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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Monday, March 05, 2012

The Mysterious Sally Edwards

On 19 Nov 1775, the Rev. Samuel Clark, an Anglican missionary to Dedham and Stoughton, recorded baptizing “A daughter of Sally Edwards, named Sally.” He didn’t name a father.

That child had been born back on 29 June, according to Sam Forman’s new biography Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. That lag between birth and baptism was unusually long, but there was a war on, and this baby was probably being kept under wraps.

Dedham’s leading intellectual, the prickly physician and almanac-writer Nathaniel Ames, referred to the mother as a “fair incognita pregnans,” Forman writes—a pregnant woman being kept hidden. The book also says she was in her teens, though I’m not sure what the direct evidence for that is. Dr. Warren had sent Sally Edwards to Dr. Ames before dying in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Over ten months after the birth, on 12 May 1776, Dr. Ames wrote in his diary: “Sally Edwards left my house having made much Mischief in it.” Drawing on Ames’s papers, Forman reports that Warren’s medical protégés William Eustis and David Townsend had continued to pay for boarding the mother and child from the Warren estate.

That financial support raises the possibility that baby Sally was Dr. Warren’s child. It’s of course possible that another man had gotten Sally Edwards pregnant and Dr. Warren simply arranged a place for her to give birth during the siege of Boston, but then we would expect her support to start coming from another family.

Forman will be speaking about Dr. Joseph Warren this Wednesday, 7 March, in the Orientation Room of the Boston Public Library starting at 6:00 P.M. The library says this illustrated lecture “will focus on his life and the posthumous arc of Warren’s legacy from national fame to near-total obscurity and perhaps back again. . . . Forman reveals Dr. Warren as a humanist, devoting his career to improving health care for all, while making real the concepts of liberty and representative government.” But I suspect Forman might also talk about the unanswered questions of Dr. Warren’s personal life.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Sally Edwards?

1 comment:

Todd Gardner said...

Dr Warren in my opinion has been one of the under appreciated figures that laid the ground work for revolution. He strikes me as a generous sole who offered his many skills as a physician. He is said to have offered his many patients services free of charge especially to the poor. It wouldn't surprise me that he would have offered this young woman pro bono services and additional room and board from his own estate. He had lost his own wife just a couple of years earlier and I suspect he would have still had a tender heart for that loss which may have played into his relationship with Sally. Although it is possible he fathered a child with Sally, I don't think it out of his character to be magnanimous as he was on the battlefield just 10 days before the baby's birth.