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Joseph Warren Dies a Martyr in the Battle of Bunker Hill

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull.

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull.

Dr. Joseph Warren died a martyr’s death in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. According to British Gen. Thomas Gage , his death was ‘worth the death of 500 men.’

So passionate was Warren’s dedication to the cause of liberty that he told his mother in the weeks before the battle,

Where danger is, dear mother, there must your son be. Now is no time for any of American’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die.

When the British taunted that the patriots wouldn’t fight, he declared, “I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”

Joseph Warren was born June 11, 1741, in Roxbury, Mass., a well-to-do farmer’s son. After graduating from Harvard he practiced medicine and surgery in Boston.

He joined the Sons of Liberty and embraced the revolutionary cause. He was elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. In addition to practicing medicine in Boston, he gave speeches, wrote newspaper essays and authored the Suffolk Resolves, a declaration of resistance to British authority.

Joseph Warren was a good friend of Paul Revere, and it was he who enlisted Revere and William Dawes to ride from Boston to alert patriots that the British were about to march from Boston to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock.

Joseph Warren

Joseph Warren

On the day of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he sneaked out of Boston and led militia in harassing the British returning to the city. He was almost killed when a musket ball struck his wig. That’s when he told his mother he wouldn’t shrink from danger.

Warren returned to Boston, where he organized soldiers for the siege of Boston and negotiated with Gage.

On June 13, colonial leaders learned the British planned to send troops to take the unoccupied hills surrounding the besieged city. That night, 1,200 colonial troops stealthily occupied Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, on which they built an earthworks overnight.

Warren showed up the next day and asked Gen. Israel Putnam where the heaviest fighting would be. He had been commissioned a major general in the Massachusetts militia, but insisted on fighting as a private because he had no military experience.

During the battle he fought behind the earthworks until the patriots’ ammunition was exhausted. He stayed there to give the militia time to escape while the British made their final assault. A British officer recognized him and shot him in the head. He died instantly.

The British stripped his body and stabbed it beyond recognition, then threw him into a shallow grave with another patriot killed in the battle. Paul Revere later identified his body.

The next day his friend James Warren (no relation) wrote a letter to his wife, Mercy Warren, about the battle and Joseph Warren’s death. The British, he wrote,

…are reinforced but have not Advanced, so things remain at present as they were we have killed many men & have killed & wounded about [six] hundred by the best accounts I can get. Among the first of which to our inexpressible Grief is my Friend Doctor Warren who was killd. it is supposed in the Lines on the Hill at Charlestown in a Manner more Glorious to himself than the fate of Wolf on the plains of Abraham. Many other officers are wounded and some killd. it is Impossible to describe the Confusion in this place, Women & Children flying into the Country, armed Men Going to the field, and wounded Men returning from there fill the Streets. I shant Attempt a description -- your Brother borrowed a Gun, &c., & went among the flying Bullets at Charlestown retd. last Evening 10 o'Clock.