It May Not be Known What Family They Belong To

in by Warren

Date: February 25, 1775

To Dr. Elijah Dix [of Worcester]

“Boston, 25 Feby. 1775

I must request you to have the House ready to receive some of my Goods in three or four Days, if they should arrive before any of my Family I must beg you would take the care of them, as the Chests and Trunks will contain Things of the greatest Value to me. Pray keep this Matter secret….” [a commentator added in 1876] “He begs that the matter may be kept secret, and that after his people arrive, it may not be known what family they belong to, until he follows them.”

[signed] Joseph Warren

Source: I am much obliged to author and historian Derek W. Beck for his identification and reconstruction of this letter from obscure secondary sources. Mr. Beck’s upcoming book 1775 employs this and a number of sources new to historians to provide a richly textured account of the first year of the American Revolution.

Mr. Beck employed two 19th century sources from which he pieced together texts of otherwise lost letters. A couple of these ms letters were subsequently found in archives. They are indeed ms signature original manuscripts whose contents are virtually identical to the reconstructions. These circumstances lead me to accept the reconstructed text of the documents, whose locations remain unknown, and that they are genuine.

  • Centennial Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1876, to Which Are Added Historical and Chronologic Notes. Worcester: Press of Chas. Hamilton, 1876.
  • Catalogue of Autographs, Letters and Historical Documents, Collected by the Late Prof. E. H. Leffingwell, of New Haven, Conn., to Be Sold by Auction Tuesday January 6th, 1891 and Following Days. Boston: C. F. Libbie & Co, 1891.

Commentary: Joseph Warren contemplated the necessity of leaving Boston almost two months prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. This is earlier than previously described. In the days immediately prior to this letter to his friend Dr. Dix, Warren met as a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’ Committee of Safety, where detailed plans for acquiring and stockpiling arms were discussed and authorized. Worcester was to be a principal location for such activity. Did Warren in late February think that Worcester might become the temporary provincial capitol of a revolutionary government, and that it would be a good place for his family should he need to join them there? Whatever were his thoughts then, The Committee of Safety deliberations provide a plausible context for this February 25th letter. Warren took no concrete action to move his goods and family until early April 1775.

Deciding a major aspect of a biography on the basis of just one document is historiographically suspect. I have done so in this case. The rarity of primary source material for Joseph Warren presents a conundrum. If one insists on multiple, mutually corroborating source documents to support an assertion, and such documents are missing or cannot be found, then does that mean one could make no assertions on the point in question? With respect to Joseph Warren’s personal and family life during the politically ripe early Revolutionary time frame, previous biographers Frothingham and Cary took the tact of saying very little on Warren’s personal life.

In my biography of Warren, I describe his personal life, utilizing documentation such as this discovery by Mr. Beck. All documentation, even when thin, is described in end notes, comprising a base of 95% primary source materials. I generally did not accept extrapolations from secondary sources.

Previous post:

Next post: