That Little Vixen is the Instrument of Their Malice

in about Warren

Author: Mercy Scollay

Date: November 26, 1776

[to Mrs. Dix] “I have been to see my little ones [Joseph Warren’s orphaned children] twice since I came home and found them well and as glad to see me as ever; the last time I was there the old lady [Mary Stevens Warren, Joseph’s mother] bed’d me to come and spend two or three days with her for she had a great deal to say to me, and I found out afterwards by Sarah [identity unclear] that the old lady has been in a great deal of trouble, owing to that wicked woman [Mrs. Charles/Elizabeth ‘Betsey’ Miller] and the Minots who are her confederates, and they have made that little vixen of a girl, Sally Edwards the instrument of their Malice– I had not time to learn the particulars but find there has been some storys told of poor Sarah, detrimental to the memory of my departed friend, forged and propagated by that artfull woman and her accomplices. Betsy [Joseph’s eldest daughter Elizabeth Warren] is still permitted to remain there and under the tuition of madm and her chamber maid is taught to dispise her pious Grandmother [Mrs. Mary Stevens Warren], and to rail at poor Sarah, who has lived with her from her infancy, and was belov’d by both father and mother…”

Source: Mercy Scollay Papers 1775-1824, Cambridge Historical Society, Cambridge, MA

Commentary: Despite military and political dramas unfolding during 1776, Miss Mercy Scollay remained firmly focused on caring for Joseph Warren’s orphaned children and maintaining his posthumous reputation. Mrs. Charles Miller and a Sally Edwards continued to irk Miss Scollay.

A family tradition recorded by Dr. Edward Warren (Warren, Edward. Life of Dr. John Warren. Cambridge: H.O. Houghton and Co., 1873.) attempts to explain Joseph Warren’s whereabouts on the morning of June 17, 1775. Author Edward Warren was one of John Collins Warren’s I younger brothers (1804-1878), a nephew of Joseph Warren, and son through the line of Dr. John Warren (1753-1815). Edward Warren wrote that he saw an unnamed patient who said she had been born in Dedham in 1775, following the Battle of Bunker Hill. The patient related, and Edward Warren accepted, that Joseph Warren had visited the patient’s mother on the night before the Battle of Bunker Hill with the intention of delivering the baby, but was too early. In my biography of Joseph Warren I have dismissed this explanation as geographically impossible and unlikely that Dr. Joseph Warren would have been involved in obstetrical clinical care as far from Boston as Dedham during the Siege of Boston. However, some of the particulars discovered in Dr. Nathaniel Ames’ [III] account book concerning Dr. Joseph Warren’s “fair incognita pregnans” Sally Edwards now ring true enough as might reflect a family tradition transmitted by the illegitimate baby. Edward Warren wrote in 1873:

“I have attended a lady who was born in Dedham on the 17th of June, 1775. Dr. Joseph Warren was engaged to attend her mother in her confinement. It is stated that he visited her on that morning, and finding she had no immediate occasion for his services, told her that he must go to Charlestown to get a shot at the British, and he would return to her in season.

On the night of the 16th, it is well known that he presided at the meeting of the Colonial Congress, which continued in session a great part of the night in Watertown. It is very probable that he returned to visit his mother and his children at Roxbury before the battle and from there went to visit his patient. It is well known that he was late on the battlefield. Of course, he never returned to her again, and she was attended by Mr. Eustis.” (p.23)

Robert Hansen, a local historian affiliated with the Dedham Historical Society, deduced that the pregnant patient was named Sally Edwards. The illegitimate child was also named Sally Edwards at baptism. [Hanson, Robert Brand ed., and Nathaniel Ames, eds. The Diary of Dr. Nathaniel Ames of Dedham, Massachussetts, 1758-1822. 2 vols. Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1998, p.332 footnote]. Author Edward Warren, writing in 1873, did not name Dr. Joseph Warren’s pregnant patient. This may be the same Sally Edwards labelled by Mercy Scollay in November 1776 as a little vixen.  Sally and Edwards are common first and surnames, so the identities remain uncertain of the unwed mother giving birth in Dedham in June 1775 and the controversial resident living with Mrs. Elizabeth Miller in Boston in 1776.

Joseph Warren’s arrangement of the clinical care for the unwed mother in Dedham and subsequent payments for mother and child’s upkeep from his estate following his demise, suggest but do not prove Joseph Warren’s paternity. I am indebted to author Janet Uhlar for an intriguing alternate explanation for this episode.  Dr. Joseph Warren personally may have arranged care for the unwed mother as a service in an era predating homes for unwed mothers or other kinds of social services. Continuing payments from his estate may have been an expediency triggered by the Siege of Boston and executed by Dr. Nathaniel Ames and Warren’s former proteges Drs. William Eustis and David Townsend to shield the real father, Sally Edwards, and the illegitimate baby Sally Edwards, from public controversy.

Identity also is unclear of the Sarah about whom Mercy Scollay angrily believes is the subject of false rumor “detrimental to the memory of my departed  friend.” This Sarah appears to be a years long resident of the Warren household in Roxbury. Mary Lokken [Indians in Our Tree. San Antonio, Texas: William H. Mullen, 1989], whose book alleges various fanciful sexual irregularities within the Warren Roxbury household, focuses on this Sarah and takes rumors vexing Miss Scollay as fact.

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