Date: September 5, 1775
“Yesterday morning advice was received of the safe arrival of the Russia Merchant, Captain Street, at Dover, from Boston, with some dispatches from General Gage, which were immediately sent express to the Secretary of State’s Office. – She sailed from Boston the 29th of July, but has brought no newspapers, and, we are well informed, that everything remained quiet, and would continue so till an answer was received by this ship. By the above ship we learn, that two persons have been taken up in consequence of some papers found in Dr. Warren’s pocket.”
Source: Middlesex Journal, London, September 5, 1775, Issue 1005, p. 3; St. James Chronicle or the British Evening Post, September 2, 1775, Issue 2271, p. 3; and Chester Chronicle or Commercial Intelligencer, Chester, England, September 11, 1775, Issue 20.
Commentary: James Lovell and John Leach were arrested by the British Army shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill. They were treated harshly in prison. The arrests resulted from compromising letter contents referred to here. One or more letters would have been from Lovell, assistant teacher at Boston’s South Latin School. Apparently Lovell was one of Warren’s informants, spies as they might be regarded, within British-occupied Boston. The letter or letters do not survive, nor are their precise contents recorded. Lovell may have signed the initials “J.L.” as he did in the gossipy classic to Josiah Quincy, Jr. in the fall of 1774. Leach’s jail time may have been caused by nothing more than holding Whig sympathies and having identical initials as Lovell. Leach was freed in the Fall of 1775, while Lovell languished in prison throughout the Siege of Boston and was removed in irons to Nova Scotia in the course of the British evacuation.
The fact that Warren had such material on his person argues against him anticipating a fighting martyr’s death, as is sometimes depicted in melodramatic 19th century accounts. If he did foresee such an end, it would have been most careless to risk compromising his sources by taking such written material onto the front lines of battle.
This story gained some currency in Great Britain, as evidenced by appearances in three newspapers. Authoritative and amusing blogster J.L. Bell provides additional details of James Lovell’s misadventures, which were triggered by contents of Joseph Warren’s pockets. The initials “J.L.” in this historical context have no known relationship to the moniker of oft-quoted modern J.L. Bell.
The image is from an 1786 broadside published in New York. It contains the central vignette of John Trumbull’s painting Death of Major General Joseph Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. Trumbull’s painting was first exhibited in London early in 1786. It is not known how this apparently unauthorized copy made its way across the Atlantic and how it came to be published in New York.