Wednesday, June 12, 2013


 Ivory Teeth


Here are two excerpts from my novel that feature Dr. Joseph Warren. The first is a scene early in the book that refers to Paul Revere having provided Warren two artificial teeth.


He recalled Warren’s speech a month ago, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Warren had addressed a crowded church of agitated citizens. At least a dozen sour-faced British officers -- including Revere’s neighbor, Major John Pitcairn -- had sat in the first pew. Employing courtesy, discretion, and common sense, Warren had both delivered his message and defused hostility.

By being courtly, buoyant, Warren maintained his equilibrium. Revere’s way was single-minded absorption of the immediate task, be it a day long express ride to Portsmouth or a night patrol of the waterfront and Common.

"I, Paul, as well as any man, appreciate your skill with metal. But I am amazed at how well you fashioned these two ivory teeth. I do not eat with them, mind, but they look white, and I don't whistle when I speak."


 This second excerpt demonstrates Warren’s exceptional courage. He and General William Heath had just witnessed the conclusion of hand-to-hand combat between a British soldier and militiaman Eliphalet Downer on the Menotomy plain.

“Extraordinary! Beyond belief!" Recognizing that he and Warren were taking fire, Heath had then yelled, "Doctor! Ride on!" Thirty yards away he looked back. Warren hadn’t moved.

"Doctor! God’s life! They’re sighting on us!"

"One moment."

Taking an inordinate length of time, Warren had felt the hair above his left ear. Examining then his hand, he had released a low whistle.'

"What?!"

"Astounding."

"What has happened?!"

"A marksman has shot off the pin to my ear lock."

Unlike George Washington, who could easily have been killed several times in combat during his lifetime, Warren would be spared by fate/chance/providence once.

On May 20, 1775, the Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety directed Warren to organize the various militia companies assembled outside Boston into a provincial army. On June 14 the Congress agreed to commission Warren a major general. They had initially appointed him the army’s physician-general; but, insisting upon hazardous duty, Warren had turned the appointment down.

Two days later, June 16, tending to public business at Watertown, where the Provincial Congress was in session, cognizant that the newly constituted provincial army had an insufficient supply of ammunition, Warren questioned the wisdom of fortifying either of the two Charlestown hills. But Congress had acted. The army was atop Breed’s Hill. The following morning, the 17th, Warren met with the Committee of Safety in Cambridge; and during the afternoon, upon receiving information that British soldiers were crossing the Charles River, he rode to Breed’s Hill, suffering from a terrible headache.

General Israel Putnam, of Connecticut, told Warren he would be happy to take Warren’s orders, but the doctor replied that he was there only as a volunteer, that he had not formally received his commission. Putnam sent him to where the fighting would be the heaviest, the redoubt at the top of the hill.

Colonel William Prescott offered Warren the command of the redoubt, but again Warren declined. Eventually, their ammunition expended, Prescott’s soldiers were forced to retire. Warren was one of the last to attempt to leave. Major Small, the British officer who before the Battles of Lexington and Concord had supplied passes to citizens who wished to cross Boston Neck, recognizing the likable Warren, called for him to surrender. Smiling an acknowledgment, Warren turned away. At that moment a musket ball struck him in the face.

British soldiers buried Warren’s body in a common grave on Bunker Hill. Captain Walter Laurie later asserted that he had “stuffed the scoundrel with another rebel into one hole, and there his and his seditious principles may remain.” During the succeeding months Warren’s two brothers were kept informed of rumors of the location of Warren’s remains. After the British had evacuated Boston, the brothers attempted to locate his body.

Doctor John Jeffries, a Loyalist, had served the British as a surgeon at Breed's Hill. He had recognized Warren's body prior to its burial. Before Jeffries accompanied the British army to Halifax, Nova Scotia, he told an acquaintance in Boston where Warren could be found.

The brothers' search was aided by the rumor that Warren had been buried with a person dressed in a farmer's frock. The first body they uncovered wore that garment. The second body, in Paul Revere's words, was “disfigured.” It had lain in the ground for ten months, “our savage enimies scarce privileged with earth enough to hide it from the birds of prey.” The skull of the skeleton showed evidence of the entrance of a musket ball. Warren's brothers believed indeed that they had found Warren’s remains but only Revere could verify it. This he did, recognizing the two artificial teeth he had fastened in his friend's mouth days before April 19.