Unable to Collect any Debts at the same Time More than Commonly Call’d upon for Cash

in by Warren

“Boston  January 23, 1775

Dear Jack

I am truly pleased to hear you are in agreeable Circumstances as to Business, go in and prosper.  I find Nothing coming in, in this Town I am not able to collect any Debts at the same Time I am more than commonly call’d upon for Cash  your Note I know you cannot d anything with yet, but if you are willing & can without hurting you avail myself of a Part f it, I want t settle with Dr Greenleaf for some Reasons which I will give you when next I see you :  He des not want the Money these two Years, and your Note to him for £200 lawful [money] will be sufficient Pay for him for that Sum – This rem[a]inder I hope I shall not want from you until it is quite cosy for you to pay it-  I am doing the same Thing with Dabney though I would not have him know that I have made any [       ] to you, as that you know of my making any such to you–  I wish to know whether you ever did any thing with the Letter to Capt Luce and whether any Letters can be sent from Salem either to William [ ]ung in Virginia or Cape Fear in Nth Carolina—I am with sincere Wishes for yr Prosperity

your Friend: & Br

Jos Warren”    Posted to Doctr John Warren  Salem

Source: Houghton Library B, Signature File, W Hollis ID 009152609, barcode 3639374. Norton Autographs 15 Jul 1914. Houghton Library: Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts

Commentary: In this rare surviving personal letter, Joseph Warren addresses his youngest brother John by his familiar nickname Jack. Dr. John Warren (1753-1815) had been a medical apprentice to brother Joseph, and had begun a medical practice in Salem at the successful conclusion of his apprenticeship late in 1773.  Squeezed by uncompensated Provincial Congress, Committee of Safety, and committee of Correspondence public responsibilities on one side, and inability of his patients – idled by the Boston Port Act – to pay him on the other, Joseph Warren was short of cash.  In this letter he asks his brother to sign John’s £200 note for, I believe, his apprenticeship tuition, over to  Joseph Warren’s apothecary wholesale supplier Dr. Greenleaf. Joseph Warren, for reasons he does not specify, does not want to settle his debt with Greenleaf directly. Perhaps the canny businessman Greenleaf, successful owner of the largest retail and wholesale medical supplier in all of New England, no longer trusted Joseph warren’s credit.  Joseph reassures brother John that Greenleaf is unlikely to call in the £200 note for cash anytime soon. By any standards, Joseph warren was strapped for cash, and was proposing a shaky solution that would have placed young Dr. John in a precarious situation.

Joseph Warren also queries his younger brother about a Salem-based ship captain for letters, possibly from the Committee of Correspondence, to be sent to a Southern Patriot contact. With the Post of Boston closed and concerns with Loyalists in the Royal Post, Warren was being careful in posting letters by way of trusted intermediaries.

Dr. John Warren went on to become a Continental Army physician, founder of Harvard Medical School, co-founder of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and scion of an unparallelled American medical dynasty spanning eight generations and active in the current day.

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