While vetting a manuscript this month, I came across another questionable quotation. I think it first appeared in Thomas J. Fleming’s Now We Are Enemies (also published as The Battle of Bunker Hill) and Liberty!, and can be viewed in this essay by Kenneth C. Davis:
Abigail Adams mournfully wrote to husband John: “Not all the havoc and devastation they have made has wounded me like the death of [Dr. Joseph] Warren. We want him in the Senate; we want him in his profession; we want him in the field. We mourn for the citizen, the senator, the physician, and the warrior. When he fell, liberty wept.”But here’s the letter from Abigail Adams in which the start of that quotation appears, and it doesn’t include that last sentence about liberty weeping. Instead, the passage reads (in Adams’s original spellings):
Not all the havock and devastation they have made, has wounded me like the death of Warren. We wanted him in the Senate, we want him in his profession, we want him in the field. We mourn for the citizen, the senator, the physician and the Warriour. May we have others raised up in his room.The regularized spellings and punctuation are our clue that the first quotation derives from a book that used the 1840 transcription of Adams’s letters, edited by her grandson to look more grammatically and punctually correct, rather than the recent Adams Papers editions.
So what happened? A little Google Booking pinpoints the problem exactly. On page 521 of his Life and Times of Joseph Warren, published in 1865, Richard Frothingham strung together a series of laments about Warren’s death. This is what that page looked like.
As you see, Frothingham didn’t separate each quotation with quote marks. Instead, he had one pair of marks around the whole bunch, and a superscript footnote number after each. There’s a number 4 at the end of Abigail Adams’s actual words. And there’s a separate number 5 for the sentence “When he fell, liberty wept” and what follows, attributing them to a manuscript by S. A. Wells.
Who was Wells? He was Samuel Adams’s grandson, born in 1787 and dying in 1840. His “Biographical Sketch of General Joseph Warren” was published posthumously in 1857, attributed to “A Bostonian.” Frothingham might have been quoting from the manuscript Wells had created about his grandfather, which William A. Wells completed and published in 1865.