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.

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Grave of Joseph Warren in Forest Hills Cemetery

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)

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.

1789_CastleWilliam_BostonHarbor_MassachusettsMagazine

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)

or  get your free download by going to my website salinabbaker.com

Lexington and Concord: The Last Days Leading up to a Revolution, Part 2

The violences committed by those who have take up arms in Massachusetts Bay have appeared to me as the acts of a rude Rabble without plan, without concert, & without conduct, and therefore I think that smaller Force now, if put to the Test, would be able to encounter them with greater probability of Success….. 

….In this view of the situation of the King’s affairs, it is the opinion of the King’s servants, in which his Majesty concurs, that the essential step to be taken toward reestablishing government would be to arrest and imprison the principle actors and abettors in the Provincial Congress (whose proceedings appear in every light to be acts of treason….

~~Lord Dartmouth to General Thomas Gage, about April 16, 1775

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The Earl of Dartmouth
Secretary of State for the Colonies 1772 – 1775

This was part of Lord Dartmouth’s long awaited, cross-Atlantic response to General Gage’s admonishments, which he had written to Lord Dartmouth in late January 1775, on how to handle the rebellious acts of the colonists. Those defiant acts were seemingly endless: the illegal proceedings of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Continental Congress, the Suffolk Resolves, smuggling, seizures of powder and munitions, and threats to march into Boston “like locusts and rid the town of every soldier.” (Philbrick quoting Rev. John Andrews, pg 71)

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General Thomas Gage
Royal Governor of Massachusetts 1774 – 1775

General Gage did not consider himself a royalist, but part of his advice to Dartmouth was something he believed the King wanted to hear:

“It’s the opinion of most People, if a respectable Force is seen in the Field, the most obnoxious of the Leaders seized, and a Pardon proclaimed for all other’s, that Government will come off Victorious, and with less Opposition than was expected a few Months ago.”

By the time Lord Dartmouth’s lengthy letter of advice reached Thomas Gage, tempers among the British ministry, the loyalists, and the patriots in Massachusetts had simmered down. In fact at this point, there was growing discord among the patriots’ own ranks, rooted in a misguided optimism that once King George III saw for himself that his ministers had misled him, the king would withdrawal his troops and the demand for unfair taxes would withdraw with them, leaving New England free. That optimism was founded in the colonists’ previous experiences with protests and the king’s withdrawal of the transgressions.

If Gage had chosen to do nothing in response to Dartmouth’s letter that spring, the patriots may have had a difficult time maintaining a united front. Ironically, Dartmouth’s letter, based on information and instructions months old, arrived around the same time Gage was receiving valuable information from his British spies. Those things came together to lead Gage to make a series of decisions that would change the course of history.

Just as ironically, one of Thomas Gage’s spies was a trusted colleague among the members of the Sons of Liberty and the Provincial Congress: Dr. Benjamin Church.

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Dr. Benjamin Church

When it came to rebel secrets and plotting; only Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Joseph Warren were more involved than Benjamin Church. But Benjamin had an expensive mistress, and spying brought the ready cash he needed to please her. He had no qualms about betraying his fellow patriots in exchange for the means to pay for the treasures that lay between the legs of his mistress, Phoebe Yates.

Church, among other spies, assured Gage there was a stockpile of provincial armaments located in Concord. Instead of taking Dartmouth’s advice to arrest the leaders of the Provincial Congress, Thomas Gage focused on securing and destroying the rebel military stores in Concord.

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.

Read Angels & Patriots, a historical fantasy novella by Salina B Baker for only 99 cents. 

Book Review: “American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution” by Walter R. Borneman

images“The spring of 1775 was filled with a rush of decisive events that ultimately brought a war no one had planned to fight.

American Spring is a nonfiction account of the first six months of 1775, and the opening acts of the Revolutionary War. Borneman reveals the events leading up to the war, and those who participated in those events and the struggles between Great Britain and the American colonies. We are enlightened by the lives and faces of patriots that history has forsaken, such as the handsome charismatic Dr. Joseph Warren, as well as, those whose who are well-known, like the wealthy egotistical John Hancock. The author ventures into the backgrounds of the many British participants whose stake in the future of the American colonies was equally important, and the forgotten participants: women, Native Americans, and African Americans.

Borneman illustrates the alliances of the British and Americans soldiers during the French and Indian War, and their importance. He points out, as examples, campaigns shared by the future generals, George Washington and Thomas Gage; and the military tactics Gage learned from colonial frontiersman Robert Rogers.

He brings to light little commonly known information:

Did you know that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, led by Warren at the time, financially backed Benedict Arnold’s mission to capture cannons from the wilderness outpost Ft. Ticonderoga? And the congress’ decision to send 200 pounds of gunpowder with Arnold may have led to the colonial defeat at the battle at Bunker’ Hill?

The reader is presented with hundreds of vital questions that to this day have gone unanswered, and the author provides a variety of ways to ponder what may have actually happened:

Did Margaret Gage, the American born wife of British General Thomas Gage, slip the patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, the information that led him to order the midnight ride of William Dawes and Paul Revere?

What of British General William Howe’s mentally instability after he led over a thousand soldiers to their death during the Battle of Bunker Hill?

American Spring is a splendidly vivid and detailed account of the choices, the blunders, the victories, the fears, and the boldness that shaped the events that led to the battles of Lexington and Concord, the ensuing calm that followed, and one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution: the Battle of Bunker Hill.

This book was my first resource for my research into the Revolutionary War for my WIP. I recommend this wonderful well-rounded book.

Book Review – DR. JOSEPH WARREN: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty by Samuel Forman

DR. JOSEPH WARREN: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American LibertyDR. JOSEPH WARREN: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty by Samuel Forman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw Dr. Joseph Warren’s name the first time, in October 2013, while taking a picture of the Massachusetts Gate at Bunker Hill. That initial meeting didn’t stick. In my defense there was a government shutdown at the time, and the monument was closed.

My second meeting took place in July 2016 when I began historical research for the novel I’m currently writing, which is set in and around Boston over the period January – June 1775. I fell in love with Joseph the moment I read his name and immediately elevated his character above all the others in the book, except the protagonist.

Among the hundreds of people and events of the period that I had to untangle and portray with accuracy, I began to research Joseph Warren outside of the writings of other nonfiction authors.

That’s how I found Dr. Samuel Forman on YouTube. The first video was Ronald Reagan inspired by Joseph Warren. Then, I watched Dr. Forman’s lectures, videos, and interviews on the subject many times. I understood that his interest in Warren came from a physician’s point of view as much as a scholarly one. I mention this to illustrate the very serious effort I made to determine where my definitive fictional portrayal of Joseph Warren would reside. I decided it would reside with Dr. Forman, so I bought this book. My husband commandeered it as soon as it arrived. I allowed it because I was entering my initial research on the Battle of Bunker Hill.

I finished reading the book on January 3, 2017. I cried through the foreword more than once. In Acknowledgements, Dr. Forman thanked his wife for accommodating his endeavor and living with a long-dead patriot as an ex officio member of his household for 6 years. Chapter 15 was especially fun!

I reached out to Dr. Forman because he wrote about reversing Warren’s obscurity through realistically fictionalized works. That’s what I’m striving to do.

Thank you, Dr. Forman, for writing a scientific, fair, and passionate book about Dr. Joseph Warren, a wonderful man who did so much good in his short life. Without it, I would not have “heard” his words as clearly. I promise I will be worthy of Joseph Warren in my own writings of him.

View all my reviews