A letter written by one of this country's first war heroes has been returned to the Massachusetts Archives after it was stolen about 60 years ago.
The neatly-handwritten two-page letter by Joseph Warren describes a pivotal victory at Fort Ticonderoga, a victory that played a significant role in helping colonists drive British troops out of Boston 10 months later.
"It is an important part of our history and was probably the last official letter he wrote before he was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill,'' said Secretary of State William F. Galvin. "It ties together a lot of significant historical events."
Warren, newly promoted to the rank of major general, wrote the letter in Watertown on May 25, 1775, three days before he died at the age of 34. "He's not as appreciated as some of his contemporaries, because of his premature death,'' Galvin said.
The letter was one of many stolen from the state archives when they were located in the basement of the State House. Most documents were filed in books similar to photo albums, and security was lax. Most of the thefts weren't discovered until after the operation moved to a fort-like granite building at Columbia Point in the city's Dorchester section and a comprehensive inventory was taken.
The letter made its way to the collection of a well-known gatherer of Americana, James S. Copley. Last fall, part of Copley's collection, including Warren's manuscript, was being liquidated by Sotheby's and archivists here noticed the document. The state negotiated with Copley's estate and paid $8,000 for the document. Massachusetts officials were certain Copley did not play a hand in the theft six decades ago, but rather came across the document after it had likely exchanged hands several times.
The document was in good condition, but part of the top of the letter that contained the archive's stamp had been cut off.
Warren was born in Roxbury, attended Roxbury Latin School, and graduated from Harvard College. He married, had four children, and worked as a physician in Boston. His wife died eight years after they married.
Warren gravitated towards politics, and was one of the first members of the Committees of Correspondence, founded by Samuel Adams to keep colonial unrest alive, said Michael Comeau, assistant state archivist. After the Boston Massacre, Warren gave rousing addresses to help keep the sentiment stirred up. He was appointed president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the highest position in the revolutionary government and participated in the battles of Lexington and Concord.
"What makes this letter so historically significant is that it hits the trifecta of historical documents. You have a very important person describing very significant events during extraordinary times," Comeau said.
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