“Last week an interesting case came on before the Superior Court now sitting here, wherein D. Joseph Warren, administrator on the estate of Nathaniel Wheelwright, Esq; late of Boston, deceased, was plaintiff, for the recovery of part of the estate which the said Nathaniel had made over to Charles W. Apthorp, Esq:-The trial lasted four days, and we hear, the Jury brought in their verdict in favour of the Administrator.
Source: Boston Gazette, December 19, 1769, Issue 767, p. 2. Same in Boston Evening-Post, December 18, 1769, Issue 1786, p. 3
Commentary: In late 1767 Thomas Hutchinson (in his capacity as judge overseeing the Probate Court of Massachusetts, rather than as Lieutenant Governor) appointed Joseph Warren as executor of the high profile Nathaniel Wheelwright (1721-1765) estate. Though the estate was insolvent, the size of its debts were enough to trigger a regional depression and chain of bankruptcies. The political appointment was lucrative because the executor gained lucrative fees for his services, though creditors would only receive only a fraction of the amounts owed to them.
With respect to Joseph Warren’s story, several aspects of this case are notable. His appointment as executor may have been political patronage by the Friends of Government to lure the promising young physician to the Loyalist cause. Warren was already writing pseudonymous Whig-leaning op-ed pieces for the Boston Gazette from late 1765 into1767 as B.W. and Paskalos. His 1767 pieces on medical malpractice as Philo Physic skewered Whig Dr. Thomas Young.
Warren personally represented the Wheelwright estate in court in a multi-day trial. He prevailed in recovering cash, which would benefit the estate’s creditors. Warren successfully made the case that the dying Wheelwright had fraudulently transferred a large amount of cash to Charles Apthorp in a bid to hide assets from imminent default and subsequent estate proceedings. It was unprecedented for a physician to be appointed to such a high profile executorship, to play the lawyer and advocate in court, and to prevail. Though I have encountered no documentary evidence of it, I speculate that Warren may have had coaching of competent counselors, such as friends Josiah Quincy, Jr. or John Adams, while conducting his successful legal action against Charles Apthorp.
J.L Bell has written in his Boston1775 blog engagingly on the Wheelwright bankruptcy and how it fed into Massachusetts anxieties over the Stamp Tax in 1765.