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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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Where Should a Dr. Joseph Warren Statue Go?

As I described yesterday, Boston’s bronze statue of Dr. Joseph Warren now stands in a courtyard at the Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury. In 2011, the Boston Globe suggested that the city should find a more public site. But where?

One possibility is simply to leave the statue where it is. The school seems to care for it well. It might inspire the 300 boys who study there. Most telling, since the Globe’s editorial no other institution appears to have stepped forward with more enthusiasm about the statue.

Another possibility is, of course, back at Warren Square in Roxbury, the statue’s original site. That was fairly close to where Warren grew up. The traffic island where the statue originally stood is now too small, but there are some green spaces in the area, some already labeled with the Warren name. Yet neighbors might well see more to admire in Phillis Wheatley, honored in a nearby park, than in the slaveholding doctor.

Here’s a third possibility: the approximate site of the house Dr. Warren was renting in 1775, the year he sent William Dawes and Paul Revere to Lexington and the year in which he died at the Battle of Bunker Hill. But where was that?

Earlier this year Charles Bahne looked into that question for Dr. Samuel Forman’s blog on Dr. Warren. A strong nineteenth-century tradition held that the American Hotel stood on the site of that house. So locating the hotel on nineteenth-century maps helps to locate the house.

And lo and behold, the spot’s on public land, near the established Freedom Trail, in an area that could use some friendly faces: Government Center Plaza.


As Boston 1775 reader Mark Jacobson pointed out this week, right now there isn’t even a plaque to identify that site as important to the start of the Revolutionary War.

16 comments:

Dr. Sam Forman said...

As Warren's latter day biographer, I heartily endorse this idea. The Government Center Plaza is currently rather forlorn and shows no hint of its Revolutionary appearance or associations. Relocating the statue to the vicinity of Warren's home office would brighten the area, be historically correct, and enrich the experience of Freedom Trail visitors to Boston historical sites of national significance.

Kudos to Roxbury Latin for so lovingly conserving the statue and saving it from oblivion. Unfortunately, it is accessible to a few in its present location on a private school campus.

Roxbury currently has a memorial to the Warrens, which could be highlighted more than it currently is. In the 1840s nephew Dr. John Collins Warren (1778-1856) had a stone house built at #130 Warren Street in Roxbury on the site of the then-decrepit Warren 18th c. homestead. The replacement stone structure features commemorative stone inscriptions marking it as the site of Dr. Joseph Warren's and brother John Warren's (1753-1815, founder of Harvard Medical School) birth and childhood. That house stands today.

Joanq said...

I would go along with this too. Should we start a petition maybe?

T. Frantz said...

What a fantastic idea and what a perfect location for a statue or monument.

The North End Freedom Trail tour already begins at a kiosk outside of Faneuil Hall. Therefore, a Dr. Warren statue sounds like a much better starting point for such a tour which would help people better understand the connection between Dr. Warren and Paul Revere.

Just show me where to sign the petition!

J.E. Russell said...

Fantastic idea! I'd be willing to sign a petition for it. I would feel a bit sorry that the school was losing it, but it'd be nice if he could get a bit more recognition. I know in Texas people give you the strangest blank stare if you mention him. It's such a shame.

J. L. Bell said...

The Warren statue and all proposed new spots are property of the city of Boston, so relocating the statue will be a decision of the city’s government and people. Though evidence of tourist interest from outside would help, I suspect petitions would be less effective than meetings within the city. That's just the way business gets done here.

I don't know how much money such a project would take. The site would presumably need study for safety and aesthetics, and Dr. Warren would probably need a platform to stand on. The bronze might need some repair. And these days governments often need grants or donations for non-critical projects like a public statue.

G. Lovely said...

If this idea gains traction, perhaps placing the statue at a higher visibility spot nearby, down by the end of Congress St., opposite Hanover St. would make sense. Count me in for $10 toward the effort.

Joanq said...

I'm pretty sure Masonic Groups and military and historical websites would be enthused about this, for a start.

Dr. Sam Forman said...

Gratifying positive response to J.L.'s idea! I have been poking around on the web and sounding out people off-line. The Boston Arts Commission appears to have authority over statues and public art in the City of Boston. This includes both commissioning new art and erecting the "inventory." I will contact them and report back here concerning what would be involved so far as application, funding, and approval. Does anyone have direct experience with the Boston Arts Commission?

J. L. Bell said...

Good point about the Freemasons, Joanq! They've always been at the forefront of celebrating Dr. Warren's memory.

J. L. Bell said...

I understand now that Boston Department of Public Works oversees public sculptures, but the Arts Commission (within the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism, & Special Events) manages new placements and sponsorships. Both would probably be involved in moving and reinstalling a sculpture that's already city property.

Mark Jacobson said...

I would be happy to help with fundraising strategies. Thanks, Dr. Forman and Mr. Bell for starting the wheels moving on this. It will take time, sustained effort and as we all know around here, ongoing pressure on "City Hall" for them to move on this. But it really is a travesty that Warren has nothing to memorialize him ne
ar where he spearheaded so many activities in the early days of our movement to independence.

Carge77 said...

Depending on when & how we all go about doing this, I might be able to lend some pro-bono time to developing a website, online petition and facebook presence for this effort. Let's bring our hero "home"!

Danelle Harmon said...

As a longtime admirer of Joseph Warren (a portrait of him hangs in our dining room) I couldn't agree more. What Carge77 said: Let's bring our hero home. It's shameful that the City of Boston doesn't give him more recognition. Paul Revere who?? <>

Unknown said...

I compleatly agree. Though I thnk the bigger question is, why is there no John Adams statue in the city? I have been saying for years that the brick desert that is city hall plaza should contain a statue of the man the wrote the constitution of the state. There is a good statue of warren at bunker hill, that is pretty well known, but Adams is notoriously missing.
I don't mean to derail this conversation, but this has rankled me for a long time
A olson

J. L. Bell said...

If I accurately recall something Charles Bahne once told me, the site where John and Abigail Adams lived around 1770 is in the same part of central Boston, under one of the big government buildings.

Mark Jacobson said...

Back to General Warren, in 1777, if I am not mistaken, passed a resolution to fund a monument to Warren (I believe for over his grave in the Minot Tomb in Granary Burial Ground. That resolution was never fulfilled. Wonder if that fact could be utilized in getting the Statue moved from West Roxbury and placed near or on the homesite in City Hall Plaza between the City Hall and JFK Building.