Joseph Warren — Hero of the American Revolution

June 11, 1741–June 17, 1775

Dr. Joseph Warren was one of the prominent leaders of the Patriots in Boston. Closely aligned with Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, Warren was involved in the Committee of Correspondence and Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was the author of prominent documents, including the Suffolk Resolves.

Joseph Warren, Portrait, Copley

Doctor Joseph Warren. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Joseph Warren Biography

Joseph Warren (1741–1775) was a hero of the American Revolution and the War for Independence. A protege of Samuel Adams, Warren was a member of the Sons of Liberty and was involved in key Patriot initiatives, including the Boston Committee of Correspondence, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Warren was as important to the Patriot Cause as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and John Adams, and oversaw the Patriot network in Boston in their absence. Warren made the critical decision to send Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous Midnight Ride to Lexington and Concord. Warren fought in the Battles of Lexington and Concord and helped organize the militia during the Siege of Boston. Unfortunately, he was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American retreat. Warren is remembered as a martyr for the Patriot Cause. It can be argued that had he lived, he would have assumed a leading role in the formation of the United States and would have been a Founding Father.

Death of Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill, Painting
This painting by John Trumbull depicts the death of Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Image Source: MFA Boston.

Joseph Warren Personal Facts

  • Born: Joseph Warren was born on June 11, 1741, in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
  • Parents: His parents were Joseph Warren and Mary Stevens.
  • Spouse: Warren’s wife was Elizabeth Hooten, who died in 1773. They had four children together.
  • Died: He died on June 17, 1775, at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was 34 years old.
  • Place of Burial: Warren is buried in the family’s vault at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
  • Interesting Fact: Following Warren’s death, Benedict Arnold provided money for his children’s education and petitioned Congress to provide them with a pension.
  • Interesting Fact: Warren’s children were with Abigail Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts. From there, they witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Joseph Warren Accomplishments

  • Joseph Warren graduated from Harvard College at the age of 18, in 1759.
  • Warren became one of the most well-known doctors in Boston and established a smallpox inoculation clinic on Castle Island. One of his clients was John Adams, Founding Father and 2nd President of the United States.
  • In 1767, he wrote pro-colonial essays under the pen name “A True Patriot” in the Boston Gazette.
  • Joseph Warren was an active member of the Sons of Liberty and became close friends with Samuel Adams.
  • In 1772, Warren was one of the first members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence.
  • He delivered the speeches at the Boston Massacre Memorial in 1772 and 1775.
  • Joseph Warren wrote the Suffolk Resolves in 1774, which were delivered to Philadelphia by Paul Revere. The Resolves were approved and distributed by the First Continental Congress.
  • Warren was president pro tem of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774.
  • He was an active member of Boston’s Committee of Public Safety.
  • Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous Midnight Ride to Lexington and Concord.
Battle of Bunker Hill, View from the Beach, British Assault
This illustration by Alonzo Chappel depicts the British moving up Breed’s Hill to attack the Americans. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Life and Career of Joseph Warren, Physician, Son of Liberty, and Martyr for the Patriot Cause

Joseph Warren, born in 1741 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, was a prominent leader of the Patriot Cause and the Sons of Liberty in Boston. He graduated from Harvard College in 1759 and later became a respected Boston doctor, known for his efforts to vaccinate against smallpox during a serious outbreak in 1764. His medical expertise earned him recognition as one of the best doctors in Massachusetts. He counted John Adams and Abigail Adams among his patients.

In the early part of the American Revolution, Warren developed close ties to Samuel Adams during the Stamp Act Crisis. 

In 1767, he started openly criticizing British rule in a series of essays that were published in the Boston Gazette. Warren excelled as a political writer, speaker, and organizer alongside Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and James Otis

John Hancock, Portrait, Copley
John Hancock. Image Source: MFA Boston.

Death of Christopher Seider

As tensions escalated between British troops and colonists, an incident took place in New York City on January 19–20, 1770. The incident, known as the Battle of Golden Hill, led to open fighting between the people of New York, the Sons of Liberty, and British soldiers. Rumors spread that colonists were killed in the incident.

On February 22, 1770, a mob gathered outside the shop of a Customs Official Ebeneezer Richardson. The people were upset that Richardson had broken up a protest in front of the shop owned by Theodophilus Lillie, a Loyalist merchant. 

The crowd turned violent and threw rocks through the windows of Richardson’s house. One of them hit Richardson’s wife. When that happened, Richardson grabbed his gun and fired into the crowd. 11-year-old Christopher Seider was shot twice, once in the arm and once in the head.

After the boy died, his body was taken to Warren for an autopsy. Warren found the body contained, “eleven shot or plugs, about the bigness of large peas.”

Warren’s autopsy confirmed the boy was indeed killed by Richardson’s weapon. Some consider the boy to be the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Samuel Adams arranged for Seider’s funeral and a public display was made of what Richardson had done. An estimated 2,000 people attended the funeral at the Granary Burial Ground which fueled the outrage of the people of Boston.

Death of Christopher Seider, Illustration
This illustration depicts the scene after Seider was shot. The woman with her hand up is holding him. Image Source: Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, 1865.

Boston Massacre

On the morning of March 5, the news of Seider’s death appeared in the Boston Gazette. That night, an altercation between a British soldier, Private Hugh White, and a 13-year-old boy, Edward Garrick exploded into violence near Murray’s Barracks.

The incident started when Garrick insulted Captain Lieutenant John Goldfinch. Goldfinch ignored the boy, but Private White, who was nearby at his post, demanded the boy apologize to Goldfinch. Garrick refused, and words were exchanged. Then Garrick poked Goldfinch in the chest, which led to White hitting the boy in the head with his musket. Garrick’s friend, Bartholomew Broaders, started arguing with White, which drew the attention of more people. The crowd grew and included Boston bookseller Henry Knox

The Bloody Massacre, Engraving, Revere
This engraving by Paul Revere depicts the “Bloody Massacre” where British troops fired into the mob on the night of March 5. Image Source: Library of Congress.

The officer in charge of the night’s watch, Captain Thomas Preston, was alerted to the trouble and sent an officer and six privates to assist White. Preston ordered the troops to fix bayonets and went with them to the scene. By the time they arrived, the crowd had grown to more than 300 people.

The commotion and shouting led to the church bells being sounded, which usually meant there was a fire. More people came running to the scene, including John Adams.

The crowd started throwing snowballs, ice, rocks, and other objects at the troops. Private Hugh Montgomery was hit with something and dropped his musket. When he picked it back up, he fired into the crowd, even though Preston had not given the order to fire. Montgomery’s discharge struck and killed Crispus Attucks. Within moments, the other troops panicked and fired into the crowd. When the shooting was over, five were dead, and six were wounded. Along with Attucks, the others killed by British fire were Samuel Gray, Patrick Carr, James Caldwell, and Samuel Maverick.

The crowd backed away and Preston called the 29th Regiment out. The British took defensive positions in front of the Town House to protect themselves from the mob. Governor Thomas Hutchinson was called out to help restore order. Hutchinson promised the mob there would be an investigation into the incident, but only if the mob dispersed. The mob did break up.

During the riot, Warren was called to the scene to tend to the wounded. Later, he recalled the incident and wrote: “The horrors of that dreadful night are but too deeply impressed on our hearts. Language is too feeble to paint the emotions of our souls, when our streets were stained with the blood of our brethren, when our ears were wounded by the groans of the dying, and our eyes were tormented by the sight of the mangled bodies of the dead.”

Warren continued, and made it clear he believed that British troops firing on British citizens was a final straw, “To arms! we snatched our weapons, almost resolved, by one decisive stroke, to avenge the death of our slaughtered brethren, and to secure from future danger all that we held most dear.”

Samuel Adams dubbed the incident “The Boston Massacre.”

Patriot Leaders Ask for the Removal of Troops

Before the mob broke up, the Patriot leaders sent express riders to neighboring towns to inform them of what happened. On the morning of March 6, people from the towns and countryside went into Boston and gathered at Faneuil Hall. According to Hutchinson, they were “in a perfect frenzy.”

A delegation of prominent city leaders was chosen to go to Governor Hutchinson and ask for the immediate removal of the troops. Warren was one of the members of the delegation, along with Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Hutchinson had the troops moved out to Castle William in the harbor.

Boston Massacre Committee and Report

A week after the incident, the Boston Committee of Safety organized a committee, which included Warren, to investigate the incident. Warren wrote the report for the committee, which was called “A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston.” 

The report blamed Parliament for what happened, insisting it was responsible for putting the soldiers in the situation that led to the riot. Warren said, “As they were the procuring cause of the troops being sent hither, they must therefore be the remote and blameable cause of all the disturbances and bloodshed that have taken place in consequence of that measure.”

The report was published as a pamphlet and included an appendix with 96 depositions. It was sent to Britain to ensure the government received the American viewpoint of what was happening in Boston.

Repeal of Townshend Acts

After the Boston Massacre, there was a lull in the unrest in Boston, especially since the troops had been moved to Castle William. 

On March 5, the same day the news of Christopher Seider’s death was printed in the Boston Gazette and the Boston Massacre took place, Lord North made a motion in the House of Commons to partially repeal the Townshend Acts

On April 12, 1770, Parliament voted to repeal the taxes levied by the Townshend Acts, except for the tax on tea.

Many of the Patriots toned down their involvement in political affairs. However, Warren and Samuel Adams continued to write in the papers and warned people that it was only a matter of time before Parliament would start levying taxes and infringing on their rights again.

Boston Massacre Memorial Speech

In the years following the Boston Massacre, May 5 was a holiday in Boston and a memorial was held to commemorate the incident. Each year, a prominent member of the community was chosen to deliver a speech, which would be printed in the papers.

In 1772, the committee that selected the speaker unanimously chose Warren. He delivered his speech at the Old South Church, and it marked the first time he spoke publicly before a large audience. An estimated 5,000 people were in attendance. Warren used the opportunity to give a passionate speech that criticized Parliament and he called on the people to defend their rights against oppressive British policies.

Warren’s speech was a huge success with the Patriot faction and was printed in the papers throughout the colonies.

Boston Committee of Correspondence

On October 14, 1772, the Boston Gazette reported the news about changing how government officials were paid. The article said: 

“By this Establishment, they are made wholly dependent on the Crown, while the people have not the least check upon them. Such a judiciary constitution, the people of Great-Britain will not suffer; nor is it in our opinion to be tollerated by any free people.”

Responding to the rumors, Boston selectmen met on October 28 to discuss how to respond. After discussing the situation at length, the meeting adjourned and the members agreed to reconvene on November 2. 

At that meeting, Samuel Adams proposed the organization of a “Committee of Communication & Correspondence.” The selectmen agreed with Adams and voted to establish the Committee, with 21 members, including Warren, Adams, and James Otis, who were all associated with the Boston Sons of Liberty.

Warren was one of the more active members of the group.

Over time, the other colonies and many towns and cities established Committees of Correspondence, which allowed them to communicate and coordinate resistance to the British.

Thomas Hutchinson said the Boston Committee of Correspondence took Massachusetts from “a state of peace, order, and general contentment … into a state of contention, disorder, and general dissatisfaction.”

Samuel Adams, Painting, Copley
Samuel Adams. Image Source: MFA Boston.

Boston Pamphlet

The Boston Committee of Correspondence met for the first time on November 3 and started work on a report that was intended to: 

“State the Rights of the Colonists, and of this Province in particular, as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects; to Communicate and Publish the same to the several Towns in this Province and to the World, as the Sense of this Town, with the Infringements and Violations thereof that have been, or from Time to Time may be made; also requesting of each Town as a free Communication of their Sentiments on this Subject.”

The Committee established three subcommittees to address the issues. On November 20, the Committee presented three reports at a meeting at Faneuil Hall. John Hancock presided over the meeting, which approved the reports and combined them into the “Boston Pamphlet.” Around 600 copies of the Pamphlet were published and distributed to the towns throughout Massachusetts. It was also sent to every town selectman and pastor in the colony.

The three sections of the document were:

  1. A Statement of the Rights of the Colonists
  2. A List of the Infringements of Those Rights
  3. A Letter of Correspondence with other Towns

Warren wrote the second section about the infringements on the rights of the colonists.

Although some towns were hesitant to establish their own Committees of Correspondence, it is estimated that more than 100 of them did. Governor Thomas Hutchinson responded by calling it a “declaration of independency.”

Tea Act

On April 27, 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which granted the British East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea into the colonies. The monopoly enabled the British East India Company to sell tea at a lower price than smuggled tea, and at a lower price than it sold in England. 

Even though the Tea Act lowered the price of tea, colonists resented the act because it maintained the British position that Britain could tax the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament. 

The Patriots throughout the colonies tried to decide what to do about the tea that was being shipped to the colonies by the East India Company. The Patriots in Boston kept in touch with those in other major ports, like New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. They all agreed that tea should not be allowed to be sold in America, which led to the tea staying on the ships or being locked in warehouses.

Boston Tea Party

The first ship carrying British East India tea arrived in Boston Harbor on November 27, 1773, but the Sons of Liberty and the Committee of Correspondence prevented the tea from being unloaded. Two more ships loaded with tea soon arrived and were prevented from being unloaded. 

After about two weeks the captains of the ships decided to leave Boston Harbor with their cargoes of tea. Governor Hutchinson was determined that British law would be obeyed and refused to let the ships leave Boston without first paying the tea tax.

During that time, Warren and Adams organized public meetings to discuss what to do about the tea. Warren declared the Tea Act to be the “last, worst, and most destructive measure of the British Administration.”

Boston Tea Party, Engraving
Destruction of the Tea by Paul Philippoteaux and Henri Théophile Hildibrand. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

On the morning of December 16, 1773, as many as 5,000 people gathered at the Old South Meeting House, to decide what was to be done about the tea. It is believed that Samuel Adams gave a signal, upon which a group of men, disguised as Mohawk Indians, went to the harbor, boarded the ships, and threw the tea into Boston Harbor. Later, the incident became known as the Boston Tea Party.

There is some speculation that Warren was one of the men who threw tea into the harbor, but it is most likely he was only involved as an organizer of the event, along with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere.

After the Tea Party, Warren wrote a letter to Arthur Lee and said, “It is certain the whole navy of Britain will not prevent the introduction of Dutch tea; nor will her armies prevail with us to use the English tea, while the act of imposing a duty on that article remains unrepealed.”

The “Dutch tea” Warren referred to was, in fact, smuggled tea.

The Intolerable Acts

Following the Boston Tea Party, Parliament and King George issued the Intolerable Acts, a series of laws that intended to punish the citizens of Boston and the inhabitants of Massachusetts for their ongoing resistance to the Navigation Acts and the Mercantile System.

The Boston Port Bill

The first Intolerable Act, the Boston Port Bill, closed the Port of Boston and suspended the landing or shipping of all merchandise at Boston or within the harbor. British warships also blockaded the harbor. In order to re-open the harbor, Parliament required the city of Boston to pay for the tea that was destroyed.

The Massachusetts Government Act

In order to enforce the acts, Massachusetts was placed under military rule, and General Thomas Gage replaced Thomas Hutchinson as Governor.

Gage arrived in Boston, along with the first regiment of troops, and moved quickly to enforce his authority. He appointed Mandamus Councillors and other government officials and moved the government from Boston to Salem.

By the end of August, over 3,000 thousand British troops had returned to Boston and occupied the city. Many of them camped in white tents on Boston Common. 

When Gage banned town meetings, Warren and other leaders called for county conventions, which were still allowed, in order for the inhabitants of Massachusetts to decide how to respond to the Intolerable Acts.

Thomas Gage, Portrait, Copley
General Thomas Gage was sent to Massachusetts to help enforce the Coercive Acts. Image Source: Wikipedia. 

Solemn League and Covenant Leads to the First Continental Congress

Warren and the Committee of Correspondence established a subcommittee to organize a non-importation agreement, known as the “Solemn League and Covenant.” 

Massachusetts asked other colonies to join the boycott and show support for Boston. However, some colonies were concerned about joining the boycott, and others, like Virginia, imposed their own version.

Eventually, Patriot leaders called for a congress to be held in Philadelphia, in order to discuss a unified response to the Intolerable Acts. This was the First Continental Congress, and the first meeting was held on September 5, 1774.

Massachusetts sent its most experienced politicians to Philadephia, including Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Cushing, and Robert Treat Paine. In their absence, Warren was left in charge of the Patriot network.

This illustration depicts Reverend Jacob Duché delivering the opening prayer to the First Continental Congress. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Massachusetts Powder Alarm

While the delegates to the First Continental Congress were arriving in Philadelphia, Gage sent an expedition of British troops to Cambridge with the aim of seizing a stockpile of gunpowder. The mission was carried out in the early morning hours of September 1. The troops sailed to Castle William in Boston Harbor, where they offloaded the gunpowder for storage. The entire operation was completed by noon that day.

As news of the removal of the powder, rumors spread that Boston was under attack. Thousands of militiamen from various parts of Massachusetts converged on Cambridge. Discovering that the British troops had already left, the mob turned its attention to the residences of some of the Mandamus Councilors on Brattle Street near Harvard College.

Warren was called to the scene, where he addressed the crowd. Eventually, he succeeded in persuading them to disperse, although not before they had coerced several appointees into resigning their positions, including Lieutenant Governor Thomas Oliver.

It concerned Gage that such a large force could assemble so easily. The Powder Alarm also showed there was significant support throughout the countryside for Boston, and the militia from the outlying towns could respond quickly, and in large numbers. In response, Gage fortified Boston Neck, despite protests from the citizens and elected officials of Boston.

The Sons of Liberty responded to the removal of gunpowder and the fortification of Boston Neck by:

  • Setting up a spy network in Boston to keep an eye on the movements of British troops.
  • Establishing the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, of which Warren was a member.
  • Establishing a Committee of Safety, of which Warren was a member.

Towns along the coast were also encouraged to move their military stores inland, to places like Concord and Worcester.

Both detachments embarked on the longboats and sailed to Castle William in Boston Harbor, where they offloaded the weapons and gunpowder for storage. The entire operation was completed by noon that day.

Map of Boston, 1775
A map of Boston, circa 1775. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Suffolk County Convention

Although the Massachusetts Government Act banned Town Meetings, a limited number of County Meetings were allowed. A meeting was set for the towns in Suffolk County, including Boston, and Warren was selected as a delegate.

On September 6, 1774, the Suffolk County Convention convened in Milton, Massachusetts.

Warren was the Chairman of a Committee that was given the task of documenting the opinions of the people of Massachusetts. Over the next few days, Warren took the opinions and crafted them together into one cohesive document.

Suffolk Resolves

On September 9, the last day of the Convention, Warren presented his document. It came to be known as the Suffolk Resolves and was an early form of the Declaration of Independence. On September 9, the resolutions were passed by a unanimous vote of the Suffolk County towns.

Warrent’s document began by acknowledging King George III as the “rightful heir and Sovereign,” and acknowledging Massachusetts was loyal to the King. Then he quickly pointed out that the laws and policies of Parliament were “gross infractions” on the rights of the people of Massachusetts who were entitled to them by “the Laws of Nature, the British Constitution, and the Charter of the Province.”

The key points Warren made in the Suffolk Resolves were:

  • Warren declared the Intolerable Acts to be unconstitutional and void.
  • He called for British officials who were responsible for enforcing the illegal acts to resign.
  • Warren urged Massachusetts leaders to establish a separate state until the acts, which were also known as the “Coercive Acts,m” were repealed.
  • He advised Massachusetts leaders to retain all future tax collections, rather than passing them on to Great Britain.
  • Warren urged colonists to boycott British goods and trade with Great Britain.
  • He advised the people of Massachusetts to appoint militia officers and begin arming their local forces.
  • Warren warned British officials that efforts to arrest citizens on political charges would result in the detention of the arresting officers.

Paul Revere delivered the Suffolk Resolves to Philadelphia. Prior to the arrival of Revere, Congress was considering a plan that had been presented by Joseph Galloway, but Warren’s document made an immediate impression on some of the delegates, including Patrick Henry of Virginia, who wrote, “The distinctions between New Englanders and Virginians are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.”

On September 17, 1774, Congress voted unanimously to endorse the Suffolk Resolves and sent a copy to Britain. It was a bold move by Congress and showed their support for Massachusetts. It also pushed Warren, Boston, and Massachusetts to the forefront of talk of independence.

Edmund Burke, a prominent member of the British House of Commons, saw the Suffolk Resolves as a major turning point in British-American relations. In fact, the Resolves prompted his famous speech “On Conciliation with America,” which he delivered in March 1775.

Massachusetts Provincial Congress

Warren was chosen to represent Boston at the First Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which convened on October 7, 1774. As the defiance against Governor Gage’s authority increased, the Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety emerged as the de facto governing bodies of the colony.

Warren already held the position of chairman of the Committee of Safety. However, he was soon elected as the president of the Provincial Congress as well.

Massachusetts Committee of Safety

During that fall, Warren had multiple meetings with Gage. Warren wrote to Josiah Quincy Jr., stating that “seems to court the office of a destroyer of the liberties, and murderer of the people, of this province.”

With concerns mounting about Gage’s true intentions, the Committee of Safety took measures to bolster the militia. Meeting secretly, the committee members devised plans to acquire gunpowder, arms, and ammunition. They established what the Minutemen, who were required to be ready at a moment’s notice as directed by the Committee of Safety.

On November 9, 1774, Samuel Adams and the Massachusetts delegation returned from the Continental Congress and shared their report, which said:

  • The Continental Associated had been established.
  • The other colonies were committed to defending Massachusetts, even through force if necessary. However, this support was contingent on Massachusetts refraining from initiating violence and acting strictly in self-defense. 
  • A second Continental Congress was scheduled for the following May.

During the winter of 1774–1775, Warren dedicated his efforts to strengthening the militia, accumulating weaponry, and seeking financial resources. 

Meanwhile, General Gage requested more troops and funding from the British government.

1775 Boston Massacre Memorial

As the date for the Boston Massacre Memorial approached rumors circulated among British officers, suggesting that anyone addressing the people in the Old South Church would be in danger. Upon learning of these threats, Warren gladly accepted the invitation to deliver the speech.

When Warren arrived, the church was so full that he had to climb a ladder and enter through a window at the rear of the pulpit.

Warren delivered an impassioned speech, highlighting the detrimental impact of maintaining standing armies during times of peace. Around 40 British officers were in attendance, with some sitting in the front rows. They attempted to disrupt Warren with groans and hisses, but he continued, proclaiming, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Treachery of Benjamin Church

Unfortunately, Warren and other Patriot leaders were unaware of a spy and traitor among them — Dr. Benjamin Church — a member of the Sons of Liberty and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Church wrote to Gage, informing him the Patriots had amassed a significant stockpile of gunpowder in Concord, located just a short distance west of Boston. Gagre responded by developing a plan to raid Concord and destroy the supplies.

Rumors started to spread that Gage intended to apprehend Patriot leaders, and the main targets were believed to be Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The Provincial Congress met in Cambridge on April 8 and decided to assemble an army by combining local militias. 

Many of the Patriot leaders left Boston, leaving Warren in charge again.

Meanwhile, Church continued to supply Gage with information. He even suggested that a “sudden blow” could upset all the plans made by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

After receiving instructions from Lord Dartmouth to take action, Gage ordered troops to march on Concord to destroy military stores that had been hidden there by the militia and possibly to arrest Adams and Hancock, who were in Lexington on April 18.

On the afternoon of April 18, members of the Boston spy network observed British officers pacing along the Long Wharf, which raised suspicions This information was sent to Warren, giving rise to concerns that a military operation might be underway.

The Midnight Riders

Gage sent a contingent of men out into the countryside to patrol the roads and scout them for Patriot messengers. Shortly after sunset, Warren received word the patrol had left Boston, moving west toward Lexington and Concord.

Later that evening, at 8 p.m., the British warships in the harbor were repositioned. While no clear indication of troop movement had emerged, the movement raised further suspicions.

In the next move, Gage issued orders for around 800 British troops to march from Boston to Concord, where they were to destroy weapons and ammunition that had been hidden there by Massachusetts militia.

The Patriot spy network in Boston learned about the march, and Warren ordered Paul Revere and William Dawes to ride to Concord and warn people along the way, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were in Lexington.

Through the early hours of the 19th, Revere, Dawes, and another rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, sounded the alarm through the towns and villages. Prescott rode to Concord and alerted the town militia. 

Lexington and Concord

When the British arrived in Lexington, on the road to Concord, they were met by around 70 members of the local militia, under the command of Captain John Parker, who were assembled on Lexington Green. Soon after, a shot rang out and both sides started firing at each other. 

The British quickly routed the Americans at the Battle of Lexington and marched on to Concord, where they were engaged by the Massachusetts Militia at the North Bridge. Following the fight at the bridge, the British fell back into Concord, formed their ranks, and started to march back to Boston.

Doolittle Engraving, April 19, Battle of Lexington, Plate 1
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775 and depicts the British Redcoats firing on the Massachusetts militia on Lexington Common. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

By then, thousands of militiamen were hiding along the road back to Boston, behind walls, trees, and buildings. As the British made their way back to Lexington, the Americans fired at them, inflicting serious casualties.

That morning, Warren may have attended a meeting of the Committee of Safety that morning at the Black Horse tavern in Menotomy. When he heard about the fight at Lexington, he left his patients in charge of his assistant, William Eustis, and rode west.  

Around 3:30, the British were resting in the area around Lexington when Warren and General William Heath arrived on the scene. At this point, accounts vary, and some say they joined the militia at Menotomy.

Regardless, when Heath arrived, he was considered the officer in charge, due to his rank and he worked to reorganize the militia that had been scattered by British artillery. 

Warren joined the fight, and the militia followed the British column all the way to Boston, leading to the start of the Siege of Boston. During the Battle of Menotomy, a musket ball narrowly missed Warren’s head, dislodging the pin that secured his hair. Unfazed continued firing at the British and providing assistance to the wounded.

Meanwhile, Adams and Hancock, whose lives had been saved thanks to Warren’s quick action warning, traveled from Lexington to Woburn, Massachusetts, aided by Paul Revere. From there, they planned to make the journey to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress.

Battle of Concord, Militia Ambush British
This illustration by Charles Stanley Reinhart depicts the Massachusetts militia ambushing the British on the march back to Boston. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Siege of Boston

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Warren wrote a comprehensive report detailing the events of April 19. Warren’s report created an official record of the day and garnered support not only from the other American colonies but also in Great Britain. Warren accompanied this report with a cover letter, specifically addressed to “The Inhabitants of Great Britain.”

Warren faced the task of assembling an army of 30,000 men and organizing the collection of militias into a well-structured and disciplined army. Connecticut played a key role in the siege by sending militia units and officers, such as Israel Putnam and Benedict Arnold, to aid Boston. 

Warren was frustrated by the poor lines of communication between the Committee of Safety and other governments. An example was when Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull proposed negotiations with General Gage, an idea that Warren was against. Fortunately, Warren convinced Trumbull to back out of the talks. 

To prevent similar situations, Warren appealed to the Continental Congress to establish a unified command structure. He also expressed a preference for George Washington to assume the role of commanding general in this endeavor. This contributed to Congress establishing the Continental Army and appointing Washington as Commander-in-Chief.

Benedict Arnold’s Expedition to Capture Fort Ticonderoga

In late April, Warren and the Committee of Safety looked for ways to break the Siege of Boston and drive the British from the city. Benedict Arnold proposed organizing an expedition to seize the lightly defended Fort Ticonderoga located in upstate New York, capture the artillery, and return it to Boston. Once the artillery was in Boston, it could be positioned on the heights and threaten the British warships, which would compel them to leave the harbor. 

Arnold explained that the fort held a cache of heavy artillery left over from the French and Indian War. This decision was not taken lightly, as embarking on such a mission would mark the first offensive action for both Arnold and Warren, potentially subjecting them to charges of treason under British law.

Warren ultimately endorsed the mission and secured funding from the Provincial Congress. Arnold was commissioned as a Colonel in the Massachusetts Militia.

Benedict Arnold, Portrait, Illustration
Benedict Arnold. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Capture of Fort Ticonderoga

On May 10, 1775, Arnold joined forces with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys to execute a pre-dawn assault on Fort Ticonderoga. The operation went according to plan as they managed to catch the British garrison off guard and secure their surrender. 

Henry Knox would eventually travel to Ticonderoga and retrieve the artillery, which would be used to occupy Dorchester Heights. The threat convinced the British to leave Boston.

Unfortunately, Warren did not live to see the success of the plan.

General Warren

On June 14, 1775, during the Siege of Boston, the Massachusetts Provincial Government appointed him as Second Major General of the Massachusetts Militia. He was second in command to Artemas Ward.

Abigail Adams praised Warren, saying, “We want him in the Senate; we want him in his profession; we want him in the field.”

Preparations to Fortify Bunker Hill

On June 16, Warren informed Elbridge Gerry that the Provincial Congress was determined to take possession of Bunker Hill, despite his objection to the plan. Gerry was skeptical himself, but Warren insisted on doing everything possible to carry it out because the Provincial Congress had voted in favor of it.

Warren spent the night making preparations and did not sleep until 5:00 in the morning on the 17th. Although his commission as Major General was not yet confirmed by the Provincial Congress, he intended to join the troops the next day.

Overnight, around 1,000 militiamen gathered in Cambridge with the intent of seizing the Charlestown hills. Colonel William Prescott of Massachusetts assumed command of most of these troops, while General Artemas Ward remained at the Cambridge headquarters. 

Their initial instructions were to occupy Bunker Hill and construct a redoubt there. However, the generals and military engineers made a critical decision to fortify Breed’s Hill instead.

Battle of Bunker Hill

When Warren woke, he dressed himself in a blue suit adorned with silver buttons, made by his fiancée, Mercy Scollay. The details of what he did that morning are unclear. Most historians believe visited his family and tended to the needs of a patient. Later in the morning, he traveled to General Ward’s headquarters in Cambridge to gather the latest updates from the field and assess the situation.

Upon his arrival, General Israel Putnam presented a report to the assembled Committee of Safety. He informed them the engineers had chosen to fortify Breed’s Hill instead of the originally designated Bunker Hill.

However, in the daylight, it was clear the decision was not a good one. Breed’s Hill was closer to the river and vulnerable to cannon fire. Further, the British would have a shorter and more direct route to ascend Breed’s Hill compared to the longer path they would have had to take up Bunker Hill.

After hearing Putnam’s report, Warren set out Bunker Hill, via Charlestown, which had been bombarded by the British warships and was on fire. Upon his arrival at Bunker Hill, he reported to Putnam. Out of respect for Warren’s rank, Putnam offered him command. However, Warren declined and said, “I have come only as a volunteer.”

Battle of Bunker Hill, Burning of Charlestown
Thomas Davies made this sketch of the Burning of Charlestown in 1775. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

When Warren arrived, he found the men were exhausted, low on supplies, and in need of reinforcements. He asked Putnam where the most intense fighting would be, and Putnam told him it would be at the redoubt on Breed’s Hill.

Warren walked to the redoubt atop Breed’s Hill, approaching from the rear, obvious in his blue suit. As he walked up the hill, a spontaneous cheer erupted from the American troops. In the redoubt, Colonel William Prescott offered the command to Warren. Once again, Warren refused, saying “The command is yours.”

British forces advanced up the hill, intent on launching an attack against the redoubt. The American defenders successfully repelled the first two British assaults by waiting to fire on the enemy until they were at close range.

However, after the second assault, the Americans were out of ammunition. As the British regrouped for a final charge on the redoubt, many Americans used nails and small rocks in their muskets as makeshift projectiles.

During the third and final assault, British troops surged over the fortifications and engaged the Americans in intense hand-to-hand combat. The British used their bayonets, forcing the Americans to abandon the redoubt. 

Warren and Prescott retreated, warding off bayonet thrusts with their swords. Prescott later recalled, “Warren was among the last to go out.”

Battle of Bunker Hill, Fight in the Redoubt
This illustration by John Steeple Davis depicts the hand-to-hand fighting in the redoubt. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Death of Joseph Warren

Warren successfully escaped from the redoubt along with a small group of men. They were about 30 yards away when Warren was shot. A British officer who observed the incident said “The celebrated Dr. Warren… was killed in a cowardly manner by an officer’s servant.”

Warren was identified by a British officer, but before the officer could capture him, the servant of the officer took swift action. The servant seized a pistol and fired it, fatally striking Warren in the face. Nearby American soldiers who were retreating alongside Warren apparently witnessed this act, and they promptly confronted and inflicted deadly consequences upon the servant, exacting swift retribution for Warren’s unjust demise.

While General John Stark and the New Hampshire Militia provided cover for the American retreat, Warren’s body remained on the battlefield along with the other American casualties. 

After the battle, General William Howe was informed Warren had been killed. He was skeptical and sent Dr. John Jeffries — a Loyalist and friend of Warren — to identify the body, which was found in a mass grave. Jeffries identified the body as Warren’s, confirming the rumor. 

Several weeks after the battle, George Washington arrived in Boston to assume command of the Continental Army. As he surveyed the location where Warren fell, Washington said, “This is where you lost your Commander-in-Chief.”

On April 4, 1776, Paul Revere and Warren’s brothers, Ebenezer and John, recovered the body from the mass grave. Revere identified the body based on a false tooth Revere had made for him.

Paul Revere, Portrait, Copley
Paul Revere. Image Source: MFA Boston.

Warren’s Timeline in the American Revolution

Warren participated in these events during the American Revolutionary War.

Joseph Warren APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study Joseph Warren, the events of April 19, 1775, and the American Revolutionary War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Joseph Warren Definition APUSH

Joseph Warren for APUSH is defined as an American physician, patriot, and military leader during the American Revolutionary period. He played a prominent role in early resistance efforts against British colonial policies and was a key figure in events leading up to the American Revolutionary War. Warren is perhaps best known for writing the Suffolk Resolves and his leadership at the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he fought alongside colonial forces and lost his life. His death served as a rallying cry for the Patriot Cause and the Suffolk Resolves served as inspiration for the Declaration of Independence.

Joseph Warren Video for APUSH Notes

This video from the Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation discusses the significance of Dr. Joseph Warren and the value he brought to the Patriot Cause.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Joseph Warren — Hero of the American Revolution
  • Date June 11, 1741–June 17, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Joseph Warren, Battle of Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 16, 2024

Taxonomies