Scandalous Implication with No Solid Documentation

in about Warren

In early April 1775, two weeks prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Joseph Warren arranged for the care of a young pregnant woman.  Thought to have been Sally Edwards, she was identified only as Joseph Warren’s “fair incognita pregnans” in the account book of Dr. Nathaniel Ames, the physician, Dedham innkeeper, and old Warren college classmate who was engaged to care for the pregnant girl or woman.  Warren’s fiancee Mercy Scollay had unkind words for a Sally Edwards, presumably the same person as “fair incognita pregnans,” labeling her in a confidential 1776 letters to a friend as as a “little hussy” and “vixen.”

I wrote in my biography of Warren that secrecy, Warren’s close identification with the proceedings, and posthumous continuation of charges to his account suggest, but do not prove, Joseph’s paternity.  Nathaniel Philbrick, in his new book Bunker Hill, takes this a leap further, asserting that Joseph Warren was conducting an affair with Miss Edwards at the same time he was paying court to upstanding Daughter of Liberty, Miss Mercy Scollay.  Philbrick is more circumspect in the fine print endnotes.

Scanty surviving documentation does not allow deciding which of two divergent interpretations is correct.  Did Joseph Warren father an illegitimate child and arrange care for the pregnant mother?  I lean toward this interpretation.  Or was he arranging services as a Good Samaritan, only to have associated charges go to his estate as a way to cover the identity of the true father?

Janet Uhlar, author of a well-researched fictionalized hagiography of Joseph Warren, Liberty’s Martyr, feels that Joseph Warren’s legacy is being unjustly maligned.  I am not very high on Ms. Uhlar’s list for including this episode at all in my writings, and Nathaniel Philbrick inhabits an even lower place.  Janet graciously agreed to my reprinting here as a guest blog entry her analysis of this episode, a piece she had posted as an review in recent days.

“Many, including myself, who have given themselves to some study and have acquired knowledge of a forgotten patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, are concerned with some of Nathaniel Philbrick’s portrayal of him in his newly released book, Bunker Hill. One of Warren’s direct descendants has also contacted me with similar concerns, and has shared his like opinions in regard to certain of Philbrick’s representations of a specific life event that could unfairly compromise his character and the morality of the patriot; the fact that Philbrick has signed a book option with Warner Brothers Studio — and Ben Affleck is to be at the helm of a possible movie – enhances the reported concerns of all.
Philbrick recants and seemingly imposes on some known facts an innuendo to a reported situation where Dr. Warren, a widower, with natural children, had contact with an unnamed pregnant teenager; he arranged to provide care in what today might be referred to as an unwed mother’s home, but under the care of another physician and friend, Dr. Nathaniel Ames. Philbrick reports this event in his book to suggest, without citation to any authoritative or recognized source, that this girl may have been the nanny to Warren’s motherless children, and further implies, again without reference to any birth records or to any known scholarly support, that she was impregnated by him. According to Philbrick, Warren paid for her care, but he adds as his own unreferenced conclusion that the funds were sourced from his own accounts to satisfy the fees for the medical expenses incurred while in the care of Dr. Ames. No other reasonable option is considered by Mr. Philbrick, such as that the funds offered by Warren may have been provided by the parents of this young child
Philbrick also presents a paragraph from a biography on Joseph Warren’s brother, Dr. John Warren, written by his nephew Dr. Edward Warren. This paragraph relates an interview Edward Warren had with a woman, who claimed that her mother, a patient of Dr. Joseph Warren, was close to delivery in mid-June of 1775. According to the unnamed daughter, as referenced in an oral interview by Dr. Edward Warren, Dr. Joseph Warren visited this unnamed mother (at an unstated location) to the purpose of checking on the young mother’s medical condition at some time before the Battle of Bunker Hill.
From these two possibly unrelated anecdotes Philbrick- unjustifiably, in my opinion – presents a story of a young woman named Sally Edwards as the girl impregnated, very possibly, by Dr. Joseph Warren, and the child referenced in a verbal account by Dr. Edward Warren is the illegitimate child of Dr. Joseph Warren; and that, as Philbrick further implies, he sent her away because of this. Philbrick further suggests without referencing any authoritative source for his historical account of Dr. Joseph Warren, that a mere visit from the said Warren, as simply noted in Dr. Ames’ journal, may possibly have ended or started with a wholly immoral, illicit sexual encounter between Dr. Joseph Warren and a teenager. According to Philbrick, and, to my knowledge, only Philbrick, the identity of the unnamed woman that Warren, a doctor, then thirty-three years of age, visited on the morning before the Battle of Bunker Hill was Sally Edwards.
Philbrick clearly states in his book that he obtained much — if not all — of this information on Dr. Joseph Warren from a recent biography written about him by one Samuel Forman. Forman is the one who originally presented this idea of Dr. Joseph Warren’s sexual victimization of this teenage girl (for, if she is the same Sally Edwards that three years later married Paul Revere’s son, then Sally is only 13 years-old when she was impregnated, by someone). Samuel Forman and I have disputed this conclusion since the time his book was published — he even noted on his blog that I strongly disagree with his assumptions in regard to the matter.
I have read and considered the documents that Philbrick and Forman base their implications of Warren’s alleged sexual dalliance and victimization of this teenage girl — and I have spoken to the archivist at the Dedham Historical Society where the documents are kept. In my opinion, there is nothing stated within Nathaniel Ames’ journal to indicate such a conclusion or even suspicion. Yes, an unnamed pregnant girl, perhaps Sally Edwards, was placed for care by Dr. Ames through the efforts of Dr. Joseph Warren. Those records do support that Dr. Joseph Warren and his former apprentices, after his death, paid the bill for the young woman’s care until she delivered, and for a short period thereafter. Dr. Edward Warren reports in his book an account of an unnamed woman who made the claim that Dr. Joseph Warren was allegedly concerned about her mother’s advanced pregnancy. None of these “unknowns” warrant or indicate the imposition of character-damaging innuendo, not supported by original and authoritative documents, as proposed by authors Samuel Forman or Nathaniel Philbrick.
Dr. Joseph Warren, a medical doctor, dealt with difficult pregnancies as part of his practice — for most pregnant women entrusted themselves to a midwife. If he was concerned about a woman near to her term to deliver, it certainly could have been for medical reasons related to a patient – because such a pregnancy presented a high risk situation to a 13-year-old – not because he was the father of her illegitimate child.  As for Sally Edwards – if, in fact, the unnamed pregnant teen was Sally Edwards – could it simply be that a young, unwed girl may have been impregnated not by Dr. Joseph Warren, but by or through rape, incest, or passion with a young male friend (perhaps even Paul Revere’s son, whom she later married)?  Could it be that the money given for her care was first entrusted to Dr. Joseph Warren by Sally’s family or by the true father of her child — and Warren was simply a means of offering privacy and protection to
the girl in a rather harsh Puritan society? There is no record of any post-birth connection between Dr.
Joseph Warren and Sally Revere, née Edwards.
Upon my further readings through the journal kept by Dr. Nathaniel Ames, it is clear that other entries of nameless pregnant women were placed under his care by other physicians – including Dr. Joseph Warren’s brother, Dr. John Warren. Should it be implied that these other physicians are also subject to the innuendo that they had impregnated any unnamed women they placed under Dr. Ames’ care – or, should it be more reasonably determined that the good physicians offered a safe haven with available medical care to unwed pregnant women of their community. Why must such acts of professionalism be perceived as on opportunity by anyone to report scandal? The life of Dr. Joseph Warren, which I researched and recorded in my book on his life, recounts a dedicated country physician of high and unspotted moral character; and that is how I hope he will forever be remembered in print and in movies. These ruminations of personal concerns are just my opinion.  – Janet Uhlar”

Libertys Martyr by Janet Uhlar 2009

Libertys Martyr by Janet Uhlar 2009

You can order Janet’s book, Liberty’s Martyr – The Story of Dr. Joseph Warren (Dog Ear Publishing LLC, 2009)  here on



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