Richard H Ryder, 2017
Recently, The Maven’s Journal spotlighted MW Paul Revere, Brother William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, all of whom spread the alarm on April 18, 1775 that “the regulars are coming”. It was MW Joseph Warren who selected Brothers Revere and Dawes and it is only fitting that Warren also be spotlighted, especially during June, a notable month in his short life. Warren was born June 11, 1741 and died June 17, 1775, when he gave his life at Bunker Hill in defense of the port of Boston. This article provides a brief biographical snapshot of a man who was so instrumental in the forming of our country, but has sadly faded into the backdrop of history. As Masons, we honor him as a past Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts and when presenting the Joseph Warren distinguished service medal to a worthy recipient.
Early Years: Family and Profession
Joseph Warren was the oldest child of Joseph and Mary Stevens Warren, Roxbury farmers, and had family roots dating back to the Mayflower. He attended Boston Latin School and then Harvard University, graduating in 1759. While pursuing a Master of Arts degree at Harvard, which he attained in 1762, Warren briefly taught at Boston Latin School. Married on September 6, 1764, Warren and Elizabeth Hooten raised four children – Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and Richard – before her untimely death in 1772. In June 1763, after his apprenticeship, Warren opened a medical practice in Roxbury, but soon relocated to Boston. He was well known and respected as a doctor, serving as family physician to many, including John and Abigail Adams, with whom he formed a personal and professional relationship during the Smallpox outbreak of 1764. Warren, early in his career and at personal risk to his own health, played an active role combating this deadly epidemic that overtook Boston. As a result, his practice grew.
Brother Warren, along with Paul Revere, was a member of the Lodge of St. Andrews in Boston; Revere joined in 1760, followed by Warren in 1761. Brother Warren became inactive during his apprentice years, but returned in 1765. He played a key role in trying to settle differences between St. Andrews Lodge, composed of artisans, shopkeepers, and modest merchants; and St. John’s Lodge, composed of colonial elite. For his efforts Warren quickly became Senior Warden, serving from 1766 – 1767, then Worshipful Master in 1767, just as tensions between Boston and Britain were beginning to escalate. This, however, did not prevent Warren from forming relations with three British traveling lodges. Finally, in 1769, Worshipful Warren became Grand Master of the newly chartered St. Andrews Grand Lodge, with Warren having played a key role in its establishment. Revere was the Senior Grand Deacon. It is noteworthy that the Senior Grand Warden was Captain Jeremiah French and the Junior Grand Warden was Officer Ponsonby Molesworth, both from the British Twenty-Ninth Regiment and traveling lodge #322. However, shortly after the Boston massacre on March 5, 1770 the British ended their involvement in St Andrews Grand Lodge. At the time of his death in 1775 at Bunker Hill, MW Warren was still the Grand Master.
Joseph Warren was well known in Boston, America, and Britain for his patriotism. Like Revere, Warren was a member of several organization and through these associations he formed lasting friendships with his patriotic contemporaries. He was a member of The Sons of Liberty along with Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Benedict Arnold. As a member of the Committee of Correspondence he sent Revere and Dawes on their famous ride to Concord and Lexington. As president of the Provincial Congress Warren helped establish the provincial army, which led to the Continental Army. While representatives from each colony met at the Second Continental Congress, Warren remained in Boston as a leader of the resistance to the perceived harsh treatment of Britain.
With Revere, Warren was part of other associations, including the North Caucus Club, the Long Room Club, and the London’s Enemy List. As mentioned in the recent Maven’s Journal article on Paul Revere, David Hackett Fischer, in his 1994 book, Paul Revere’s Ride, lists seven significant groups in Boston where 255 men were in one or more of these groups. Fischer indicates none of the 255 belonged to all seven groups, or even six. Only two of the 255 belonged to 5 groups: Paul Revere and Joseph Warren. Is it coincidence that two Grand Masters and patriotic contemporaries were so closely associated, and played pivotal and overlapping roles in the early days of our nation’s founding?
One overlooked historical footnote is Joseph Warren’s contribution to the Suffolk Resolves. Declared on September 9, 1774, it was first introduced by Joseph Warren on September 6, 1774 at the Suffolk County Convention of the Committee of Correspondence. Written in response to the unpopular Massachusetts Government Act, passed by Parliament and effectively abrogating the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, the document rejected the act and called for a boycott of British goods until repeal of the Intolerable Acts. Resolves from other counties were issued, but it was Warren’s Suffolk Resolves that was formally endorsed by the Continental Congress, which received a copy via a Massachusetts horse backed courier named Paul Revere. Today, you can relive this important event in history by visiting the Suffolk Resolves House in Milton, MA.
The Siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill
As a Patriot, Joseph Warren is best known for his participation at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, where he gave his life for the budding new nation. Following the battles at Concord and Lexington just two months before, the British were confined to Boston. With 15,000 armed provincials surrounding the city and preventing approach or escape by the British forces, access was only available by sea. Britain responded by ordering martial law and then attempted to avoid war by offering a king’s pardon for rebels Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The colonists quickly rejected this gambit, forcing General Thomas Gage to retaliate by strengthening defenses. His decision required him to take the unoccupied high grounds at Dorchester Heights and across the harbor at Breeds Hill and Bunker Hill. Recognizing this fact, colonists prepared fortifications at Breeds Hill on the night of June 16. Overnight, under the leadership of Israel Putnam, Charlestown’s Breeds Hill and Bunker Hill were transformed into a formidable line of resistance. Soon, 1,200 colonial troops under the leadership of William Prescott would assemble to meet the enemy.
Realizing what was occurring across the harbor, General Gage ordered a bombardment from guns dispersed around the harbor. His ineffective action did little to dissuade the rebels. Gage was then convinced by his optimistic generals that an invasion would succeed, and so preparations were made to do so under the leadership of General Howe. After hours of preparation and then navigation to Charlestown, two bloody and deadly assaults up Breeds Hill failed to dislodge the rebels. The third assault penetrated the redoubt, which found the colonists short on ammunition and ill equipped to defend themselves during hand to hand combat. As such, the colonists retreated toward Bunker Hill, during which time Joseph Warren was fatally wounded by a gunshot to his head. Warren, still Grand Master and who so recently had been commissioned a Major General, elected to fight as a volunteer private solder and allow men more experienced than he to lead the defense. It was under these circumstances that, at the young age of 34, MW Joseph Warren unselfishly perished defending his nation. It has been said that “When he fell, liberty wept” – a short but poignant epitaph to his life.
Ten months after his death, Warren’s body would be identified via dental work performed by none other than Brother Paul Revere. Warren and Revere were not only Masonic brothers, but they were truly, founding brothers. This was just the last of several historical moments in American history where the paths of these two patriots and Brothers bisected. Was it fate that brought them together?
After his death, Warren’s body was exhumed from a shallow ditch and then formally buried at Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Later, Warren’s body would be reburied at St. Paul’s Church and finally at Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. Today, you can visit his grave site and view the newly erected six-foot bronze statue commissioned by the Massachusetts Sixth Masonic District. To learn more about the statue and its dedication, please click HERE.