This Day in History: Joseph Warren, hero of Bunker Hill

On this day in 1741, a great Patriot is born. You may know him as the man who sent Paul Revere off on his ride, but he was far more than that. Dr. Joseph Warren was an active, charismatic leader who ultimately gave his life for the American cause. In doing so, he left his four young children behind as orphans.

Perhaps one of the forgotten sacrifices of our Revolution? So many kids were left behind, having lost one or both of their parents.

Warren was born to farmers in a small town near Boston. He worked hard, and it paid off. After his father passed away, Warren’s community got behind him and helped him complete his education at Harvard. His mother mortgaged their farm to help pay for his medical apprenticeship. Warren repaid his community when he could: During the smallpox outbreak of 1764, he was at the forefront of those fighting the disease, despite the possible exposure to himself. He also volunteered to give inoculations to those who could not afford them.

Warren met John Adams during this smallpox outbreak. Maybe it is unsurprising that his participation in political circles subsequently increased?! By 1768, Warren was writing incendiary articles against the Townshend Acts. His articles were so provocative and upset the Royal Governor so badly that they nearly prompted a charge of libel.

Perhaps you can imagine that it wasn’t too long before Warren was a member of a secret Boston caucus, along with Samuel Adams. This secret group was working to orchestrate resistance against the British.

Warren was gaining more and more respect and prominence. In 1772, he gave a popular speech (the Second Annual Boston Massacre Oration), and he was named a founding member of the Boston Committee of Correspondence. In 1773, he seems to have worked behind the scenes on the Boston Tea Party. He was President pro tem of the Provincial Congress by 1775. In that capacity, he wrote to Samuel Adams in the wake of Lexington and Concord. The forces outside Boston were unorganized. He knew that help was needed in creating a new, unified American army.

Warren’s greatest sacrifice for the American cause came soon after these events. Warren received word that American forces were preparing for a battle in the area of Bunker and Breed’s Hill. At the time, he was technically commissioned as a major general, but he ignored his elevated status. He went straight to the front lines and he volunteered to serve as a private.

Elbridge Gerry had warned Warren that going to the battle would mean “almost inevitable” death. Warren responded: “I know it, but I live within the sound of their cannon; how could I hear their roaring in so glorious a cause and not be there?”

Gerry’s prediction came true. Warren served gallantly, but he died during the final British assault in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He took a bullet in the face and died instantly, a hero.

P.S. The picture is “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill” by John Trumbull.