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Joseph Warren

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Title: Joseph Warren  
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Subject: Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren County, Illinois, Warren County, Indiana, Warren County, Iowa, Warren County, North Carolina
Collection: 1741 Births, 1775 Deaths, 18Th-Century American Physicians, American Freemasons, American Physicians, Burials in Boston, Massachusetts, Continental Army Officers from Massachusetts, Deaths by Firearm in Massachusetts, Harvard University Alumni, Massachusetts Militiamen in the American Revolution, Military Personnel Killed in the American Revolutionary War, Militia Generals in the American Revolution, People from Boston, Massachusetts, People from Colonial Boston, Massachusetts, People of Colonial Massachusetts, People of Massachusetts in the American Revolution, Physicians from Massachusetts, Physicians in the American Revolution, Political Leaders of the American Revolution
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Joseph Warren

Joseph Warren
Portrait by John Singleton Copley, c. 1765
Born (1741-06-11)June 11, 1741
Roxbury, Province of Massachusetts Bay
Died June 17, 1775(1775-06-17) (aged 34)
Charlestown, Province of Massachusetts Bay
Place of burial Forest Hills Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Colonial Patriot militia
Years of service 1775
Rank Major General

American Revolutionary War

Relations Mercy Scollay (fiancée)

Dr. Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 – June 17, 1775) was an American physician who played a leading role in Boston in the early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Warren enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Warren participated in the next day's Battles of Lexington and Concord, which are commonly considered to be the opening engagements of the American Revolutionary War.

Warren had been commissioned a Major General in the colony's militia shortly before the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Rather than exercising his rank, Warren served in the battle as a private soldier, and was killed in combat when British troops stormed the redoubt atop Breed's Hill. His death, immortalized in John Trumbull's painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775, galvanized the rebel forces. He has been memorialized in the naming of many towns, counties and other locations in the United States, by statues, and in numerous other ways.


  • Biography 1
  • Lexington and Concord 2
  • Death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • Footnotes 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • See also 8
  • External links 9


Portrait from Boston Monthly Magazine, 1826

Joseph Warren was born in Roxbury, Province of Massachusetts Bay, to Joseph Warren and Mary (Stevens) Warren. His father was a respected farmer who died in October 1755 when he fell off a ladder while gathering fruit in his orchard. After attending the Roxbury Latin School, Joseph enrolled in Harvard College, graduating in 1759, and then taught for about a year at Roxbury Latin.[1] He studied medicine and married 18-year-old heiress Elizabeth Hooten on September 6, 1764. She died in 1772, leaving him with four children: Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and Richard.[2]

While practicing medicine and surgery in Boston, he joined the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew and was eventually appointed Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.[3] He also became involved in politics, associating with John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other leaders of the broad movement labeled Sons of Liberty. Warren conducted an autopsy on the body of young Christopher Seider in February 1770, and was a member of the Boston committee that assembled a report on the following month's Boston Massacre. Earlier, in 1768, Royal officials tried to place his publishers Edes and Gill on trial for an incendiary newspaper essay Warren wrote under the pseudonym A True Patriot, but no local jury would indict them.[4]

In 1774, he authored a song, "Free America," which was published in colonial newspapers. The poem was set to a traditional British tune, "The British Grenadiers."[5]

Lexington and Concord

Warren (right) offering to serve General Israel Putnam as a private before the Battle of Bunker Hill

As Boston's conflict with the royal government came to a head in 1773–75, Warren was appointed to the Boston Committee of Correspondence. He twice delivered orations in commemoration of the Massacre, the second time in March 1775 while the town was occupied by army troops. Warren drafted the Suffolk Resolves, which were endorsed by the Continental Congress, to advocate resistance to Parliament's Coercive Acts, which were otherwise known as the Intolerable Acts. He was appointed President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the highest position in the revolutionary government.

In mid-April 1775, Warren and Dr. Benjamin Church were the two top members of the Committee of Correspondence left in Boston. On the afternoon of April 18, the British troops in the town mobilized for a long-planned raid on the nearby town of Concord, and already before nightfall word of mouth had spread knowledge of the mobilization widely within Boston. It had been known for weeks that General Gage in Boston had plans to destroy munitions stored in Concord by the colonials, and it was also known that they would be taking a route through Lexington. Warren received the additional information from a highly placed informant that the troops also had orders to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Warren sent William Dawes and Paul Revere on their famous "midnight rides" to warn Hancock and Adams in Lexington about the approaching troops. The historian of colonial America, David Hackett Fischer, finds strong, but inconclusive, evidence that Warren's highly placed informant was none other than Margaret Gage, the wife of General Thomas Gage.[6]

Warren slipped out of Boston early on April 19, and during that day's Siege of Boston, promulgating the Patriots' version of events, and negotiating with Gen. Gage in his role as head of the Provincial Congress.


Warren was commissioned as a Major General by the Provincial Congress on June 14, 1775. Several days later, in the moments before the Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren arrived where the militia was forming and asked where the heaviest fighting would be; General Israel Putnam pointed to Breed's Hill. Warren volunteered to join the fighting as a private against the wishes of General Putnam and Colonel William Prescott, both of whom requested that he serve as their commander. Warren declined the command in the belief that Putnam and Prescott were more experienced with war. He was among those inspiring the men to hold rank against superior numbers. Warren was known to have repeatedly declared of the British: "These fellows say we won't fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!"[7] He fought in the redoubt until out of ammunition, and remained until the British made their third and final assault on the hill to give time for the militia to escape. He was killed instantly by a musket ball in the head by a British officer (possibly Lieutenant Lord Rawdon) who recognized him. This account is supported by a 2011 forensic analysis.[8] His body was stripped of clothing and he was bayoneted until unrecognizable, and then shoved into a shallow ditch.

British Captain Walter Laurie, who had been defeated at Old North Bridge, later said he "stuffed the scoundrel with another rebel into one hole, and there he and his seditious principles may remain."[9] In a letter to John Adams, Benjamin Hichborn describes the atrocities that British Lieutenant James Drew, of the sloop Scorpion, inflicted on Warren's body two days after the Battle of Bunker Hill: "In a day or two after, Drew went upon the Hill again opened the dirt that was thrown over Doctr: Warren, spit in his Face jump'd on his Stomach and at last cut off his Head and committed every act of violence upon his Body."[10] His body was exhumed ten months after his death by his brothers and Paul Revere, who identified the remains by the artificial tooth he had placed in the jaw.[11] This may be the first recorded instance of post-mortem identification by forensic odontology. His body was placed in the Granary Burying Ground and later (in 1825) in St. Paul's Church before finally being moved in 1855 to his family's vault in Forest Hills Cemetery.


Warren's statue in front of the Roxbury Latin School
Warren's grave in Forest Hills Cemetery

General Gage reportedly said Warren's death was equal to the death of 500 men. It encouraged the revolutionary cause because it was viewed by many Americans as an act of martyrdom.

At the time of Warren's death, his children were staying with his fiancée, Mercy Scollay, in Worcester as refugees from the Siege of Boston. She continued to look after them, gathering support for their education from John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Benedict Arnold, and even the Continental Congress. Joseph's youngest brother and apprentice in medicine, John Warren, served as a surgeon during the Battle of Bunker Hill and the rest of the war, and afterwards founded Harvard Medical School and co-founded the Massachusetts Medical Society.

There are at least three statues of Joseph Warren on public display. Two are in Boston — one in the exhibit lodge adjacent to the Bunker Hill Monument, the other on the grounds of the Roxbury Latin School. The third is in a small park on the corner of Third and Pennsylvania avenues in Warren, Pennsylvania, a city, borough, and county all named after the general.

Boston harbor, started in 1833, was named in his honor. In 1840, the first Warren School was built on Salem Street in Charlestown, Massachusetts near Bunker Hill. It relocated to School and Summer Streets in 1868, and later merged with the Prescott School to form the Warren-Prescott School.[12]

Fourteen states have a Warren County (list) named after him. Additionally, Warren, Pennsylvania; Warren, Michigan;[13] Warren, New Jersey; Warrenton, Virginia;[14] Warren, Maine; Warren, Massachusetts; Warrenton, North Carolina; Warren, Connecticut and 30 Warren Townships are also named in his honor. The name of the Town of Warrensburg, N.Y. is often attributed to Joseph Warren but it was not named for him. The county in which it lies, Warren, N.Y. is named for the Revolutionary War hero. The streets of Detroit, Michigan, were redesigned after the 1806 fire, based on the Pierre L'Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C.; Warren Avenue in Detroit is named after Joseph Warren.[15]

Five ships in the Continental Navy and United States Navy were named Warren in his honor.

The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has an award in his name for Masons who have served the fraternity, the country, or humanity with distinction. It is the second-highest honor conferred by the Grand Lodge, only surpassed by the Henry Price medal. The Henry Price medal is usually awarded to those who served with distinction in the Grand Lodge, while the Joseph Warren medal may be conferred upon any Mason within the Grand jurisdiction.

In popular culture

Walter Coy played Dr. Warren in the 1957 film Johnny Tremain.[16] Warren also appeared in episodes 5 and 9 of the 2002 animated television show Liberty's Kids, and Ryan Eggold played him in the 2015 miniseries Sons of Liberty, which portrays his death as being shot by a jealous General Gage in the back of the head at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Gage then ordered for his soldiers to "mutilate the body".


  1. ^ Frothingham 1865, pp. 12–13. The book's description of "the grammar school in Roxbury" appears to indicate Roxbury Latin School.
  2. ^ Frothingham 1865, p. 558.
  3. ^ "Joseph Warren, Martyr of Bunker Hill". Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  4. ^ Forman 2012.
  5. ^ Silverman, Jerry. "Of Thee I Sing," Citadel Press, 2002, p. 3.
  6. ^ Fischer 1994, p. 95–97.
  7. ^ Tourtellot 1959, p. 213.
  8. ^ Samuel A. Forman: Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill on YouTube Accessed April 4, 2012
  9. ^ Fischer 1994.
  10. ^ "To John Adams from Benjamin Hichborn, 25 November 1775". National Archives. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Boston 1775: Sumner letter Retrieved 2008-07-19
  12. ^ "Full Historic Timeline". Charlestown Historical Society. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  13. ^ Romig, Walter (1986). Michigan Place Names. Walter Romig. p. 582. 
  14. ^ Dyson, Cathy (July 20, 2003). "History and legend unlock origins of unusual names". The Free Lance-Star. pp. A7. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  15. ^ "The Streets of Detroit". Tina Granzo. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  16. ^ Walter Coy at the Internet Movie Database


  • Cary, John (1961) Joseph Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot. University of Illinois Press.
  • Fischer, David Hackett (1994). Paul Revere's Ride. Oxford University Press. 
  • Forman, Samuel A. (2012) Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. Pelican Publishing. ISBN 1-4556-1474-2; ISBN 978-1-4556-1474-5
  • Hardman, Ron; Hardman, Jessica (2010). Shadow Fox: Sons of Liberty. Fox Run Press. ISBN 978-0-9819607-0-8
  • None. Joseph Warren. Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies 1928–1936. Included in the database, U.S. History in Context (formerly History Resource Center: U.S.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group
  • Wilson, James Grant; John Fiske, editors. 1887–1889. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company.

See also

External links

  • Gen Joseph Warren, Jr at Find a Grave
  • Mercy Scollay at Find a Grave (September 11, 1741 – January 8, 1826)
  • Dr. Joseph Warren on the Web Comprehensive compendium of searchable full texts of Joseph Warren's writings and speeches, with weekly updates.
  • (1865) at Google BooksThe Life and Times of Joseph WarrenRichard Frothingham,
  • THE BROKERAGE ROLE IN THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION Social Network Analysis using only organizational affiliations identifying Joseph Warren and Paul Revere as central to the events leading up to the American Revolution.
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