Mercy Otis Warren: Biography, Facts, Timeline & Poems

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Mercy Otis Warren was a prominent poet, writer, political activist, playwright, and historian. She is best known as the author of a three-volume work on the American Revolution.

Roots of a Literary Talent

Mercy Otis Warren was a distinguished woman for her era and was called the 'Conscience of the American Revolution.' Warren was born in October 1728 in Barnstable, Massachusetts into a distinguished family. Her father was Colonel James Otis Sr. who had nearly been appointed the governor of Massachusetts, and her mother, Mary Allyne Otis, traced her descendants to Edward Doty on the Mayflower. Common for her era, she did not formally attend school. However, she was tutored by the Reverend John Russell, who also taught her brothers, and so she received a better education than most women of her era. Warren was passionate about reading, and her love of books was reflected in her own literary career.

Mercy Otis Warren
Mercy Otis Warren

Political Connections

Warren's political associations were astonishing and engrained in her a passion for politics and reform. She married James Warren, who was a second cousin of hers, and the two had five sons together. Her husband quickly formed key ties in politics. He held several high-ranking roles in colonial Massachusetts and her brother James Otis Jr, is credited with popularizing the phrase 'taxation without representation is tyranny' Given their prominence, their Boston home was frequently used for political meetings on the eve of the American Revolution. The Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence was formed in her home, and the radical Sons of Liberty often met there as well.

James Warren
James Warren

Adams and Macaulay

Warren knew many of the leading figures of the Revolutionary era and was close friends with John and Abigail Adams. She especially maintained a frequent correspondence with the latter. Warren is often compared to Catherine Macaulay who was a prominent female writer and historian in England. Macaulay authored an eight-volume history of England during the 17th century as Warren would later do on the American Revolution. The two met in Boston during a high-profile visit Macaulay made to America and Warren used Macaulay as a model for her own historical writings.

Catherine Macaulay
Catherine Macaulay

Poet and Playwright

Warren made a reputation as a prodigious writer though her earlier works were published anonymously. Her first three plays were The Adulateur (1772), The Defeat (1773), and The Group (1775) which made her the first female playwright in America. The first two humorously featured the satirical character of Rapatio, who was based on the real-life Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson. Her father lost out to Hutchinson as governor, and this created a bitter feud between the families, and so Warren used Hutchinson as a sour character in these works! The latter play, The Group, also had political overtones as it imagined what would happen if King George abrogated the Massachusetts charter. She also wrote two dramas, The Blockheads (1776) and The Motley Assembly (1779) and in 1790 published a collection of her many writings under the name Poems, Dramatic, and Miscellaneous which included two new plays, The Sack of Rome and The Ladies of Castille.

Warrens Father, James Otis Sr.
James Otis Sr.

Ratification Debate

Warren was not above more explicit political writing either. In 1788, she published Observations on the New Constitution to argue against ratification of the Constitution. It was published anonymously and for a while attributed to Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. A Republican by heart, Warren felt that the Constitution gave the federal government too much authority over the states and so laid out reasons to reject ratification.

Warrens Brother, James Otis Jr.
James Otis Jr.

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