Mrs. Mercy Otis Warren, about 1765, by John Singleton Copley ||facing ||
This portrait of Mercy (Otis) Warren by John Singleton Copley, and its companion piece of her husband James Warren (both dated conjecturally between 1763 and 1767), descended in the Warren family; they were bequeathed to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by Winslow Warren of Dedham in 1931 (Barbara N. Parker and Anne B. Wheeler, John Singleton Copley: American Portraits, Boston, 1938, p. 199–201).
Mercy Otis (1728–1814), daughter of Col. James and Mary (Allyne) Otis of Barnstable, and sister of James and Samuel Allyne Otis, married James Warren, who was a power in Massachusetts politics for nearly half a century, in November 1754. They lived for the most part in Plymouth until 1781, when they purchased Gov. Thomas Hutchinson's former house in Milton. By 1788 they found themselves unable to maintain the house, sold it, and returned to Plymouth. Mrs. Warren possessed a flair for literature and politics and published anonymously two antiministerial satires—The Adulateur
(1773) and The Group
(1775). Both the Adamses admired her labored literary style extravagantly, and found themselves the recipients of a great many of her epistolary and poetical productions; with respect to The Group
John Adams acted in the role of Mrs. Warren's literary adviser and agent; see p. 185–188
, below. Clifford K. Shipton in his incisive sketch of her husband says of Mrs. Warren: “She was a woman whose strong character and never-quiet pen made her more famous than her husband. Untroubled by logic, reason, or perspective, furious in her prejudices, she poured upon the leading men of the times a confident and assertive correspondence which caused many a pitying glance to be cast toward her husband” (Clifford K. Shipton, Sibley's Harvard Graduates
, Boston, 1933– , 11:584).
The Warrens and the Adamses were intimate friends and constant correspondents until the late 1780's, when, for a variety of reasons, they drifted apart socially and politically. Mercy Warren was keenly disappointed when John Adams and the Federalist administration failed to favor her husband and sons with political appointments; in spite of Adams' placatory explanations she sharply criticized his public conduct in her own political testament, the History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, published in three volumes in 1805. Adams answered her in ten long and vehement letters written during July and August 1807; see his letters, with her answers to some of them, in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, 5th series, 4 (1878):317–491. James Warren died a year later; it was not until 1812–1813, through the mediation of Elbridge Gerry, that Mercy Warren and the Adamses resumed social correspondence and allowed old wounds to heal (see the “Appendix” in same, p. 493–511). But even in the moment of the revival of their friendship, Adams sternly reminded Gerry that “History is not the Province of the Ladies” (Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, 73 :380).
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.