A New Mystery In Warren’s Long-Lost Letter

Published February 14, 2011

In 1775, Joseph Warren asks that his letter be shared with someone -- it's not so clear whom.

In 1775, Joseph Warren asks that his letter be shared with someone -- it's not so clear whom.

There’s a new wrinkle in the story of Joseph Warren’s long-lost letter, and it doesn’t come until the tiny postscript. In that letter, Warren reports Continental victories at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point.

Last week the state recovered Warren’s letter, dated May 1775, some 60 years after it was stolen from the Massachusetts Archives. The secretary of state provided me with one transcript of the letter, which concludes:

PS you will be kind enough to communicate the contents of this Letter to General Knox as I love to give Pleasure to good men

That would be Boston revolutionary Henry Knox, right?

Boston history buff and blogger J.L. Bell isn’t so sure:

  • I’m eager for any evidence of when Henry and Lucy Knox left Boston. The earliest statement of a date appears in Francis Drake’s 1873 biography, which says they departed “Just one year from the day of his marriage,” which was on 16 June 1774. That meant the couple was out just in time for the Battle of Bunker Hill. Thus, if the Committee of Safety was in a position to pass news to Knox on 25 May, then he must have been out earlier.
  • However, Knox did not become a general until 1776. In May 1775, he held no rank in the New England army, and had been only a lieutenant in his prewar militia company.

Warren’s handwriting is hard to decipher — he was a doctor, after all — but he might not have written “Knox” at all. Bell posits the PS might have actually said “General Room,” “the general’s room,” or “General Thomas.”

Interesting. You can try to decipher the letter for yourself by viewing the super high-res version on Flickr.