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The patriots commemorated the anniversaries of the Boston Massacre, a bloody conflict that took place near the State House on March 5, 1770, between the citizens of Boston and British soldiers in which five civilians died. Hear the story of the circumstances surrounding Dr. Joseph Warren’s 1775 oration on the event.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on the Charlestown peninsula north of Boston on June 17, 1775. The peninsula was the original objective of both the colonial and British troops. Hear the story of Dr. Joseph Warren’s part in that pyrrhic battle.
After the Siege of Boston ended in March 1776 and the British withdrew, Dr. Joseph Warren’s remains were recovered from the Charlestown peninsula where he was hastily buried after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Hear the story of his honorable obsequies.
The Billop House on Staten Island was the site of a peace conference between British Admiral Lord Richard Howe, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams during the Revolutionary War in September 1776. Hear the story of what transpired.
The Battle of White Plains in New York was fought between General George Washington’s Continental Army and General William Howe’s British and Hessian armies on October 28, 1776. Hear the story of this important battle.
“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
Welcome to the Historical Writers Forum American History Blog Hop happening June 28 – July 4, 2021!
I wrote this post three years ago, but I think it’s an appropriate beginning as this Boston Massacre Oration took place just six weeks before the British marched on Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775, where shots fired ignited the American Revolutionary War. The circumstance of this oration reflects the ten year tensions between Patriots and the British ministry over American taxation without representation. Our orator, Dr. Joseph Warren, was a Boston physician, influential politician, and Son of Liberty, who along with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Adams and others, led the rebellion against Parliament and their series of acts meant to control the flames of colonial dissent.
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.
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 a 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 a widow and her children witnessing the death of a husband and parent.
“Come widowed mourner, here satiate thy 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.
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.
Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my multiple award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One
Rally the boys! Hasten the chiefs! Our Warren’s there and bold Revere. With hands to do, and words to cheer!
And Warren was there. You just had to look a little harder to find him.
My seven day return trip to Boston was a pilgrimage I’m sure few people take. At the time, I was writing the first book in my Historical Fantasy series about the American Revolution in which Warren is an important character. My husband and I were determined to find evidence that Dr. Joseph Warren was indeed still in and around Boston.
Green Dragon Tavern. The Sons of Liberty regularly met here. This isn’t the original tavern or site which was located in the North End in the mid-1700’s. Aside from the back bar, he was listed on the menu with his fellows, who each had a menu item. We ate and drank at the tavern four nights.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is massive. It was no easy feat finding the gallery where John Singleton Copley’s paintings hung. The painting of Joseph Warren hung on a wall between the paintings of John Hancock and Mercy Otis Warren. Copley’s paintings of Samuel Adams and Paul Revere were also in the gallery. The paintings are almost life-size and breathtaking!
We found John Trumbull’s painting of The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775 in a different gallery. It was small and somewhat faded and hung out of the reach of tourists.
The State House. Joseph was mentioned in a small exhibit on the second floor. What looks like a hacksaw to the right behind the sword’s tip is a doctor’s bone saw. In April 1776, his remains laid in state here until his funeral at King’s Chapel (the Stone Chapel) on April 8.
The Old South Meeting House. Joseph delivered two Boston Massacre Orations in the meeting house. One in 1772, and one in 1775. This was where the patriots met to build a revolution. To my dismay, the Plexiglas in which his likeness and achievements is etched, reflected light (even without a flash) and the camera shot was impossible to see. This is the pulpit (today) from which he gave his oration.
King’s Chapel. After the Siege of Boston ended in March 1776, Joseph’s remains were identified and removed from Bunker Hill. The Freemasons made the arrangements for their Grand Master’s funeral, which was held in King’s Chapel in the heart of Boston.
Boston City Hall Plaza. The house where Joseph lived with his family and his medical apprentices was once located here. It’s recently been in the news. Joseph’s biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman, and others are intent on erecting a monument on the grounds proclaiming that this was the spot where the Revolutionary War began because Joseph dispatched Revere and Dawes to Lexington from his house. This is a view of the plaza (where the event tents are) from the Bell in Hand tavern across the street. The WWII Holocaust Memorial is the green glass between the two locations.
Bunker Hill. Dr. Joseph Warren and Colonel William Prescott are the only names on the Massachusetts Gate. While my husband climbed the monument, I sat inside the adjoining building and watched the tourists largely dismiss the seven foot tall statue of Joseph’s likeness, which commanded the attention in the sparse room. It saddened me to witness how obscure he really is.
Warren Tavern. Located a few blocks from the Bunker Hill monument, the tavern, named for him, dates to 1780 and is dedicated wholly to all things Joseph Warren. Of course he was never there, but the tavern was a favorite watering hole for his close friend, Paul Revere. We visited Bunker Hill and ate at Warren Tavern on my birthday.
The Clarke-Hancock House in Lexington. Joseph dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to this house to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British regulars were out. We were the only tourists there at the time.
Harvard. Of the three buildings that made up the Harvard campus when Joseph attended from 1755 to 1759, only one original building is still standing — his dormitory, Massachusetts Hall. Washington housed his army in the dormitory in 1775 – 1776.
The Roxbury Latin School. We didn’t visit the school where Joseph was a student and later a teacher after graduating from Harvard. There is a statue of him in the school’s courtyard that was once located in Warren Square in his childhood town of Roxbury. The General Joseph Warren Society contributes to the school’s annual fund. This picture is from the school’s website.
Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts. We didn’t visit the masonic lodge, that houses a museum, because we arrived after it closed and it was our last day in Boston. We will visit next time and look for Grand Master Joseph Warren.
Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plains, MA. Perhaps, if Joseph remains hadn’t been moved from Granary Burying Ground in Boston, where some of his fellows are buried, like Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and a place thousands of tourists visit daily, history may not have forgotten him. But the magnificent beauty of Forest Hills Cemetery where he’s buried changed my mind. As soon as I saw the cemetery gates, I knew he belonged there. The cemetery is expansive and magnificent: full of beautiful gravestones, monuments, statues, and gracefully curving roads. Forest Hills Cemetery
The road where his burial site is located is called Mount Warren.
Joseph’s remains are buried in a joint family plot with his paternal grandmother, Deborah Warren; his mother and father, Mary and Joseph Warren; his oldest son, Joseph; his youngest brother, Dr. John Warren; and John’s son also named John. A glacial boulder selected by the Warren family serves as a giant tombstone. The remains of each person, appears that at one time, they were buried in their own grave. Except for Joseph’s, it appears that the original tombstones surround the boulder.
A statue of Joseph stands atop the boulder. The statue was erected on October 22, 2016 by the 6th Masonic District that hosted a ceremony where their Grand Master dedicated a new memorial to “the namesake of our Distinguished Service Medal, M.W. Joseph Warren” in conjunction with members of the Warren family. The flags on his grave site are new, so someone is visiting.
Statue of Joseph Warren erected on his family grave site by the 6th Masonic District October 2016
Warren family grave site in Forest Hills Cemetery
General William Heath and William Dawes are also buried in Forest Hills.
Vine Lake Cemetery. We traveled to Medfield, MA to visit the grave of the woman who was nanny to Joseph’s four children and assumed to be his fiance at the time of his death: Mercy Scollay. My husband gathered acorns from the ground around Joseph’s grave site and placed them on Mercy’s grave. The inscription on her gravestone read:
I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.
Mercy lived another 50 years after Joseph’s devastating death. She never married.
This was the last picture I took in Boston the evening before we left. Faneuil Hall is the brick building to the left. Samuel Adams’ statue is in the mall in front. Faneuil Hall was only two stories high during Joseph’s time.
Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy series Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One
Angels & Patriots Book Two, The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two