as the Suffolk Resolves.  It is stated that the report was read several times and unanimously adopted paragraph by paragraph.  Warren must have given a great deal of thought to writing the Resolves in the weeks previously to its presentation to the assembled New Englanders.  It proved to be an incredibly crafted document which caused Irish politician Edmund Burke[49] to write in 1776 that the Suffolk Resolves were a major development in colonial animosity leading to adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  Though counties in other colonies would adopt similar documents to deal with the Coercive Acts, the Suffolk Resolves were the first to promote a complete noncompliance with British governmental authority.

Warren sent the Resolves, along with a letter dated the 11th of September, to the Massachusetts delegates in Congress in Philadelphia.  Paul Revere delivered the packet on the 17th.  The Resolves was read to the Congress on the 18th and received a thunderous applause.  Adams wrote in his diary:  “This was one of the happiest days of my life.  In Congress we had generous, noble sentiments, and manly eloquence.  This day convinced me that America will support Massachusetts or perish with her.”  The Resolves were adopted by Congress and circular letters were delivered from one end of the colony to the other.  Basically, the declaration rejected the Massachusetts Government Act and resolved to boycott imported goods from Britain as well as refuse to export goods to England until the Intolerable Acts (Coercive Acts) were repealed. More specific:

  • Boycott British imports. No exports to England.  Colonists would refuse to use British goods.
  • Ignore the Boston Port Bill and the Massachusetts Government Act and any orders to disassemble.
  • Refuse all payments of taxes until the Acts were appealed.
  • Those appointed to the Governor’s Council must resign.
  • Accept a Massachusetts Provincial Government without royal authority until the Acts were repealed.
  • Raise more militias in which the citizenry and commanders support the actions of local government.


March towards Military Confrontation / The Powder Alarm

Minute Man responds to the alarm.
Minute Man responds to the alarm.

By September, 1774, Gage had withdrawn all British forces from the other cities of the colonies and centered them in Boston.[50]  After the French and Indian War ended, England had removed most of her troops, leaving a scant presence in coastal cities.  They reverted back to relying on the militia system of colonial self protection.  Therefore, even with all the British soldiers in America at hand, Gage’s troop numbers were insignificant to what the colonists could muster in case of an emergency.  This was soon proven in what has been labeled the Powder Alarm.  Gage was increasingly under pressure to rein in the colonial activists.  Lord Percy[51] commented that “The general’s great lenity and moderation serve only to make them [colonists] more daring and insolent.”  Some accused him of partiality towards the colonists because Margaret, his wife, was born and raised in New Jersey.  Gage decided to begin confiscating provincial armories of black powder and weapons, including cannon, which the colonists and the newly formed Committee of Safety had been gathering.

Powder House in Somerville. British removed powder and returned to Boston unmolested. However it resulted in the Powder Alarm, a preview to the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Over many years and throughout the colonies, the British army had been stockpiling armaments and supplies.  Some were fortifications manned by small garrisons; however most were locked buildings serving as magazines.  The powder and weapons were under the control of the provincial governments and some managed by local towns.  A storehouse in Somerville, in what was then part of Charlestown, housed the largest supply of black powder in the Boston region.   The local towns had already removed their powder leaving the King’s powder.  Gage did not want this powder to fall into the hands of Whig activists and made plans to have it removed to Boston.

Before sunrise, on September 1, 1774, a detachment of British troops numbering 260 from the 4th Regiment under the command of Lt. Colonel George Madison were rowed up the Mystic River and landed at Temple’s farm.  They passed about a mile over to Quarry Hill to Somerville and the Powder House.  There they promptly removed all the gunpowder.  Most of the troops returned to Boston by the same way they came, however a small contingency marched to Cambridge where they confiscated two field pieces and took them by foot over the Great Bridge[52] and Boston Neck into the city.  The powder and cannon were then stored on Castle William[53] now called Castle Island.

Perhaps due to the secretive movement of British troops prior to dawn, rumors spread throughout the region and filtered beyond the Massachusetts border to Connecticut and Portsmouth (present Maine) and New Hampshire.  The alarm was raised that the British army was on the move and at least six citizens had been killed in raids on other storehouses.  Militias throughout Massachusetts and beyond immediately took to the road and began converging on Boston.  Minute Men, smaller organizations within the militias made up of younger men who were to respond to a crisis within a minute’s notice, were in the vanguard, their muskets at the ready to turn back the British hoard.  Warren and other members of the Committee of Safety spent the entire day trying to avoid a confrontation with the British soldiers as the countryside united and thousands clogged the lanes to defend Boston.  The day ended peacefully, however the show of patriot muscle that could rally thousands of armed men did not go without notice.  General Gage halted all other plans to confiscate patriot arms and powder and used great caution to re-evaluate British strategy in dealing with what could easily be a potential uprising with grave consequences.

September to December of 1774

            During the Suffolk convention in September, 1774, Warren was given further tasks.  He was to head a committee to meet with General Gage.  They were to discuss the new fortifications in Boston and the insults towards the citizens of Boston which his soldiers had been actively engaged.  These meetings were one of many instances where Warren would have protracted meetings with Gage.  Both men developed a mutual respect for the other as Warren had free reign of the city, this while other patriot activists were actively leaving the city for fear of British reprisals.[54]  Warren continued to believe that Gage was a fair and honest administrator who was put in an impossible position that demanded he enact draconian legislation.  Gage believed that Warren was one of if not the finest doctor in Boston, so much so that he engaged him as his and his wife’s sole physician.

Silversmith Paul Revere

September was a very busy month for Warren for no sooner had Paul Revere delivered the Suffolk Resolves, Warren was required to take a prominent role in the organization and administration of a provisional government for the colony.  The journals of the Committee of Correspondence attest to the continuous labors of Warren as Benjamin Church writes, “We meet daily, with daily occurrences that demand our attention.  John Pitts[55], wrote to Samuel Adams, “In your absence, there have been, as usual, the improvement of the ready pens of a Warren and Church.”  While seemingly overwhelmed in preparing for the Provincial Congress which would meet in October, Warren writes to Samuel Adams in Philadelphia on September 29th.  In it he laments over the worsening situation in Boston, “The fortifications on Boston Neck [by the British] are carried on without intermission. The troops are availing themselves of every opportunity to make themselves more formidable and render the people less able to oppose them.  They keep a constant search for everything which will be serviceable in battle; and whenever they espy any instruments which may serve or disserve them, whether they are the property of individuals or the public is immaterial, they are seized and carried into the camp or on board the ships of war… The treatment which the inhabitants receive from the soldiery makes us think that they regard us as enemies rather than as fellow subjects…”

Provincial Congress delegates leaving a meeting

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress assembled on October 11th at Concord.  There were 288 members with all but 20 present.  The proceedings show that Warren was busy as ever; however most of the members were waiting for the final action of ‘The Grand American Congress,’ as the First Continental Congress was termed.  It was said that “the whole attention and conversation were wrapped up in the congress.”  The First Continental Congress ended on October 20th, 1774, and Paul Revere was in Philadelphia to bring the resolves of Congress back to Boston.  Throughout November and into December, much of the work was done in the Committee of Safety in which Warren was playing a lead role.  They met on Nov. 2nd and voted to purchase provisions for an army.  On the second meeting on the 8th, they voted to procure all the arms and ammunition which they could of the neighboring provinces.  On Nov. 15th, General Gage declared the Provincial Congress an unlawful body; however the Congress disregarded the order and met on November 23rd.

Last Months in Boston until Lexington

Major General William Heath commander of militia forces during the Battle of Lexington and Concord

From December 1774 until that fateful day on April 19, 1775, when the first shots at Lexington drew blood, Gage’s government kept applying financial pressure in hopes that bloodshed could be adverted and the entire affair, including steps towards unity, would gradually fade away.  The patriots of Boston felt confident that the rest of the colonies were united through a system of correspondence with Provincial Congresses. Talk of a second Continental Congress flowed between colonies.  They were determined to prepare for a defensive war if one erupted.  Warren, as eventual chair of the Committee of Safety, was in charge of seeing that necessary armaments and a military organization of regional leadership was in place in the advent of war.  Warren carried on these duties while continuing to live in Boston.  He saw to the needs of patients, including the commander-in-chief Gage and his family, right up until war became inedible.  Street confrontations between soldiers and patriots as well as fear for personal safety drove the principal players in the coming rebellion from Boston.  An incident occurred when Warren was passing the place at Boston’s Neck where the gallows stood.  One of three passing officers called out, “Go on Warren, you will soon come to the gallows.”  Warren turned and walked up to the officers and calmly asked who it was that uttered these words, but received no reply.[56]

Interior of Old Town Hall or Faneuil Hall

Warren was chosen to give the March 6th , 1775, speech at the Old Town Hall commemorating the 1770 “Boston Massacre” and what had been termed ‘Massacre Day.’  He had done so in 1772, however this time there would be several British officers in attendance in the front three rows.  He gave a good speech that focused on the colonists not wanting to separate from their King, but if forced to do so, would act accordingly, no matter what odds they must face.  It was only a month before Lexington and Concord and three months before his death on Breeds Hill.  He had been so immersed in the daily affairs of the Committee of Safety that his medical practice declined substantially.  Instead, he dealt almost exclusively with military affairs and preparations for war.  Since he and Dr. Church were the only two major patriot leaders left in Boston, Warren devoted himself to learning as much as he could of British operations and movements, sending word to General Heath[57], then acting general of militia.  There is much speculation that Gage’s wife, Margaret, was an informer who kept Warren abreast of her husband’s military affairs.  Some historians have pointed out circumstantial evidence to suggest there was a romance between the handsome doctor and the commander-in-chief’s wife.  But there is no proof that Margaret supplied Warren with secret information.  Troop movements within Boston were difficult to conceal and Warren was not the only patriot still residing in the city who had eyes and ears open to daily gossip.

Lexington & Concord

British troops in flat bottom boars used to cross rivers and transport troops from ships to shore

England was losing patience.  In April, 1775, Gage received instructions from Prime Minister Lord North[58] ordering him to take a more aggressive action against the patriots.  Gage had been sending officers disguised as farmers into the countryside to locate caches of weapons.  He decided to begin confiscating the patriots’ build up of arms and ammunition.  The memory of the Powder Alarm must have still been fresh in his mind as Gage drew up plans to remove black powder, including cannon, stored at Concord sixteen miles west of Boston.  On Friday, April 14, the frigate Somerset was moored in Charles River, between Boston and Charlestown.  The next day, the Grenadiers and Light Infantry were taken off duty, on the pretext of learning a new exercise.  The transports were hauled near the sterns of the men-of-war.  These suspicious movements did not go without notice and Warren sent Paul Revere to Lexington to inform Hancock and John Adams of this intelligence.  The next day, preparations were made by the patriots for the removal of a portion of the stores.  Gage’s orders to confiscate the powder and arms were clear.  There is no mention in the official report to capture Adams and Hancock.  Paul Revere writes later that they were also the object of Gage’s raid inland, but there is no documentation to back it up.  Hancock and Adams took it upon themselves to leave for their own safety right after Revere told them about the suspicious troop movements.  This occurred three days before the advent of Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn the colonists that Gage’s troops were on the move.

William Dawes. The lesser known messenger sent by way of Boston Neck through Roxbury and on to Concord the night of April 18, 1775

The British military was closely scrutinized by the citizenry of Boston for little passed without their notice.  It was no secret; Bostonians were cognizant that Gage’s forces were readying to march inland.  Preparations for an army on the move were obvious.  Wagons were being readied, blacksmiths were kept busy repairing weapons and fashioning objects of war such as crow’s feet,[59] extra supplies were assembled, and soldiers’ normal duties were interrupted.  Much of this required civilian labor who worked closely with the soldiers.  Relationships developed in which gossip was readily exchanged.  Warren had a keen eye that recognized nuances in the military including discussing intelligence and observations from his patients.  This too indicates that there was little need for a secret insider divulging military information. Circumstantial evidence and romantic antidotes was the stuff of early historical commentaries that tended to fantasize events which many modern historical accounts have adapted.

Lord Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland. He lead the relief column down Boston’s Neck through Roxbury to safe Colonel Smith exhausted troops. Through his efforts, the British were able to make their way back to Boston through Charlestown

On Tuesday evening, April 18th, at half past ten, eight hundred grenadiers and light infantry marched towards the bottom of the Commons.  Many Bostonians already knew the day and hour that they would leave Boston, including the mission assigned to their commander, Lt. Colonel Smith[60].  Lord Percy reports that on route from General Gage’s headquarters, after receiving his marching orders, he came upon ten men standing casually in discussion.  One of the men called out to him “The British have marched.  Will they miss their aim?”  Percy responded, “What aim?”  “Why the cannon at Concord,” the man answered.[61]  The British soon after embarked in long boats and crossed the Charles River in the direction of Phipp’s Farm or Lechmere’s Point.

Revere’s ride as romanticized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1861.

Warren took note of the British departure by boat and acted quickly.  He sent William Dawes[62] south by way of the Boston Neck and Roxbury and Paul Revere north out of Boston who crossed the Charles River and rode through Somerville.  Both men raced westward toward Lexington to give warning of the British advance.  Along the way, lights of the watch-fires burned bright, church bells pealed their warning, and signal-guns “proclaimed the faithfulness with which Warren’s messengers did their work.”[63]


Battle of Lexington. Amos Doolittle’s engraving of scene at the town green

Early the next morning, Warren was informed that British troops opened fire on the militia at Lexington, killing several.  “His soul beat to arms,” Dr. Eliot[64] writes, “as soon as he learned the intention of the British troops.”  Warren called for William Eustis, his student, and directed him to take care of his patients.  He mounted his horse and departed for the Charlestown Ferry, crossing prior to the ferry’s closure by British authorities.  At approximately 8 AM, Warren was met in Charlestown by Dr. Thomas Welch[65], a resident of the town.  Dr. Welch decided to accompany Warren to Lexington.  Another resident of Charlestown, Jacob Rogers[66] wrote that he saw the two men racing out of town at 10 AM.  By 9 AM Colonel Percy had left Boston leading a relief force to reinforce Lt. Colonel Smith.  They had marched by way of Boston Neck and Roxbury.

British fire upon colonialists at Lexington
British fire upon colonialists at Lexington

About the same time Warren and Welch were approaching Cambridge, the British column had passed through the town on their way to Lexington.  Dr. Welch writes that they were near this force when they came upon two soldiers.  He writes, “…[they] were going to Lexington, and tried to steal Watson’s horse, at Watson’s Corner… the old man pulling one way, and the soldiers the other.  Dr. Warren rode up and helped drive them [the soldiers] off.”  The two doctors tried to pass Percy’s column, but were stopped by soldiers bearing bayonets.  Two officers rode up to Warren and inquired “Where are the troops?”  Welsh writes, “The doctor did not know.  They were greatly alarmed.  Went home.”  Welsh returned to Charlestown and related nothing further that day,[67] except in relation to the British return through Charlestown.  Warren rode on to Cambridge where he met a portly farmer, General William Heath, who he had commissioned some weeks earlier.

Militia fire upon the British column during march from Concord towards Boston
Militia fire upon the British column during march from Concord towards Boston

There is no accurate record of Warren’s actions for the next several hours until late in the battle. It is perhaps safe to say that Warren remained throughout the afternoon hours with General Heath.  Lord Percy’s thousand man strong relief force met Lt. Colonel Smith’s retreating column just east of Lexington.  Smith’s detachment of 700 men were exhausted, without food and water, low on ammunition, and had suffered a large number of killed and wounded during their tortuous retreat from Concord.  They had been fighting a running battle with over a thousand militia strung out all along the route.  Percy halted the retreat and allowed a half hour’s rest while he planned their return march to Boston.

In the meantime, militia continued to arrive from towns further out.  During this lull in the fight, Heath found four complete colonial regiments and four at half strength at Lexington. Cognizant of Percy’s use of artillery, he thought it folly for a frontal attack against such a large number of trained British troops.  He ordered the regiments gathered around Lexington to circle Percy’s force and ambush them as they retreated.  Officers detached militia units ahead of Percy’s army to man empty houses and barns along the route, turning them into fortresses.  The main road sloped down to the village of Menotomy[68], where homes and barns stretched a mile on either side.  Here the militia waited while Heath, with Warren by his side, relentlessly attacked the British rear guard.

Lord Percy’s troops flanking the colonists positioned by the road to ambush the British columns

The colonists would suffer the greatest number of casualties that day in what was called the Battle of Menotomy (now merged into the Battle of Lexington and Concord).  At the head of his column, Percy placed Smith’s worn out men.  The elite Royal Welsh Fusiliers would act as rear guard.  The other two fresh regiments, the 47th and King’s Own, fanned several companies out to either side of the road as flankers.  They were to sweep the fences and stone walls and attack any militia fighting from within structures.  As Heath mauled Percy’s rear guard, the colonists ahead of the retreating British prepared to ambush them from the abandoned homes.  Though a few old veterans of the French and Indian War warned the militiamen of possible flankers, the colonists waiting near the road ignored them, wanting to get close enough for a good shot. When the British flankers came up, they swept the hills and poured down upon the Americans waiting in the homes.  British soldiers incised by militiamen picking them off from a distance, fell upon the militia with their bayonets.  Hand to hand fighting took place and no colonist who could not escape was spared the blade, butchering even those who tried to surrender.  The greatest percentage of militia casualties occurred at Menotomy.  Percy pushed on past the ambush at Menotomy and pressed northeast through Somerville.  He could not retrace his steps through Roxbury and Boston’s Neck because he had received word that a substantial force of colonials had blocked the Great Bridge over the Charles River.   His exhausted troops finally arrived at Bunker Hill and Charlestown.  Heath called off the pursuit when he saw that the British were safe within the guns of their war ships stationed in the harbor.

Battle of Menotomy. Amos Doolittle engraving

At the Battle of Menotomy, General Heath gives an account that mentions Warren’s presence, “In this battle,” Heath writes, “I was several times greatly exposed, in particular at the high grounds, at the upper end of Menotomy.  Dr. Joseph Warren, afterwards Major General Warren, who kept constantly near me, and then but a few feet distant, a musket ball from the enemy came so near his head as to strike the pin out of the hair of his ear lock.[69] Historical texts state that Warren treated the wounded afterwards.  This is a logical assumption for there are no written accounts of him doing so.

That evening, the Committee of Safety met at the Black Horse Tavern[70] in West Cambridge (present Arlington).  This meeting was scheduled for the Black Horse prior to hostilities erupting.  Warren was present as was General Heath.  They were now at war and all matters concerning the committee were of a military nature.  Warren had left his medical practice in Boston and for the next couple of months, right up until his untimely death, spent every waking moment serving Massachusetts in this crisis.

As to his children that historic day in April, Warren had previously moved them out of Boston.  They had most likely remained in Roxbury under the care of their grandmother.  Mercy Scollay, Warren’s fiancé remained in Boston with her parents.  Warren would never return to Boston.  Soon after Lexington, his children and fiancé, Mercy Scollay would reside in Worcester on a farm rented from Doctor Dix, an old family friend of the Scollays.  Warren would spend most of his time at his office in Watertown and committees in Cambridge,.

Holding an Army Together / Two Months Between Lexington and Bunker Hill

            Right after Lexington, Warren drafted a quick letter to the other towns of the Providence.  It is steeped in apocalypse rhetoric. “Our all is at stake.  Death and devastation are the instant consequences of delay.  Every moment is infinitely precious.  An hour lost may deluge your country in blood, and entail perpetual slavery upon the few of your posterity who may survive the carnage…”  True to his words, every moment of Warren’s time was consumed by preparations for war.  He applied himself fully to the arduous duties of forming a standing army, commissioning officers, accommodating food and housing for the militia that continued to pour in from outer towns and nearby colonies.  He established discipline, sat in on councils of war, corresponded with provincial governments as well as the enemy, and assisted in an overall strategy to meet the crisis.  Dr. Eliot wrote, “Nothing could be in a more confused state than the army which first assembled at Cambridge.  This undisciplined body of men was kept together by a few who deserved well of their country… Dr. Warren was perhaps the man who had the most influence, and in whom the people in the environs of Boston and Cambridge placed their highest confidence.  He did wonders in preserving order among the troops.”  Listed is a brief timeline of some of Warren’s activities leading up to Bunker Hill:

  • April 23rd. Warren is made president of the Committee of Safety due to Hancock’s absence.  From that time on, Warren was in charge of the colonies’ attempts to muster for war.  He began issuing daily orders to raise fighting units including commissioning officers to lead them.
  • April 30th. Warren was invited to become president of Massachusetts Provincial Congress.  He meets with Benedict Arnold.  Arnold is impressed with Warren who gives him a letter to General McDougal of New York commissioning Arnold to capture Fort Ticonderoga.
  • May 17th. Warren writes to the Governor of Connecticut congratulating him on the capture of Ft. Ticonderoga.  Though Colonel Knox is given credit for suggesting the fort’s cannon be brought to Boston, Warren was enthusiastic about capturing Ticonderoga and was the first to stress removing the cannon at the fort to Boston.  He continued to pursue this during committee meetings and in several correspondences right up until his death.  Warren writes: “… we are in extreme want of a sufficient number of cannon… without which we can neither annoy General Gage, if it should become necessary, nor defend ourselves against him… we would suggest it as our opinion, that the appointing Colonel Arnold to take charge of them, and bring them down in all possible haste.”  And to Samuel Adams nine days later: “If any of those cannon should arrive within the limits of this colony, we shall ourselves accountable for them to you honors…”
  • May 20th. Warren appoints General Artemus Ward[71] as commander of the Massachusetts forces.
  • June 14th. Warren is commissioned a major general by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress that recorded: “…he was proposed as a physician-general; but, preferring a more active and hazardous employment, he accepted a Major General’s commission.”

Participates in the ‘Provision War’ / Accompanies Colonel Putnam

general-israel-putnamWarren needed to be close to the action.  After Lexington, it could be said he had a taste for battle.  He was well known to many in the local militia and no doubt, riding beside General Heath, men had cheered his presence.  Since his days at Harvard, Warren must have envisioned scenes just like this; riding among his men in glory and triumph, inspiring them to give their all in greatness.  Though overwhelmed in military and government affairs, he made a point to be present at British and colonial skirmishes later labeled the ‘Provision War’.  After Lexington, the British were sealed in Boston.  Though supplied by ships, fresh vegetables and meat could only be gathered from the countryside.  The colonists and British soldiers occasionally clashed in heated skirmishes as the soldiers sought food and forage for their horses.  On May 21th, 1775, on Grape Island, one of the islands just off the mainland in southern Boston’s harbor, a skirmish occurred between colonists and British over stored hay.  Warren was one of the hundreds of colonists gathered on the mainline shore exchanging shot with the British while dozens of patriots rowed across in skiffs and landed on the island.  The British were driven off.  Unconfirmed reports stated that three British soldiers were wounded before the troops made off with two tons of hay.[72]  .

Warren also associated with commissioned officers, particularly Colonel Israel Putnam[73], ranger hero of the French and Indian War.  The two were often seen together.  A couple months after the Boston Port Bill was put into effect, in mid-August, 1774, Putnam brought 130 sheep to Boston in reaction to England’s blockade.  It was a donation from Brooklyn, Connecticut where Putnam owned a large farm.  Putnam stayed at Warren’s home for over a week before returning to Connecticut.  During that period, the two became friends.

Noodle Island or Battle of Chelsea Creek

Warren was with Colonel Putnam during a much more important skirmish at Noodle Island which resulted in the first British warship taken in the American Revolution.  Noodle Island, and nearby Hog Island were separated from the mainland by Chelsea Creek, a narrow strip of water that was fordable at low tide.  The British kept hundreds of cattle on both islands including stored naval and military supplies on Noodle Island.  To ward off colonial raids, they stationed gun boats in Chelsea Creek, however there were no troops on the islands.  Warren, as head of the Committee of Safety, ordered that the cattle be driven off the island and the military stores confiscated or destroyed by the regiment at Medford.[74]  Colonel John Stark[75] was at Medford with 300 men of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment; hardened frontiersmen who would later decimate British forces at Bunker Hill.  Just after midnight on May 27th, Stark’s men waded onto Hog Island.  Unnoticed by the British gun boats, they began rounding up livestock and driving them onto the mainland.  Stark sent a small detachment onto Noodle Island who began putting British supplies to the torch.  The British noticed the fire and smoke and landed 400 marines on Noodle Island.  The sloop Diane was also ordered up Chelsea Creek to cut off the colonists retreat.  Stark’s men were driven back onto Hog Island, but not without an intense firefight that forced the marines to retreat, giving Stark’s men time to escape.  Meanwhile the Diane, for fear of getting stranded, was ordered to be towed out of the creek.  Troops arrived under Colonel Putnam, accompanied by Warren.  They joined Stark’s men and began a hot fire on the ships in the creek.  The British gave up towing the Diane and abandoned all ships.  The Diane soon ran aground on the Mystic River side of Chelsea.  Putnam’s men torched the ship after removing her guns[76] and supplies.

This skirmish was a huge boost in morale for the colonists.  The militiamen suffered no deaths and a small number of wounded.  General Gage supposedly greatly understated his casualties writing London that two men were killed and a small number were wounded.  Many American accounts state that over a hundred British were killed and wounded.  By now, Warren was fully committed to taking part in all hostilities between opposing forces.  It appears that there was no question in his mind that he would not be present at the next major confrontation with British troops.  He had but three weeks to wait before he would once more race to the sound of guns.

Warren Objects to Manning Bunker Hill

Map of Boston showing the routes taken by the British during Lexington & Concord. Also Charlestown and Breed’s Hill

On May 28th, the evening after the Noodle Island skirmish, Putnam records that he related to Warren the importance of positioning men north of Boston in and around Charlestown.  It seems Warren, as well as General Ward, chosen as Major General of all forces gathered around Boston, were not very keen to expose men on a peninsula that was surrounded on three sides by war ships.  Putnam relates that Warren responded, “… I admire your spirit, and respect General Ward’s prudence.  We shall need them both, and one must temper the other.”[77] The discussion to build a fortification on Bunker Hill near Charlestown to counter any move north by the British was discussed among influential patriots.  Warren still had his doubts for on June 12th, he confides with Putnam, “… but I must still think the project a rash one.”  However, it appears he had already made up his mind to be present at the next battle, “Nevertheless, if the project be adopted, and the strife becomes hard, you must not be surprised to find me near you in the midst of it.”  The patriots received authentic information that Gage was to commence an offensive operation on the evening of June 18th.  On June 15th, the Committee of Safety recommended that the possession of Bunker Hill to be of importance to the safety of the colony and that it was to be maintained by a sufficient force.

Romanticized version of Warren biding farewell to his fiance Mercy Scollay. From an 1846 engraving.

The next day, the 16th, Warren had a conversation with Gerry at Cambridge.  They discussed the determination of Congress to take possession of Bunker Hill.  Warren said that he had opposed it, but that the majority had determined upon it.  He stated that he would hazard his life to carry their determination into effect.  Accordingly, Gerry expressed in strong terms his disagreement with Warren’s decision to put his life in danger.  In his opinion, it would be vain to try and hold such an exposed position, “where your destruction will be almost inevitable.”  Warren was to answer, “I know it, but I live within the sound of their cannon, how could… I not be there.”

Bunker Hill

If fading lilies, when they droop and die,

Robbed of each charm that pleased the gazing eye,

With sad regret the grieving mind inspire,

What then when virtue’s brightest lamps expire?


Colonel Prescott is in a long grey coat raising his sword along the embankment of the fortification on Breed’s Hill

Colonel Prescott[78], with 1,200 of his men, on the night of June 16th, 1775, arrived at a high meadow and grazing field called Bunker Hill, near Charlestown.  After some discussion between Prescott and Colonel Putnam, approximately 900 of Prescott’s men passed Bunker Hill to occupy a smaller height called Breed’s Hill.  It was a little further south and closer to the water.  It was late in the evening when farmers and tradesmen, familiar with pick and shovel, began building a fortification that continued into the early morning hours.  At dawn, the British were surprised to find a substantial fort constructed within clear sight of all of Boston.  The warship Lively began a bombardment that was soon followed by other warships anchored in the harbor.  Warren was in Watertown that morning, about a dozen miles west of Cambridge, where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met regularly.  He rose early and rode to Cambridge to meet with the Committee of Safety.  The committee held its session at the Hastings House in which General Ward, commanding general of all militia forces, had his headquarters.  It is reported that Warren also met with General Heath.  By 11:00 that morning, Prescott sent word that the British were transporting troops across the river in preparations to attack his newly constructed works.  Warren immediately issued orders through Heath for reinforcements to be sent to Prescott.  The regiments of Colonel Stark & Reed from New Hampshire and Colonel Knowlton of Connecticut responded.  Upon arriving, and to prevent the enemy from flanking their position, they extended a line of defense from the fortification on Breed’s Hill down the slope to the northeast, ending at the water with Knowlton and Reed manning the fences and Stark’s men down to the beach where they piled rocks.

Assault on Breed’s Hill. Probably the second attack.

Between noon and 1 PM, Putnam rode up to Ward’s headquarters in Cambridge and reported that the British had landed.  Warren at that time had been lying down complaining of a nervous headache.  He rose with the noise and confusion associated with Putnam’s news and prepared to ride to Charlestown.  According to Dr. Townsend[79], Warren accompanied him a part of the way on foot, but a short distance from headquarters, Warren mounted and rode off.  Accordingly, Warren overcame two friends who were walking and exchanged comments on the day’s events.  Soon, Warren came within sight of the narrow stretch of land that connected Charlestown and Bunker Hill to the mainland.  British war ships were laying down a steady bombardment of the flat strip of land up to and including Bunker and Breed’s Hills.  He raced through the barrage of shells uninjured and soon after he appeared on Bunker Hill.  There he met one of his students, William Eustis who was serving as surgeon.

Rail Fence at Bunker Hill. Colonel Knowlton’s Connecticut regiment manned the fences along with Colonel Reed’s New Hampshire Regiment. Colonel Putnman, contrary to many accounts on the battle, was not at the fence, but on Bunker Hill throughout the battle.

Most historical accounts state that he went to the rail-fence that faced the enemy and met with General Putnam.  However, more accurate accounts place Putnam not at the scene of the British assault, but further back on Bunker Hill where he remained throughout the battle.  Therefore Warren must have spoken with Putnam shortly after he arrived at Bunker Hill.  It is reported that Putnam offered to receive orders from Warren who replied that he was here only as a volunteer.  “I know nothing of your dispositions; nor will I interfere with them,” it was reported that Warren said.  “Tell me where I can be most useful.”  Putnam then directed him to the redoubt saying, “There you will be covered.”  Warren replied, “Don’t think I came to seek a place of safety, but tell me where the onset will be most furious?”  Putnam again gestured toward the fortification atop of Breed’s Hill.

British troops storm the redoubt on the third attack

Warren hurried down Bunker Hill to the lower Breed’s Hill and entered the rear of the fortification shortly before the action commenced.  It is reported that the men manning the redoubt were encouraged by Warren’s presence as he was greeted with huzzas.  Prescott, cognizant of Warren’s rank as Major General, said that he offered Warren command.  Warren replied that he would not accept. That he had not yet received his commission and arrived as a volunteer to serve under Prescott and “shall be happy to learn from a soldier of your experience.”  According to Prescott, he was among the last to see Warren alive.  After twice repulsing the British attack, the colonists had nearly run out of ammunition.  The British surged up the hill a third time and poured over the ramparts. Hand to hand fighting erupted and the colonists pulled back to the single escape route at the rear of the redoubt.  As Prescott pressed towards the exit, his sword parrying bayonet thrusts, he comments, “so great was the dust arising now from the dry, loose soil, that the outlet was hardly visible.  Warren was among the last to go out.  Just outside of it, there was much mingling of the British and Provincials.”[80]

British and militia mingle in hand to hand fighting as the colonials retreat through the rear entrance of the fortification. It is believed that Warren is killed sixty yards from the fort’s entrance during the British pursuit of fleeing militia.

There are many recorded accounts of what happened next.  It is known that Warren fell about sixty yards from the redoubt.  Some relate that Warren, with sword in hand, was trying to rally the militia to make a stand when he was killed.  Others are more romantic, stating that an officer recognized Warren and borrowed a musket and shot him.  Still others, taking a more realistic stance, state that Warren was shot in the back of the head as he, like all the militia around him, were trying to escape the carnage. Sadly disturbing, is that right up to modern times, the 2015 History Channel’s movie entitled “Sons of Liberty” is the most fantastical version of all.  It depicts the Commander-in-Chief of North America, General Gage, recognizing Warren and walking up to him.  After a few viperous utterances, he pulls a pistol and shoots Warren in the head.  Script writers ignored the fact that General William Howe commanded the field that day and Gage was in Boston during the entire battle.  Besides this trilogy shredding nearly every ounce of fact affiliated with this time of history, they couldn’t be more fantastical by having Peter Pan standing besides General Gage when the fatal shot was taken.

There is evidence, however not conclusive,  that Warren’s death was instant by a bullet in the face at close range.  It entered between the left nostril and left eye and exited the lower back of the skull. Warren was exhumed in 1855 by his grand nephew, Dr. Jonathan Mason Warren and accordingly, photos were taken.  Dr. Lester Luntz, in his 1973 dental forensics book, “Handbook for Dental Identification,” illustrates these photos of what is reported to be Warren’s skull.  Unfortunately, the original photos have been lost and there is no way to verify this.  Regardless,  if he were shot in the face or back of the head, there is no report of Warren trying to rally his men.  All was confusion and panic as most of the militia’s casualties occurred after the British stormed the ramparts and pursued the fleeing colonists in close hand to hand fighting.  If shot in the face, Warren may have turned around at that fatal moment to see how close his pursuers were.  Though perhaps unrecognizable by the blast to the head at close range, accordingly, the British recognized Warren on the battlefield.  Historian Samuel Swett’s 1818 text of the battle reports that John Winslow (1753-1819), a clerk in the hardware store of his uncle, Boston selectman Jonathan Mason, reported he had seen Warren among the dead.  Winslow was probably one of many civilians hired to assist in the task of burial.  Dr. John Jeffries was on the field dressing wounded militia and British soldiers.  According to Swett, General Howe asked Jeffries if he could identify Warren.  Jeffries recalled that Warren had lost a finger nail and wore a false tooth.  After the battle, Gage sent twenty barrels of quicklime to Charlestown.  The dead were thrown into a swampy hollow between the two hills.  It was supposed that Warren’s remains were in the pits and among the one hundred and forty other militiamen who died in and around the fortification.  British soldiers afterwards state that Warren was thrown in a pit with another ‘rascal.’

Warren’s brothers, Ebenezer and John along with Joseph Warren’s good friend Paul Revere, had to wait nearly a year until after the British withdrawal on March 17th to look for Joseph’s body.  On April 9th, 1776, they discovered Warren in a shallow grave with another farmer.  Because of the terrible wound and decomposition from a wet, swampy area, Warren’s face was unrecognizable. Revere’s trade as silversmith also included dentistry.  According to Warren’s grand nephew, they certified that the body was Warren’s “from the circumstance that the left upper cuspid, or eye-tooth, had been secured in its place by a golden wire.”  The wire placed there by Warren’s dentist, Revere.

Family Grave and Tomb of Dr. Joseph Warren

After Warren’s brothers and Revere found his body, he was brought to Boston with full honors.  He was buried in the Minot family tomb in the Old Granary Burial Ground on April 18th, 1776, the first anniversary of Lexington and Concord.  There he rested until 1825 when he was interred at St. Paul’s Church.  He remained at St. Paul’s until 1855 before being removed to rest in the Warren family vault in Forest Hills Cemetery.  Warren’s grandnephew,

What of Warren’s Children?

After it was confirmed that Warren was killed, his children stayed briefly with his fiancé, Mercy Scollay.  Mercy decided to move back to Boston with her parents and the children were sent to live with Warren’s mother.  Warren’s finances suffered towards the end of his life as he committed more and more time to the patriot cause.  There was little left for the children’s welfare and the Freemasons felt compelled to assist, contributing money for their care.  In a 1776 letter to Mrs. Dix, family friend, Mercy describes a conversation with Warren’s brother John.  She tells him that she feels she had been treated ‘ungenerously’ in regards to the children.  However; it appears that Mercy was torn between returning to her former life in Boston or the responsibilities to help care for the children.  By July of that year, she writes that the children are once again with her in Boston.  Yet by November of the same year she writes that she visits the children in Roxbury.

Siege of Boston

During the Siege of Boston, a smallpox epidemic ravaged the city.  The children were moved from their grandmother’s residence in Roxbury to their uncle Ebenezer’s home in Worcester, Mass.  In January, 1777, their uncle, Dr. John Warren returned to Boston.  After the British left Boston in March of 1776, Dr. John Warren, who had since joined the Continental Army as a surgeon, accompanied Washington to New York City.  After the Battle of Princeton, he did not go into winter quarters with the army in Morristown, New Jersey, but left for home. Later that year John was married.  For reasons unknown, he did not offer to take the children into his home.  He and Samuel Adams “thought it best that the three children should be kept together” (elder son Joseph was being educated at the school of Rev. Phillips Payson of Chelsea).  Warren’s former fiancé was asked once more to take the children.  She conceded and they lived with her.

In 1778, Benedict Arnold learned that Congress had done nothing for the care or education of his friend’s children.  Arnold was grateful for Warren’s support early in the war and sent Mercy a letter accompanied by five hundred dollars with instructions for the youngest Richard to be clothed and sent to the best school in Boston.  Arnold continued his advocacy for Warren’s children, twice petitioning Congress for their support.[81]  His appeal was rebuffed at first but succeeded the second time.  In July 1780, Congress allowed Warren’s heirs the half-pay pension of a major general from the date of his death until the youngest was of age.  During this time, Elizabeth was sent to live with Mrs. Miller to learn “music, dancing, writing and arithmetic, and the best needle-work.”  Mercy continued to care for Mary and the youngest Richard at her parents’ home.

Sometime in 1779, Dr. John Warren adopted his orphaned nephews and nieces.  Mercy remained in Boston nursing her ailing parents.  When they died, she left Boston and moved to Medfield, Massachusetts to live with her sister Mary and husband Thomas Prentiss. She remained in Medfield and died at the age of 85, having never married.

Both of Joseph Warren’s sons died at an early age: Joseph graduated from Harvard in 1786, but died suddenly in 1790 at the age of 22; Richard, became a merchant in Alexandria, Virginia, however died in Boston at age 21.  Elizabeth married Gen. Arnold Welles and lived in Boston, dying at the age of 39 in 1804.  Mary married Judge Richard E. Newcomb of Greenfield, Mass.; had one son, Joseph; and died in 1826.  Mary’s children were the only surviving decedents of Dr. Joseph Warren.


            One can speculate what effect Warren would have had had he lived beyond the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was a political and military leader during the turmoil of a developing nation.  He was highly respected for his intellect and courage.   One could also speculate about a brash, young colonel of militia who repeatedly dodged bullets as he tried to rally British troops; this during the French and Indian War and General Braddock’s disastrous defeat in 1755.  What if then Colonel George Washington had fallen among so many of his colleagues; instead of surviving to lead America’s armies to victory and become the first elected president of a new nation.

Warren’s contribution to the patriot cause is noteworthy; however it does not overshadow his pioneering efforts in medicine.  Warren established practical educational methods for students of medicine while regularly providing care for the poor and disenfranchised.  Though it was common for some physicians to take on an apprentice in medicine, Warren was the first to organize a detailed plan of instruction for his students similar to what would be considered a medical school.  Students accompanied him on his rounds, met with him singularly and in small groups, were questioned on the day’s medical practice, and were regularly critiqued by Warren when handling a patient. Warren’s commitment to caring for the poor went far beyond the service his colleagues provided for those who could not pay the normal fees.  Often Warren did so without any compensation.  He pioneered health care for all, regardless of one’s wealth or ability to pay; something still sadly lacking for millions of this country’s population.

Harvard Medical School

Perhaps Warren’s lasting legacy are the roots he set deep; best reflected in the works of his brother and nephew.  His brother, Dr John Warren, studied medicine with Joseph.  He joined Washington’s Continental Army as a surgeon and served on Long Island, later treating wounded after the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  He returned to Boston in 1777 and set up a medical practice.  He picked up where his brother Joseph left off and established an apprentice program that focused on preparing students for the medical field.  He was well known as an excellent teacher and founded the Harvard Medical School in 1782.  John’s son and Warren’s nephew, John Collins Warren, entered the medical field and succeeded his father John as professor of surgery and anatomy.  Along with his father and James Jackson[82], John later co-founded the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1811.  In 1846, John Collins Warren performed the first public operation in which ether was used.

Nineteenth Century historian Richard Frothingham perhaps best sums up Warren’s dedication to his beliefs in what was morally right in government and the courage to risk his life for those beliefs.  “Though he was an enthusiast for liberty, he appreciated the necessity of joining to it that respect which power only can command.  His ideal was liberty without licentiousness.  He urged for its full enjoyment the formation of a just government, based on the will, and sustained by the power, of the people, and clothed with adequate authority to cover the rights of person and property with the aegis of law.  His last utterances, private and official, plead for such a crowning to the patriot cause.”[83]  A crowning Warren never lived to see, yet through his spirit and so many others who forfeited their lives, that most precious of all gifts, he lives on in a constitution of union drafted by the people and for the people.  Edna St. Vincent Millay[84] could have been speaking of Dr. Joseph Warren when she wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!”


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[1]  Dr. John Warren (1753-1815) would outlive his older brother Joseph by forty years.  He attended Harvard like Joseph and upon graduation, studied under Joseph in his brother’s apprentice program.  John was assisting the wounded of Bunker Hill when he heard that his brother had been killed in the battle.  After the war, he continued his practice in the Boston area and excelled as a teacher, founding the Harvard Medical School.

[2]  Dr. James Lloyd (1728-1810) born on Long Island, he moved to Boston at age 17.  He studied medicine in Paris and for a time lived in England, General William Howe being one of his early patients.  He returned to Boston in 1762.  Though he remained a loyalist, he was no activist and focused on his medical profession, only offering his opinion on issues when asked.  When Dr. Joseph Warren, a former student of Lloyd’s departed Boston after the Battle of Lexington, Dr. Lloyd replaced him as family physician of General Gates. Unlike many loyalists who fled Boston with the British on March 17th, 1776, Lloyd remained and never had to forfeit his estates for his views on the legality of the crown.  Throughout the war and long afterwards, he continued a successful practice in Boston right up until his death.

[3]  Paul Revere (1734-1818) was a silversmith, engraver, and dentist who resided in Boston.  He was an active patriot during the buildup towards the Revolutionary War.  He was a member of the Sons of Liberty and local caucuses in which protests towards the British government were planned and organized.  He became the ‘winged messenger’ of activist Samuel Adams and was Dr. Joseph Warren’s close friend.  He is best remembered for his April 18th – 19th ride from Boston towards Concord to warn the countryside of a column of British sent to confiscate black powder and arms at Concord.  He became famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1861 poem, ‘Paul Revere’s Ride.’  A year after the Battle of Bunker Hill and after the British evacuated Boston, Revere, along with Joseph’s brother John, unearthed Warren’s body.  It was badly decomposed and Revere was only able to identify the body by the false teeth he had wired in Warren’s mouth. It is the first recorded history of dental forensics.  Revere spent the war in and around Boston.  He was made a colonel and was positioned on  Castle William.  After the war he continued his business in metals – becoming the first American to successfully roll copper as sheathing on ships.

[4] John Wheatly purchased an eight year old girl in 1761 who had arrived in Boston recently from Senegal/Gambia, West Africa.  She had been, like so many African Americans, kidnapped and sold to slavery.   Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was purchased by tailor merchant John Wheatly (it was common practice for slaves to take their master’s last names) as a personal servant for his wife Susanna.  Phillis (also named Phyllis) grasped the English language with a genius few Europeans would ever posses.  Susanna and her two children taught Phillis to read and write, expanding her studies to the classics which included Greek and Latin.  She showed an early talent for poetry.  Her first poem was published at age 13 in the Newport Mercury.  In 1773, amidst the turmoil swirling around Boston, Wheatley gain worldwide stature with her first and only book of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.   As proof that a twenty year old female slave wrote the book, the preface included seventeen influential Bostonians, including John Hancock and Joseph Warren, that she had indeed written the work.  She would pen works for George Washington who became a fan, visiting with her while he was in Boston.  After the death of Susana and John Wheatly, by 1778, Phillis was freed, however lived the rest of her life in squalid poverty dying at the early age of thirty one.

[5]  Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a colonist who would join the loyalist faction during the buildup to the American Revolutionary War.  He gained his wealth as a merchant and entered politics early, becoming Lieutenant Governor and later Governor of Massachusetts, a post he held until relieved by General Gage in 1774.   He was a fair and honest man who, over time, because of his leanings towards the crown, became a target of abuse both verbal and physical.  During the 1765 Stamp Act protests, his home and belongings was gutted by mobs.  He became a tragic figure who increasingly grew bitter towards the patriots. After relinquishing the governorship, he and his family moved to England where he remained until is death.

[6] The Boston Gazette and Country Journal was a Whig newspaper established by Samuel Adams and others in 1755.  It was a weekly paper.  Its publishers, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, were men of ‘enterprise’ and zealous Whigs.  But the influence that molded its readers came from Sam & John Adams, Otis, Thatcher, Quincy, Warren, and their associates, who wrote elaborate editorials and communications.

[7] James Otis Jr. (1725-1783), along with patriot activist Samuel Adams, helped formulate the colonists’ grievances against the British government in the 1760’s.  He was an outspoken lawyer who was renowned for his spirited oratorios before the bench.  He was most active during the Stamp Act revolts of the mid sixties.  As the political scene heated up, he would often baffle his colleagues by switching sides on issues leading some to question his mental state.  By 1769, he was considered harmlessly insane dying in 1783 after he was struck by lightning..

[8] Faneuil Hall, Boston, a marketplace and meeting place since 1743.  Because of the many speeches and meetings held by patriots during the turbulent years leading up to the Revolution, the wall is called ‘the cradle of liberty.’   It was built and donated to the city by Peter Faneuil who used his profits as a slave trader to fund the project.

[9] The Old Town House or Old State House was built between 1712 & 1713 after the previous wooden structure, built in 1657, had burned down in 1711.  It was the seat of the Massachusetts General Court until 1798.  I housed a Merchant’s Exchange, Council Chambers of the Royal Governor, and several chambers for the Courts of Suffolk and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

[10] Also known as the Brattle Street Church

[11]  Dr. Samuel Cooper (1725-1783) was the Congregational minister in Boston affiliated with the Battle Street Church.  A Harvard grad in 1743, he preached to some of the most influential patriots in Boston; Joseph Warren, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, among the most popular.

[12]  Samuel Adams (1722-1803) is considered the most important figure who spearheaded the American revolt against British rule.  A terrible businessman who frequently ignored his own finances, he put himself fully into activism and rebellious revolt.  Prior to and during the war he was a delegate to the Continental Congresses representing Massachusetts alongside John Hancock.

[13]  The Seven Years War (1756 – 1763) was fought in Europe and the American colonies.  The main antagonists were England and France with their allies.  It ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 in which France gave up much of their claims in Canada and the established British colonies.

[14]  Frothingham, page 16

[15] Author and historian George Bancroft (1800-1891) is best known for his several volumes of research entitled History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, publ. 1864.  He was a statesman who promoted secondary education at the national level.  During his stay as the United States Secretary of the Navy, he established the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845.

[16] Warren participated in town meetings and clubs.  He wrote that nothing contributed more to promote the great end of society than a frequent interchange of sentiment in friendly meetings. [Frothingham, pg. 50].  He was active in the North End Caucus, The South End Caucus, and The Middle District Caucus.

[17] Tories, also called Loyalists and Friends of Government, supported the administration.  They claimed to be friends of freedom, because they upheld the supremacy of law.  Whigs, patriots, sons of liberty, were opponents of administration who held that the new policies of Parliament to be unconstitutional and adverse to provincial charters.  They recognized the executive functions of the crown and the sovereignty of Great Britain.  So early in the rebellion, there was little if any cries for separation from the mother country.

[18]  George Greenville (1712-1770) became Prime Minister of England on April 8, 1763.  Greenville tried to bring Britain’s finances under control.  Reeling from a huge debt resulting in the protracted Seven Years War, Greenville sought new sources of Revenue.   Though a Whig, he believed that the colonists in America were not paying their fair share of the burden, especially since they were benefiting from England’s role as protector and financier.  He enacted the Stamp Act in 1765 which met vehement revolts  – acting to unify 13 of Britain’s colonies in America.  The Act was soon repealed and King George III actively sought his removal in 1765.

[19] Frothingham pp 22-23.

[20] James Bowdoin (1726-1790) was one of the eldest statesmen of the patriot activists in Boston during the 1760’s and 70’s.  He was a lawyer and an intellectual who artfully penned many pamphlets and correspondence during the years leading up to the revolution.  After Warren’s death in 1775, he took over as president of the Mass. Provincial Congress, heading it until 1777.  He was both politician and scientist, like Ben Franklin with whom he collaborated on Franklin’s experiments with electricity.  After the war, he was elected governor of the state of Massachusetts and was principal in putting down the Shay Rebellion. After death, his son helped establish Bowdoin College in Maine, which was part of the Massachusetts colony prior to the war.

[21]  Charles Townshend (1725-1767) was active in British politics.  He was a witty speaker in the House of Commons.  His last act prior to death was to move though parliament resolutions for taxing glass, paint, paper, and tea on their importation to the American colonies.  He estimated it would produce the sum of £ 40,000 for the English treasury.  These Townshend Acts created a domino of cause and effect leading to Tea Parties throughout the colonies, the punitive measures taken by England labeled the Coercive Acts (colonists labeled Intolerable Acts), and union of the colonies by forming a Continental Congress.

[22]  Francis Bernard (1712-1779) was appointed governor of New Jersey in 1758.  Two years later, he accepted the Royal Governorship of Massachusetts in 1760.  He had a stormy relationship with political activists in Boston, having little if any respect for a rabble of unemployed rascals.  During the Stamp Act protests of 1765, his Lt. Governor Hutchinson took the blunt of mob violence.  By the time of the Townshend Act protests of 1768, he felt the wrath of an angry citizenry and petitioned England to send troops to Boston. British military presence only fanned the flames of discontent leading to the Boston Massacre in 1770.  However, by then, Bernard had already been recalled to England on August 1, 1769.  Upon leaving, Boston rejoiced with celebrations and church bells peeling their gaiety in his departure.

[23] Frothingham pg. 30

[24] It was common practice for political essays to be printed under a pseudonym, usually from Greek or Roman origin, rather than the author using his real name.

[25] William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737-1805) was known as The Earl of Shelburne or Lord Shelburne.  He was an Irish born British Whig statesman who disagreed with hostilities in America and proffered peace measures  towards settling colonial protests.  He was Prime Minister in 1782 – 1783 and succeeded in securing peace with America.

[26]  Major General James Wolfe (1727-1759) had written extensively on British military tactics.  He died leading his men in victory over the French at the Battle Quebec on the Plains of Abraham in Canada.  He was set upon a pedestal  by England and colonials as one who represented true virtue and honor in self sacrifice for one’s country.

[27]  Wyatt, pg. 155.

[28]  William Eustis (1753-1825) was a student of Joseph Warren and later surgeon in the army, first serving in that capacity at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He served with Washington in New York & New Jersey and from 1777 to the end of the war was stationed with the army north of New York City.  After the war, he resumed his medical practice in Boston and entered politics.  He was elected to the US Congress in 1800, Secretary of War under Madison in 1809, diplomat to the Netherlands from 1814 – 1818, and Governor of Massachusetts in 1822 dying in office in 1825.  One wonders as to the parallel lives between Eustis and what life Joseph Warren could have lead had he survived the Battle of Bunker Hill.

[29] Frothingham, pg. 168

[30] Sam Adams was in route to Philadelphia for the meeting of the first Congress.

[31] Frothingham, 317.

[32]  Richard Frothingham Jr. (1812-1880) was a Massachusetts resident who wrote several historical texts on events in and around Boston during the American Revolution and the period that occurred before the outbreak of war.  He was editor of the Boston Post and had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

[33]  Josiah Quincy II (1774-1775) was a leading scholar and patriot in the early stages of rebellion to the English government.  He graduated Harvard, studying law, in 1763.  He had excellent writing skills and under Hyperion, penned many letters to the Whig newspaper founded by Samuel Adams, The Boston Gazette. He and Warren became close friends and corresponded regularly.  He is noted in history as defending the soldiers, along with John Adams, who participated in the 1770 ‘Boston Massacre.’ He made a secret mission to Great Britain to meet with English sympathizers to the American cause.  While returning to Boston, on April 26, 1775, in sight of Boston Harbor, he died of complications of tuberculosis.    

[34]  Dr. Arthur Lee (1740-1792) was a physician and diplomat, born in Virginia, he attended medical school in Edinburgh and London, remaining in London to set up a practice.  He was an outspoken opponent of the Townshend Acts and major proponent of colonial resistance to British rule.  In 1770, he was appointed as Massachusetts’ diplomat to England.  During the war, he was appointed by the Continental Congress as diplomat to Spain and Prussia.  America’s first spy overseas, Lee gathered information on England and France and had identified Edward Bancroft, secretary to the American legation in Paris, as a British spy.  He returned to America near war’s end in 1782 and represented Virginia in the Continental Congress.  He died at his family farm in Urbanna never having married.

[35]  Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) born to an aristocratic family, he graduated Harvard yet immersed himself in politics writing many articles for Samuel Adam’s Whig newspaper the Boston Gazette.  He aided Warren in his duties with the multiple committees the young doctor chaired and after Warren’s death, continued to work with his patriot colleagues to prepare the military for war.  He was elected to the Second Continental Congress and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He led a long and illustrious career in politics through James Madison’s presidencly.

[36] Frothingham, pg. 510

[37] The British forces were composed of the 14th, 29th regiments and a portion of the 59th down from Halifax and commanded by Lt. Colonel Dalrymple.  Later, after a visit from New York City by General Gage, two more regiments arrived directly from Ireland, the 64th & 65th.

[38]  The popular origin of the word caucus dates back to Mr. Pickering in 1816.  He writes “as a mere guess, he thought it not improbable that caucus might be a corruption of caulkers’ (meetings) being understood”.  He suggested that the Tories of the time of the revolution had marked the ships’ caulkers with rope makers in Boston as agitators against British rule, and applied the term ‘caulkers’ or in local dialect pronounced ‘caucers.’  Another version of its origin may be closer to the true source.  Dr. J. H. Trumbull, in 1872, suggested the word comes from a possible derivation from an Algonquin word cau’-cau-as’u, which means one who advises, urges, encourages, to talk and incite action.  The Algonquin Native American nation thrived throughout New England and lower Canada, however the use of the word Algonquin also pertains to a linguistic term that refers to dozens of distinct Native American languages.

[39]  This Society towards supporting the Bill of Rights refers to the English Bill of Rights and preservation of the English Constitution that was an outcrop of the 17th century English Civil Wars or Revolution.

[40] Frothingham, pg.l 219

[41] Lord North – Prime Minister of England from 1770-1782 –  From the Boston Massacre to the end of the American Revolutionary War.  Patriots claimed that these Bill of Rights still existed for English subjects living in Great Britain and her other colonies, however were being whittled away in America by Parliament’s obtrusive acts.

[42]  The 1774 Quartering Act as part of the Coercive Acts was a renewal of the 1765 Quartering Acts which was basically ignored by the colonies and eventually withdrawn by Parliament in 1767.

[43] Lt. General Thomas Gage (1718-1787) first served in America in 1755 when his regiment joined General Braddock’s ill fated exposition against the French in Ohio.  He remained in the colonies for the duration of the French and Indian War, serving under British Commanding General Amherst.  Towards the end of the war he was Governor of Montreal.  He was a fair and honest administrator, but hated the climate.  Amherst left for England and Gage moved to New York City as acting Commander-in-Chief for North America, the post he held right up until ordered to Massachusetts in 1774 to take over the Governorship from Hutchinson.  Gage tried to implement England’s desires on an unacceptable populace and in so doing was accused by both sides of inactivity and timidity.  He was accused by some of being too soft on the colonists because he had married Margaret Kemble, a native of New Jersey.  After the Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1775, Gage was recalled to England and General William Howe took over command.

[44] General Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797) was active in the European campaign of the Seven Years War until sent to Canada in 1758 where he gained an English victory at Louisbourg.  He was given the title as commander-in-chief of North American and remained in the Americas until the end of the war, returning to England in 1763.  After General William Howe was called back to England in 1777, command of British forces was almost given to Amherst.  However when he would only accept command if guaranteed 75,000 additional troops be sent to America, the command was given to General Clinton.

[45] Bancroft, vol. 6, pg. 57

[46] Ibid, vol. vii, pg. 173

[47]  Committees of Safety were also known as Committees of Inspection.

[48] Suffolk County Massachusetts in which Boston is a major city.

[49] Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was an Irish statesman born in Dublin.  He was a Whig and pro American, lobbying for less restraint in dealing with the colonists in America.  A philosopher and theorist, by the twentieth century, he became recognized as the father of modern conservatism.

[50] James Bowdoin, Massachusetts delegate to the First Continental Congress, was in Philadelphia when he reported on September 5th, 1774,  that six regiments were in Boston.  He said that two or three more were coming from Canada (probably Halifax), and two from Ireland.  He was to understand that the force that was encamped on Fort Hill (height within Boston) had distinguished itself in the famous battle of Minden.  The battle was fought in Minden, northern Germany, on Aug. 1st, 1759 as part of the Seven Year’s War (French & Indian War to the Americas).  Mostly this regiment was the 23rd regiment of foot or Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  They had stood up to a brutal cavalry charge by the French at the Battle of Minden and suffered with terrible losses at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

[51] Lieutenant Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland, (1742-1817).  He arrived in Boston in 1774 with the rank of brigadier general and colonel of the 5th Regiment of Foot.  Percy came to the aid of British troops retreating from Concord during the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  His brilliant handling of the rescue and retreat to Charlestown when the bridge over the Charles River was blocked by New England militia saved the embittered British troops.  He resigned his commission and left America in 1777 because of disputes with then British Army commander General William Howe, after having fought at the Battle of Long Island and leading the British victory at Fort Washington.

[52]  The Great Bridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was built in 1660.  It was the first bridge to span the Charles River.  It was rebuilt in 1862.

[53] Castle Island was an island in the Boston Harbor, today it is connected to the mainland.  In 1634 a small fort was constructed on the island.  The primitive fortification was replaced with a more substantial structure in 1701 and named Castle William for King William III, the Belgian Orange Prince who ousted Catholic King James II to claim the Protestant throne of England. He reined over England from 1689-1702.

[54]  By the time of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, only Dr. Warren and Dr. Benjamin Church of the patriot’s activists still resided in Boston.  Warren left soon after the battle, however Church remained, only later to be found out to have sold his loyalties to the British by acting as a spy.

[55]  John Pitt (1738-1815) was the eldest of six sons of James Pitt, an early patriot activist.  He graduated Harvard in 1757.  He was a selectman of Boston from 1773-1778 and represented the city in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He became speaker of the house in 1778 and after the war a state senator.

[56] Frothingham, pg. 452

[57] General William Heath (1737-1814) was a farmer and Major General.   He lived his entire life in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston.  Prior to the war, in 1760,  he was captain of his militia in Roxbury.  By 1770 he was his regiment’s colonel.  In 1774, the Massachussetts Provincial Congress commissioned him a Brigadier General, Warren overseeing the ceremony.  Heath was with Washington during the battles around New York City, but remained in command of the army in Westchester County New York, while Washington took the other portion through New Jersey.  Heath remained at this post for the remainder of the war, given the Highland Command of troops that kept a close eye on the British in New York City.

[58]  Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (1732-1792) commonly known as Lord North, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 – 1782, most of the American Revolutionary War.  .

[59]  Crow’s feet or caltrops were iron or steel nails that were fashioned that when thrown on the ground, one sharpened spike would always stick up.  These were used by foot soldiers against horses and infantry.  Pirates were known to throw them onto another ship prior to boarding.

[60]  Major General Francis Smith (1723-1791) was a Lieutenant Colonel on April 19, 1775, leading the raiding party of light infantry and grenadiers to Concord to confiscate colonial powder and arms.  A portly man, he was wounded in the thigh and was driven by carriage during the retreat.   In his later report on the action to his commander Gage, he believed that the colonists had been for some days building up to ambush the British at the first opportunity.  He was convinced that no vast number of men could have been mustered in one day.  He also fumed over the Americans refusing to stand and fight, rather choosing to hide behind rail and stone walls.  Gage’s report on Smith’s performance was so positive that he was made a full colonel and within the year, a brigadier general.  All during his service in America, Smith continued to be critical of the colonials’ ability to fight.  After the Battle of Long Island, it was reported that General Smith had been killed.  The Americans rejoiced, only to discover the report was incorrect and that a Colonel Smith was mortally wounded instead.

[61] Frothingham, pg. 455

[62] William Dewes (1745-1799) rode from Boston the night of April 18 to warn the countryside of a British raid towards Concord.  He rode south through a British outpost on Boston Neck while his much more famous counterpart, Paul Revere, traveled north by boat before riding west.  He was a company sergeant in the militia; the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.  On Sept. 6, 1776, Dawes was commissioned a Major of his regiment and spent the war in Massachusetts, eventually guarding British soldiers captured at the Battle of Saratoga.

[63] Frothingham, pg. 454

[64] Reference to Dr. Eliot as the writer of this quote probably refers to Rev. John Eliot DD (1754-1813), Harvard grad of 1772.  He succeeded his father Andrew Eliot as pastor of the New North Church.  After the war, he was influential as founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  John’s younger brother, Dr. Ephraim Eliot had studied medicine and graduated Harvard in 1780, becoming an apothecary.  It is possible that this quote may be attributed to him.

[65]  Dr. Thomas Welsh (1752-1831) was a surgeon in the Continental Army serving under Washington in New York and New Jersey.  He had graduated Harvard in 1772.  At the time he knew Warren, he had assisted the wounded during the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  After the war he became Port Physician for Boston.

[66] Captain Jacob Rogers gave a detailed account of events in Charlestown as the retreating British troops from the Battle of Lexington and Concord made their way through Charlestown to Boston.  The soldiers were still edgy as a fourteen year old boy peered out from one of the town’s doorways and was shot dead.  He

[67] Frothingham, pg. 458

[68]  West Cambridge and present day Arlington

[69]  Frothingham, pp. 460-461

[70] During the Revolutionary War, the tavern was owned by Noah Wyman.

[71]  Artemus Ward (1727-1800) was the commander of militia forces that surrounded the British troops secured within Boston after the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  During the French and Indian War he was a major and then a colonel of militia.  He was outspoken against the acts of Parliament and in 1775, one of the first acts of the Committee of Safety was to give him command of all militia forces in Massachusetts. When the Continental Congress organized the army Ward become one of four Major Generals commissioned under General Washington.  When Washington headed south to defend New York City, Ward remained in Massachusetts as head of the Eastern Division of the army.  He held the post until 1777 when he resigned due to health concerns.  He later served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, interim as Governor of Massachusetts, and twice elected to the House of Representatives serving from 1791 to 1775.

[72] Grape Island is in the Hingham Bay area of the Boston Island Islands.   Is currently part of Weymouth, Massachusetts.  It covers 54 acres reaching an elevation of 70 feet above sea level.  In 1775, the island was owned and farmed by loyalist Elisha Leavitt who owned several islands and a large mansion in Hingham.  After the battle of Lexington and Concord, the British were sealed up in Boston.  This was the beginning of the ‘Provision War’, heated skirmishes between colonists and English soldiers seeing hay and food substance for their army.  Leavitt promised the British a large stockpile of his hay on Grape Island.  Abigail Adams, John Adams wife, writes to her husband on August 24, 1775 from nearby Braintree, Ma, “A pitched battle ensued until the British were forced to retreat to the mainland.  The angry colonists burned Leavitt’s barn to the ground.  In the end, very little damage was done to either side despite the effort expanded.  Three British soldiers may have been wounded, no Continental soldiers or partisans were wounded, and less than two tons of hay were taken by the British. Legend has it that the colonists anger did not reside with the burning of the barn, but a substantial mob gathered outside Leavitt’s home in Hingham, threatening to torch the residence.  Reportedly, Heavitt rolled out a large barrel of rum which the colonists gladly partook.  Leavitt’s wife also invited leaders of the mob into the home’s parlor to partake in wine and refreshments.  The evening ended in gaiety.  Heavitt must have honed this skill to a fine art for at war’s end, he was one of the few loyalists in and around Boston who did not lose his land, but only increased his fortune.

[73]  Major General Israel Putnam (1718-1790) was one of the four first named major generals in the new Continental Army (Schuyler, Ward, and Lee being the other three).  He was a former ranger and hero of the French and Indian War and garnished a great deal of respect from his fellow colonialists. Though Putnam is given much credit for the Battle of Bunker Hill, when examining all the firsthand accounts of the battle, it is certain that during the battle, Putnam remained relatively safe from enemy fire on Bunker Hill when the main British attack was launched against Breed’s Hill and the redoubt. He later accompanied Washington and commanded the American forces at the ill-fated Battle of Long Island. When Washington split his army and headed a portion south through New Jersey, Putnam remained in Westchester County with generals Lee and Heath.  He saw little action afterwards and after the loss of Fort Montgomery and Clinton to the British in 1777,  he remained at a minor posting in the Hudson Highlands.  He quit the army after a paralyzing stroke in 1779.  He died in his home in Brooklyn, Connecticut in 1790.

[74]  Warren’s order read: “Resolved, as their opinion, that all the live stock be taken from Noodle’s Island, Hog Island, Snake Island, and from that part of Chelsea near the sea coast, and be driven back; and that the execution of this business be committed to the Copmmittees of Correspondence and Selectmen of the towns of Medford, Malden, Chelsea, and Lynn, and that they be supplied with such a number of men, as they shall need, from the regiment now at Medford.

[75]  Major General John Stark (1728-1822)  participated in the French and Indian War, second in command of the infamous Roger’s Rangers, and commanded New Hampshire militia at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  He accompanied Washington’s army to New Jersey and fought in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.   He is renowned for defeating a British and Hessian raiding force under General Burgoyne at the Battle of Bennington in 1777 in what is now Vermont and the New York border – aiding in Burgoyne’s ultimate defeat and surrender of his army at Saratoga.

[76]  It was reported that these same guns were in use at the Battle of Bunker Hill, however to little effect because of misuse by the men assigned to work them.

[77] Frothingham, pg. 457

[78]  Colonel William Prescott (1726-1795) is best known for his dogmatic defense of the fortification on Breed’s Hill during the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775.  He lived in Groton/Pepperell, Massachusetts throughout his life.  He fought against the French in King George’s War in 1745 at the Siege of Louisbourg. He also fought in the French and Indian War.  His regiment was too late to fight at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but played a major role at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Prescott was given command of the 7th Masachusetts Continental Regiment and served in New York City. An old farming injury might have lead Prescott to resign his commission, however he served in some capacity at the Battle of Saratoga before doing so.  After the war he served in the Massachusetts General Court and was called upon to help put down the Shays Rebellion.

[79]  The Dr. Townsend referred to here was an associate of Warren.  He was one of the many surgeons who made themselves available that day and treated the nearly three hundred wounded colonists from the Battle of Bunker Hill, many of them dying from their wounds.

[80] Frothingham, pg. 515

[81]  Arnold pointed out that after another physician died in battle, General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, that his children were compensated for their father’s loss.  It was argued by some in Congress that Mercer was a commissioned officer in the Continental army.  Arnold argued that Warren was a major general of militia and no doubt had he survived, he would have, like other officers who had similar or lesser ranks among the militia, would have been offered a commission in the newly formed Continental Army.

[82] Dr. James Jackson (1777-1867) was a physician and Massachusetts Representative to the Continental Congress.   He helped John Collins Warren establish the Somerville Asylum in 1810 for the insane and the following year co-founded the Massachusetts General Hospital with John Collins Warren and Warren’s father.  He was a professor of medicine at Harvard for many years.  He practiced medicine in Boston for over sixty year.

[83]  Frothingham pg. 509

John Trumbull's painting depicting The Death o...
John Trumbull’s painting depicting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[84]  Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was an American poet and playwright.  She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry.  She often used the pseudonym Nancy Boyd for her prose.   The poem referred to here is entitled “First Fig” which appeared in the June 1918 issue of Poetry magazine.

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