History's Women: Early America: Mercy Otis Warren - Patron Saint of the Revolutionary PeriodMercy Otis Warren
Patron Saint of the Revolutionary Period
1728 – 1814 A.D.

One of the really great leaders of thought at the outbreak of the Revolution, and indeed, for many years leading up to the crisis, was Mercy Otis Warren, a Massachusetts woman whose devotion to the cause of independence was to make her one of the most noted women of her day. So sheltered were the home lives of the women of that period that we know little of her girlhood except that she was the third child of Colonel James Otis of Barnstable and was born Sept. 25, 1728.

The girlhood of Mercy Otis was passed in the usual round of household duties that would fall naturally to the eldest daughter in a well-to-do and well-ordered New England household. She received little education in school but had a chance to pursue her studies under the direction of Rev. Jonathan Russell, from whose library she read widely and wisely, and as she was naturally of a studious habit her mind was well trained in the matter of general literature and the classics. Especially did the girl turn to history, and early in her reading she became an ardent advocate of the rights of the common people. In later years, her brother James, himself a man of rare scholarship, took great interest in her studies and writings. Reading, drawing, and needlework were said to have been the usual employment of the young woman and almost her sole recreation.

The closest friend of the girlhood days of Mercy Otis was Abigail Smith, daughter of Rev. William Smith, who was afterward married to John Adams, a young lawyer of Boston, already beginning to take an active part in Colonial politics. In 1754 Mercy Otis was married to James Warren, a prosperous merchant of Plymouth, who appears to have been a sensible, strong-minded man of great patriotism and in thorough sympathy with the literary tastes of his wife. Consequently the new cares and duties thrust upon her in no wise impaired that devotion to literature that characterised [sic] her whole life.

Mrs. Warren was a zealous patriot, as was to be expected from a sister of James Otis, who was for years the leader of the cause in New England, and the hospitable Warren home was always open to the friends of America. It was a day of letter writing. Daily newspapers were unknown and there were few weeklies. Consequently people wrote to one another upon any and all occasions. Mercy Warren and her friend Abigail Adams, after the marriage of the latter, which took her to Braintree to live, wrote back and forth continually, giving the news and opinions of the day, especially upon such political questions as affected the Colonies. From this, there sprang up a correspondence between Mrs. Warren and some of the most noted men of the day. Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Elbridge Gerry were among those taking part.

Mrs. Warren wrote several dramatic and satirical poems against the royalists, which, with two tragedies, were included in a volume of Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, published in 1790. She carried on a long correspondence with John Adams, beginning before the Revolution and continuing during the period of his residence abroad, which the Massachusetts Historical Society had published in 1878. During the Revolutionary War, she kept a diary of all the principal events, and in 1805 published A History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, Interspersed with Biographical, Political, and Moral Observations. At this distance, Mistress Warren’s poems, and indeed all that she wrote, is rather tedious reading. She was scholarly, terribly in earnest, and intensely patriotic, but lacked perspective. In all her characterisations [sic] there was no gleam of humour [sic], no softening of the possible motives of a royalist, or any question as to the limpid purity of a patriot character. Her history, while of great value to the historian, was written in a tone of too strong a partisanship and too soon after the end of the struggle to have given a fair record of either motives or events.

Her husband and John Adams looked upon Mrs. Warren as almost the Peter the Hermit of a new Crusade. They urged her to write, circulated her letters, suggested themes for pamphlets, satirical plays and poems and it is said the Committee of Correspondence was based upon the letters that passed between Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Adams. It must be remembered that the patriots of 1776 were in no mood for mincing matters. There were to them no lights and shades in the contest, and consequently the pamphlets and satires always presented the patriots white-winged and triumphant, and British or Tory black, beaten, and bloody.

Mrs. Warren died in 1814, in the eighty-seventh year of her age, in full possession of all her mental faculties, loved and reverenced by her relatives and friends to a degree that gave the highest evidence of the warmth and affection of her nature as well as her high Christian character, which mere written words might not have done.

The Daughters of the American Revolution of Springfield, Mass., have named their organisation [sic] “The Mercy Warren, Chapter,” conferring an honour [sic] no less upon themselves than upon their gifted “patron saint.”


Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

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