I Stand Much in Need of Cash

Dr. Joseph warren by Lora Innes

in by Warren

 “February 18, 1775

Dear Jack,

I would not lead you (although I stand much in need of cash) into any situation from which you could not easily bring yourself, honorably and conveniently. Mr. Greenleaf is not in want of money, but a circumstance is soon likely to take place which makes it proper I should not be personally in his debt; but I cannot otherwise discharge it than by paying him in notes.

If at the expiration of two years you find it inconvenient to pay the money, I will pay it myself, you giving me a note therefore. It is probable I shall do it in less than six months from this date. I therefore think it can be no unreasonable objection to my proposal, which I would be glad might be complied with as speedily as may be.

Your application for the mare I could not reply to, since I had sent my horse into the country. But he is now returned, and the mare is ready to be sent to you whenever called for. Let me hear by the first opportunity.

Yours, Jos. Warren”

Source:  Quoted by Edward Warren in Life of John Warren, MD, Boston: Noyes, Holmes, and Company, 1874. p. 41-42. Location of the original manuscript is not stated.  Currently it may be at the Massachusetts Historical Society among one of the Warren family collections, but I did not encounter it in the course of my researches.

Commentary: Joseph has yet to give up pressing his brother John for money in a scheme involving successful apothecary and merchant Mr. Greenleaf.  Joseph Warren does not explain why he did not want to be indebted directly to Greenleaf at this juncture.  

1) Historian and independent scholar Derek Beck suggests that Greenleaf was close kin to the Scollays. Widower Joseph was close to Mercy Scollay and, within months, they were considered informally engaged. Perhaps Joseph did not want to appear destitute to his future in-laws.  2) Alternatively, Joseph’s credit might have worn thin with Greenleaf, the chief supplier of wholesale pharmaceuticals to many of Boston’s physicians.  3) A third reason could have been that Joseph expected to negotiate with Greenleaf to purchase medical supplies for the militia on behalf of the Provincial Congress. If he had carried a large debt to Greenleaf, it might have muddied the interaction. Warren did purchase five such brigade medical chests of Greenleaf on April 4, 1775 for a total of £247/1/8, of which only a fifth part was in cash.  4) Authoritative and amusing blogster J.L. Bell of Boston1775 adds a fourth possible explanation. Bell believes that apothecary John Greenleaf was brother to sheriff Stephen Greenleaf. That relationship could cause big problems for a debtor.

Joseph Warren’s four possible reasons for not becoming indebted directly to John Greenleaf are not mutually exclusive.

The modern character sketch of Joseph Warren is by web comic artist Lora Innes. Warren family members figure prominently in her historical romance The Dreamer.  Innes depicts Warren as a swashbuckling charmer. The fictional apple has not fallen far from the historical factual tree.

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