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.
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.
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.
Gift of Charles Warren, 1942.
The collection is organized into the following series:
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
Mercy Otis Warren papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
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.
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