The Legacy of Joseph Warren
When you think about the heroes in the early development of America, we mostly hear the same names. Paul Revere and his famous “Midnight Ride”, or John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and their contributions to furthering the foundation of the United States. But what about the person who informed Paul Revere that the “British were coming”, or the best physician who treated the presidents and many other government officials, then turning to the battlefield to fight for his country.
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We tend to overlook those who are just as important but aren’t as famous. Joseph Warren, physician, soldier, and man behind the midnight ride, should definitely be recognized as a hero.
Joseph Warren began his career graduating from Harvard University in 1759 studying medicine. He soon earned the title of the best Physician in Massachusetts. By the age of 22, he was the youngest doctor in Boston, Massachusetts. His patients included Samuel Adams, John Hancock and two future presidents—John Adams and John Quincy Adams. His reputation as one of Boston’s finest physicians also gave him access to prominent Loyalists.
Through his links to powerful people, it opened doors up for him to become a powerful activist (Klein). His involvement during the fight for independence against Britain was very prominent regardless of his occupation. He consistently found himself in the position to help during the fight for independence. Some of his patients were very important leaders and even spies. “There is compelling evidence that Warren spied on the British through his medical practice, and some have speculated that the widowed doctor may have carried on an extramarital affair with Margaret Gage and received from her advanced notice of planned British troop movements to Concord on April 18, 1775.” (Klein).
His life story shows how important of a role he played in history. Both the British and colonists weren’t only in a fight with each other, but a lethal outbreak of smallpox murdered thousands. The American people suffered from an epidemic of smallpox that spread throughout the whole country. The deadly smallpox epidemic hit North America during the revolutionary war from 1775-1782 and killed Thousands of people. Smallpox is a highly contagious disease that is caused by a virus that can be fatal to young children and young adults. There are two stages of the smallpox virus, the Variola Major and the Variola Minor.
The Variola major is a serious illness that can be life-threatening in people who have not been vaccinated. The Variola minor is a milder infection that rarely causes death. The epidemic was not singled to one area in the country or to one side during the Civil War. “It is not known where the outbreak began, but the epidemic was not limited to the colonies on the Eastern seaboard, nor to the areas ravaged by hostilities (Alexander).
The outbreak spread throughout the North American continent. Warren took a step and lead a charge against the disease. He gathered all of the best physicians in the country and decided it was time to treat the problem. At this time, he made his initial relationship with President John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Joseph Warren did not discriminate against anyone who needed treatment.
He treated everyone, from the most prestigious of men who ran the country, to the slaves. Over the course of a dozen years, he cared for roughly 1,500 people. Of those included Future American presidents, governors, and senators, enemy leaders, and children, women and men from the highest station to the most of humble slaves. He was not one to discriminate patients based of skin color or any other type of bias. He was a man of integrity that cared for all. Warren was also deeply involved with the group of Boston patriots, including John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were chafing under British rule.
In February 1770, when a young boy named Christopher Seider was killed by a British official during a protest against the British Customs House, Warren was the doctor who performed the autopsy, confirming that Seider’s death was the first in the American Revolution. Outrage in the wake of that killing led to the Boston Massacre five days later. Warren then served on the Boston committee that reported on the Boston Massacre deaths. He subsequently rose to serve as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress—a sort of shadow government operating while the British were still nominally in charge—and as de facto head of the Massachusetts militia at the outset of the revolution (Feldscher).
Joseph was known to be a very aggressive leader, and passionate activist. Because of his fiery spirit, he stood for nothing less than victory when fighting the British both on the battlefield and politically. Anyone who was present at the time could and even now could see that America was being bullied by Britain and was far from being independent. Warren decided he would not be a victim of bullying anymore, he did not hesitate to stand up for his soon to be rights and was willing to fight for them every step of the way. Joseph Warren voiced his opinion in many ways bringing the American people together and ready to fight for their rights.
He wrote “A True Patriot” in rebuttal against the new laws passed by Britain known as the Townsend Acts. The Townshend Acts were a group of laws put on the colonies in America. They placed taxes on lead, paper, glass, paint, and tea. Because of this, there were people like Joseph Warren who stepped out and protested the acts. The acts saw rebellion and soon ended. He claimed that if Britain was to continue enforcing the new set of laws, an American militia would be forced to act and begin to rebel. In anger the British Governor sought to have Warren and the publishers arrested and prosecuted.
The Grand Jury never pressed charges against him. Joseph Warren began to see his political role gain influence from the people.He became a free mason in one of the most popular and influential lodges in America joining with members of the sons of liberty. “Dr. Warren also became a leader in the Masonic lodges. This leadership became an important factor in his revolutionary activities, providing another secret yet powerful organization with which to expand his political and intelligence network. Warren’s leadership and popularity were recognized in 1769, when, at the age of 28, he was commissioned the “Grand Master of Masons of Boston, New England, and within one hundred miles of same” The Earl of Dumfries, the Grand Master of Scotland, issued another appointment to Warren, dated March 7, 1772.
This made Warren “Grand Master of Masons for the Continent of America,” thus installing Warren as the senior Mason in all of the colonies.” (Wildrick). “A Grand Master is a title of honor as well as an office in Freemasonry, given to a freemason elected to oversee a Masonic jurisdiction, derived from the office of Grand Masters in chivalric orders. He presides over a Grand Lodge, and has certain rights in the constituent Lodges that form his jurisdiction.” (Talk: Grand Master). Being a Masonic Grand Master, he gained strong relationships with influential political names such as John Adams, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams.
He was also one of the original members of the Sons of Liberty. The sons of liberty were a secret political organization formed in the 13 colonies to undermine British rule, they were very active in creating events such as the Boston tea party. Some other members made huge impacts and we still learn about their acts today, you might know of a part of this group include Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Edes, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, and John Lamb.
Joseph took to heart the words of his father- “I would rather a son of mine were dead than a coward.” When duty called, Joseph rode into battle leaving his hospital and patients behind in the care of the nurses. Paul Revere is known by most for his famous ride to concord to warn the American militia that the British were coming. It is not known to everyone how he received the information. Joseph warren was the man behind the scenes who sent Paul revere on the ride.
He then rode into the battle leading a militia of his own to fight the British troops. In doing so the Americans who were there were able to burn and hide most to all military equipment making the British raid unsuccessful. Because of his leadership in battles for freedom, Joseph Warren gained rank very quickly eventually earning the title of general. Warren’s last act of heroism and final Battle would be fought against the British on Bunker Hill.
“The British were trying to keep control of the city and control its valuable seaport. Taking control over who gains trade by sea is very powerful. It also allows a new way for other British Troops to enter the country. The British decided to take two hills, Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, in order to gain a powerful tactical advantage. The American forces heard about the advancement by the British troops and did not hesitate to begin moving.
They armed up and proceeded to march to defend the hills.” (Burgan). Because the American militia acted so quickly, they were able to hold off the British, but then had to retreat because of lack of ammunition. The British casualties were much more than the Americans. Along with those who died that day was joseph warren. Joseph fought as a volunteer private that day instead of being along with the other commanding officers that insisted he be with them. Fighting hard, the Colonists eventually exhausted their ammunition. Joseph Warren stayed on the battle fields front lines to try and by his comrades some time to escape.
In doing so he was shot in the head by a British officer that recognized him on the front lines. He was then stabbed so many times he couldn’t be recognized. Paul revere identified his body later by the dentures he had gave him earlier. Joseph warren died a martyr known as the brave soldier that fought for his country. British commander-in-chief General Thomas Gage is said to have called Warren’s death of equal value to the death of 500 men. but his death strengthened the Revolutions political position because it was viewed by many Americans at the time as an act of national martyrdom. With his passing many Americans gained the courage they needed. With doing so the colonials began to fight harder in the name of joseph warren (New World Encyclopedia: Joseph Warren).
Joseph Warren, Soldier, Physician, and strong political activist, has done more than enough to earn the popularity and respect of the American people. Through his courageous spirit he fought for American independence in any way he possibly could gaining the respect of not only the American colonials but also the British empire. Writing this paper opened a lot of doors of knowledge to me showing me that there are people worth more than just the recognition of a children’s history book, but that his name should be exhausted in our history.
It is stated by many that with the influence and potential joseph had he would be likely to become the president of the United States. It frustrated me to see him die so early in his life knowing how much potential he had, but it encouraged me to always fight for what I believe no matter my position. Knowing his story made me realize that no matter what my position is in the world I can make a lasting impact in this world. Joseph warren should be held as an American hero and nothing less and his legacy should live on along with the names of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.
- Benson, Kit, and Morgan Benson. “Dr. Joseph Warren.” Find A Grave, Find a Grave, 13 June 1998
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Joseph Warren.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 13 June 2018
- Burgen, Michael. “American Revolution.” Ducksters Educational Site, Capstone, 2008.
- Editors, History.com. “Battle of Bunker Hill.” History.com, A;E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009.
- Editors, History.com. “Townshend Acts.” History.com, A;E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009,
- Fenn, Elizabeth A. “Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 20 June 2017
- Feldscher, Karen. “Recalling Joseph Warren–Physician, Revolutionary, Leader.” The Nutrition Source, 9 Jan. 2014
“Grand Master (Masonic).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Dec. 2018,
- History society, New England. “Joseph Warren Dies a Martyr in the Battle of Bunker Hill.” New England Historical Society, 16 June 2018.
“Joseph Warren.” The American Revolution – (The Battles of Lexington and Concord)
- Klein, Christopher. “10 Things You Should Know About Joseph Warren.” History.com, A;E Television Networks, 22 Jan. 2015
- New World Encyclopedia. “Joseph Warren.” Joseph Warren – New World Encyclopedia, June 2018,
“Paul Revere Heritage Project.” Paul Revere Heritage Project, Holypark Media, 2007