WARREN, JOSEPH. (1741–1775). Patriot leader killed at Bunker Hill. Massachusetts. Born at Roxbury, Joseph Warren distinguished himself at Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1759, and became a successful medical doctor in Boston. His willingness to inoculate patients against smallpox during an outbreak of the disease established his reputation as the foremost physician in Massachusetts. John Adams was one of his patients, and he was closely associated with Samuel Adams during the Stamp Act crisis. In the political turmoil of Boston he distinguished himself as a political writer, orator, and organizer, along with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and James Otis. In 1770 he was a member of the committee to demand the removal of British troops from Boston after the "Massacre," and in 1772 and 1775 he delivered celebrated commemorative addresses on the anniversary of the event. He drafted the Suffolk Resolves in 1774, and succeeded Samuel Adams as head of the committee of safety.
On the eve of Lexington and Concord he remained in Boston, despite the danger to himself, and sent out his friend Paul Revere (and William Dawes) to warn the Patriots. He left Boston the next morning and took an active part in the day's fighting. Succeeding John Hancock as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress on 23 April 1775, on 20 May he became head of the committee to organize the army in Massachusetts. In both positions Warren did more than any other leader to transform the mob of minuteman and militia that had sent the British scurrying back to Boston into an army capable of maintaining the siege of Boston.
In the early stages of the siege Warren proved to be a savvy and aggressive leader, so aggressive that on several occasions he accompanied American forces skirmishing with the British, despite having no military rank. On 14 June he was elected major general of the militia, having declined the post of physician general, but he had not received his commission when he went to fight on the Charlestown peninsula, and therefore he technically had no official military rank. On the night of 16-17 June he sat with the Provincial Congress at Watertown, on the morning of the 17th he met with the Committee of Safety at Cambridge, and that afternoon he went out to Bunker Hill, where the battle was about to start. Israel Putnam offered to turn over his command, but Warren said, with apparent sincerity, but disingenuously since he was the most important Patriot leader in New England, that he had come as a volunteer to serve where he would be most useful. Proceeding to the redoubt on Breed's Hill, Warren again declined to assume the command from William Prescott, who now faced the British assault with Warren at his side. In the final phase of the action Warren was shot in the face and died instantly, one of only thirty Americans who were killed in the redoubt.
Warren was buried on Bunker Hill with the other American dead in an unmarked grave. When the British left Boston nine months after the battle, his body was positively identified by the two artificial teeth Revere had made for his friend shortly before his death. This was one of the first recorded instances of identifying a corpse by its dental records.
Cary, John H. Joseph Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961.
Frothingham, Richard. Life and Times of Joseph Warren. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865.
revised by Harold E. Selesky