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What Happened to Mary Stevens Warren? 

The Warren and Stevens family were closely connected in Roxbury, Massachusetts for many decades. During the deadly smallpox outbreak of 1721 members from both households had received controversial inoculations from Dr. Zabdiel Boylston. In the spring of 1740, Mary Stevens married Joseph Warren II—who was more than 15 years older than his young bride—joining both families. Their first child, the future physician and revolutionary leader, Dr. Joseph Warren III, was born the following year. 

 

Mary Stevens Warren would suffer numerous hardships throughout her life. Her father, Captain Samuel Stevens, invested in the Land Bank “scheme” (paper currency which was backed by land) around the time his daughter Mary married. As a result of the Land Bank, Captain Stevens suffered financial ruin for several decades. In 1755 Mary’s husband died tragically on the farm after falling from a ladder while picking apples from one of his trees. Twenty years later her first-born son, Dr. Joseph Warren, was killed in action at the Battle of Bunker Hill. During the siege of Boston, Mary made the Warren farm available to the Continental Army to help house and feed soldiers. When the war campaign moved south to New York, the Warren farm was nearly decimated since all the apple trees had been cut down for firewood.   

 

Mary’s youngest son John, like his brother Joseph, also became a physician and he voluntarily joined the Continental Army as a surgeon. A rare 1778 letter written by Mary to her son John reads, in part, “You inform us of the great host that are coming against us, but I hope that god will scatter them, so that they will not be left to hurt you or us.”[1] Mary, whose family had made many personal sacrifices for the “Cause,” obviously worried about the safety of her youngest child throughout the war for independence. 

 

So, what happened to Mary Stevens Warren? According to history, Mary remained a widow for nearly a half century. Yet new research shows that Mary remarried. She went to live with her second husband, Deacon John Adams in the town of Milton, Massachusetts.[2] The Deacon died at the age of eighty-one on what would have been Dr. Joseph Warren’s forty-ninth birthday in 1790—making June 17 an even more tragic date for Mary Stevens. She moved back to the Warren farm in Roxbury, where she lived with her son, Samuel until she died at age ninety in 1803.[3]  

 

[1] Di Spigna Christian, Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero. (New York: Crown, 2018), 205. 

[2] The Deacon’s first wife, Sarah Swift, had given birth to at least a dozen children, passing away at the age of sixty-eight in 1774.

[3] Samuel Warren died in 1805 and was the last Warren family member to live in the original Roxbury farm home. 

Rumors of a Devastating House Fire?

The paintings of Dr. Joseph Warren and Elizabeth Hooton Warren are currently held in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. We were finally able to prove the centuries old mystery that Henry Pelham, not John Copley, painted Elizabeth Hooton Warren’s portrait. In the 1850s, the Alvord family of Greenfield Massachusetts were in possession of the two Warren paintings. Dr. Joseph Warren’s sole surviving grandchild. Joseph Warren Newcomb, married Sarah Alvord, and upon Sarah’s death the paintings remained in the Alvord family. In need of money the Alvord’s were attempting to sell both paintings due to rumored financial difficulties. Whispers of a fire that destroyed much of the Warren family possessions have persisted since the mid-nineteenth century, frustrating scholars and historians.

Vague suppositions have persisted through the centuries, but we were able to pinpoint and uncover exactly what happened, solving the long-standing mystery. The Alvord family suffered not one, but two devastating house fires. The first was on December 22, 1847: “The house of the late Elijah Alvord [Sarah’s father] was destroyed by fire.” Less than a decade later another house fire razed the Alvord home, this time destroying much of Dr. Joseph Warren’s remaining papers and heirlooms. Fortunately, an Alvord neighbor, Major Reed, managed to save the painting of Dr. Joseph Warren. According to newspaper accounts “a small portion of the contents of the dwelling were salvaged.” A small servant boy who ran into the burning building to save various items tragically perished after being suffocated by the smoke.

Combined with the fact that Warren destroyed many of his personal letters and sensitive documents, this helps uncover why Dr. Warren’s paper trail is so scant. It also highlights why there are so few surviving pieces of Warren ephemera. Such circumstances help explain why so little has been known or written about Warren since his death nearly 250 years ago. While in recent years there have been numerous Warren books, comics, and shows—the lion’s share of those accounts have been fictionalized due to the dearth of information. Part of the Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation’s mission is to present the two decades of research that led to scores of new Warren discoveries, to promote his legacy and understand his contributions to the cause of American liberty.

The Painting of Elizabeth Hooten Warren

Dr. Joseph Warren married Elizabeth Hooton in the town of Boston on September 6, 1764. At eighteen years of age Elizabeth was considered one of the most attractive and wealthy young women in Boston. Sadly, the happy marriage ended when Elizabeth passed away in April 1773, leaving Dr. Warren a widower with four young children. A portrait of Elizabeth was painted prior to her death and is currently held in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

 

The question that has been debated and speculated for centuries is, who painted Elizabeth’s portrait? Many assumed that John Copley, who painted Dr. Joseph Warren’s painting, was the artist while some have claimed it was someone other than Copley. According to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ description of the painting, the artist was in the “Circle Of: John Singleton Copley.” 

Yet, according to family primary sources, Elizabeth’s portrait was painted by John Copley’s half-brother, Henry Pelham—the man who Paul Revere “borrowed” the Boston Massacre engraving from in 1770. Pelham who remained a staunch Crown supporter for the duration of his life, was a painter and engraver in his own right.

Elizabeth Hooten Warren

Dr. Joseph Warren’s sole surviving grandchild, Joseph Warren Newcomb married Sarah Wells Alvord in 1830. When Sarah died six years later, the paintings of both Dr. Joseph Warren and his wife Elizabeth remained in the possession of the Alvord family. Sarah’s brother Daniel Alvord reached out to several interested parties as well as descendants of John Warren (Joseph’s brother) offering to sell the pair of paintings in the 1850s. Daniel Alvord explained to potential buyers that the Dr. Joseph Warren portrait painted by John Copley and “that of Madame [Elizabeth] Warren by Pelham in my possession” were indeed available for purchase.

The entire Warren family likely knew that Henry Pelham was in fact the artist responsible for Elizabeth’s portrait. Yet this information seems to have eluded subsequent generations, but finally the long-standing mystery of who exactly painted Elizabeth Hooton Warren’s painting has finally been solved.

 

But why were the Alvord’s attempting to sell both paintings? The answer lies behind another mystery that has continued to elude scholars and historians since the nineteenth century. We will explore this mystery in our next “Fact or Fiction?” installment.  

Descendants of Dr. Warren

Dr. Joseph Warren was survived by his four children, Elizabeth, Joseph, Richard, and Mary. Both his sons died childless as young adults. His daughter Elizabeth had no surviving children and his youngest Mary’s first marriage produced no surviving children. Therefore, does Dr. Joseph Warren have any descendants or does the current Warren lineage solely trace their roots via his brother John and Ebenezer as every history on Warren had claimed for well over a century? (His brother Samuel never married and died in 1805.)

 

After the passing of her first husband, Warren’s youngest daughter Mary married Judge Richard English Newcomb of Greenfield Massachusetts. That marriage produced a son, Joseph Warren Newcomb, whose son married the granddaughter of General Israel Putnam, thereby joining the patriot bloodlines of Bunker Hill Fame. 

 

The current Warren descendants (which number over two dozen) can all trace their line to Dr. Joseph Warren’s sole surviving grandson, Joseph Warren Newcomb. Generations of Warren descendants graduated from The U.S. Military Academy at West Point becoming commissioned officers, and combat war veterans.  While the line boasts an impressive military dynasty, Dr. Carolyn Matthews, Warren’s seventh great-granddaughter and the director of integrative medicine for the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, continues in the medical tradition of her patriot ancestor. Matthews and her family started “The Joseph Warren Award” at Baylor University Medical Center which is awarded to a “senior resident who best balances leadership, medicine, and other activities in his or her life.”[1]

[1] Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2009 Jan; 22(1): 30-41.

The Remains of Dr. Warren

Over the course of eight decades (1775-1856), Dr. Joseph Warren’s remains were moved at least four times. A great deal of interest surrounding the location of Dr. Joseph Warren’s remains between 1855 and 1856 has led to numerous speculations in recent years. Some historians have claimed that Warren’s remains, including his skull, were removed from the basement vault of St. Paul Church in August 1855 to the Park St. home of General Joseph Warren’s nephew, Dr. John Collins Warren, a prominent Boston physician. 

Yet according to numerous newspaper articles in May 1856 “We are informed by the Sexton of St. Paul’s Church that the remains of Gen. Joseph Warren are still deposited in the family tomb under that church. The report that they had been removed to Forest Hills Cemetery was therefore without foundation.”[1]

 

According to the journal of Dr. John Collins Warren, which was continued by his son James Sullivan Warren after Collins died in May 1856, the urn with General Warren’s remains were removed from St. Paul’s Church on July 26, 1856. Two weeks later the August 8 journal entry read “Took Urns from St. Pauls tomb…to tomb at Forest Hills” where they have since remained beside his family. 

 

[1] Boston Evening Transcript, May 7, 1856. Lowell Daily Citizen and News, May 9, 1856.