COLLECTION GUIDES

1709-1841

Guide to the Microfilm Edition


Collection Summary

Abstract

This collection consists of the papers of Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), author and patriot from Massachusetts. Also included in the collection are her son Winslow Warren's letters and journals, 1781-1785.

Biographical Sketch

Mercy Otis Warren, author, historian, and patriot, was born in Barnstable, Mass., on September 14, 1728. She was the third of thirteen children and the first daughter of James Otis (1702-1778) and Mary (Allyne) Otis. Though Warren received no formal education, she educated herself by sitting in on her brother's childhood lessons and studying alongside him while he attended Harvard.

Warren's interest and involvement in politics began early and continued throughout her life. Her father worked as a lawyer, judge, and colonel of the militia, and her brother James Otis, Jr. (1725-1783), was an outspoken opponent of the writs of assistance. In 1754, Mercy Otis married James Warren (1726-1808), who would go on to become a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and the Warrens hosted meetings at their home in Plymouth for leading opponents of British colonial policies. The meetings were attended by many prominent revolutionary figures, such as John Adams and Samuel Adams.

Though Warren had been writing poems since 1759, she gained notoriety for her political dramas supporting the revolutionary cause and satirizing British representatives in the colonies. Her first play, The Adulateur, appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1772 and cast the royal governor of Massachusetts as the villainous Rapatio. Among Warren's other political plays were The Defeat (1773) and The Group (1775).

In 1788, Warren wrote Observations on the New Constitution, in which she articulated her reasons for opposing ratification of the Constitution. In 1790, she published Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, a collection that included two verse dramas. But by far Warren's most important literary work was History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805), a 3-volume history she had begun in the late 1770s. This work led to a public schism between her and John Adams; in it, Warren accused Adams of forgetting "the principles of the American revolution." After several years and a heated exchange of letters, Warren and Adams reconciled in 1812.

Mercy Otis Warren had five sons: James (1757), Winslow (1759), Charles (1762), Henry (1764), and George (1766). She continued to correspond with political and literary friends until her death in Plymouth on October 19, 1814.

Sources

James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer, eds. Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Collection Description

The Mercy Otis Warren papers, consisting of three boxes of loose papers and one letterbook, have been microfilmed onto three reels. Warren's correspondence makes up the bulk of the collection. The first reel (P-20, Reel 1) consists of a letterbook containing copies of her outgoing letters from 1770 to 1800. Recipients of her letterbook copies include Abigail Adams (1744-1818), John Adams (1735-1826), Martha Washington (1731-1802), Catharine Macaulay (1731-1791), and members of her family. The second reel (P-20, Reel 2) consists of letters dating from 1709 to 1841 and includes correspondence with her husband James and sons Winslow, George, Henry, and Charles, as well as with Samuel Allyne Otis (1740-1814), Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), and James Freeman (1759-1835). Also included on this reel are fragments of Warren's dramatic writings and copies of her poems.

Among the topics covered in Warren's correspondence are her opinions of the political climate before, during, and after the American Revolution; brewing hostilities with England; news of the Revolution, especially to her son Winslow while he was abroad; the formation of a new government; state politics, in particular her husband's career; and her political satires, dramas, and other writings.

The third reel of the collection (P-355) consists of Winslow Warren's letters home and journals kept while in France, 1781-1783, and Portugal, 1784-1785.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Charles Warren, 1942.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Letterbook, 1770-1800

This series consists of Warren's letterbook, containing 500 pages of copies of letters written by Warren to 35 correspondents during the years 1770-1800. Several pages of the book are blank. For a list of select recipients and the page numbers of the letterbook on which correspondence with that individual appears, see Select List of Correspondents below.

P-20, Reel 1
P-20, Reel 2
II. Correspondence, 1709-1841

This series consists of letters and copies of letters written in the years 1709-1841. The bulk of the correspondence is heavily concentrated in the years 1772-1800. Most of the papers are arranged chronologically, but four topical folders are also included. They are:

"Mercy Warren to Winslow Warren," including "Letters containing many of the most remarkable Events from the memorable AEra of the Stamp Act, 1765, to the Commencement of Hostilities between Great Britain & the American Colonies, 1775"

"Mercy Warren to John Adams," including "Remarks & Observations in reply to ten Letters received by Mrs. Warren from John Adams, late President of the United States" and a notebook containing letters from Warren to John Adams, 16 July-27 August, 1807

"Poems," containing 52 pages of Warren's poetry

"Fragments," containing 26 pages of Warren's dramatic writings

III. Winslow Warren letters and journals, 1781-1785

This series consists of letters and journals written by Winslow Warren while in France, 1781-1783, and Portugal, 1784-1785.

P-355 (1 reel)

Select List of Correspondents

Below is a list of select recipients of the letters contained in Mercy Warren's letterbook, Series I. Each name is followed by the page number(s) on which the correspondence appears. The list is not a complete index.

Adams, Abigail, 129-148, 498-500
Adams, John, 149-204
Adams, Samuel, 475
Congress, Members of, 482-484
Gerry, Elbridge, 469-474
Hancock, Dorothy Quincy, 123
Knox, Henry, 476-479
Lincoln, Hannah, 33-36
Livingston, Catherine, 55
Macaulay, Catharine, 1-32
Montgomery, Janet Livingston, 39-53
Otis, James, 85-87, 93-94
Otis, Rebecca, 57
Otis, Samuel Allyne, 450-454
Sever, Sally, 457-467
Temple, Mrs. Robert, 88-91
Warren, Charles, 350-356
Warren, George, 369-447
Warren, Henry, 488-495
Warren, James, 213-233
Warren, Winslow, 237-340
Washington, Martha, 118-122, 126-128
Winthrop, Hannah Fayerweather, 59-79

Preferred Citation

Mercy Otis Warren papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.

Persons:

Adams, Abigail Louisa Smith, 1798-1838.
Adams, John, 1735-1826.
Freeman, James, 1759-1835.
Gerry, Elbridge, 1744-1814.
Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810.
Macaulay, Catharine, 1731-1791.
Otis, Samuel Allyne, 1740-1814.
Warren family.
Warren, Charles.
Warren, George.
Warren, Henry.
Warren, James, 1726-1808.
Warren, Winslow, 1760-1791.
Washington, Martha, 1731-1802.

Subjects:

Authors, American.
Drama.
Family history--1750-1799.
Family history--1800-1849.
Massachusetts--Politics and government--1775-1865.
Poetry.
Political satire.
Politicians' spouses.
Portugal--Description and travel.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Public opinion.
United States--Politics and government--1775-1783.
United States--Politics and government--1783-1809.
Voyages and travels.
Women authors.
Women poets.