Jump’d on His Stomach and Cut Off His Head

Joseph Warren's Skull in 1850s photo

in about Warren

by Benjamin Hichborn

Date: December 10, 1775

“… One Drew now a Lieutenant of the [HMS] Scorpion or Viper, I am uncertain which, and Bruce a private belonging to the [HMS] Preston, landed on Bunkers Hill, soon after the battle of the 17th of June….  In a day or two after, Drew went upon the Hill again opened the dirt that was thrown over Doctr: Warren, spit in his Face jump’d on his Stomach and at last cut off his Head and committed every act of violence upon his Body.  I had this Story from two Gentlemen belonging to the Preston who were eye Witnesses of the facts.  In justice to the officers in general I must add, that they despised Drew for his Conduct, the other was below their notice.”

Source: The Adams Papers, Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, Series III, Volume III, pp. 323-324

Commentary: Stories of the defilement of Joseph Warren’s corpse by the British military circulated in and around Boston and were shared with delegates to the Continental Congress. This outrageous example apparently was nothing more than tavern braggadocio emanating from idle British occupiers during the Siege of Boston.  It found a credulous Patriot audience whose conception of Great Britain was shifting from temporarily misguided mother country to a ruthless oppressor.

Some later historians have taken this tall tale as a literally true atrocity account, thereby discounting primary sources of the condition of Warren’s remains as identified by his surviving brothers and (very likely) Paul Revere immediately following British evacuation of Boston in 1776.  Joseph Ellis, whose works I admire, is one of the most recent authors to report this falsehood as fact in American Creation [Knopf, 2007].

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