Joseph Warren was a doctor and remained so until his death at the Battle of Bunker's Hill on the 17th of June 1775. He is best known in American history for his activity as a writer and as an organizer prior to the Revolutionary War.
Joseph Warren Born in Roxbury MA [then a separate town from Boston] on June 11th, 1741, Warren graduated from Harvard in 1759 and began teaching at Roxbury Grammar School. His interest in medicine would cause him to study to become a physician and he soon was the most prominent in Boston. He championed the need for a two year training period for doctors and, then, a test of their skills.
His concern for the rights of those living in the Colonies led him to protest against the chipping away of their freedoms by the British government. Along with Samuel Adams and others in Boston, Warren, began organizing opposition to the new rules and taxes. The Boston Tea Party in December of 1773 was the tipping point. With three shiploads of tea being dumped into the harbor, King George III ordered that Boston be punished. With the closing of the Port of Boston the town suffered immensely and this aided in building opposition, from the other colonies, to British rule. The other colonies were seeing that the time had come to stand together or to fall one at a time.
In September of 1774 the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Boston was represented by Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine. Warren was asked to draw up something stating the opinions of the people Massachusetts. He wrote what would be called The Suffolk Resolves. Warren's good friend and ally, Paul Revere, carried them to Philadelphia, by horseback. These 19 "resolves" declared although Massachusetts was loyal to their king that when he takes away their rights he loses that loyalty. Also, that the people will take up arms to defend themselves. Warren went on to state that anyone arrested on the king's orders would find one of the king's appointees arrested. Along with these Warren declared that all illegal laws and taxes should be ignored by patriotic Americans.
Never before had Americans stated their independence so forcibly. Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania had introduced a resolution previous to the arrival of The Suffolk Resolves that would have set up an American parliament. This was an attempt by the loyalists [those loyal to King George III] to make America a dominion of England. Warren's bold exclamations caused the delegates to forget Galloway's resolution of appeasement. So taken was Patrick Henry of Virginia of The Suffolk Resolves that he said: "The distinctions between New Englanders and Virginians are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.". The Congress voted to approve The Suffolk Resolves and a copy was sent to England. Dr. Joseph Warren had set America on it's long and difficult road to independence and placed Massachusetts as the leader of that movement.
As chairman of the Boston Committee of Safety, Warren had organized men loyal to the cause of freedom from England to keep watch on British army activity in Boston. As a result of of this watch, Warren learned of General Gage's plans to march British troops into the countryside. Gage wanted to seize weapons and ammunition being stored by the Provincials and to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Hancock and Adams would have been sent to England to stand trial and one can easily imagine the outcome of that trial. Warren planning, in advance, for British troop movement had enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes [at FHC] to be ready to ride into the country to warn and turn out the Minutemen. Their mission would, also, be to alert Hancock and Adams who where in Lexington. The Committee of Safety had planned well with the surrounding towns. As soon as Revere and Dawes spread the alarm other riders fanned out and word would be carried to Connecticut, New Hampshire and, eventually all the other colonies.
After the skirmish on Lexington Green and the confrontation at the bridge in Concord, British troops were forced to flee back towards Boston. Leading the Provincials in this driving back of British troops was General William Heath [at FHC] who was joined by Dr. Joseph Warren who would soon be appointed a Major General in the Massachusetts Militia. At this time and until after the Battle of Bunker's Hill the war was, basically, being fought by that militia.
Within a few weeks militias from the other colonies joined Massachusetts troops in surrounding the British in Boston. Estimates are that upwards of 20,000 colonists were in the area of Boston, armed and ready to fight for their liberties.
Almost two months after Lexington and Concord plans for the fortifying of Breed's Hill [now called Bunker's Hill] were completed with American forces in position across the Charles River from Boston. Dr. Warren [appointed Major General on the 14th of June] rushed to the hill before the landing of British troops in Charlestown and was offered the command by Colonel Prescott. Warren refused the command and stated that he would fight alongside the men as a solider.
Two assaults by the British were repulsed that hot June day with devastating losses by their army. The third assault would succeed as the Americans had run out of ammunition. Warren was reluctant to give up and was one of the last out of the redoubt at the top of the hill. He was spotted by a British officer friend of his who called out to Warren. Dr. Warren stopped, briefly, and it was in that moment that a bullet struck Warren in the head and killed him, instantly. Abagail Adams would write to her husband, John, of the terrible news of the loss of their friend, Dr. Warren. The day was June 17th 1775 exactly nine months from the acceptance of The Suffolk Resolves by the First Continental Congress.
Another nine months would pass and the newly formed Continental Army led by George Washington has forced the British to abandon Boston. Friends of Warren's go to the site of the battle where he fell to locate his body and the bodies of others who fell there. Paul Revere led the search for his beloved friend and would identify Warren's remains. Not buried with any care by the British the identification was verified by the two false teeth that were wired into Warren's mouth by Paul Revere in the previous year. This act would stand as the first recorded dental, forensic indentification of a body.
With full honors Warren was brought to Boston and buried in the Minot family tomb in the Old Granary Burial Ground on April 18th, 1776; the first anniversary of Lexington and Concord. He would be moved, later, to the tombs under Saint Paul's Cathedral and then in 1856, here, to Forest Hills Cemetery.
As his wife, Elizabeth, had died over two years before his death, Warren's four children received an outpouring of help. Among them was General Benedict Arnold who pledged $500.00, himself, and got Congress to award them a major general's half-pay until the youngest should come of age.
Warren's younger brother, John, had studied medicine with him and would go on to found the Harvard Medical School and become the first president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.
John's son, John Collins Warren, was a co-founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital and in 1846 performed the first public operation in which ether was used, among many other accomplishments.
But we speak of Joseph Warren, here, and as it is, the founder of this medical dynasty. Joseph Warren's death so early in the war for America's independence has caused his legacy to be overlooked, if even known by many. After the Revolutionary War towns, counties, streets, and organizations were named for this True Patriot. One can only imagine what contributions Warren would have added to our new nation in medicine and in government.
Copperplate engraving of Joseph Warren at Bunker's Hill is from 'An Impartial History of the War in America,1781' in the collection of this author.