JOSEPH WARREN - Martyr of Bunker Hill

By Robert W. Williams III, in The Trowel (Massachusetts) Winter 1989 issue


On a quiet summer afternoon about 230 years ago, some Harvard

College students shut themselves in an upper dormitory roorn to

arrange some affairs pertaining to their class. Another class

member desired to be with them - knowing they intended to thwart

some fondly cherished purpose of his own. They refused to admit

him; the door was closed, and he could not gain admittance without

violence, which he chose to avoid.


Reconnoitering the premises he discovered that one of the windows

in the room was open and he noticed a nearby waterspout that

extended from the roof to the ground. He climbed to the top of

the house and slid down the eaves, then laid hold of the spout and

descended until he was opposite the open window. With a prodigious

physical effort he thrust himself through the window and landed in

the room! Simultaneously, the waterspout crashed to the ground; had

it fallen a moment sooner he would have been thrown to the pavement

below and, undoubtedly, seriously injured. He cooly remarked to

himself, "It served its purpose!"


That Harvard boy was Joseph Warren, later known as Doctor Warren

and General Warren, the martyr of Bunker Hill and the Grand Master

of Masons (Massachusetts Provincial Grand Lodge) in North America.

The boy had already given promise of the man in whatever he

undertook. The fearless act of getting to that room was the

swelling bud which opened and blossomed and bore fruit in his adult



In December 1769 Warren received a commission from the Earl of

Dalhousie, Grand Master of Masons in Scotland, appointing him

Provincial Grand Master of Masons in Boston and within 100 miles of

the same. The commission was dated May 30, 1769. When the Earl of

Dumfries succeeded Dalhousie as Grand Master he issued another

appointment to Warren, dated March 7, 1772, constituting him "Grand

Master of Masons for the Continent of America," extending his

original limits. He was indefatigable in the discharge of his

Masonic duties and, coupled with his extensive medical practice,

the care of his motherless children, together with his patriotic

devotion to his country, won for him the highest regard of the

public and the Craft. His name is indelibly engraved on the mystic

temple of FreemasGnry, just as it is on the pages of American



Somewhat impetuous in his nature, but brave to a fault, Bro.

Warren craved the task of doing what others dared not do -- the

same courage imbued in Paul Revere and other patriots. On the

anniversary of the Boston Massacre (March 3, 1770) Warren was the

orator. While it was a duty which won him distinction, it was also

one of peril. English military officers usually attended in order

to heckle Warren and it required a brave man to stand up in Old

South Church, in the face of those officers, to boldly proclaim

their bloody deeds. It required a cool head and steady nerves, and

Grand Master Warren had both.


The crowd at the church was immense; the aisles, the pulpit stairs,

and the pulpit itself were filled with officers and soldiers of the

garrison, always there to intimidate the speaker. Warren was equal

to the task but entered the church through a pulpit window in the

rear, knowing he might have been barred from entering through the

front door. In the midst of his most impassioned speech, an English

officer seated on the pulpit stairs and in full view of Warren,

held several pistol bullets in his open hand. The act was

significant; while the moment was one of peril and required the

exercise of both courage and prudence, to falter and allow a single

nerve or muscle to tremble would have meant failure -- even ruin to

Warren and others.


Everybody knew the intent of the officer and a man of less courage

than Warren might have flinched, but the future hero, his eyes

having caught the act of the officer and without the least

discomposure or pause in his discourse, simply approached the

officer and dropped a white handkerchief into the officer's hand!

The act was so adroitly and courteously performed that the Breton

was compelled to acknowledge it by permitting the orator to

continue in peace.


On June 14, 1775, three days before the Battle of Bunker Hill

(actually Breed's Hill), Dr. Warren was elected Major General by

the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. Without military

education or experience, he was placed in the presence of the whole

British army. Against the protests of Gen. Artemus Ward, Gen.

Israel Putnam and others, Warren chose to shoulder a musket and

join the fighting men behind the barricades on the hill. He felt a

premonition of his death and declared to Betsy Palmer (whose

husband joined the Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington), "Come,

my little girl, drink a glass of wine with me for the last time,

for I shall go to the hill tomorrow and I shall never come off."


The shooting lasted less than one hour but only because the

Patriots ran out of ammunition. Warren had been shot in the back of

the head and thrown to the ground. His body was thrown in a ditch

by a British officer and buried with the others. It was discovered

months later and identified by Paul Revere who recognized a false

tooth he had made for Warren. He was next buried in the Granary

burial ground (Tremont .St., Boston) where he was laid after

Masonic ceremonies in King's Chapel and, thirdly, in the Warren

Tomb in St. Paul's Cathedrdal, Boston. Finally, on August 3, 1855,

"The precious ashes were carefully deposited in an imperishable urn

and placed in the family vault at Forest Hill Cemetery where they

now repose." (G.L. Proc. 1855-69 p. 511.) On April 8, 1777 Congress

ordered a monument to be erected over the grave of Gen. Warren in

the Town of Boston, but like many other things Congress resolves,

it was never accomplished. In 1794 Klng Solomon's Lodge of

Charleston (now meeting in Somerville) erected a monument on

Bunker Hill on land donated by Bro. Benjamin Russell for that

purpose. It was "A Tuscan pillar, 18 feet in height placed on a

platform 8 feet high, 8 feet square, and fences around."


The Bunker Hill Monument Association was formed in 1823 for the "purpose of

erecting on Bunker Hill a more fitting and enduring monument to the

memory of the brave men who fell there in the cause of human

liberty." King Solomon's Lodge (1783) then gave the Association the

ground which it owned, together with the monument it had erected to

the memory of Bro. Warren, on condition "that some trace of its

former existence" might be preserved in the monument to be erected.

On June 17, 1825, Grand Lodge opened at 8 a. m. and a procession

was formed on the Common which marched to Bunker Hill in

Charleston. There, in the presence of Bro. Lafayette (the apron he

wore is in the Grand Lodge archives), representatives from every

New F:ngland state except Rhode Island, along with the Grand Lodge

of New Jersey, Grand Master John Abbot, and Senior Past Grand

Master Isaiah Thomas, assisted in laying the cornerstone and

Lafayette and Bro. Daniel Webster addressed the great gathering.

The momument was completed and dedicated June 17, 1843, but without

the presence of the Grand Lodge. It was during the anti-Masonic era

and a resolution to attend was defeated.


Inside the present obelisk is a model of the first monument that

had been erected by King Solomon's Lodge. It is made of the finest

Italian marble and, including the granite pedestal on which it

stands, is ahout nine feet in height and bears substantially the

same inscription as the former one. The memorial is now under the

jurisdiction of the National Park Service ( 1976) and anybody can

climb the 294 steps to the top without charge. From windows you can

view Boston and, in particular, Charleston Navy Yard where the

U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) is berthed.


(Contributing source: Cornelius Moore in the Voice of Masonry,

published in The Freemasons Repository, Nov. 1881, Vol. 11.)


(Scaned for Hiram's Oasis from the Southern Califorinia Research

Lodge newsletter, Feb. 1991)