Dr. Joseph Warren is quite possibly the greatest American patriot no one remembers today. He was born too long ago…..and he died too early to be enthroned with the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. And, adding to his anonymity, there’s never been a made for TV movie bringing to light his contributions to the independence and freedom we so highly prize today.
But, let me tell you, there was a time!
Dr. Warren met in Boston’s famed Faneuil Hall with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis and others on the night of November 29, 1773, to discuss the harsh “Intolerable Acts” the British Government had leveled against the Colonies. They decided one thing for sure, they’d throw that East India Company’s whole shipment of tea in the harbor before they paid one cent of duty on it!
History records that seventeen days later a group of patriots (some dressed as Indians) boarded three separate East India vessels and dumped 342 chests of tea into the water. We have no way of knowing if Dr. Warren was an active participant, but I would not bet against it!
Dr. Joseph Warren was chosen over Hancock, Adams, etc., to stand again in Faneuil Hall on March 5, 1775, and deliver the Commemorative Address on the fifth anniversary of the “Boston Massacre.” He purposefully reminded the gathered patriots that American blood had been shed on American soil. It didn’t seem to bother the good doctor that Boston was crawling at the time with British Redcoats determined to quash any hint of rebellion.
Joseph Warren was American through and through. He was a direct descendant of Richard Warren, who landed on the Mayflower and was, in fact, the twelfth signer of the “Mayflower Compact.” Joseph was born in Roxbury in the heart of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was educated at Harvard. He was recently a widower, with four children to care for. And he had a substantial medical and surgical practice.
He was well thought of by the British “powers to be” in Boston. He was a leading citizen among the masses. He could have prospered with the status quo. But Dr. Warren wasn’t a “status quo” kind of guy. Something was amiss. And it centered on individual rights, freedom, taxation without representation and King George’s high handed directives from “afar off.”
Joseph Warren found time between patients to be a member of the “Sons of Liberty” and the “Committee of Correspondence.” He was appointed President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He wrote poems and essays about the strength, dignity and rights of the American people.
On the night of April 18, 1775, he ordered two lanterns to flash in the steeple of the Old North Church. He sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on a midnight ride to warn Hancock and Adams that British General Thomas Gage was sending troops to Lexington to arrest them and to destroy the arms stored there.
And then, for someone in command, he did a stupid thing. He found a horse and hurried towards Lexington. If it was time to fight, count him in! He was among the patriots “harassing” the British troops on their return to Boston.
He arrived at Bunker Hill on the fateful morning of June 17, 1775, recently appointed a major general in the fledging Continental Army. When Colonel William Prescott implored him to take command, he steadfastly refused. “Where will the fighting be the fiercest?” was his request. He was pointed down to Breed’s Hill……where he had a first hand look as the British redcoats lined up for the charge. No one had to remind him or his wide-eyed cohorts on this particularly warm June morning that they were facing the largest and best equipped fighting force in the world.
The resolute patriots repulsed the first charge. And they sent the second charge dithering back down the hill from whence they came. With their ammunition almost exhausted everyone on Breed’s Hill knew the next charge would be the last. They had made their point. They would fight. The whole world would know what happened here. They could, and should, retreat with dignity.
Dr. Warren wasn’t fighting for the whole world. This was “our” land. He was fighting for a future that he suddenly had to realize he would never see. But he wasn’t inclined to give an American enemy one inch!
The third wave rolled over the stalwart patriots. Joseph Warren had celebrated his 34th birthday just six days earlier. The bullet that ripped through his skull was silent and efficient. And eternal.
You talk about standing up for America! Dr. Joseph Warren WILLINGLY hunkered down in a small dirty trench, fought his heart out, and died for a nation he loved with a fever and passion that only the American soldiers that have walked in his shoes down through the ages can understand.
Of such men Memorial Days are made.