Massachusetts Historical Society

Biographical Sketches

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Biographical sketch of Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis Warren Image credit (click for larger display): Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis), about 1763. Oil on canvas by John Singleton Copley. Dimensions: 126.05 x 100.33 cm. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 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. She was educated by her uncle Rev. Jonathan Russell and sat in on her brother's lessons as he prepared for Harvard. While at Harvard, her brother continued to suggest books for her to read. 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 together they 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 satirizing British representatives in the colonies and supporting the revolutionary cause. 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. Warren's most important literary work was History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805), a 3-volume history that she began in the late 1770s. This work led to a public schism between her and John and Abigail Adams; in it, Warren accused Adams of forgetting "the principles of the American revolution." In 1812, after several years of a heated exchange of letters, Warren and the Adamses reconciled. She continued to correspond with political and literary friends until her death in Plymouth on October 19, 1814.

Biographical Sketch of Hannah Winthrop

Hannah Winthrop Image credit (click for larger display): Mrs. John Winthrop, 1773. Oil on canvas by John Singleton Copley. Dimensions:90.2 x 73 cm. Although her exact birthdate is unknown, Hannah Fayerweather was baptized at the First Church of Boston on February 12, 1727. After a brief marriage to Parr Tolman, who died young, Hannah married John Winthrop (1714-1779), the namesake and great-grandson of the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1756. Winthrop was a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard College and a noted physicist and astronomer. Like her husband, Hannah Winthrop was a vocal patriot in the years before and during the American Revolution. She found a sympathetic reader in Mercy Otis Warren and the two corresponded frequently, often using the nicknames Honoria and Philomela, the latter for Warren, recognizing her powers of verse. Hannah's letters often provided details, with commentary, on events and news heard in Cambridge. Hannah Winthrop died in 1790.

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