Dr. Joseph Warren’s Funeral and Second Burial, April 8, 1776

“On the 17th of June, my father was again called from Salem by the sound of the firing of cannon, and by the flames of Charlestown. I well recollect the pathetic and glowing description he gave me…of his lonely march on that night.” ~~ Dr. Edward Warren writing about his father, Dr. John Warren’s journey after the Battle of Bunker Hill.

John_Warren_by_Rembrandt_Peale
Dr. John Warren

Twenty-two-year-old John Warren tried to pass the British sentries guarding the Charlestown peninsula to search for his missing oldest brother, Dr. Joseph Warren, who held a major general commission at the time of the battle. John’s pleas were answered with a bayonet to the chest. He bore the physical scar of grief for the rest of his life.

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Dr. Joseph Warren: Major General and Grand Master of Masons for the Continent of America

From John’s own account of his overwhelming anxiety:

“Accordingly, in the morning about two o’clock, I prepared myself, and went off on horseback, and when I arrived at Medford, received the melancholy and distressing tidings that my brother was missing. Upon this dreadful intelligence I went immediately to Cambridge, and inquired of almost ever person I saw whether they could give me any information of him [Joseph]. Some told me he was undoubtedly alive and well, others, that he was wounded; and others, that he fell on the field.

 “This perplexed me almost to distraction. I went on inquiring, with a solicitude which was such a mixture of hope and fear, as none but one who has felt it can form any conception of. In this manner I passed several days, every days’ information diminishing the probability of his safety.”

At that time, it was impossible to reconcile what happened during the fierce and confused melee of the battle. Who was involved and the circumstances where not clear. That the British obtained possession of the ground was all that could be known.

leslie-arthur-wilcox-battle-of-bunker-hill,-near-boston,-massachusetts,-june-17th,-1775
Battle of Bunker Hill

But the extreme distress and susceptibility of John Warren’s state of mind was evident in the young doctor’s journal entries. His indignation was directed at the British ministries and not the king himself. He writes of Joseph’s death as if it were murder, and of Joseph’s four young orphaned children.

“Unfeeling wretches! reflect a moment, if you have still one feature of humanity which is obliterated from your minds, and view the helpless orphan bereft of its fond and only parent, stript of every comfort of life, driven into an inhospitable wild, and exposed to all the misery which is the result of your brutal violence.”

The siege of Boston came to an end nine months later, on March 17, 1776. In late March, John and his older brother, Eben, walked the theater where the scene of the bloody battle had been acted on Breed’s Hill. Perhaps, Paul Revere, Joseph’s close friend, was with the Warren brothers as they searched the hillocks under which the remains of dead heroes laid. It is said that an Englishman claimed to have witnessed Joseph’s hasty burial in the shallow grave he shared with a farmer.

What is certain is that Paul fashioned a false tooth for Joseph. It was not until some eighty years later that this piece of forensic clue was mentioned in identifying the badly decomposed remains. There were also rumors of disrespect to his body after he was slain: mutilated by British bayonets, stripped of his beautiful wedding suit, and decapitated.

Joseph’s remains lay in state at the Massachusetts Provincial State House in Boston for three days. The outbreak of the Revolutionary War dispersed the Masons, many of whom belonged to the British army; but on the discovery of Joseph’s remains, they returned to give their late Grand Master of the “Ancient Lodge” (St. Andrew’s) the burial he was due. On April 8, 1776, a large and respectable number of the masonic brethren, with their late grand officers, assembled to attend his obsequies, and followed in procession from the State House to the Stone Chapel (King’s Chapel).

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John Rowe

One prominent mason was unable to attend the service. The merchant, John Rowe, had questionable patriotic political leanings and was the Grand Master of the “Grand Lodge” (St John’s). He wrote in his journal “I went by invitation…to attend the funeral of the remains of Dr. Warren.” When Rowe came to walk in procession with the lodges under his jurisdiction with their proper jewels and clothing, he was to his great mortification “very much insulted by some furious and hot persons without the least provocation.” One of his fellow masons thought it most prudent that he retire. That evening, Rowe was plagued by “some uneasy reflections in my mind as I am not conscious to myself of doing anything prejudicial to the cause of America either by will or deed.”

The names of all those who attended Joseph’s funeral in King’s Chapel are unclear. Members of the St. Andrew’s Masonic Lodge and deputy Grand Master Joseph Webb, Paul Revere, Rev Dr. Samuel Cooper, and probably Dr. John Warren were in attendence. Whether Joseph’s mother, Mary, or his children, or his supposed fiancee at the time of his death, Mercy Scollay, attended are not known. Boston was in an uproar at the time because the British had just evacuated, therefore, a good account of the attendees was not recorded.

Joseph’s eulogy was delivered by young lawyer, Perez Morton. Morton met Joseph as a minor official on the Massachusetts Provincial Committee of Safety during the early months of the Siege of Boston. Morton’s eulogy of Warren, delivered under Masonic auspices, was well received at the time. It was a notable example of oratorical eloquence and public advocacy in favor of Independence from Great Britain. The eulogy was reprinted well into the 19th century along with collections of the Boston Massacre orations.

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Perez Morton

Morton’s conclusion of Joseph’s eulogy:

“We will assert the Blood of our murdered Hero against thy hostile Oppressions, O shameless Britain! and when “thy Cloud-cap’d Towers, thy gorgeous Palaces” shall by the Teeth of Pride and Folly be levell’d with the Dust—and when thy Glory shall have faded like the Western Sunbeam—the Name and the Virtues of WARREN shall remain immortal.”

Joseph’s casket was taken in funeral procession for interment at the Granary Cemetery. The Minot family offered their family’s plot since the Warren family did not have one in Boston. His remains would lie in the tomb, lost to posterity for fifty years until his nephew, John C. Warren, after much research, identified the body’s whereabouts. Joseph was reburied two more times.

*St. Paul’s Church in Boston in 1825

*Forest Hills Cemetery in Roxbury, MA (Jamaica Plains) August 8, 1856

The Tory Peter Oliver’s January 1776 newspaper address to rebelling colonists cited Joseph Warren’s grisly end as just desserts for a scheming social climber and recklessly ambitious rebel against the king’s authority. In 1782, Oliver was quoted as saying, “Had Warren lived George Washington would have been ‘an obscurity.’ “

Notes:

*The blog post painting is by John Trumbull, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, 17 June, 1775(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Joseph Warren is the man in white lying on the ground in the forefront of the painting. A man is protecting him as he dies, but Joseph was shot in the face during the waning moments of the battle, therefore, his death would have been instantaneous. 

*The pictures of Joseph’s grave site on Mount Warren at Forest Hills Cemetery are from my camera.

*Read Perez Morton’s entire eulogy here:

http://www.drjosephwarren.com/2016/07/addressing-both-understanding-and-passions-from-the-one-he-forced-conviction-from-the-other-he-stole-assent/

Resources:

Warren, M.D., Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D. Surgeon-General During The War Of The Revolution; First Professor Of Anatomy And Surgery In Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Etc. 1874: Noyles, Holmes, and Company, Boston

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.

http://www.drjosephwarren.com/

https://www.masshist.org/revolution/image-viewer.php?item_id=1763&img_step=1&tpc=&pid=2&mode=large&tpc=&pid=2#page1 – John Rowe diary 13, 8 April 1776, pages 2136-2138

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

This is Dedicated to Major John Pitcairn

Many of you are aware of my excessive interest in the patriot leader and Son of Liberty, Joseph Warren. In fact, the first novel in my series, Angels & Patriots, is dedicated to Dr. Joseph Warren and another man, who was not an American patriot—Major John Pitcairn.

I’m not sure at what point (or why) in my research, these men peaked my interest. Perhaps, it was because both men have largely been forgotten, yet they each played a vital role in the infancy of the Revolutionary War. I read and studied them until I felt I could make an attempt to write about them from their point of view, I perceived them as having some of the same characteristics— integrity, honesty, charm, and heroism.

Both Warren and Pitcairn were mortally wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, on June 17, 1775. Their deaths were recorded in a 1786 painting by John Trumbull – The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. This version shows the location of Warren and Pitcairn in the historically inaccurate painting.

john-trumbull-battle-of-bunker-hill

There is more information on Dr. Joseph Warren, (who died at 34) than on Major John Pitcairn (who died at 52). A biography about Warren’s life was published in 2012.

I found no dedicated writings about Pitcairn aside from resources on the internet, and a video game, Assassin’s Creed III (2012), in which Pitcairn is ultimately assassinated. Pitcairn was cast as an antagonist in the TV mini-series Sons of Liberty (2015). I wondered why he was singled out as a “bad-guy” when history describes Pitcairn as having a sense of honor and the respect of both the Loyalists and the Patriots of Boston.

After reading accounts of Pitcairn’s life, I tried to picture him as a man, not just a bunch of statistics, dates, and speculation. Ironically, there are no known likenesses of him.

John Pitcairn was baptized at St. Serf’s, Dysart, a port town in Fife, Scotland, on December 28, 1722 (Old Calendar – 1723). His date of birth is not recorded separately, so it may have been the same day.

In his early 20s, John married Elizabeth Dalrymple. Their first child, Annie, was born in Edinburgh in 1746, the year John was commissioned a Lieutenant in Cornwall’s 7th (Marines) Regiment. The couple went on to have six sons and four daughters.

The Marines were disbanded for a time and reformed on a permanent basis in 1755. John retained his lieutenancy. In the Marines, commissions were not purchased. John didn’t reach the rank of Major in the Chatham Division until 1771, at age 48. His son, William, followed him into the Marines.

In December 1774, as unrest spread in the Colony of Massachusetts, he arrived in Boston with some 600 Marines drawn from three divisions: Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. The Plymouth Marines were not properly trained, had unfit officers, had no proper weather clothing or equipment, and were undisciplined. Some of the men sold their equipment to buy rum.

Here, I saw John as a humanitarian with a sense of duty and responsibility for his marines. Not as a naive task master, but as a sensible mature man who understood that respect far out lasted threats and punishments. He found it hard to apply harsh discipline. By example and patience, he managed to drill them into shape. He lived in the barracks with his men to keep them sober and succeeded in gaining their respect.

On the night of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage ordered a handpicked assembly of 800 troops to gather on the shores of Back Bay, in Boston. Their clandestine mission was to capture rebel weapons hidden in Concord. Gage assigned Colonel Francis Smith as officer in charge, with Major Pitcairn as Smith’s second.

Pitcairn was in charge of the companies in the vanguard of Smith’s column of British regulars. These men weren’t Pitcairn’s marines; therefore, he was unfamiliar with them and their skills. When his vanguard marched into Lexington, led by Lieutenant Jessie Adair, they accidentally veered down the wrong road and marched toward Captain John Parker’s line of militiamen. Pitcairn was genuinely horrified. I tried to imagine his sense of urgency as he galloped across Lexington Green shouting for his companies in the van to halt and hold their fire.

Still, a shot rang out, and eventually eight provincials lay dead.

After the bloodshed later that day in Concord, the exhausted and frightened British troops retreated from Concord to Boston under constant rebel fire. Pitcairn tried to maintain order among the ragged ranks even after his horse was shot, forcing him to walk.

Two months later, on June 17, 1775, John Pitcairn and his marines were ordered to stand ready as reinforcements for British General William Howe’s regulars as they attempted to march on a little rebel redoubt hastily constructed on the wrong hill on the Charlestown peninsula.

I imagined Major Pitcairn and his marines as they rushed the redoubt; Pitcairn waving his bayonet at the rebels and yelling, “Now, for the glory of the Marines!” I wondered what John’s son, William, saw and thought when a rebel in the redoubt aimed his musket at his father.

Did John Pitcairn see the man who was about to mortally wound him? What were his thoughts when he realized he had been shot in the chest? I’ve read that he knew the shot was fatal, but there had to be more rushing through his mind. Legend says he fell into his son’s arms, and was bleeding so badly that William was covered in his blood.

History paints John Pitcairn as a brave sensible man even as he faced his own death. He was taken by boat back to Boston, and put to bed in a house on Prince Street. General Gage sent a loyalist town physician, Dr. Thomas Kast, to tend to Pitcairn.

John insisted that he get his affairs in order before allowing the doctor to examine him. Hours later, Dr. Kast pulled John’s waistcoat away from his wounded chest. John hemorrhaged to death. His son cried out to the marines, “I have lost my father!”

John was buried in the crypt of Christ Church, the Old North Church, in Boston. The fatal bullet and his uniform buttons were returned to his wife and children.

JohnPlaqueMajor John Pitcairn
Fatally wounded
while rallying the Royal Marines
at the Battle of Bunker Hill
was carried from the field to the boats
on the back of his son
who kissed him and returned to duty
He died June 17, 1775 and his body
was interred beneath this church

John’s birthplace, the old manse of Dysart, was demolished over a century ago. The marble plaque John erected to his parents’ memory in 1757-8 in St. Serf’s was destroyed by vandals in the early nineteenth century, after the kirk fell into ruin. As a result, until recently there was nothing to commemorate John in his hometown.

DysartPlaque

Read more about Major John Pitcairn in my novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Buy it today on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Resources

  1. http://www.silverwhistle.co.uk/lobsters/pitcairn.html
  2. http://colonialamericans.weebly.com/major-john-pitcairn.html
  3. http://drbenjaminchurchjr.blogspot.com/2011/12/major-john-pitcairn.html
  4. Painting of “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” by John Trumbull the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
  5. Borneman, Walter R. American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to RevolutionNew York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print.
  6. Hand-colored engraving described as “The shooting of Major
    Pitcairn (who had shed the first blood at Lexington) by the
    colored soldier Salem.” Courtesy of J. L. Bell