Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis Warren was the 3rd child of 13 children and the first daughter born to Colonel James Otis (1702–1778) and Mary Allyne Otis in West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Mary Allyne was a descendant of Mayflower passenger Edward Dotty. James Otis, Sr., was a farmer, merchant, and attorney, who served as a judge for the Barnstable County Court of Common Pleas and later won election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1745. He was an outspoken opponent and leader against British rule and against the appointed colonial governor, Thomas Hutchinson. The Otis children were “raised in the midst of revolutionary ideals”. Although Mercy had no formal education, she studied with the Reverend Jonathan Russell while he tutored her brothers in preparation for Harvard College. One of her brothers was the noted patriot and lawyer James Otis, who is credited with the quote “taxation without representation is tyranny”, the principal slogan of the American Revolution.

In 1754, Mercy Otis married James Warren, of Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was a Harvard graduate and colleague of her brother. He was a descendant of the Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. After settling in Plymouth, James inherited his father’s position as sheriff and Mercy bore him five sons, James (1757–1821), Winslow (1759–1791), Charles (1762–1784), Henry (1764–1828), and George (1766–1800). Her husband James had a very distinguished political career. In 1765 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and eventually he became speaker of the House and President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He also served as paymaster to George Washington’s army, for a time, during the American Revolutionary War. Mercy Warren actively participated in the political life of her husband. The Warrens became increasingly involved in the conflict between the American colonies and the British Government. Their home became a focal point of local politics where they hosted protest and strategy meetings for the Sons of Liberty, among whom was their friend, John Adams. Like Mercy’s father and brothers, the first patriots disliked the colonial governor. Mercy accordingly became a strong political voice with views on liberty, democracy and independence for the American colonies. She wrote, “every domestic enjoyment depends on the unimpaired possession of civil and religious liberty.” Mercy’s husband James encouraged her to write, fondly referring to her as the “scribbler” and she became his chief correspondent and sounding board.

Warren formed a strong circle of friends with whom she regularly corresponded, including Abigail Adams, Martha Washington and Hannah Winthrop. In a letter to Catherine Macaulay she wrote: “America stands armed with resolution and virtue; but she still recoils at the idea of drawing the sword against the nation from whence she derived her origin. Yet Britain, like an unnatural parent, is ready to plunge her dagger into the bosom of her affectionate offspring.” [7] Through their correspondence they increased the awareness of women’s issues, were supportive, and influenced the course of events to further America’s cause.

She became a correspondent and adviser to many political leaders, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and especially John Adams, who became her literary mentor in the years leading to the Revolution. In a letter to James Warren, Adams wrote, “Tell your wife that God Almighty has entrusted her with the Powers for the good of the World, which, in the cause of his Providence, he bestows on few of the human race. That instead of being a fault to use them, it would be criminal to neglect them.”

Prior to the American Revolution, in 1772, during a political meeting at the Warren’s home, they formed the Committees of Correspondence along with Samuel Adams. Warren wrote “no single step contributed so much to cement the union of the colonies”. Since Warren knew most of the leaders of the Revolution personally, she was continually at or near the center of events from 1765 to 1789. She combined her vantage point with a talent for writing to become both a poet and a historian of the Revolutionary era. All Mercy Otis Warren’s work was published anonymously until 1790. She wrote several plays, including the satiric The Adulateur (1772). Directed against Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts, the play foretold the War of Revolution.

In 1773, she wrote The Defeat, also featuring the character based on Hutchinson, and in 1775 Warren published The Group, a satire conjecturing what would happen if the British king abrogated the Massachusetts charter of rights. The anonymously published The Blockheads (1776) and The Motley Assembly (1779) are also attributed to her. In 1788 she published Observations on the New Constitution, whose ratification she opposed as an Anti-Federalist. Mercy Otis Warren is among the most influential writers of the Revolutionary war.

 
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