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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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Marking Where Dr. Joseph Warren Lived

Last weekend the Boston Globe ran a story about a proposal to mark the site of Dr. Joseph Warren’s house in Boston, depicted here.

And where is that spot? As Charles Bahne determined for Warren biographer Samuel Forman a few years back, Warren’s house is under City Hall Plaza. Reporter Sara Salinas wrote:
The expansive brick-and-concrete plaza often draws criticism for appearing unwelcoming, even as the city has tried to rebrand the plaza as a place for civic engagement and community gathering. The plaza often hosts concerts, food festivals, and cultural celebrations.

“A part of this rethinking of the City Hall Plaza should be to reengage its historical legacy and in so doing link its history to the city of Boston as a place not only of partying but also of civic engagement and of city, state, and national significance,” Forman said.

Forman said the legacy of Warren’s home was lost around 1940, when plans for the construction of the new federal building adjacent to City Hall Plaza first began. Before that, the American House hotel stood on what is now the northeast corner of City Hall Plaza, displaying a bronze plaque marking the site of the former general’s home.

The new memorial would claim the site as the “Starting Point to the American Revolution,” Forman said.
That slogan would be an overstatement, I think. The American Revolution as a political and social movement had been going underway a while before April 1775. As Ray and Marie Raphael propose in The Revolution of 1774 and I second in The Road to Concord, rural Massachusetts was already changing its government by then. Dr. Warren, as an organizer of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the primary author of the Suffolk Resolves, was part of that change.

We might say that Warren’s house was the starting point of William Dawes’s and Paul Revere’s rides, since that was where the doctor told them separately about the impending British army march and asked them to take the news to Lexington. But I’ve questioned how important those messengers were to the militia response. And the Paul Revere House argues that Revere set off from there. (Dawes’s house doesn’t survive to make a case.)

None of that takes away from the importance of Dr. Warren’s house as a historical location. The young physician was an increasingly significant figure in Boston’s Whig resistance from the late 1760s. In 1774 and 1775, with more senior leaders absent because of death, illness, moves, and work at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Warren shouldered more and more responsibilities.

In the same vein, some folks in Roxbury are still hoping for the return of Boston’s monumental statue of Dr. Warren, now on the campus of the Roxbury Latin School, to the neighborhood where he grew up. The traffic island for which the statue was designed no longer exists, so the city and neighborhood would need to identify a new spot. And it would need a new plinth.

With the sestercentennial of the Revolution underway, this is a good time for the city to decide how to solidify the public memory of Dr. Warren.


Jim Padian said...

Thank you. John, for trumpeting the merits of rememberance for Dr. Joseph Warren. But moving his statue back to Roxbury would not IMHO be a worthwhile endeavor. Shortly after his first burial in the Granary Burying Ground, many in Boston pledged a fitting memorial for this Son of Liberty. Never happened. Now is the time to fulfill that promise. Bring the statue to Boston. Mount it on a suitable pedestal. Where remains to be determined. Not in City Hall Plaza. Perhaps on Tremont Street next to the T station, or in the Public Gardens. Put it where residents and tourists can pass by and acknowledge the importance of what he accomplished in an all too brief lifetime.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. The opportunity to have a memorial in the redesigned City Hall Plaza to recognize Dr. Warren's home and his efforts and "footprint" in America'a Revolution for Independence is wonderful!
Dr. Warren's contributions ranging from his two speeches commemorating the Boston Massacre, the behind the scenes efforts to coordinate the Boston Tea Party, the drafting of the 1774 Suffolk Resolves as a precursor to the Declaration of Independence, the sending of Dawes and Revere on April 18 to apprise the militias from Boston to Concord, the leadership and organization of 1,000s of untrained soldiers during the siege of Boston before George Washington took control and of course the final act of fighting and dieing as a common soldier at The Battle of Bunker Hill despite his forthcoming commission as a General make him a True Patriot, living a life worthy of rememberence.
A memorial in the Boston Plaza just blocks from Paul Revere's House would be a wonderful way to REMEMBER him.
Thanks again for your blog and bringing all items from 1775 to modern America.

G. Lovely said...

Given that the space s available, and the plaza needs all the help it can get, perhaps the memorial could take the form of a "ghost structure", and given the current fashion for humanize statuary, why bother with a plinth?


J. L. Bell said...

The Warren statue was designed to be viewed from below. There are some fine recent statues designed to be viewed eye to eye. I’m just not sure a sculpture meant for one sort of presentation can be easily adapted to the other.

Voter Fraud said...

I'm with Jim Padian (above). The Public Gardens would be a beautiful spot for the statue, placed upon a grand plinth.

Thanks, as ever, for the blog, J.L.

Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

With tongue firmly in cheek, I say he [Warren] won't be happy until his statues has been relocated as often as have his mortal remains.