Dr. Joseph Warren is not a name I was familiar with when I received a copy of “Founding Martyr.” Perhaps this should be no surprise. According to author Christian Di Spigna “Most [history] books fail to mention the role of Dr. Joseph Warren” in the resistance movement that led to the American Revolution. As a result, Dr. Warren’s many contributions to American Independence have largely been forgotten, even as long-lived fellow revolutionaries like John Adams, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock remain widely recognized names.
If you’re wondering why Warren “lost his place in the pantheon of founding fathers,” Di Spigna—a writer based in Williamsburg, Virginia—answers that question on page one of the book’s Introduction, noting that his subject was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence. Never mind that Dr. Warren, who Di Spigna describes as a “propagandist, polemicist, author, orator, professor, and ultimately a major general, as well as a doctor, a mentor, and a spymaster … helped to shape the ideas, policies, and events that catapulted thirteen colonies toward independence.”
In fact, according to Di Spigna, Warren “commanded a greater respect [among Crown officials, Loyalists, and soldiers of King George III’s army] and instilled more fear than most of his other patriot colleagues.” Reading this page-turner of a biography, it’s easy to understand why. In contrast to most of the other now iconic revolutionaries, Dr. Warren was an on-the-ground leader in Boston, a shrewd politician and organizer who didn’t shy away from violence when tensions with the British resulted in bloodshed.
Di Spigna takes the reader on a tour through Dr. Warren’s remarkable life, beginning with his childhood and years spent at Harvard College, all the way through to adulthood and his untimely death at age 34, a devastating blow to family and fellow revolutionaries alike, the latter having fretted about potentially losing such a pivotal political and social leader during an engagement on the battlefield. As it turns out, they had good reason to be worried, and the fact that the British butchered and disfigured Dr. Warren’s body seems a good indicator of the hatred he inspired among the members of the King’s army.
Yet Dr. Warren’s heroic efforts on and off the battlefield weren’t enough to keep his name in the conversation with the other founding fathers. Is it possible that that Di Spigna’s book—coupled with the newfound interest in the American Revolution inspired by the Broadway musical Hamilton—might raise Dr. Warren’s profile? Perhaps. If nothing else, Di Spigna’s work makes one think that it couldn’t happen to a more deserving individual. Dr. Warren’s “effective arsenal of voice, pen, and sword was unrivaled by any other patriot,” concludes the author. “Had he lived, in all likelihood his name would be remembered among those of the original founders.”