From Life to Legend: Dr. Joseph Warren 1741 – 1775

“Even in this unfortunate event he has served his country, for he has taught the sons of Freedom in America, that the laurel may be engrafted upon the cypress, and that true glory may be acquired not only in the arms of victory, but in the arms of death.”

~~ A eulogy for Joseph Warren published in Philadelphia; 1775 (author unknown).

The Day: perhaps the decisive day is come on which the fate of American depends. My bursting heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his country-saying better to die honourably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the gallows. Great is our loss…and the tears of multitudes pay tribute to his memory…

~~Abigail Adams in a letter to her husband, John Adams: June 1775

On June 11, we celebrated Dr. Joseph Warren’s 276th birthday. Happy 276th Birthday Dr. Joseph Warren  Today is the 242nd anniversary of his death at Bunker Hill.

For this tribute, we will join Joseph Warren in the months that comprised his swan song: April – June 1775.

In early April 1775, after the adjournment of the Provincial Congress in Concord, John Hancock and Samuel Adams didn’t return to Boston for fear they would be arrested or hung. Instead, the two leaders of the American rebellion, sheltered at the home of Reverend Jonas Clarke in Lexington.

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Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, MA

Joseph ran a spy ring for the Sons of Liberty out of his home medical office. On the evening of April 18, he received word from one of his informants that, under orders from British General Thomas Gage, troops were assembling on the shore of Back Bay. Gage’s troops were readying to march to Concord, where a stockpile of rebel armaments was stored.

Joseph knew the armaments in Concord had been well-hidden or moved in early April; therefore, weapons were not his primary concern. He feared for John Hancock’s and Samuel Adams’ lives if the British discovered them hiding in Lexington. Joseph summoned Paul Revere and William Dawes to his home on Hanover Street in Boston, and then dispatched them to warn Hancock and Adams, and the countryside that the British regulars were out.

On the morning of April 19, Joseph received news of fighting in Lexington. He slipped out of Boston, and made his way to Menotomy to attend a Committee of Safety meeting. During the meeting, messengers came and went, delivering the latest news.

Afterward, Joseph fought alongside General William Heath. Heath and his men fired on the British as they retreated to Boston along what is now called Battle Road. Joseph was nearly killed when a musket ball hit a pin in his hair.

Despite his unabashed courage, Joseph knew the gallows awaited him if he returned to Boston. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, he lodged at Hastings House in Cambridge, close to the Provincial Congress and Committee of Safety meetings.  With John Hancock and Samuel Adams soon to depart for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Joseph had emerged as the de facto leader of what a militia captain described as “the intended revolution”. [1]

On April 20, under the auspices of the Committee of Safety, Joseph issued a colony-wide, almost threatening, circular letter urging men to enlist in the provincial army. He wrote, “Death and devastation are the instant consequences of delay . . .” [2]

A few weeks later, Joseph was elected to the loftiest political position of the rebellion—president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. As president, he also presided over the Provincial Congress’ various committees.

In late April, Captain Benedict Arnold told Joseph and the Committee of Safety there was a stockpile of aging cannons in the poorly guarded Ft. Ticonderoga. The committee sent Arnold, equipped with two hundred pounds of valuable rebel gunpowder, to confiscate the cannons. It was a portent of what was to come.

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Colonel Benedict Arnold

Several skirmishes erupted between the British and the Americans, leaving the store of rebel gunpowder severely depleted. Joseph, General Artemas Ward, and Moses Gill, the chairman of the Committee of Supplies, sent a plea to New York to send as much gunpowder as they could spare. The supply never arrived.

By June 15, it was clear that the British were about to make a preemptive strike on Roxbury, Dorchester, and Charlestown. Joseph, who now held a major general’s commission, and the Committee of Safety decided that the provincial army must make a preemptive move of their own despite the shortage of gunpowder.

At 9:00 p.m. on Friday, June 16, nearly one thousand provincial soldiers under the command of Colonel William Prescott assembled on the common in Cambridge opposite Hastings House. Joseph was not among them as they marched toward Charlestown. General Israel Putnam and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Gridley, commander of an artillery regiment, joined Colonel Prescott just outside of Charlestown Neck.

Colonel Prescott and his men commenced building a redoubt on the Charlestown peninsula under the cover of night. The Committee of Safety’s order was to build a redoubt on Bunker Hill, but by mistake Prescott and his men built the redoubt on an unnamed (later called Breed’s Hill) hill closer to Boston.

Joseph was nowhere to be found on the morning of June 17. There are speculative reasons for his absence, but what is clear is that Joseph suffered from a sick headache that afternoon. Around 3:00 pm his former medical apprentice, Dr. David Townsend, arrived at Hastings House with the news that the men on Bunker Hill were being fired upon by the British.

After Joseph donned his elegant wedding suit, he and David made their way to Charlestown Neck. David stayed to care for men who had been wounded in the battle. Joseph went on to Bunker Hill. He encountered General Putnam. Putnam relinquished his command to major general Joseph Warren, but Joseph refused saying that his commission was not finalized, and he had come to fight as a volunteer.

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Joseph Warren (right) offering to serve General Israel Putnam as a volunteer.

When Joseph entered the redoubt, Colonel Prescott and his 150 exhausted men, raised a cheer of Huzza! Huzza! The sight of their leader joining the fight invigorated them. Like Putnam, Prescott relinquished his command to Joseph, and again Joseph refused saying that he had come to fight as a volunteer.

The rebels had, thus far, repelled the British regulars. What ended the American resistance was neither lack of courage nor unstoppable British resolve. It was the depleted supply of rebel gunpowder. The British regulars, grenadiers, and marines swarmed the redoubt. The rebels tried to make their last stand by swinging their muskets or throwing rocks at the British. Colonel Prescott ordered a retreat.

Joseph was one of the last remaining men in the redoubt. There has been much debate about what happened next. What is known is that Joseph was shot, at close range, in the face just below his left eye, and probably by someone who recognized him. His biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman, wrote that Joseph would have died instantly, unlike the scene depicted in John Trumble’s painting, “The Death of General Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill”.

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The Death of General Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill

The British stripped Joseph of his fine clothes, mutilated his body, and buried him in a shallow grave with a farmer. Exactly who and when Joseph’s body was mutilated has been lost to lore. His youngest brother, Dr. John Warren, attempted to find Joseph’s body, but he was stopped by British sentries at Charlestown Neck.

Joseph’s body wasn’t recovered until after the Siege of Boston ended in March 1776. The corpse was badly decomposed. Paul Revere identified him by a tooth he had made for Joseph.

Joseph Warren shouldn’t have been on the battlefield that day. The people needed him to lead the patriotic movement. They needed him as a friend, brother, and physician. His four children were orphaned.

Dr. Joseph Warren sacrificed his life for liberty, and in doing so, became America’s first martyr. His death encouraged the people of a nation yet to born, to keep fighting despite their grief. It’s what he would have done.

Resources:

Painting of “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” by John Trumbull the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Forman, Samuel A.  Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty.  2012:  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2626357/ Dr. Joseph Warren: leader in medicine, politics, and revolution. George C. Wildrick, MSSM, MBA

Massachusetts Gate pic

[1] (Philbrick pg 163)

[2] (Philbrick pg 163)

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Buy it today on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Happy 276th Birthday, Dr. Joseph Warren!

“Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”

~~ Dr. Joseph Warren (from his 1775 Boston Massacre Oration)

President Ronald Reagan quoted these words in his 1981 presidential inaugural address. Like the patriots of colonial America, Reagan was inspired by Dr. Joseph Warren’s determination, fortitude, and passion. Without Joseph’s influence and actions, this nation may not have been born.

Joseph Warren was a Boston physician who cared for rich and poor, American and English, free and slave. He was deeply involved with his fellow patriots, Sons of Liberty, and masonic lodge brothers: John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere—to name a few.

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Dr. Joseph Warren

In April 1775, Joseph was elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety, to replace the absent John Hancock. With little money or resources, he was faced with the challenges of a rapidly evolving revolutionary political and military climate. He was a tireless devoted leader who responded to each new challenge with intelligence and courage.

He held the American rebellion together during the critical months (April – June 1775) that spanned the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Those collective months were his swan song.

If he had lived, he may have outshined all the Founding Fathers. Loyalist Peter Oliver surmised in 1782 that if Warren had lived, George Washington would have been “an obscurity.” But, the imminent grief of Joseph’s death eased, and his dazzling light dimmed.

Joseph Warren was born on June 11, 1741. The eldest of four boys, he grew up outside of Boston on the Warren family farm in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The Warren farm produced a distinctive kind of apple called Warren or Roxbury Russet.

By age fourteen, Joseph was attending Harvard. In October 1755, while working in the orchard, his father died after a fall from a ladder. Suddenly, Joseph was the head of the household, and it was a responsibility he took to heart.

Due to the generosity of the community, he was able to continue his studies at Harvard, where he became interested in medicine. Joseph learned the prevailing humeral approach to disease. Ancient Greek and Roman medicine ascribed diseases to imbalances in the humors; the four distinctive attributes of living organisms: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. As a physician, Joseph would have prescribed and prepared herbal medications to return the bodily humors to balance, and thus, cure the patient’s affliction.

During a time when a layman could practice medicine, Joseph was a passionate proponent of disciplined medical education. When a colleague, Dr. Thomas Young, prescribed a treatment for tuberculosis that resulted in the patient’s death, Joseph’s quill flew. With sardonic humor and under the pen name, Philo Physic, he carried on a ruthless debate with Dr. Young in the newspapers.

In early 1764, a smallpox epidemic swept Boston and the surrounding areas. Joseph went to work for the physicians’ initiative for community wide inoculation at Castle William, a fort and smallpox hospital just south of Boston. The doctors administered inoculations, and worked on case reporting and quarantine measures.

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The following year, Joseph wrote articles calling for the establishment of an organization of Massachusetts physicians (the Massachusetts Medical Society would be established in 1782 by Joseph’s youngest brother John).

As a woman, I find descriptions of Joseph’s beauty and mannerisms alluring. His elegance was also apparent to men.

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.” [1]

John Adams wrote in a letter dated July 29, 1775, shortly after Joseph’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.” [2]

Joseph’s religious roots were Puritan, and his writings reveal his passionate use of religious allegories coupled with erotic metaphors. His 1772 and 1775 Boston Massacre Orations are filled with such references. How did his religious beliefs influence his associations with women?

Joseph married seventeen-year-old orphaned heiress, Elizabeth Hooton, in September 1764. She was probably pregnant when the couple married. Their first child, Elizabeth “Betsey”, was born sometime in March 1765. The marriage appeared to have been, at least in the beginning, little more than a union of convenience. The couple went on to have three more children: Joseph, Richard, and Mary.

No authentic records of Elizabeth’s thoughts, beliefs, or life with Joseph exists. Her portrait lacks adornments–jewelry, hairdressing, a book, a favorite pet–to suggest her personal tastes. Elizabeth died on April 26, 1773. (Paul Revere’s wife, Sarah, died a few weeks later.)

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Elizabeth Hooton Warren

The only accounts of Joseph’s thoughts on his wife were written following her death. On her passing, Joseph wrote:

Aetherial Spirits see the S[y]stem’s right, But mortal Minds demand a clearer Sight, In Spight of Reason’s philosophic Art, A tear must fall to indicate the Heart.[4] 

After Elizabeth’s death, Mercy Scollay cared for his children and became a member of the Warren household. Mercy was said to be Joseph’s intellectual equal. She was certainly articulate in her writings. Lore suggests she was Joseph’s fiance at the time of his death. There is no documented evidence of that engagement.

After Joseph’s death, his youngest brother, Dr. John Warren, eventually got custody of the children. Their welfare remained in dire straits until 1778 when General Benedict Arnold (who had befriended Joseph at Cambridge) gave $500 for their education and petitioned Congress for the amount of a major general’s half pay for their welfare until the youngest reached majority.

Joseph’s biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman wrote that Joseph was “dismissive of women”. [3] Yet, history tells the tale of a handsome young doctor whose female patients feigned continuing illnesses as a ploy for Dr. Warren’s lingering attentions.

Apart from Mercy Scollay, lore links Joseph to many women, outside of the years he was married. Mary Wheatley, Margaret Gage, and Sally Edwards are among the women who may or may not have had a romantic relationship with him.

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Margaret Gage

Joseph was too occupied with establishing his medical practice, a smallpox epidemic, attempts to organize a province medical society, and his new life as a husband and soon-to-be father to notice the growing colonial despair over the acts of the British parliament. Then, parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. The new tax was imposed on all American colonists and required them to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used. Joseph went from a young independent physician to a committed radical Whig and Son of Liberty insider.

Enter Joseph’s political mentor, the much older, Samuel Adams. Their budding interaction was to mature into one of the most significant of their lives and of the patriot movement.

Joseph’s first successful strategic battle was an initiative to resolve a Boston dispute between his masonic lodge, St. Andrew’s Lodge of the Ancients, and the exclusionary and privileged English St. John’s Grand Lodge of the Moderns. The members of St. John’s refused to allow the inclusion of St. Andrew’s “common folk” into their masonic celebrations and rituals. One can imagine Joseph leaning in close to his fellow St. Andrew’s lodge members, Paul Revere and John Hancock, and with a smile, saying, “Screw this. We will procure our own Grand Lodge charter.”

A committee headed by Joseph, by-passed England and applied to Scotland for St. Andrew’s chartering as a Grand Lodge. The application was granted, and the commission establishing a new Grand Lodge of the Ancients with Joseph as its Grand Master was dated May 30, 1769. Now, St. John’s and St. Andrew’s Masonic lodges were on even ground.

I adjourn our visit with Joseph Warren’s life until June 17, when we will follow him to Bunker Hill.

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Battle of Bunker Hill

Resources:

Frothingham, Richard.  Life and Times of Joseph Warren.  1865:  Little Brown & Company, New York, NY.

Forman, Samuel A.  Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of  American Liberty.  2012:  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.

http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/warren/#more-519; Revolutionary War Journal 2017

Painting of Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley, 1765. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Painting of Elizabeth Hooton Warren by John Singleton Copley, 1772. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Painting of Margaret Gage in the Turquerie style, circa 1771, by John Singleton Copley. Timken Museum of Art in San Diego, California.

Image of the Battle of Bunker Hill by Winthrop Chandler, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

[1] (Frothingham, pg 19)

[2] http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/warren/#more-519

[3] (Forman, pg 191)

[4] (Forman, pg 183)

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Buy it today on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Lexington and Concord: 7 British Military Blunders

Military campaigns have been marred with blunders since man began the business of organized war. Beyond the strategies, armaments, battles, and aftermath, human error is one of the many fascinating chronicles of a mission. That isn’t to say that courage and determination and grit are not just as fascinating—they are, but for this moment, they are put aside.

There were many British military blunders surrounding the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.  The Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage planned the mission. He had intelligence that there were rebel armaments in Concord and the mission was to capture the armaments. (He may have learned at the last minute that most of those munitions had been removed from Concord).

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General Thomas Gage
  1. General Gage handpicked the companies of light infantrymen and grenadiers from different regiments and placed them under the command of Colonel Francis Smith, with Royal Marine Major John Pitcairn as Smith’s second in command. This had the disadvantage of placing junior officers under the command of superior officers they didn’t know. Likewise, Smith and Pitcairn had no knowledge of their junior officers’ strengths and weaknesses.
  1. General Gage believed he was planning the mission in secrecy
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    Colonel Francis Smith

    with only Colonel Francis Smith’s prior knowledge. However, Gage supposedly revealed those orders to General Lord Hugh Percy. Further, Gage’s brother-in-law, Samuel Kemble, was his private secretary, and Kemble may have written Smith’s orders for Gage. There is speculation that Gage’s wife, Margaret, may have learned of the mission and betrayed that information to Joseph Warren, which would have spurred Warren to send Paul Revere and William Dawes to issue the warning that the regulars were out. That is quite another story…

  1. The 800 regulars and 70 officers assembled on the shores of Back Bay to cross the Charles River. The crossing was slow. Longboats had to make two trips to ferry the 800 troops to the Cambridge shore. To make matters worse, they were crossing against the incoming tide.

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    Map of British Movement
  1. The regulars’ landing point was in the middle of the wetlands of the Cambridge marshes. The men, burdened with the weight of their uniforms and equipment, had to slog through the knee-deep waters of the marshes.
  1. Four hours after their initial departure from Back Bay, Smith’s regulars were marching the road to Lexington. The country folk were raising alarms and some were shooting at the regulars. Smith sent an appeal to General Gage for reinforcements.

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    Lord Hugh Percy

The troops of the First Brigade should have been at the ready to march at a moment’s notice. However, they were asleep and had to be roused.

As the First Brigade prepared to march, Lord Hugh Percy waited for the battalion of Royal Marines to arrive. Two hours later, the marines had not answered the call. The marines were also asleep because the orders for reinforcements had been sent to Major John Pitcairn’s quarters, and at that moment, Major Pitcairn was marching toward Lexington.

  1. As they entered Lexington, Major John Pitcairn’s troops in the vanguard continued along the road to Concord under the watchful eye of Captain John Parker and the Lexington militia. Then, the vanguard, led by the impetuous Lieutenant Jessie Adair, veered the wrong way at the intersection and marched up Bedford Road toward Captain Parker’s forces. Major Pitcairn and several other officers galloped toward the vanguard shouting at them to halt. In the confusion, a shot rang out.

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    The Battle of Lexington
  1. General Gage had ordered Colonel Smith not to plunder or disturb individuals or private property, but Smith’s regulars did just that in Concord and Menotomy (where the heaviest fight of April 19 took place). Those acts served to further anger the colonists.

Sources:

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution New York: Penguin Books, 2013. Print.

Borneman, Walter R. American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print.

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Buy it today on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One