Learn 10 surprising facts about the dashing doctor and often-forgotten leader of the Sons of Liberty who died in battle before the United States was even born.
1. Warren was one of Boston’s foremost physicians.
After enrolling in Harvard at the age of 14, Warren began to exhibit an interest in medicine. By the age of 22, he was the youngest doctor in Boston. 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, including the children of royal governor Thomas Hutchinson and British General Thomas Gage and his American-born wife, Margaret. 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.
2. Warren likely robbed graves.
According to Nathaniel Philbrick’s book “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution,” Warren and his youngest brother, John, were likely members of the Spunkers, a group of Harvard medical students who raided graveyards, jails and poorhouses in search of bodies they could use for training purposes.
3. He wore a toga while delivering an oration commemorating the Boston Massacre.
Reflecting his stature as a revolutionary leader and his reputation as a powerful orator, Warren was asked in 1775 to deliver for the second time the annual oration commemorating the Boston Massacre. An immense crowd that spilled into the aisles gathered inside Old South Meeting House on March 6, 1775. The doctor, who performed Cato in his Harvard dormitory room, showed his theatrical flair by arriving dressed in a flowing white Roman toga, a symbol of democracy. Dozens, if not hundreds, of British soldiers and officers watched menacingly, and one even held up bullets in his palm as a warning to Warren. The doctor, however, was not intimidated and delivered a rousing address.
4. Warren was a Masonic grand master.
Warren served as grand master of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons and presided over meetings at its headquarters inside the Green Dragon Tavern. The lodge included numerous Sons of Liberty such as Revere. Daniel Webster would call the Green Dragon Tavern “the headquarters of the Revolution.”
5. He penned the Suffolk Resolves
The British Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing what the patriots called the Intolerable Acts in 1774. The measures suspended the colonial government and closed the port of Boston until repayment was made for the lost tea. In September 1774, representatives from every town in Suffolk County, which included Boston and towns to the west and south, agreed to a radical set of resolutions drafted by Warren that declared “no obedience is due” to the Intolerable Acts. Known as the Suffolk Resolves, Warren’s document called for a boycott of British goods and for local militias to prepare for armed resistance. Carried to Philadelphia by Revere after a five-day ride, the Suffolk Resolves, called “undoubtedly treasonable” by Hutchinson, were overwhelmingly endorsed by the Continental Congress, a major step on the road to revolution.
6. Warren dispatched Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride.
On April 18, 1775, Warren learned through Boston’s revolutionary underground that British troops were preparing to cross the Charles River and march to Lexington, presumably to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams, and to Concord to seize munitions. To maximize the chances of a warning reaching the countryside, Warren decided to send one messenger by land and one by sea. Around 9 p.m. the doctor dispatched William Dawes on the riskier mission to ride through the checkpoint guarded by British sentries and take the longer land route. An hour later, he sent Revere on his way across the Charles River and into the surrounding countryside.
7. Warren ordered Benedict Arnold to attack Fort Ticonderoga.
With the British under siege in Boston after the battles at Lexington and Concord, the patriots needed cannons to give them the firepower to force the enemy forces out of the city. In late April 1775, Captain Benedict Arnold told Warren and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety that he knew where to get 80 cannons—at the lightly guarded Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Warren authorized the military operation, and the future traitor easily captured the British fort after joining forces with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. Fort Ticonderoga’s cannons were transported to Boston and indeed proved instrumental in evicting the British in March 1776.
8. He died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
While other Sons of Liberty members such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams and John Adams convened in Philadelphia as delegates to the Continental Congress, Warren borrowed a musket to fight the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Although appointed a major general by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress just three days before, the 34-year-old Warren left the command to more experienced patriots and insisted in fighting with the volunteers in the fiercest part of the battle. He became the first martyr of the American Revolution after being fatally struck by a musket ball to the head.
9. The identification of Warren’s body may have involved the first example of forensic dentistry in America.
After the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British buried Warren in a shallow grave along with a farmer also felled in the firefight. Nearly 10 months later, after the British evacuated Boston, the patriots exhumed Warren’s body from the battlefield. Revere, who dabbled in dentistry, was able to identify Warren because he recognized a false tooth that he had crafted for the doctor. The Sons of Liberty leader was then reburied at the Granary Burying Ground with full Masonic honors, but his body remained on the move in the nineteenth century. Warren’s family moved him to a vault in a Boston cathedral in 1824 before transporting him to his current resting ground inside Forest Hills Cemetery in 1855.
10. Had he lived longer, Warren could have been one of the country’s foremost founding fathers.
A charismatic leader who served in the military, Warren was poised to play a prominent role on the battlefields of the American Revolution and in the political life of the new United States. 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.” Loyalist Peter Oliver surmised in 1782 that if Warren had lived, George Washington would have been “an obscurity.”