A fiery, vehement, daring spirit was this Joseph Warren, who was a doctor thirteen years, a major-general three days, and a soldier three hours. In that part of Boston which is called Roxbury, there is a modern house of stone, on the front of which a passer-by may read the following inscription:
"On this spot stood the house erected in 1720 by Joseph Warren, of Boston, remarkable for being the birthplace of General Joseph Warren, his grandson, who was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775."
There is another inscription on the house which reads thus:
"John Warren, a distinguished Physician and Anatomist, was also born here. The original mansion being in ruins, this house was built by John C. Warren, M.D., in 1846, son of the last-named, as a permanent memorial of the spot."
I am afraid the builder of this new house _poetized_ a little when he styled the original edifice a mansion. It was a plain, roomy, substantial farm-house, about the centre of the little village of Roxbury, and the father of Warren who occupied it was an industrious, enterprising, intelligent farmer, who raised superior fruits and vegetables for the Boston market. Warren's father was a beginner in that delightful industry, and one of the apples which he introduced into the neighborhood retains to this day the name which it bore in his lifetime, the Warren Russet.
A tragic event occurred at this farm-house in 1775, when Warren was a boy of fourteen. It was on an October day, in the midst of the apple- gathering season, about the time when the Warren Russet had attained all the maturity it can upon its native tree. Farmer Warren was out in his orchard. His wife, a woman worthy of being the mother of such a son as she had, was indoors getting dinner ready for her husband, her four boys, and the two laborers upon the farm. About noon she sent her youngest son, John, mentioned in the above inscription, to call his father to dinner. On the way to the orchard the lad met the two laborers carrying towards the house his father's dead body. While standing upon a ladder gathering apples from a high tree, Mr. Warren had fallen to the ground and broken his neck. He died almost instantly.
The _Boston Newsletter_ of the following week bestowed a few lines upon the occurrence; speaking of him as a man of good understanding, industrious, honest and faithful; "a useful member of society, who was generally respected among us, and whose death is universally lamented."
Fortunate is the family which in such circumstances has a mother wise and strong. She carried on the farm with the assistance of one of her sons so successfully that she was able to continue the education of her children, all of whom except the farmer obtained respectable rank in one of the liberal professions. This excellent mother lived in widowhood nearly fifty years, saw Thomas Jefferson President of the United States, and died 1803, aged ninety-three years, in the old house at home. Until she was past eighty she made with her own hands the pies for Thanksgiving-day, when all her children and grandchildren used to assemble at the spacious old Roxbury house.
It was in the very year of his father's death, 1755, that Joseph Warren entered Harvard College, a vigorous, handsome lad of fourteen, noted even then for his spirit, courage and resolution. Several of his class one day, in the course of a frolic, in order to exclude him from the fun, barred the door so that he could not force it. Determined to join them, he went to the roof of the house, slid down by the spout, and sprang through the open window into the room. At that moment the spout fell to the ground.
"It has served my purpose," said the youth coolly.
The records of the college show that he held respectable rank as a student; and as soon as he had graduated, he received an appointment which proves that he was held in high estimation in his native village. We find him at nineteen master of the Roxbury Grammar School, at a salary of forty-four pounds and sixteen shillings per annum, payable to his mother. A receipt for part of this amount, signed by his mother and in her handwriting, is now among the archives of that ancient and famous institution. He taught one year, at the end of which he entered the office of a Boston physician, under whom he pursued the usual medical studies and was admitted to practice.
The young doctor, tall, handsome, alert, graceful, full of energy and fire, was formed to succeed in such a community as that of Boston. His friends, when he was twenty-three years of age, had the pleasure of reading in the Boston newspaper the following notice:
"Last Thursday evening was married Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the physicians of this town, to Miss Elizabeth Hooton, only daughter of the late Mr. Richard Hooton, merchant, deceased, an accomplished young lady with a handsome fortune."
Thus launched in life and gifted as he was, it is not surprising that he should soon have attained a considerable practice. But for one circumstance he would have advanced in his profession even more rapidly than he did. When he had been but a few months married, the Stamp Act was passed, which began the long series of agitating events that ended in severing the colonies from the mother country. The wealthy society of Boston, from the earliest period down to the present hour, has always been on what is called the conservative side in politics; and it was eminently so during the troubles preceding the revolutionary war. The whole story is told in a remark made by a Boston Tory doctor in those times:
"If Warren were not a Whig," said he, "he might soon be independent and ride in his chariot."
There were, however, in Boston Whig families enough to give him plenty of business, and he was for many years their favorite physician. He attended the family of John Adams, and saved John Quincy, his son, from losing one of his fore-fingers when it was very badly fractured. Samuel Adams, who was the prime mover of the Opposition, old enough to be his father, inspired and consulted him. Gradually, as the quarrel grew warmer, Dr. Warren was drawn into the councils of the leading Whigs, and became at last almost wholly a public man. Without being rash or imprudent, he was one of the first to be ready to meet force with force, and he was always in favor of the measures which were boldest and most decisive. At his house Colonel Putnam was a guest on an interesting occasion, when he was only known for his exploits in the French war.
"The old hero, Putnam," says a Boston letter of 1774, "arrived in town on Monday, bringing with him one hundred and thirty sheep from the little parish of Brooklyn."
It was at Dr. Warren's house that the "old hero" staid, and thither flocked crowds of people to see him, and talk over the thrilling events of the time. The sheep which he brought with him were to feed the people of Boston, whose business was suspended by the closing of the port.
The presence of the British troops in Boston roused all Warren's indignation. Overhearing one day some British officers saying that the Americans would not fight, he said to a friend:
"These fellows say we will not fight. By heavens, I hope I shall die up to my knees in their blood!"
Soon after, as he was passing the public gallows on the Neck, he overheard one of a group of officers say in an insulting tone:
"Go on, Warren; you will soon come to the gallows."
The young doctor turned, walked up to the officers, and said to them quietly:
"Which of you uttered those words."
They passed on without giving any reply. He had not long to wait for a proof that his countrymen would fight. April nineteenth, 1775, word was brought to him by a special messenger of the events which had occurred on the village green at Lexington. He called to his assistant, told him to take care of his patients, mounted his horse, and rode toward the scene of action.
"Keep up a brave heart!" he cried to a friend in passing. "They have begun it. _That_ either party can do. And we will end it. _That_ only one can do."
Riding fast, he was soon in the thick of the melee, and kept so close to the point of contact that a British musket ball struck a pin out of his hair close to one of his ears. Wherever the danger was greatest there was Warren, now a soldier joining in the fight, now a surgeon binding up wounds, now a citizen cheering on his fellows. From this day he made up his mind to perform his part in the coming contest as a soldier, not as a physician, nor in any civil capacity; and accordingly on the fourteenth of June, 1775, the Massachusetts legislature elected him "second Major General of the Massachusetts army." Before he had received his commission occurred the battle of Bunker Hill, June seventeenth. He passed the night previous in public service, for he was President of the Provincial Congress, but, on the seventeenth, when the congress met at Watertown, the president did not appear. Members knew where he was, for he had told his friends that he meant to take part in the impending movement.
It was a burning hot summer's day. After his night of labor, Warren threw himself on his bed, sick from a nervous headache. The booming of the guns summoned him forth, and shortly before the first assault he was on the field ready to serve.
"I am here," he said to General Putnam, "only as a volunteer. Tell me where I can be most useful."
And to Colonel Prescott he said:
"I shall take no command here. I come as a volunteer, with my musket to serve under you."
And there he fought during the three onsets, cheering the men by his coolness and confidence. He was one of the the very last to leave the redoubt. When he had retreated about sixty yards he was recognized by a British officer, who snatched a musket from a soldier and shot him. The bullet entered the back of his head. Warren placed his hands, as if mechanically, to the wound, and fell dead upon the hot and dusty field.
The enemy buried him where he fell. Nine months after, when the British finally retreated from New England, his body, recognized by two false teeth, was disinterred and honorably buried. He left four children, of whom the eldest was a girl six years of age. Congress adopted the eldest son. Among those who contributed most liberally toward the education and support of the other children was Benedict Arnold, who gave five hundred dollars. A little psalm book found by a British soldier in Warren's pocket on the field is still in possession of one of his descendants.