Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 11: “…but where's the man who does not think it glorious and delightful to die for his country?"

Do you know who this is?
-He attended Harvard at the age of fourteen.
-He was one of the first martyrs of the Revolutionary War.
-He sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their midnight ride.

He was a popular leader in Boston during the formation of resistance to the British prior to the American Revolution. He wrote against the injustices of the Crown in political journals and spoke in public and private meetings. He would be in the prime of his life – thirty-four years old – when he was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill. His name was Dr. Joseph Warren, Jr.

He was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1741. His parents, Joseph and Mary Stevens Warren, could trace their colonial roots back a hundred years, to the mid-17th century. Joseph Jr.’s father was a part-time municipal official and a full time farmer, introducing the Warren Russet apple. When Joseph Jr. was fourteen, his father would die from a fall off of a ladder that he was using in his apple orchard. Mary Warren was left to raise four sons: One would be a surgeon in the Continental Army; one would manage the Warren estate; one became a judge and a member of the convention that ratified the Constitution; and one a patriot who died at the start of the Revolution.

Joseph attended public school in Boston, then at the age of fourteen entered Harvard College where he would distinguish himself as a student, graduating four years later. After his graduation, he was appointed headmaster of the grammar school in Roxbury where he worked for a year. He was inducted into the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Masons, soon becoming a leader of that organization. He associated with such outspoken notables as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and John Adams. He would become life-long friends with the John Adams family after he inoculated Adams during a smallpox epidemic.

He would return to Harvard, graduating as a physician in 1762. America at this time was seeing the conclusion of the French and Indian War, and would soon see the British government attempt to recoup its expenditures in that war for her colonies. He would marry Elizabeth Hooton of Boston on September 6, 1764, and have four children before her death in 1772.

It was Joseph who would perform an autopsy on Christopher Seider in February 1770, whose death at the hands of a British customs inspector would lead to the Boston Massacre a short time later. Joseph became a member of the committee that submitted a report against the British at the Boston Massacre, and would be charged with treason by the British for his newspaper articles against them – though no jury would convict him.

Boston became the hotbed of resentment against the British – both in word and action. Joseph was a man of action, not just of words, and became involved on the side of the colonies as Boston – and Massachusetts – stood up to the British monarchy, and British troops.

In a letter to Edmund Dana in 1766, Joseph commented on the colonial reaction to the Stamp Act by stating: “Never has there been a time, since the first settlement of America, in which the people had so much reason to be alarmed as the present.”

He became openly more radical with the passage of the Townshend Acts, writing articles in the Boston Gazette under the alias of “A True Patriot”. He was a pace-setter on the road to independence, believing strongly that the British had no right to tax the colonials. He soon became the chairman of the Committee of Safety, and would deliver stirring orations on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. He would eventually become President of the Provincial Government of Massachusetts.

When the British marched on Lexington on April 18, 1775, Joseph would be the man who would send Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous ride to alert the countryside – and to warn John Adams and Samuel Adams, both of whom had a price on their head. After Lexington and Concord, he left his medical practice in the hands of his assistant and began the work of raising and providing for the growing number of militia that swarmed the countryside of Massachusetts.

As the colonials occupied positions on the heights overlooking the British forces in Boston in June 1775, Joseph rushed to join them. Just before the battle of Bunker Hill began, he went to the redoubt on Breed’s Hill armed with his musket, where he was offered command by Colonel Prescott and General Putnam - but he declined. He stated “I am here only as a volunteer. I know nothing of your dispositions; nor will I interfere with them. Tell me where I can be most useful.”

As the British threatened to overrun the position and the colonial’s ammunition ran low, the colonials retreated. Joseph was one of the last to leave, and as he moved away towards the rear, on officer of the British army who knew him called his name, asking him to surrender. As Joseph turned toward the voice, a bullet penetrated his brain and he fell to the ground, dead.

The British would place his body in a common mass grave, where his remains would later be identified by Paul Revere – who recognized the set of false teeth he had made for Joseph. His remains were later interred at Forest Hills Cemetery, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
Joseph Warren became an instant hero. He had once stated "…but where's the man who does not think it glorious and delightful to die for his country?", and his death would make him an instant hero to the colonial cause. His death was immortalized in John Trumbull’s painting; “The Death of General Warren”. In death he was a hero, his life cut tragically short, and his potential unknown. In death he left his four small children orphaned and financially destitute until 1778 when General Benedict Arnold gave $500 for their education as well as petitioned Congress for monies for their welfare until they became adults.
There are no biographies available about Joseph Warren at our local library.


-America’s Homepage
-Life and Times of Joseph Warren
-National Park Service
-Son of the South


Warren 01. Portrait, National Park Service
Warren 02. Talking to General Putnam, New York Public Library digital collection ID: 808554
Warren 03. “The Death of General Warren” by John Trumbull, Anthenaeum

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