Joseph Warren—born on 11 June 1741 at Roxbury, Mass.—graduated with distinction from Harvard College in 1759. After a year as headmaster of the Roxbury Grammar School, he entered the medical profession and later practiced as a physician in Boston. There, he became interested in politics and formed an early association with the firebrand Samuel Adams.
As the break in relations between the colonies and Great Britain approached, Warren abandoned his medical practice to enter military service. While still in Boston, he dispatched William Dawes and Paul Revere on their famous nocturnal rides to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of approaching British troops on 18 April 1775.
Elected a major general by the provincial congress on 14 June, Warren went out to Bunker Hill to look over the defenses shortly before the British attack on the afternoon of 17 June 1775. Although he consistently refused to take command, claiming that he would take part in the battle only as a volunteer, Warren eventually tried to exert leadership in rallying the colonial militia at Breed's Hill. Unfortunately, he was shot and killed by a British soldier while engaged in the attempt.
(Fr: l. 132'1"; b. 34'5¼"; dph. 11'0"; a. 32 guns)
The second Warren—one of the 13 frigates authorized by the Continental Congress on 13 December 1775— was given that name on 6 June 1776. Built at Providence, R.I., by Sylvester Bowers, Warren was probably one of the first two of the 13 frigates to be completed. The other was the Rhode Island-built frigate Providence. However, difficulties in manning the two ships and the British occupation of Newport made the tricky task of getting the vessels out to sea doubly difficult.
Although the ship was bottled up in the Providence River, Commodore Esek Hopkins broke his pennant in Warren early in December of 1776. Ordered to prepare for sea as soon as possible to cruise the upper half of the eastern seaboard to interdict British troop and logistics shipping traveling the Rhode Island to Virginia route, Hopkins' flagship nevertheless remained anchored in the Providence River for nearly a year afterward. As a result, Hopkins was suspended by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress for his lethargic performance. Warren, blockaded in Narragansett Bay, did no cruising.
Aided by favorable weather, Warren finally slipped through the British blockade on or about 8 March 1778 and escaped into the open sea at last. Warren took two prizes in her first cruise: the ship Neptune— bound from Whitehaven, England, to Philadelphia— with a cargo of provisions; and another supply vessel, before the Continental frigate put into Boston on 23 March. She apparently conducted a second cruise off the eastern seaboard in the autumn, as records indicate that she cruised for a time in company with the Massachusetts State Navy ship Tyrannicide in September.
Warren remained at Boston into the winter of 1778 and apparently did not sortie again until 13 March 1779. The frigate, under the command of Commodore John B. Hopkins, departed in company with Queen of France and Ranger for a cruise off the northeastern coast. The squadron took the armed schooner Hibernia as a prize on 6 April, and good fortune smiled upon them even more the following day, because at 0400, American lookouts sighted two "fleets" of ships. One contained 10 vessels and the other, nine.
Warren and her two consorts set upon the nine-ship group to windward and, by 1400, had captured seven of the nine. The British convoy had been bound from New York to Georgia. The catch included two ships, four brigs, and a schooner. Most of the prizes were richly laden with provisions for the British Army. Warren towed the brig Patriot from 10 April, bringing her triumphantly into port.
Initially, Congress expressed great pleasure with Hopkins' exploit, but its satisfaction soon soured. The Marine Committee charged Hopkins with violating his orders, maintaining that he had returned to port too soon and had not sent his prizes to the nearest port. As a disciplinary measure, the Committee relieved Hopkins, suspended him from the Navy, and gave his command to Capt. Dudley Saltonstall—a move which would have sad repercussions for both ship and her new commander.
While Warren lay at Boston, fitting out for further operations, the British established a base on the Bagaduce peninsula, near the present site of Castine, Maine, in mid-June 1779. This British intrusion into the figurative back yard of the Massachusetts colony could not go unchallenged. Thus a large—but unfortunately uncoordinated—force was assembled in hope of evicting the newly established British. Saltonstall became the naval commander, in Warren, and was given 19 armed vessels and some 20 transports with which to project the Continental invasion.
On 19 July 1779, the Continental armada sailed from Boston, bound for Penobscot Bay. The expedition turned out to be a dismal failure. First, the fleet was unfit for the work and was primarily composed of privateers. The military forces—as in the seagoing ones—lacked decisive leadership; and the land forces lacked artillery and necessary equipment and supplies. Cooperation between military and naval forces was entirely lacking, with the obvious end result that the entire expedition collapsed in disaster like a house of cards.
Warren and the other vessels of the American fleet were consequently burned to prevent their capture by the British. Warren was probably set afire by her crew on either 14 or 15 August 1779 in the Bagaduce River, above the Bagaduce peninsula. Later that autumn, Saltonstall was tried by court martial on board the frigate Deane in Boston harbor and was summarily dismissed from the Continental Navy.