He enrolled in Harvard at age 14, and by 22, he was the youngest doctor in Boston.
His reputation spread, with some of his patients being notable citizens:
John Quincy Adams, and
even the children of British Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson and British General Thomas Gage.
Dr. Warren’s medical career spanned the period when the British government was passing restrictive acts.
Due to the French and Indian War, Britain’s national debt doubled from £75 million to £133 million, mostly owed to international Dutch bankers.
To bring in more revenue, the British Parliament began passing Acts, such as:
Revenue Act of 1762, tightening up collection of taxes and trade duties by enforcing the Navigation Acts;
Sugar Act 1764, tightening up enforcement of the Molasses Act;
Currency Act of 1764, banning the use of paper money as legal tender in the colonies;
Stamp Act of 1765.
The Stamp Act was part an attempt by the British Parliament’s to raise £100,000 from the colonies to cover war debts and provide for a military garrison.
It required every piece of paper to have a watermark or stamp on it, purchased from the government, before it could be used in printing, newspapers, legal documents, or even playing cards, with strict criminal penalties for not complying.
Response to this was heated.
Dr. Joseph Warren resigned from his medical career to organize resistance.
Representatives from nine colonies met at the “Stamp Act Congress” in New York, to pass the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” objecting to taxation without representation.
Patrick Henry introduced Stamp Act Resolves in the Virginia House of Burgesses:
“It is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people … that no taxes should be imposed on them, but with their own consent.”
In 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but turned around and passed the Declaratory Act, insisting that Parliament has the authority to tax the colonies.
In 1767 and 1768, the Townshend Acts were passed, placing burdensome taxes on items such as glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea, and requiring they only be purchased from Britain and not any other country.
In 1768, British General Thomas Gage deployed two regiments of soldiers to occupy Boston, which inflamed a passionate backlash.
Tensions hit a peak with the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770.
The Great Bengal Famine of 1770 left an estimated 10 million dead, a third of that country, which nearly bankrupted the British East India Company.
To rescue the Company, Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, granting it a monopoly over tea markets in the American colonies and allowing direct sales, undercutting colonial merchants.
Colonists responded by boycotting British brands, with some merchants smuggling in contraband Dutch tea.
On December 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party was carried out, throwing 342 chests of British East India Company tea into the Boston harbor.
Patriotism swept the country, with citizens everywhere resisting tyranny.
An historical marker reads:
“Edenton Tea Party – Fifty-one women met at Mrs. Elizabeth King’s home … and resolved to support the American cause.”
Escalating the situation, King George III decided in 1774 to punished the colonists for the lost tea by enacting the Coercive Acts, which were referred to in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts:
Boston Port Act, March 30, 1774, which closed the port of Boston on June 1, 1774, until the East India Company had been repaid for the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party;
Quartering Act, June 2, 1774, allowed a British governor to house British soldiers in the private homes of Americans;
Massachusetts Government Act, May 20, 1774, which unilaterally altered the government of Massachusetts to bring it under control of the British government, replacing Massachusetts’ elected officials with royal appointees, and severely limiting town meetings;
Administration of Justice Act, May 20, 1774, which George Washington called the “Murder Act,” which allowed the governor to move trials to another colony or Britain where few colonists could afford to leave their work and cross the ocean to testify, effectively allowing British officials to get away with murder;
Quebec Act, June 22, 1774, extending the boundaries of British Quebec south to the Ohio River and west to the Mississippi, transferring western lands previously claimed by the colonies to a non-representative government and removed references to the Protestant faith in the oath of allegiance.
In protest to all these Acts, Dr. Joseph Warren and Samuel Adams organized the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
In 1774, Warren wrote a poem, titled “Free America,” of which are some lines:
“… Your harvest, bold Americans,
No power shall snatch away,
Preserve, preserve, preserve your rights
In Free America.
Torn from a world of tyrants
Beneath this western sky
We formed a new dominion,
A land of liberty;
The world shall own we’re freemen here,
And such will ever be,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza
For love and liberty.
God bless this maiden climate,
And through her vast domain
May hosts of heroes cluster
That scorn to wear a chain …”
In September of 1774, Dr. Joseph Warren wrote the Suffolk Resolves, urging Massachusetts to establish a free state, boycott British goods, form militias and no longer be loyal to a king who violates their rights:
“Whereas … the vengeance but not the wisdom of Great Britain, which of old persecuted, scourged, and exiled our fugitive parents from their native shores, now pursues us, their guiltless children, with unrelenting severity …
It is an indispensable duty which we owe to God, our country, ourselves and posterity,
by all lawful ways and means in our power to maintain, defend and preserve those civil and religious rights and liberties,
for which many of our fathers fought, bled and died, and to hand them down entire to future generations …
and that the inhabitants of those towns and districts … do use their utmost diligence to acquaint themselves with the art of war as soon as possible, and do, for that purpose, appear under arms at least once every week.”
Paul Revere was chosen to deliver the Suffolk Resolves to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When the Suffolk Resolves were endorsed by the Continental Congress on September 17, 1774, John Adams wrote in his diary:
“This was one of the happiest days of my life. In Congress we had generous, noble sentiments, and manly eloquence. This day convinced me that America will support Massachusetts or perish with her.”
Other notable “Resolves” were:
Fairfax Resolves (VA), 1774, written primarily by George Mason and delivered to the First Virginia Convention by George Washington: “The fundamental principle of the people’s being governed by no laws to which they have not given their consent … for if this part … was taken away … the Government must degenerate … into an absolute and despotic monarchy … and the freedom of the people be annihilated”;
Hanover Resolves (PA), 1774, committing themselves to: “Heaven and our Rifles.”
Talbot Resolves (MD), 1774, protesting Britain’s blockade of Boston’s harbor: “to act as friends to liberty and to the general interests of mankind.”
Liberty Point Resolves (NC), 1775, after which the signers vowed: “Go forth and be ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes to secure the colony’s freedom and safety”;
Pitt County Resolves (NC), 1775: “Neither the Parliament of Great Britain nor any member … thereof have a right to impose taxes upon these colonies to regulate the internal policy thereof, and that all attempts by fraud or force to establish and exercise such claims and powers are violations of the … security of the people and ought to be resisted to the utmost”;
Tryon Resolves (NC), 1775: “We do solemnly and sincerely promise, and engage under the Sanction of Virtue, Home and the Sacred Love of Liberty and of our Country, to maintain and support all and every the Acts, Resolutions & Regulations of the said Continental and Provincial Congresses to the utmost of our power”;
Mecklenburg Resolves (NC), 1775: “All Laws … derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated … That these Resolves be in full Force and Virtue, until … the legislative Body of Great-Britain resign its unjust and arbitrary Pretentions with Respect to America … That the several Militia Companies in this county do provide themselves with proper Arms and Accoutrements, and hold themselves in Readiness to execute the commands and Directions of the Provincial Congress”;
Halifax Resolves (NC), 1776: “For subjugating America, the King and Parliament … have usurped a Power over the Persons and Properties of the People unlimited and uncontrolled … have made divers Legislative Acts … daily employed in destroying the people and committing the most horrid devastations on the country … Ships belonging to America are declared prizes of War and many of them have been violently seized and confiscated … Resolved that the delegates … in declaring Independency … (form) a Constitution and Laws for this Colony.”
The King ordered British General Thomas Gage to bring Massachusetts into submission.
Gage tried to outlaw the numerous “town hall meetings” and silence their rebellious “resolutions” and “resolves.”
Gage wrote: “democracy is too prevalent in America.”
In enforcing the Boston Port Act, Gage, effectively ruled through martial law.
He prevented citizens of Massachusetts from electing their own leaders, and dissolved Massachusetts’ Provincial Congress.
He forbade town hall meetings without his permission:
“Calling such meetings … the inhabitants … pass many dangerous and unwarrantable resolves: for remedy whereof, be it enacted … no meeting shall be called … without the leave (permission) of the governor.”
Britain’s Prime Minister, Lord North, told Parliament these Acts were necessary “to take the executive power from the hands of the democratic part of government.”
Massachusetts’ citizens refused to stop their town hall meetings and passed more resolves against the King.
In later response to Gage’s actions that later led the writers of the Bill of Rights to insist on “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Dr. Warren sent Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen to capture Fort Ticonderoga.
Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their midnight ride to warn Lexington and Concord that the government was coming to seize their guns.
The British soldiers, under orders from British General Thomas Gage, were headed to Pastor Jonas Clarke’s parsonage to arrest two anti-government resistors: Samuel Adams, a Tea Party activist, and businessman John Hancock, who was targeted by the King’s tax collectors after having his ship Liberty confiscated.
Rev. Jonas Clarke’s parsonage had been built by John Hancock’s grandfather, who was the previous pastor there.
During the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Joseph Warren and William Heath led a militia in attacking the British Army as it rushed back to Boston.
Warren was shot at and narrowly escaped death when a musket ball took off part of his wig.
After the battle, his mother begged him with tears to not risk his life, he answered:
“Wherever danger is, dear mother, there will your son be. Now is no time for one of America’s children to shrink from the most hazardous duty; I will either set my country free, or shed my last drop of blood to make her so.”
Dr. Joseph Warren became President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, April of 1775.
In June of 1775, British ships entered Boston’s harbor, commanded by British General William Howe.
The 34-year-old Dr. Joseph Warren joined the Massachusetts militia.
Though appointed a Major General by the Provincial Congress, Dr. Warren chose to serve as a private, acknowledging that General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott had more military experience.
On June 17, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren asked to be placed where the heaviest fighting would be and Putnam pointed to Bunker Hill.
He fought in the redoubt, repelling the British soldiers, till he ran out of ammunition.
The British made a third and final assault on the hill, and Dr. Joseph Warren was killed instantly by a musket ball in the head.
The British stripped his body, bayoneted it until it was unrecognizable, then shoved it into a ditch.
The 1,054 British casualties from the battle resulted in British General Thomas Gage being recalled to England. He was replaced by British General William Howe.
Ten months after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Paul Revere helped identify the remains of Dr. Joseph Warren by examining an artificial tooth he had placed in his jaw.
A monument marks where Dr. Joseph Warren died.
So courageous and inspiring a leader was Warren, that in 1782, a loyalist Peter Oliver, wrote that had Warren survived, Washington would have been “an obscurity.”
British Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson speculated:
“If (Warren) had lived, he bid as fair as any man to advance himself to the summit of political as well as military affairs and to become the Cromwell of North America.”
Dr. Joseph Warren’s younger brother, Dr. John Warren, served as a surgeon at the Battle of Bunker Hill and later helped found Harvard Medical School.
A very distant relative was Massachusetts House Speaker James Warren, whose wife, Mercy Otis Warren, was called “The Conscience of the American Revolution” because of her patriotic correspondence with American leaders.
Three years before his death, Dr. Joseph Warren delivered an address in Boston, March 5, 1772, to commemorate the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre:
“If you perform your part, you must have the strongest confidence that the same Almighty Being who protected your pious and venerable forefathers, who enabled them to turn a barren wilderness into a fruitful field, who so often made bare His arm for their salvation, will still be mindful of you, their offspring …”
Dr. Warren concluded:
“May this Almighty Being graciously preside in all our councils.
May He direct us to such measures as He Himself shall approve, and be pleased to bless.
May our land be a land of liberty, the seat of virtue, the asylum of the oppressed, a name and a praise in the whole earth,
until the last shock of time shall bury the empires of the world in one common undistinguishable ruin!
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.