I was asked what inspired me to write the short story “Act Worthy of Yourselves” as part of the Historical Writers Forum anthology “alternate endings” a collection of short stories by a group of eight talented historical writers who each have their own story that asks the question, what if an historical event was altered and changed the course of history?
My story asks, “What if Dr. Joseph Warren had survived the Battle of Bunker Hill?” one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution fought on the Charlestown peninsula northeast of Boston on June 17,1775. The title “Act Worthy of Yourselves” is a line from Warren’s Boston Massacre Oration which he delivered at Old South Meeting House in Boston on March 6, 1775 to a crowd so large that he was forced to climb through the window behind the pulpit to avoid being crushed.
This post is part of our blog hop tour for “alternate endings.”
In 2015, I was searching for the topic of my next book. I had written two standalone novels set in Victorian America and I wanted to pursue something historically different. I asked myself how much I knew about the American Civil War as that was the first love of my historical life. But it was set in the same time period and I realized I needed to move to a different era. I did know quite a bit about the American Revolution and Colonial America and decided I was willing to put my effort into learning more.
Where to start? Ah, yes. Why not start with the obvious—the Sons of Liberty, a group of political dissidents formed in Boston to protest King George III and Parliament’s taxation and control of colonial authority. Their protests against the Mother country’s sudden subjugation after more than a century of autonomy, proliferated in the America colonies in the 1760s. Who did I know that belonged to the Sons of Liberty? Why Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams their ringleader, of course. John Adams, a Massachusetts lawyer and politician was not a Son of Liberty, but he was a sympathizer. Boston was already militarily occupied in response to acts of what the King considered disobedience.
My research immediately led me to a list of Massachusetts Sons of Liberty and among them was a handsome, young doctor named Joseph Warren. It was love at first sight. I could not get enough of who he was, what he did, his growth as a man, politician, orator, leader, and masonic Grand Master. He apprenticed under Loyalist Dr. James Lloyd and medically treated people from all walks of life. The rising Patriot admiration for him and his efforts for the Patriot cause could not be ignored nor the threat he posed to the British, who in the end, were pleased to see he and his sedition put to death on a battlefield.
I had read the poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when I was in sixth grade and it always stuck with me. Imagine my delight when I found out that Joseph Warren was the guy who sent Paul Revere, along with William Dawes, on that ride to warn the countryside that the British regulars were out of Boston and on the march looking for rebel munitions on the night of April 18, 1775. That it was Joseph Warren who was holding the rebellion together in Massachusetts during the spring of 1775 while Samuel Adams and John Hancock were hiding in Lexington for fear of being hanged by the British for treason. During the time many of his colleagues including Adams and Hancock attended the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in late spring 1775, he became president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
Warren tended to be dauntless, storming into a situation without thought for personal risk. John Adams once said, “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.”
Then, there was the tragedy of Warren’s personal life. His wife died at age 26, leaving him a widower with four children under age eight. When he was killed at age 34 at the Battle of Bunker Hill his children were orphaned.
So Joseph Warren rose as a shining star in my novel “Angels and Patriots Book One: Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill.” Because the series is historical fantasy, my main character is an archangel with the human name Colm Bohannon. How much farther can you elevate someone than have a man and an archangel become friends and learn love and loyalty from one another? Not much. How much do you weep when you know how it historically ended?
As I wrote, I began to share facts about Joseph Warren and I found that he is adored and even worshipped among history and American Revolutionary War enthusiasts and authors. For years, the question that came up was and always has been, “What if Joseph Warren had survived Bunker Hill?” This ubiquitous and charismatic leader took the reins of the rebellion politically and militarily and accepted a provincial generalship on the day the American Continental Army was formed, June 14, 1775—three days before his death.
There were many questions on my mind and on the mind of others.
*If he had survived, how would General George Washington have received him? Or perhaps Washington would have relinquished his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and recommended Warren in his stead?
*Would Warren have been one of the greatest tactical or strategic generals of the war?
*Would his concern for civilians taken him in a political direction?
*What about his medical practice and experience? Would he have benefited the Continental Army with his expertise?
*Would he have stayed behind to see to matters in Massachusetts? Or gone on to preside over the Continental Congress, the civilian governing body during the war?
*Would he have discovered great medical break throughs?
*How would his life and his children’s lives unfolded during and beyond the war?
*How far would he have reached for the stars while a new nation was rising?
As an author and person who came to adore Dr. Joseph Warren but not blind to his faults, I couldn’t let these burning questions pass me by when the opportunity arose to write an alternate ending to his life. If only for this moment, in this anthology, he is given another chance. Perhaps others who have asked the same question will agree with how I see it. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, I know people who know who Joseph Warren was will want to read it and share in their opinions. For those who don’t know who he was, the story I wrote is based in fact and I didn’t change the outcome of the Revolutionary War.
Dr. Joseph Warren’s name is not a household word like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson. His premature death saw to that. Beyond my own novel, if I can raise awareness of his accomplishments through a historical alternate ending, I will be satisfied that I tried.
One other person who I should mention that is part of the story is Joseph’s youngest brother, Dr. John Warren. His name and extraordinary medical accomplishments are lesser known than those of his brother’s. John’s part in this story is based in fact. I assure you will be surprised and impressed.
I hope you enjoy our anthology as much as we have enjoyed writing it! Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Click the cover to get your copy!
Sharon Bennett Connolly
Salina B Baker
My share of royalties will go to the Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation an organization dedicated to educating the public about his life & contributions to the American Revolution.