Dr. Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 – June 17, 1775) was an American doctor and soldier, remembered for playing a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston and for his death as a volunteer private soldier while also serving as chief executive of the revolutionary Massachusetts government.
Life and career
Warren was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to Joseph Warren and Mary (Stevens) Warren. His father was a respected farmer who was killed instantly in October 1755 when he fell off a ladder while gathering fruit in his orchard. After attending the Roxbury Latin School, he studied medicine at Harvard University, graduating in 1759 and then teaching for a time at Roxbury Latin. He married 18-year-old heiress Elizabeth Hooten on September 6, 1764, but she died in 1772, leaving him with four children.
While practicing medicine and surgery in Boston, he joined the Freemasons and eventually was appointed as a Grand Master. He became involved in politics, associating with John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other radical leaders. He became active in the Sons of Liberty, and was appointed Chairman of the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence. He drafted the Suffolk Resolves, which were endorsed by the Continental Congress, to advocate resistance to the British. He was appointed President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the highest position in the revolutionary government.
Warren (right) offering to serve General Israel Putnam as a private before the Battle of Bunker HillAfter receiving intelligence about British troop movements, he sent William Dawes and Paul Revere on their famous “Midnight Rides” on April 18, 1775, to warn Lexington and Concord of British raids. Several historians believe that his source for this information was none other than Margaret Gage, the wife of General Thomas Gage. During the Battle of Lexington and Concord the following day, he coordinated and led militia into the fight alongside William Heath as the British Army returned to Boston. He played an important role in recruiting and organizing soldiers during the Siege of Boston.
He was appointed a Major General by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress on June 14, 1775. His commission had not yet taken effect three days later when the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. He served as a volunteer private against the wishes of General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott, who requested that he serve as their commander. Taunting the British, he uttered his famous quote: “These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heavens, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!” He fought in the front lines, rallying his troops to the third and final assault of the battle when he was killed by a British officer who recognized him.
The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775 by John TrumbullBritish 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.” 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. This may be the first recorded instance of post-mortem identification by forensic odontology. His body was placed in Granary Burying Ground and later (in 1825) in St. Paul’s Cathedral before finally being moved in 1855 to his family’s vault in Forest Hills Cemetery.
Warren has two statues in Boston—one in the exhibit lodge adjacent to the Bunker Hill Monument, and the other on the grounds of the Roxbury Latin School.
Warren’s statue in front of the Roxbury Latin SchoolAt the time of Warren’s death, his children—Joseph Warren, H. C. Warren, Richard Warren, Elizabeth Warren, Mary Warren—were staying with Abigail Adams at the John Quincy Adams birthplace in Braintree, Massachusetts. A cairn now marks the spot where his oldest daughter observed the battle from afar after word of her father’s death. The Warren children were then financially supported by Benedict Arnold who later succeeded in obtaining support for them from the Continental Congress until they were of age.
Warren’s grave in Forest Hills CemeteryGeneral Gage is thought to have called Warren’s death of equal value to the death of 500 men, but his death strengthened the radicals’ political position because it was viewed by many Americans at the time as an act of nationalist martyrdom. Fourteen states have a Warren County named after him. Warren, Pennsylvania, Warren, Michigan, Warren, New Jersey, Warrenton, Virginia and Warren, Massachusetts are named in his honor. Boston’s Fort Warren, started in 1833, was named in his honor. Five ships in the Continental Navy and United States Navy were named Warren in his honor.
John Warren, Joseph’s younger brother, served as a surgeon during the Battle of Bunker Hill and the rest of the war and then later founded Harvard Medical School.