Dr. Joseph Warren, 1741 – 1775
Dr. Joseph Warren is one of those patriots who we barely remember, if his name is even mentioned outside history circles.
It’s a shame really.
Joseph Warren was born to your average middle class farming family in Massachusetts. Unlike Samuel Whittemore, Joseph Warren was raised fully in the light of Liberty. He attended Harvard College where he was in contact with such notables as John Adams, John Hancock, and James Otis. Joseph Warren became a doctor, while apprenticing under the reputable Dr. James Loyd of Boston, where he excelled and earned an enviable reputation. His work with inoculations garnered him as much respect as his political writing and thinking.
Joseph Warren wrote many newspaper articles against the Crown’s policies such as the Stamp Act, and he gave a very rousing oration at the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. If there were any doubts as to his position on independence, you need only read the Suffolk Resolves, which he penned, and which the Continental Congress adopted.
Becoming the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrews at age 28, Joseph Warren would eventually become the Grand Master of Masons of the continent of America. The same Masons that included such esteemed members as George Washington, Sam Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. His contacts and his influence were woven throughout the colonies and he was one of a few who could move freely through all classes of 18th century society.
You simply cannot view the writing, thinking, and actions of our founders without giving due to Joseph Warren. He undoubtedly had a great impact on the men who would later be remembered so fondly as our “Founding Fathers.”
After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Third Continental Congress appointed Dr. Joseph Warren a Major General in the fledgling militia army growing outside Boston. He joined the militia in Boston reporting to General Israel Putnam. Accounts differ as to what transpired next. General Putnam said General Warren asked where he might be most useful and was directed to Prescott’s Redoubt on Breed’s Hill. Some accounts claim he was asked to remain in the rear for safety and promptly resigned his commission, offering to serve as a private. What is known is that Prescott’s Redoubt held back the first wave of British Regulars, then the second wave. With ammunition nearly exhausted, Dr./Gen/Private Joseph Warren rallied his remaining men and fought the third and final wave to a standstill in hand-to-hand fighting allowing the rest of the militia to escape to safety. Casualties for the British Light Infantry and Royal Marines that assaulted Prescott’s Redoubt exceeded 50%, with many of the survivors reporting that whole companies “ceased to exist” after their attempts.
Joseph Warren’s body was stripped, mutilated, and buried in a shallow grave. His death was later immortalized in John Trumbull’s famous painting “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775”. Joseph Warren was a doctor, a politician, a revolutionary, a patriot, a true man of the Enlightenment, and considered a warm and engaging personality. And it is not why we remember him.
I once heard another story teller build an entire story around the carving on a headstone. We carve the date of birth and the date of death separated by a line. We remember Joseph Warren most for his death with gallant paintings, stories of brave words, and heroic actions. The year he was born and died are carved deep into immortal granite. For all he contributed between his birth and his death, nothing but a line is given.
We should all strive to leave behind such a line as Joseph Warren.