Dr. Joseph Warren’s 1775 Boston Massacre Oration

“Our country is in danger but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful – but we have many friends. Determine 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

March 5, the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre fell on a Sunday. Therefore, the patriots observed the annual commemoration of the tragic clash that took place between British soldiers and town’s residents on Monday, March 6.

Unlike previous occasions of the event, British troops were abundant in Boston (most had been removed to Castle William after the massacre). Almost everyone, including British General Thomas Gage, expected trouble. The regulars were going to resent an oration whose purpose was, in the words of Samuel Adams, “to commemorate a massacre perpetuated by soldiers and to show the danger of standing armies.” Now, months of hostility on both sides propagated rumors that the British would arrest or assassinate the orator.

Joseph Warren had delivered the oration in 1772. He was asked to speak again. If there was trouble, Samuel Adams wanted someone of Joseph’s experience and resolve in the pulpit. This could well be the last time Gage would allow Patriots to freely assemble in Boston. If Gage was authorized to arrest patriot leaders, it may have been prudent for those leaders to leave town.

Joseph was not to be intimidated into silence. He focused his skills to provide an eloquent exposition of the Patriotic cause and an impressive theatrical performance.

A crowd of 5000 gathered at the Old South Meeting House; some were British officers. Samuel Adams invited them to sit in the pews directly in front of the pulpit so they “might have no pretense to behave ill.” This put the soldiers uncomfortably close to the many leading patriots in attendance. The officers were not only sitting in the pews, some, it is said, may have been seated on the steps leading up to the pulpit.

Around eleven o’clock in the morning, Joseph arrived in a carriage and proceeded to change into a toga in the shop across the street before entering Old South Meeting House. A toga was worn by a citizen of Rome and distinguished him from a soldier or a slave. At Harvard, Joseph had performed the play Cato with his classmates. This was Joseph realizing Cato in his own way in the present: the citizen unintimidated by Caesar’s tyrannical threats, declaiming to an honorable citizenry on behalf of liberty and a representative government.

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The pulpit of Old South Meeting House today.

Since the meetinghouse was jammed with people, Joseph was taken around to the back of the building, where he climbed a ladder to access the pulpit through the rear window. It was dramatic entrance that intensified the already surging emotions of the moment. For those who did not share his point of view, his “Demosthenian posture”, with a white handkerchief in his right hand, and his left hand in his breeches, was downright juvenile. Joseph began to speak in the high pitched nasal delivery of New England ministers. One loyalist commented on his “true puritanical whine.”

Joseph opened with a statement of natural rights. He went on to contend:

“And no man or body of man, can without being guilty of flagrant injustice, claim a right to dispose of the person or acquisitions of any other man, or body of men, unless it can be proved that such a right has arisen from some compact between the parties in which it has been explicitly and freely granted.”  

Joseph’s biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman, translated and summarized passages from his speech. These are a few culminations of Joseph’s beliefs and observations:

He warned that tyrants did not hesitate to distort religious beliefs.

Britain became interested in the colony [Massachusetts] and came to a mutually beneficial relationship, only after the settlers had done all the hard work to establish it.

He focused the discourse on the responsibility of the individual to do their part for the maintenance of liberty.

He projected the view, uniting Patriots with British Whigs that the fate of liberty in America was crucial to liberty in Great Britain. He spoke to the present while being mindful of providing the foundation for a solid future.  

There are two varying versions of what happened during his oration. A British officer displayed a handful of musket balls in a threatening manner. Joseph, who was steps higher on the podium, answered by dropping his white handkerchief that literally covered the officer’s gesture. A second story related by Thomas Hutchinson, speaks of a botched assassination attempt, that, if Dr. Warren said anything against the King, etc., an officer was to throw an egg in his face as a signal to draw swords and massacre John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and hundreds more.

At this point, Joseph launched into a passage he had written at the last minute, in which he insisted “an independence of Great Britain is not our aim” but went on to caution that if measures to do so “are ineffectual and it appears that the only way to safety is through fields of blood, I know you will not turn your faces from your foes”. 

When Joseph spoke of the events of March 5, 1770, instead of dwelling on the brutality of the soldiers, he focused on the agony and despair of the families who had lost loved ones that night. His father died in 1755, after falling from a ladder while working in the Warren family orchard. The tragic accident was witnessed by his youngest brother, John, who was only two years old at the time. Joseph may have been drawing upon his own traumatic memories when he spoke of of widow and her children witnessing the death of a husband and parent.

“Come widowed mourner, here satiate they grief; behold the murdered husband gasping on the ground, and to complete the pompous show of wretchedness, bring in each hand thy infant children to bewail their father’s fate. Take heed, ye orphan babes, lest, whilst your streaming eyes are fixed upon the ghastly corpse, your feet glide on the stones bespattered with your father’s brain.” 

The British responded to Joseph’s Boston Massacre Oration with ridicule. On March 15, 1775, British officers and Loyalists gathered on King Street and then proceeded to the nearby British Coffee House where they conducted a mock town meeting. The orator, loyalist physician Thomas Bolton, began to read a satirical lampoon of Joseph’s oration.

When Joseph began his speech on March 6, he had humbly insisted that his own words could not match those of previous orators such as James Lovell, Dr. Benjamin Church, and John Hancock. The contemptuous discourse that derided Joseph’s humility, accused him of poisoning street thug and fellow Son of Liberty William Molineux, and scoffed at his association with the atheist Dr. Thomas Young, among other things, may have been written by the traitorous Benjamin Church himself. It was character assassination.

Bolton read “I cannot boast the ignorance of Hancock, the insolence of Adams, the absurdity of Rowe, the arrogance of Lee, the vicious life and untimely death of Molineux, the turgid bombast of Warren, the treason of Quincy, the hypocrisy of Cooper, nor the principals of Young.”

The Rivington Tory press in New York printed Bolton’s speech. It was ignored by Patriots at that time and did not advance the cause of Loyalism.

Read Joseph Warren’s full speech at http://www.drjosephwarren.com/2015/03/1775-boston-massacre-oration-manuscript-transcription-in-full-text/

Resources:

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.

 

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

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)

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