Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the papers of several generations of Warren family physicians: General Joseph Warren (1741-1775), John Warren (1753-1815), John Collins Warren (1778-1856), Jonathan Mason Warren (1811-1867), and John Collins Warren II (1842-1927).

Biographical Sketches

Joseph Warren (1741-1775), born in Roxbury, Mass., on June 11, 1741, was a physician and soldier who became a leader in the American Revolution. He graduated from Harvard in 1759 and began practicing medicine in 1764. A close friend of Samuel Adams, Warren was an outspoken opponent of naval impressment and the Stamp Act of 1765. He was a member of the Boston Committee of Safety and, with Samuel Adams and James Otis, helped to form the first Committee of Correspondence in November 1772. In 1774, Warren drafted the "Suffolk Resolves," which advocated forcible resistance to the British and placed the colony of Massachusetts in open rebellion against the British government. He delivered an important oration on March 5, 1775, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre. On the night of April 18, 1775, he dispatched William Dawes and Paul Revere on their famous "Midnight Rides" to Lexington and Concord, and he fought alongside General Heath in the battle the following day. Warren was a member of the first, second and third Provincial Congresses between 1774 and 1775 and president of the third. On June 14, 1775, he was appointed second major-general of the Massachusetts forces. He was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill just three days later on June 17.

John Warren (1753-1815), brother of Joseph Warren, was born in Roxbury, Mass., in 1753. A 1771 graduate of Harvard, he became a leading surgeon in New England. He served in the Revolution and was a founder of the medical school at Harvard, where in 1782 he was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery.

John Collins Warren (1778-1856), son of John Warren, was born in Boston, Mass. The son and nephew of famous Boston doctors, he also became a surgeon. After graduating from Harvard, he studied surgery with his father, completed his education in Europe, and finally set up a practice in Boston in 1802. Warren was a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty for most of his career (1809-1847), serving as dean from 1816-1819. He was active in reforming medical education and practice in the U.S. and became one of the founders of Massachusetts General Hospital. On October 16, 1846, Warren performed the first operation using ether as an anesthesia (administered by dentist W.T.G. Morton), and he was the first American to operate on a strangulated hernia. He wrote an important book on his speciality, Surgical Observations on Tumours (1837).

Jonathan Mason Warren (1811-1867), son of John Collins Warren, was born on February 5, 1811. He received his medical degree from Harvard in 1832 and studied in Europe before returning to practice in Boston in 1835. In 1846, he was appointed visiting surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. Warren specialized in plastic and reconstructive surgery and performed the earliest rhinoplastic operations in the U.S. He also worked with skin grafts and developed a procedure for closure of the cleft palate. Warren died on August 19, 1867.

John Collins Warren II (1842-1927), son of Jonathan Mason Warren, was born in Boston, Mass. He was a surgeon associated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital for most of his professional career. He studied for three years in Europe before returning to the U.S. in 1869 to begin practice in Boston. His most important book, based on his studies of infectious bacteria, was called Surgical Pathology and Therapeutics (1895).


For additional biographical information, see:

Frothingham, Richard. Life and Times of Joseph Warren. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown & Company, 1865.

Truax, Rhoda. The Doctors Warren of Boston: First Family of Surgery. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.

Warren, Edward. The Life of John Collins Warren, M.D.: Compiled Chiefly from his Autobiography and Journals. Boston, Mass.: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.

Warren, Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D.: Surgeon-General During the War of the Revolution; First Professor of Anatomy and Surgery in Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, etc. Boston, Mass.: Noyes, Holmes and Co., 1874.

Collection Description

The John Collins Warren papers, housed in 23 document boxes, 84 bound volumes, and 2 oversize boxes, document the lives and careers of four generations of Warren family physicians: General Joseph Warren (1741-1775), John Warren (1753-1815), John Collins Warren (1778-1856), Jonathan Mason Warren (1811-1867), and John Collins Warren (1842-1927) (hereafter John Collins Warren II). The collection is divided into three series: I. Loose manuscripts, II. Bound volumes, and III. Oversize material. Series I contains general Warren papers, including genealogical materials, Joseph Warren's 1775 oration commemorating the Boston Massacre, and John Warren's Revolutionary War diary. Series II primarily consists of medical account books, ledgers, and journals (both personal and medical). Series III contains miscellaneous oversize material.

Subjects described in the papers include general medicine, medical aspects of the American Revolution, the founding and early years of the Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts General Hospital, the controversy over the first use of ether as anesthesia, and phrenology.


The loose manuscripts in this collection (series I) were originally tipped into 46 volumes, and each document was individually cataloged in the MHS catalog, indexed by volume and page number. However, those 46 volumes have since been disbound and the documents rehoused into 23 archival boxes, rendering the volume and page numbers in the catalog obsolete. Researchers should disregard these numbers and instead access items by date, except for the topical volumes, such as those relating to Spurzheim and anesthesia, which are still arranged by subject.

The arrangement of the rest of the volumes in this collection (series II) has not been disturbed, with the exception of volume 115, which has been disbound and is now located in box 23. Original volume numbers in this series, beginning with volume 47, have been retained.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Dr. J. Collins Warren, April 1921.

Oration of General Joseph Warren and diary of Dr. John Warren, 19 April 1775-11 May 1776, deposited by J. Collins Warren.

Journal of Jonathan Mason Warren, 1834, deposited by Joseph Warren, 26 Sep. 1955.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Loose manuscripts, 1738-1926

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains general Warren papers from 1738 to 1926. Both Joseph and John's papers relate to their roles as physicians, patriots, and members of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. They include Joseph Warren's oration on March 5, 1775, the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and John Warren's diary from April 19, 1775, to May 11, 1776, kept during his service as army surgeon. Diary entries note events of the war such as the battle of Bunker Hill, the siege of Boston, and troop movements.

The papers of John and John Collins Warren (1778-1856) describe their medical practices and the founding and moving of Harvard Medical School. John Collins Warren's papers also include materials relating to his role as a surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the controversy surrounding the discovery of the anesthetic use of ether; correspondence with his father while he (John C.) was studying medicine in Europe; correspondence with his son, Jonathan Mason Warren; and papers related to his interests in fossils and mastodon skeletons.

This series also contains Warren genealogical materials, information about anesthesia and phrenology, and correspondence between Benjamin W. and John Crowninshield.

Box 1
Oration of General Joseph Warren, 5 Mar. 1775, and diary of John Warren, 19 Apr. 1775-11 May 1776
Box 2
1738-1798, including Warren genealogy
Box 3
June 1799-Dec. 1802
Box 4
1803-Dec. 1812, including newspaper clipping from the Boston Patriot, 19 Dec. 1812
Box 5
Jan. 1813-Dec. 1823
Box 6
Jan. 1824-Dec. 1828
Box 7
Benjamin W. and John Crowninshield correspondence, 1822-1840
Box 8
Jan. 1829-June 1834
Box 9
July 1834-June 1838
Box 10
July 1838-Dec. 1844
Box 11
Anesthesia, 1846-1922
Box 12
Jan. 1845-1847
Box 13
Jan. 1848-Dec. 1850
Box 14
Jan. 1851-May 1853
Box 15
June 1853-Dec. 1855
Box 16
Jan. 1856- Dec. 1866
Box 17
Jan. 1867-Dec. 1882
Box 18
1883-Dec. 1900
Box 19
Jan. 1901-Dec. 1906, including Harvard University's "Papers concerning the Proposed New Buildings and Endowment for the Medical School," Apr. 1902
Box 20
Jan. 1907-Dec. 1916
Box 21
Jan. 1917-Dec. 1922
Box 22
Spurzheim, Boston Phrenological Society, 1832-1926
Box 23
John Collins Warren II, journal dedicated to the Warren children, Mar. 1901 (disbound vol. 115)

II. Bound volumes, 1777-1910

This series contains bound volumes, primarily account books and journals. Account books record medical services performed by the Warrens, including fees charged. Most of the journals were kept by John Collins Warren and Jonathan Mason Warren, and they contain both personal and professional entries. John Collins Warren's journals document his medical career, including his involvement in the founding of Harvard Medical School and accounts of lectures given there; his role as a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital; the controversy surrounding the discovery and use of ether; and his participation in a variety of medical and professional societies. Entries also note Warren's interest in fossils and natural history, his participation in the temperance movement, his membership in the Bunker Hill Monument Association, and his travels in Europe (1837-1838 and 1851). Entries kept after 4 May 1856 were made by Warren's son, Jonathan Mason Warren.

Jonathan Mason Warren's journals document his medical career, including descriptions of operations he performed as a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, the use of ether during medical procedures, and his participation in various medical and professional societies, as well as his travels to Philadelphia for a meeting of the American Medical Association (1855) and two voyages to Europe (1854 and 1855-1856).

The series also contains a memorial of John Warren Brown by Rebecca Warren Brown and a tribute to Rebecca Warren Brown by Rev. Ezra Stiles Gannett.

John Warren

Vol. 47
Medical accounts, 1777-1797
Vol. 48
Medical accounts, 1785-1809
Vol. 49
Medical accounts, 1789-1812
Vol. 50
Medical accounts, 1792-1813
Vol. 51
Medical accounts, 1798-1813
Vol. 52
Boston residents medical accounts, including index, 1803-1815

John Collins Warren

Vol. 53
Medical accounts, 1813-1822
Vol. 54
Medical accounts, 1817-1840

John Warren

Vol. 55
Daybook, 1788-1790
Vol. 56
Daybook, 1791-1795
Vol. 57 (XT)
Daybook, 1794-1798
Vol. 58 (XT)
Daybook, 1798-1801
Vol. 59 (XT)
Daybook, 1802-1804
Vol. 60 (XT)
Daybook, 1804-1807
Vol. 61 (XT)
Daybook, 1808-1813
Vol. 62 (XT)
Daybook, 1813-1815
Vol. 63
Daybook, 1796-1813
Vol. 64
Daybook, 1791-1807
Vol. 65
Daybook, 1782-1783
Vol. 66
Continental Army daybook of accounts, Jan.-Oct. 1783
Vol. 67
Daybook, 1811-1815
Vol. 68
Patient account book, 1813-1818

John Collins Warren

Vol. 69
Accounts, 1822-1823
Vol. 70
Journal, 13 July-14 Sep. 1837
Vol. 71
Journal, 15 Sep. 1837-11 Mar. 1838
Vol. 72
Journal, 12 Mar.-30 Aug. 1838
Vol. 73-74
Journal, 1 Sep. 1838-31 Mar. 1839
Vol. 75-76
Journal, 1 Apr.-31 Dec. 1839
Vol. 77-78
Journal, 1 Jan. 1840-30 Mar. 1841
Vol. 79-80
Journal, 3 Apr. 1841-14 Sep. 1843
Vol. 81-82
Journal, 19 Sep. 1843-17 Dec. 1846
Vol. 83-84
Journal, 18 Dec. 1846-27 Sep. 1848
Vol. 85-86
Journal, 28 Sep. 1848-31 Dec. 1849
Vol. 87-88
Journal, 1850
Vol. 89-90
Journal, 1 Jan.-31 Oct. 1851
Vol. 91-92
Journal, 1 Nov. 1851-20 Mar. 1853
Vol. 93-94
Journal, 21 Mar. 1853-31. Dec. 1854
Vol. 95-96
Journal, 1 Jan. 1855-28 Apr. 1856, including diary and medical entries written by Jonathan Mason Warren after the death of John Collins Warren, 28 Apr.-31 Dec. 1856
Vol. 97
Memoranda, 2 July 1843

Jonathan Mason Warren

Vol. 98
Ledger, 1836-1866
Vol. 99
Daybook, 1839
Vol. 100
Daybook, 1840
Vol. 101
Daybook, 1850-1851
Vol. 102
Daybook, 1 Nov. 1853-19 Mar. 1856, 1 Jan. 1860-31 Dec. 1862
Vol. 103
Daybook, 1 Feb. 1857-31 Dec. 1859
Vol. 104
Journal, 1 Jan. 1844-7 Jan. 1850 (one entry)
Vol. 105
Journal, 10 Jan. 1850-2 Dec. 1853
Vol. 106
Journal, 8 Dec. 1853-31 Mar. 1858
Vol. 107
Journal, 1 Apr. 1858-7 Dec. 1859
Vol. 108
Journal, 8 Dec. 1858-31 Dec. 1860
Vol. 109
Journal, 1 Jan. 1861-22 Sep. 1863
Vol. 110
Journal, 24 Sep. 1863-27 Apr. 1865
Vol. 111
Journal, 27 Apr. 1865-21 Jan. 1866, including entries by John Collins Warren II, 22 Jan.-27 Oct. 1866

John Collins Warren II

Vol. 112
Journal, 28 Oct. 1866-24 July 1867

John Collins Warren

Vol. 113
Invitation scrapbook, ca. 1830s-1840s
Vol. 114
Invitation scrapbook, 1820s-1850s
Vol. 116-118
Journal, 3 May 1855-30 Mar. 1856

John Collins Warren II

Vol. 119
Account daybook, 1870
Vol. 120-121
Medical account book, 1 Jan. 1884-28 Feb. 1891
Vol. 122-123
Medical account book, 1 Mar. 1891-11 Feb. 1897
Vol. 124-125
Medical account book, 12 Feb. 1897-31 May 1906
Vol. 126
Medical account book, 1 Oct. 1906-29 Apr. 1910

Rebecca Warren Brown

Vol. 127-128
Journal entitled "Recollections of John Warren Brown," 1829

Rev. Ezra Stiles Gannett

Vol. 129
Essay entitled "Heaven the Believers Home: A Tribute to the Memory of Mrs. Rebecca Warren Brown," 14 Jan. 1855

Jonathan Mason Warren

Vol. 131
Journal, 1832
Vol. 132
Journal, 1834

III. Oversize material

This series consists of miscellaneous diplomas, certificates, and other oversize documents.

Box OS 1-2

Preferred Citation

John Collins 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.


Warren family.
Warren family--Genealogy.
Warren, John, 1753-1815.
Warren, John Collins, 1842-1927.
Warren, Jonathan Mason, 1811-1867.
Warren, Joseph, 1741-1775.


Harvard Medical School.
Massachusetts General Hospital.


Account books--1771-1910.
Ether (Anesthetic).
Medical education--Massachusetts.
Medical fees.
Medicine, Military.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Medical care.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the John Collins Warren photographs. Photo. Coll. 192.