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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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Story Behind “Warren’s Address”

A few days ago I mentioned the poem “Warren’s Address to the American Soldiers, before the Battle of Bunker Hill,” which N. C. Wyeth illustrated in 1922.

Those lines were written by the Rev. John Pierpont (1785-1866). After graduating from Yale, he became minister at the Hollis Street Meeting in Boston, originally established for the Rev. Dr. Mather Byles, Sr.

Pierpont stayed at that church for over twenty-five years, becoming increasingly controversial as he became increasingly active in the temperance and abolition movements. Later Pierpont was a minister in Medford and ran for office in a couple of those fringe parties that actually wanted to end slavery.

Pierpont was also heavily involved in efforts at education, and in 1827 he published a school book called The National Reader. It collected examples of both prose and poetry for students to read or recite. Lessons 127 to 132 were all about Bunker Hill—excerpts from Carlo Botta’s history in translation and Daniel Webster’s oration at the dedication of the monument, a hymn that Pierpont had written for that ceremony, and “Warren’s Address.”

Which reads:
Stand! the ground’s your own, my braves!
Will ye give it up to slaves?
Will ye look for greener graves?
Hope ye mercy still?
What’s the mercy despots feel?
Hear it in that battle-peal!
Read it on yon bristling steel!
Ask it,—ye who will.

Fear ye foes who kill for hire?
Will ye to your homes retire?
Look behind you!—they’re afire!
And, before you, see
Who have done it! From the vale
On they come!—and will ye quail?
Leaden rain and iron hail
Let their welcome be!

In the God of battles trust!
Die we may,—and die we must:
But, O, where can dust to dust
Be consigned so well,
As where heaven its dews shall shed
On the martyred patriot’s bed,
And the rocks shall raise their head,
Of his deeds to tell?
We must remember that Dr. Joseph Warren declined to command in the Breed’s Hill redoubt and never delivered such a speech, in rhyme or not. Also, Pierpont composed this for use in schools, so we should imagine it being recited by an emotive, squeaky-voiced fourteen-year-old in an assembly hall.

One of Pierpont’s sons wrote “Jingle Bells.” One of his grandsons, named after him, was J. Pierpont Morgan.

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