Date: September 5, 1775
“The Provincials, covered by a small orchard, near the lines of the Boston Neck fortification, often picked out a centinel with their rifle-men; and at the periods of relieving guard in the night, they usually wound or kill some. In retaliation, an Irish soldier is posted in a small adv[a]nced breastwork, and with Dr. Warren’s rifle now and then kills a provincial.”
Source: Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, London, October 2, 1775, Issue 1985
Commentary: Rifles were not known to have been present among Patriot militia forces during June 1775. Later reports speak of Joseph Warren brandishing a borrowed musket rather than a rifle during the battle of Bunker Hill. Later that summer soldiers from western Pennsylvania and Virginia, armed with rifled muskets, had joined the Siege as Continental soldiers. Tales of their marksmanship rapidly became legend among both American and British opponents.
This correspondent evidently referred to Warren’s rifle in a generic sense, like Johnny Reb tobacco and Abe Lincoln coffee during the Civil War, or generic coke sugared beverage instead of Coca-Cola™ in modern times A plausible interpretation is that the Irish soldier’s weapon is a vaunted firearm, such as a Pennsylvania long rifle, that had been seized from some vanquished American, or brought into British lines by a deserter. The Irishman was giving the provincials a taste of their own Dr. Warren’s medicine.
It is notable that Joseph Warren’s name was being invoked in this ironic manner to an English wartime audience just a month since the first news of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Joseph Warren’s role in it, came before the British public.
There were indeed orchards in Roxbury just outside of British fortifications on Boston Neck, a circumstance lending some credibility to this brief news item. While the rifle would not have been a battlefield relic literally taken from a dead Joseph Warren, some of the trees among the Roxbury orchards would have been Warren Russet apple trees, a strain developed and perfected by generations of Joseph Warren’s family. Warren was present, in a manner of speaking, by way of the trees providing cover to the dreaded American riflemen. The Americans’ southern line of fortifications during the Siege of Boston (April 20, 1775 to March 17, 1776) traversed Roxbury not far fron the Warren family homestead on which Joseph Warren spent his childhood. It is said that some Warren Russet apple trees on the Warren farm were cut down by American soldiers during the Siege, and that the remainder were cut down in Washington and Knox’s final push to fortify Dorchester Heights in March of 1776.