There’s an overlooked series of events that had they unfolded differently, may have changed the course of the American Revolution.
Samuel Adams used every anniversary of the Boston Massacre to remind patriots of the tyranny of the British government. The fifth anniversary, March 5, 1775 was to be the largest and most dramatic ever. Along with the future financier of the Revolution, John Hancock, and friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, who shared Adam’s zeal as well as his gift for fiery oration, they would draw a standing-room crowd to hear Warren speak at the Old South Meeting House. Dr. Warren was to be dressed in a toga to evoke the Roman statesman, Marcus Cicero, whom he admired for his views on democracy, as he railed against the brutality of British rule.
British military leaders believed the packed meeting house would be an opportunity to create havoc, and perhaps even apprehend Adams, Warren and Hancock on charges that would be later determined. Their plan was to throw an egg at Warren as he spoke in hopes that a brawl would break out, and then, the soldiers could grab their prey.
As he attempted to enter Old South however, the soldier with the egg took a tumble and broke the egg. Another soldier, already in the audience and unaware of the reason the egg had not yet been tossed, felt the urge to act, lest the opportunity be lost. He shouted one word during Warren’s speech. It is unclear exactly what he said, or intended to say. Historians believe he shouted “Fie!”, an expression of disgust or disagreement. But, the people heard “Fire!”, and they panicked!
Instead of a brawl, there was a scramble for the exits. Adams, Warren and Hancock escaped through the rear, and the soldier’s plans were dashed. This close call with disaster prompted Adams and Hancock to leave Boston for Lexington, to a quiet home in the countryside. Warren, however stayed in Boston.
In the weeks that followed, it would be Dr. Warren who would learn about the “secret” march on Lexington and Concord. He dispatched William Dawes by land and Paul Revere “by sea” (actually across a small channel separating Boston from Charlestown) on their famous ride to warn the towns of the coming troops.
It is suspected by many historians that Dr. Warren had more than a casual relationship with Margaret Kembel Gage, the American wife of General Thomas Gage, leader of the British troops in Boston. The former Ms. Kembel was American born, and her loyalties may have been divided on two fronts.
Warren had been appointed the rank of General by George Washington, and on June 17, 1775, rather than take a rear position with the other generals, Warren took up arms and entered into the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was shot in the face at close range. A British officer who recognized him and coincidentally was a participant in the failed battles of Lexington and Concord, took pains to mutilate Warren’s body – most likely in retribution for his traitorous act. Warren’s body was identified by the false tooth that Paul Revere had made for him.
Many thought that Warren might become the first American president had he lived. But a series of events that started with a speech in a toga, a broken egg, and perhaps an illicit relationship propelled the Patriots into war, but cost Dr. Warren his life.