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.