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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 74

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This is the grave of Joseph Warren.

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Born in 1741 in Roxbury, Massachuestts, Warren grew up in the respectable class of his colony. His father was a reasonably well off farmer who died in 1755 after falling out of an apple tree. Warren still managed to attend Harvard, where he graduated in 1759. He became a doctor and joined the Masons. That lodge was a hotbed of protest activity toward the centralizing aims of London after the Seven Years War concluded. Getting to know men such as Paul Revere and John Hancock, Warren became a leader in the Patriot movement. He was a member of the Boston committee that issued a report on the Boston Massacre, damning the British for their actions. In 1773, he was appointed to the Boston Committee of Correspondence. He also drafted the Suffolk Resolves that the Continental Congress approved in protest to the Coercive Acts. It was Warren who sent Revere on his famous Midnight Ride that became central to the mythology of the Revolutionary War.

He instantly joined the fighting when it began on April 19, 1775, coordinating the Patriot attacks on British troops as they retreated from Concord. He was nearly killed there, as a musket ball knocked off his wig. He became a Major General on June 14, 1775. But at the Battle of Bunker Hill, he refused to command, volunteering as a private and allowing more experienced men to command. He was one of the last holdouts to hold that hill as the British commenced their third wave of the assault, finally taking it. In doing so, a British officer shot Warren in the head and killed him. There were some rumors that the British officers desecrated his body after the battle, but it’s hard to know. Warren became the first martyr of the Revolutionary War and his death was useful propaganda for the Patriots as they moved toward independence the following year.

Joseph Warren has been played several times in film and television. Wilfred Noy played him in a 1924 silent called Janice Meredith. In the 1957 adaptation of Johnny Tremain, Walter Coy played Warren. He’s been played in a whole bunch of seemingly minor productions in this century, including by Ryan Eggold in the History Channel production named Sons of Liberty and by Michael Anthony Coppola in some 2007 10 minute film called The Ride.

Joseph Warren was originally buried in the Granary Burying Ground off Boston Common but was moved twice. In 1825, he was reburied in St. Paul’s Church. Then, in 1855, he was supposedly buried again with his family at Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts, where he remains today. I say supposedly because his grandson died in 1856 and his name is carved on that old headstone placed against rock where the family is buried. Anyway, he seems to be there now.

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  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    What was the reason for the first reburial? I can kind of see being moved the second time to where the rest of the family was. (Though personally I’m indifferent to where I will be buried, or to where any of my relatives are buried, I understand that others have strong attachments to the graves of family.)

  • Matt McKeon

    Warren is the central figure in Philbrick’s “Bunker Hill” as well as being featured in HBO’s “John Adams.”
    Paul Revere named one of his sons Joseph Warren, who also was a doctor.

  • Matt McKeon

    According to legend, Revere identified Warren’s body after Bunker Hill by dental work he had done.

    • efgoldman

      Revere identified Warren’s body after Bunker Hill by dental work

      Would that have been a first?
      I knew a dentist in the late 60s who did dental ID’s for a year in Vietnam. Gruesome work.

  • Derelict

    Dear Management,

    Please stop accepting auto-play advertising. I would happily pay a subscription fee to this site if you stopped accepting autoplay ads.

    Sincerely,
    Derelict

    • CrunchyFrog

      Disable your flash plug-in. Good policy anyway. You can manually click to play a video you actually want to see, but more often than not you won’t want to see it.

  • Lurker

    Why did Warren, a general major, go to fight as a private soldier in the front rank? What Wikipedia says, gives an impression that it was an act of suicide, and usually, generals do that kind of thing only in a last stand. Throwing your life away like that is irresponsible, for there is a limited pool of commanders. (It is the junior officer’s job to die like that.) Did Warren believe that the Continental cause was lost?

    • rea

      Warren was nominally a major general, but had no military experience whatever (other than Concord)–he was more of a political leader. He did not think he was capable enough to run a battle, but felt honor bound to take the same risks that ordinary supporters of the cause did. He wasn’t trying to get killed, although certainly standing in an 18th Century line of battle was very dangerous–rebel casualties were maybe 20% killed and wounded.

  • Jeff Ryan

    He was also an alumnus of Roxbury Latin School. Just thought that needed saying.

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