J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Looking for Dr. Warren’s Children on Wikipedia

Boston 1775 has hit the big time! Last Friday I received a missive on what Wikipedia was saying about Dr. Joseph Warren’s children. I followed it up, and discovered that as of yesterday the first citation in the Warren article was to this Boston 1775 post. And who says you can’t trust Wikipedia?

Unfortunately, you can’t always trust Wikipedia. That same entry went on to say:

At the time of Warren’s death [during the Battle of Bunker Hill], his children—Joseph Warren, H. C. Warren, Richard Warren, Elizabeth Warren, Mary Warren—were staying with Abigail Adams at the John Quincy Adams birthplace in Braintree, Massachusetts. A cairn now marks the spot where his oldest daughter observed the battle from afar after word of her father’s death. The Warren children were then financially supported by Benedict Arnold who later succeeded in obtaining support for them from the Continental Congress until they were of age.
To start with, Dr. Warren and his wife, who died in 1773, had only four children: Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and Richard, in order of birth. In 1775 their ages ranged from about nine years old to about three, according to this later letter from Samuel Adams. Rhoda Truax’s biography of the family says their nicknames were Betsey, Jose, Polly, and Dick.

There’s no citation on Wikipedia for the statement that those kids were with Abigail Adams during the Battle of Bunker Hill (which is what my correspondent was asking about, quite skeptically). Adams described the time of that battle in a letter, and her son John Quincy later recalled it in more letters, as I quoted back here. Neither mentioned the Warrens. Since one of John Quincy’s recollections went on to praise Dr. Warren (who had treated his injured finger), he would surely have mentioned being with the Warren children while their father was being killed—if indeed he had been.

Also, contrary to the Wikipedia explanation, no one knew that Warren was killed in that battle until it was over. It’s possible that one of Warren’s daughters later visited that hill in Braintree and looked toward the site of the Charlestown battle, but that’s not what Wikipedia describes (as of now—maybe I’ll fix it in the coming week).

So what happened to Warren’s four children in 1775? The doctor’s most recent biographer, John Cary, supposes that they were “left in the care of Mercy Scollay in Boston when Warren had been forced to flee town” in April. Scollay was a daughter of selectman John Scollay; she and the doctor had just become engaged, or perhaps engaged to be engaged. Citing a letter from Scollay to John Hancock dated 21 May 1776 (which I haven’t seen), Cary continues: “Shortly before his death, Warren asked her to care for his children if anything should happen to him.”

Here, courtesy of Teach US History, is an engraving from about 1825 of Warren leaving to go to his final battle. [ADDENDUM: The engraving appears in an 1846 issue of The Columbian Magazine, so it might be twenty years older than I thought.] He’s not letting emotion overcome him, to say the least. A baby—arguably a three-year-old—looks on. The caption for this engraving called the woman his wife, so we know misinformation didn’t start with Wikipedia.

TOMORROW: The education of Dr. Warren’s children becomes a national issue.

27 comments:

Jim Padian said...

The doctor's children (Joseph's nickname, incidently, was Josie, not Jose) were with Mercy Scollay in Worcester on a farm rented from Doctor Dix, an old family fiend of the Scollays.

The engraving probably was inspired by the WPA project book that featured Mrs. Joseph Palmer in which she was said to claim that she had gazed into Dr. Warren's blue eyes (they were hazel green) as they danced the night before the Breed's Hill battle.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the comments. I’ve seen the nickname Sammy spelled “Samme” in the 1700s, so it’s possible that “Jose” was pronounced “Josie.” And it’s possible that the boy had one nickname when he was little, another without the dimunitive ending when he grew. And it’s possible I mistranscribed that detail from Rhoda Truax’s book. Where did you find this detail?

The engraving above predates the W.P.A. by more than a century, so if anything it would have inspired the dancing story. I wasn’t familiar with that claim from Elizabeth Palmer, and it didn’t appear in the manuscript printed in Grandmother Tyler’s Book (1925). But Palmer did say there that the doctor had “light blue eyes.”

A Staunch Whig said...

Re:
"The doctor's children (Joseph's nickname, incidently, was Josie, not Jose) were with Mercy Scollay in Worcester on a farm rented from Doctor Dix, an old family fiend of the Scollays."

To the other poster: Nice info, but where's the proof? Any sources?

wireman5 said...

Is there any truth to the rumor of a child born to the General and Mercy Scollay?

J. L. Bell said...

A 1989 book by Mary Lokken titled Indians in Our Trees suggests that Mercy Scollay gave birth to Joseph Warren’s daughter after his death and named her Sarah Warren. I haven’t seen the book, but the snippets visible on Google Books imply that statement is based on family lore, not documents.

The Cambridge Historical Society has some of Scollay’s letters from the period, and whoever created the finding aid reports they offer no evidence in favor of this story.

Unsupported family lore over 200 years after the fact is weak evidence, but I’d check out Lokken’s assertion if I could. I searched WorldCat and the catalogs of all my favorite local research libraries, and couldn’t find a copy of Indians in Our Trees within 100 miles of Boston. So that won’t be a quick project.

A Staunch Whig said...

The claims of Indians in Our Trees are completely false, and I have disproven every claim by Lokken in a recent but unpublished essay I have written. I have yet to find a home for its publication, as the subject is quite obscure and, I fear, will draw little interest. (But I have not spent much time in earnest shopping it around either, as I am engaged in other projects.) Lokken probably wrote the book to get into the Daughters of the Revolution, but every new claim she gives is uncited (they come from a supposed story of her grandmother's, which I believe was fabricated). In fact, every one of her claims can be disproven with legitimate evidence, as I have done in my unpublished essay. Bottom line: no, Dr. Warren did not have a fifth, illegitimate child. He had only the four legitimate ones as noted, all the product of he and Elizabeth Hooten.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for commenting, Staunch Whig! I’m not surprised at your conclusion. Is there documentation that a Sarah Warren existed, and/or had any tie to the doctor’s extended family? Or is the whole story just fog?

A Staunch Whig said...

The simple answer is no, there was no Sarah Warren, period. Lokken's fictitious story claims two different Sarahs of an entirely different, unrelated line of Warrens from Michigan and central New York were the same woman, are the same woman, an illegitimate child of Dr. Joseph Warren. (In truth, that Warren line from Michigan and New York might have been very distantly related, but if so, they were so far removed they were effectively not related.) Lokken actually took known evidence, evidence she herself references, and contorts it for her ends. (Lokken does make a very few references throughout the book, but only for statements that are undisputed, never for her absurd claims.) Lokken's wholly unscholarly fabrication is so convoluted it took an 11-page essay to prove it utterly false, point by point. Suffice it to say, as far as our Dr. Joseph Warren (and his 3 brothers) are concerned, no: there was no Sarah Warren. The problem with distant history is, if you wanted to carefully fabricate a story and claim it came from family tradition, you could do so, carefully placing the fabrication into the holes in our historical knowledge, rendering your story impossible to disprove. Fortunately, Lokken did not take the time to adequately research her topic, and in her zeal to connect herself to the hero Dr. Joseph Warren, she formulated a story that could be disproven with known fact.

wireman5 said...

In our family records we have an obit that states we are related to General Warren. The Obit. states that the sister of my GG grandmother was related through her mother's side. The Obit. is for Elizabeth Stafford and her father was James Stafford. James was born around the same year as the rumored love child of the General and Mercy Scollay and must of been James Stafford's wife in order to verify the information listed in the Obit. Researching the other children born to the General has no connection.

General Warren was a very powerful man as well as the Grand Master of the Masons. Having a love child in that era was not something to be proud of to say the least and making this story go away was important for many reasons.

All I can say is this story has been entrenched in our families folklore and the obituary for Elizabeth Stafford can be submitted to anyone who cares to inspect it.

J. L. Bell said...

An child born out of wedlock would have been more embarrassing for Mercy Scollay than for Dr. Joseph Warren. Such prominent Boston men of this period as James Lovell and Thomas Flucker not only had illegitimate children but raised them in their own households. But women were legally and socially in a very different situation. The Scollay family might therefore have had a strong reason to cover up the birth of a child after Warren’s death.

That said, American families have made false claims about their ancestors, either what their documented ancestors did or about who those ancestors were. Such a famous man as Dr. Warren would be quite an appealing ancestor to have. I think the burden of proof rests on the people making statements that go against the widely accepted historical record.

I still haven’t seen the evidence for such a claim, nor the arguments against it.

A Staunch Whig said...

What is the date the obit was issued? What is the dates listed in the obit (birth, death, etc) for any of the people named in the Obit, be it Elizabeth Stafford or James? Who did Elizabeth marry?

With this information, I can perhaps give more information on that line.

To confirm: this name is Stafford, not Stanford, correct?

wireman5 said...

The legacy of this issue within our family has been debated and scrutinized with strong emotions and denial from embarassment to bragging. The elders in my family I recall from being a young child did not wish to speak of or even discuss this issue. They were not proud of it to say the least, however, they never discounted it. I recall when a family Bible was given to my mother and she discovered the actual obituary inside making reference to General Warren. When this article was brought to her elders attention a massive fire storm erupted within our family. Iy was obvious that these folks were not proud of their heritage and wanted this issue to go away. My mom had a very different postion on the subject and researched it extensively. Basically if the obit was factual and in that era I would expect there being more accuracy in the media than today the only connection to the General would have been with a child to Scollay. As you stated, not unusual for the era. Not to mention Scollay's brother was the Deputy Grand Master and needless to say, he would of done right by her as well.

wireman5 said...

Elizabeth Stafford the sister of Phoebe Stafford (my gggrandmaother) was born 1796 in either New Jersey or Westmoreland County, PA to James Stafford born in 1773 Deleware. We have records for James Stafford being married to a Mary or Sarah. James also had a daughter named Mary and one named Sarah as well along with Elizabeth and Pheobe.

Elizabeth's obituary states that "she is a direct descendant of General Warren of Revolutionary War fame through her mother's side".

Being her father James was born in 1773 lets assume that the daughter of the General & Scollay would have born close to the same time. Also, records indicate that the father of James Stafford was John who was also listed as being a member of the Sons of Liberty as well.

I would welcome anyone who could possibly attempt to discount this research to come forward.

If you want to have a copy of the Obit. just provide a fax number or e-mail address and I will be more than happy to submit it.

J. L. Bell said...

When did the obituary in question appear? In what newspaper? (If it’s a clipping with no material to identify the paper, it might be possible to identify it through modern digital databases by searching for an unusual phrase inside it.)

This sentence contains two major assumptions that I think need more scrutiny: “Basically if the obit was factual and in that era I would expect there being more accuracy in the media than today the only connection to the General would have been with a child to Scollay.”

First, why must Dr. Warren have had illegitimate children only with Mercy Scollay?

Second, the news media of the past was not more accurate than today’s. Anyone who reads newspapers of the past knows that they printed rumors, secondhand information, gross distortions reflecting the mores of the time, and outright propaganda. Then as now, obituaries of people who weren’t public figures usually reflected what the family believed, and that wasn’t necessarily accurate. Criticizing today’s media as relatively inaccurate looks like a dubious political talking-point, unnecessary and unhelpful in a discussion of a particular historical question.

wireman5 said...

The obituary was discovered in a family Bible given to my mother when her uncle Bob passed away in 1968. He was from Fayette County PA as was most of her family. Also the place where James Stafford passed away and according to census records Elizabeth did as well.

Many family research experts often focus on family legends as being a key tool.

Many family research experts also consider obituaries as being a key tool as well. Not being political or critical of the media today, however, there were no where near the amount of people back then as there is today and making false claims in that era were much easier to have been discounted or proven false. Making false claims about that this subject would have been heavily discounted by the other family members and even more so by those members of our family who also served in the Revolutionary War as well.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m still not seeing the date when Elizabeth Stafford passed away, which was presumably the year of her obituary.

As I’m sure you recognize, it would have been much easier for a small newspaper in Pennsylvania to print an unchallenged claim about descent from Dr. Joseph Warren than for one of the major Boston papers, where his collateral descendants were very prominent. Although there were fewer people then, communication between states was slower and spottier.

Boston 1775 has explored plenty of examples of family lore and death notices, including those of Samuel Whittemore, Isaac Chauncey Wyman, and Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Sometimes statements about ancestors are reliable, sometimes they’re contradicted by other evidence, and sometimes the evidence is ambiguous.

wireman5 said...

Elizabeth Stafford was born 1796 in either New Jersey or Westmoreland County, PA. She passed away in 1875 at Connelsville, Fayette County, PA. Her father in law Henry lennox Sheppard served in the Revolutionary War and it is through him that my mother gained membership into the DAR.

Elizabeth Stafford married Theophilus Sheppard and their daughter was Elizabeth Sheppard and her sister was Pheobe Ann Sheppard who married my GGrandfather Jacob Isaac Hart who served in the Civil War. My mother's maiden name was Hart as well.

The obituary we have was for Elizabeth Sheppard (pheobe's sister) who was the daughter of Elizabeth Stafford that states she was a direct descendent of General Warren through her mother's side.

Where do we go from here?

A Staunch Whig said...

> Why must Warren have had illigitimate children only with Mercy?

Well, we can never know for sure of course, but frankly, he didn't have much time to sow his seed between the death of his wife Elizabeth and his own death. Mercy definitely occupied a big part of his life, as they had rented a farm in Worcester together. Of course, none of this mandates that he was faithful to her, away in Worcester, while he was in Cambridge and Watertown managing the revolution.

Re: Wireman's claims:

so Elizabeth Stafford and Phoebe Stafford were both born circa 1796 to James Stafford born in 1773. Deleware. As you suppose James's wife, their mother, was an illigitimate daughter of Joseph Warren, do you have anything more on her? Her name? Her maiden name? Her birth year? (I suppose the story will be 1775... just after his death, as many claims like these go...)

Without some info on the wife, there is no way to delve into this subject really.

d

wireman5 said...

The original intent of my question was to see if anyone was aware of there being a child (daughter) born to General Warren and Mercy Scollay. This child if born could have been the wife of James Stafford who was born near the same time and would have to be in order to confirm what has been told in our family for generations as well as connecting the dots for the obituary which states (and was for) Elzabeth Sheppard the daughter of Elizabeth Stafford was a "Direct decsendant of General Warren of Revolutionary War Fame" through her mother's side.

My mother gained membership into the DAR from Elizabeth Stafford's father-in-law Henry Lennox Sheppard who served in the Revolutionary War as well. Many other veterans from the famous War also lived in the Connelsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania area also. I find it to be quite difficult for these folks to make such a claim in that era amongst the general popultion who could of easily discounted it not to or for it to be published in a newspaper for all to see and have no shame in making a false claim. Once more the uncle who left the family Bible to my mom was like me a Mason and the thought of him placing the obituary in the Holy Book and it not being true would either indicate him as being insane or an act of it being the gospel truth. The later making the most sense to me.

J. L. Bell said...

As a famous and admired man, Dr. Warren attracted a lot of rumors. I’ve discussed some of them on this site. Others involve his children or putative children. For example, this article from the New Jersey Historical Society said he had a son named Moses Scott Warren; he didn’t.

As of today, the doctor’s Wikipedia entry says he was an ancestor of the anarchist reformer Josiah Warren. That man’s son and biographer made no such claim, and it appears from The Hastings Memorial that Josiah’s father and paternal grandfather were named Josiah.

Googling the phrase “direct descendant of General Warren” brings up other identifications; some may be accurate, but that depends on what the evidence is. An obituary published a hundred years later with no citations is not strong evidence, and arguing that someone would have saved that clipping privately only if he believed it seems a bit circular.

I questioned whether a secret child from Dr. Warren would have to be born to Mercy Scollay because there would be just as much reason for secrecy—perhaps a little more—if Warren had fathered a child at any other time, including during his marriage. I would agree that Scollay is the only person besides his wife with whom Warren is definitely linked, and that the halo of martyrdom after his death in 1775 would have made colleagues more anxious to keep his secrets. (Of course, Loyalists would have been delighted to spread the news that the rebels’ hero had had a child out of wedlock by a selectman’s daughter.) Nonetheless, we shouldn’t box ourselves in to any particular assumptions.

Another possibility to consider is that the “General Warren” the obituary refers to isn’t the doctor. James Warren of Plymouth, husband of Mercy Warren, also had the rank of general. There may have been others in the Revolution, easily confused with the most famous. The fact that there’s no documented connection between Elizabeth Stafford and Massachusetts suggests keeping eyes open for other candidates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Alas, I haven’t been able to find the obituary mentioned in the digital newspaper databases that I can access. It didn’t help that all the descriptions of that obituary here referred to its subject as Elizabeth Stafford and not, as she died, Elizabeth Garlets.

A Staunch Whig said...

Given the evidence presented, there is little more we can offer. I have considerable records on the Warren line, but no Stafford connection is among them.

While we might guess whether there was an undocumented 5th child, there is simply no evidence to support it, and thus we can give such conjecture to anyone. That it appeared in your bible need not represent a lie or absolute truth: it could have been "believed" as truth when it was not. Or, it could be misinterpreted truth, such as J.L.'s thought of it referring to James Warren. Indeed, there may have been other Warrens. If true, it could have even been Dr. John Warren, though no general, served as a doctor in the Continental Army and was brother of the famous general, and over time, the story might have become muddled.

In one Western and Northern NY line that claimed it descended through a 5th illegitimate child of Dr. Warren and Mercy Scollay, a claim that I have disproven, it turned out the crux of their claim depended on John Warren having helped raise this 5th child as he did the other 4. The story had lots of details on John Warren, and in fact it turned out that their John Warren was not the brother of Joseph Warren, but an entirely unrelated John Warren from central New York. In other words, with such a common name, sometimes the details get muddled over time. Your obit in your bible need not be a deliberate lie to be untrue.

Simply put, there is no evidence to prove Joseph Warren had a 5th child. (If he had, it most likely would have been with Mercy Scollay, given the timeline of his death and their relationship.) Is it possible? Of course. Just as it is possible George Washington had a child we didn't know about (and that I descended from him... :) One might even claim Joseph Warren through himself into the British bayonets on Breed's Hill when he found out he had a 5th illegitimate child on the way... That is, we can say anything we like, and if we craft it carefully to fit in the gaps of our knowledge, it cannot be easily disproven. But the lack of proof is not proof, and no serious student of history will accept such theories (or myths) without direct supporting evidence.

wireman5 said...

Back to my original question. Can anyone prove or disprove the rumor of there being a daughter born to General Joseph Warren & Mercy Scollay?

Also, if anyone out there had the obituary making such a claim as well as the family legend promoting it, what avenue would you pursue to verify it?

J. L. Bell said...

Can anyone prove or disprove the rumor of there being a daughter born to General Joseph Warren & Mercy Scollay?

I disagree with the wording of this question. It’s not the task of historians to “disprove” rumors that appear in one newspaper a century later in another state. A statement that Dr. Warren and Mercy Scollay (or any other woman) had a child together without anyone—Loyalist, Patriot, or family member—mentioning it earlier is an extraordinary claim, so it demands strong evidence before being accepted.

Furthermore, when it comes to questions of secret paternity in the distant past, with no genetic evidence available, it’s nearly impossible to “disprove” a possibility. Instead, we have to weigh the evidence that exists and see how strong it is.

I’d word one path of the inquiry as “What evidence, if any, exists that Dr. Joseph Warren and Mercy Scollay had a child together?“ As far as I can tell, that evidence consists of (a) an 1875 obituary from an unidentified Pennsylvania (?) newspaper, naming “General Warren” but not Mercy Scollay, and (b) the claims in Indians in Our Trees, which A Staunch Whig thinks are untenable. And those two avenues might go in different directions.

I’d word the other path as, “What genealogical evidence is available about the ancestry of Elizabeth (Stafford Sheppard) Garlets, who died in Pennsylvania in 1875?” Asking how to “verify” the obituary appears to show that you’d prefer to find evidence for that claim, rather than evidence about her parentage. And that preference could get in the way of a thorough historical inquiry.

I’d start with trying to find the original of that obituary. I wasn’t able to find it on the Early American Newspapers database, but that’s growing incrementally, and there are other databases, as well as old print and microfilm collections. Are there any other obituaries about Elizabeth Garlets? Any about her father?

A Staunch Whig said...

Mr. Bell's response, above, is as excellent a response as I can envision. All I can add is my emphasis to his statement: "Asking how to 'verify' the obituary appears to show that you’d prefer to find evidence for that claim, rather than evidence about her parentage". If you chose that route, your findings will likely be dubious. Instead, use the scientific method: while your hypothesis is that the obit is legit (I'm a poet...), you must now soundly test that hypothesis by diligently tracing the parentage, one generation at a time, using verifiable information. As you trace back to the 1770's, you may find your answer. Of course, you may find too many gaps in your tracing backwards that your theory may ultimately prove inconclusive.

Dr. Sam Forman said...

J.L.'s entry on Dr. Joseph Warren's children provoked an interesting exchange a few years ago involving a Wireman5, who claimed a matrilinear illegitimate lineage from Miss Mercy Scollay, based on a 19th c. obituary and a family tradition. Mr. Bell, A Staunch Whig, and others rejoined with points of documentation and historiography that Wireman5 could apply to clarify his family's belief.
Wireman5's story resonates in some particulars with Joseph Warren's recently documented fifth (and illegitimate)child, born June 29, 1775, and apparently christened Sally Edwards. I invite Wireman5 to look at my new biography on Joseph Warren (Pelican, 2012), p. 185 and associated notes, and to contact me directly about that old obituary via my website www.drjosephwarren.com

E.Patridge said...

Regarding the previous postings about Sarah Warren -- I have a Clerk document on my family history... it notes a Sarah Warren was daughter of Samuel and Eunice Corbett Warren.

Sarah Warren
b. October 08, 1759, Milford, MA, d. May 01, 1849, Chesterfield, NH.

In the margin, there is a note that suggests her brother was General Joseph Warren who died at Bunker Hill.

Any thoughts on this for me? I haven't been able to confirm this lineage with a second source and wonder about the notation.

J. L. Bell said...

Joseph Warren's father was also named Joseph, and his mother, named Mary, was still living in Roxbury through the 1770s. This Sarah Warren could not have been a sibling.

There were other Warren families in Massachusetts, including that of James Warren in Plymouth. Which isn't a surprise since it's a common English name.