by Pamela Kline and Paul Pavao
Known as the "Conscience of the American Revolution," Mercy Otis Warren accomplished things unknown to women in her time. She was a prolific and influential writer, the first woman playwright, wrote the first history of the American Revolutionary War (by a man or woman), and influenced most of founding fathers, as well as speaking up for women's rights.
John Adams, later the second president of the United States, once told Mercy's husband in a letter:
Mercy Otis Warren was born on September 14th, 1728 to Colonel James Otis and Mary Allyne, who was a descendant of Mayflower passenger Edward Doty. She was the fifth of thirteen children. Such a large number of children was not unusual during that time.
Mercy's father, Colonel James Otis, was an outspoken man, leading the movement against British rule. His example surely helped inspire Mercy's writings in later years.
Mercy never had a formal education, like many girls of her time. For the most part, only boys received a thorough education, though she was allowed to sit in some of her older brother's classes with a tutor. The Rev. Jonathon Russell, however, the minister of the local parish, took pity on her and supplied her with both books and counsel.
As she became older, it was her brother, James Otis, who became her companion in literary pursuits. It is he who is rumored to have said, "Taxation without representation is tyranny."
In 1754, Mercy Otis Warren met and married James Warren, who was her second cousin, and like herself, a descendant of a Mayflower passenger (Richard Warren). They were, by report, a happy couple. Three years later, they had their first child, James, and continued to have children until she reached five boys total. Her last son, George, was born in 1766.
Her husband's involvement in the patriotic movement inspired Mercy to write, for which she became famous. James Warren senior had a very distinguished political career and made his living off of his passion. He was more involved in the early beginnings of the American Revolutionary War than he was in the War itself, although he fought alongside her brother, James Otis, at Bunker Hill. James Warren became president of the Massachusetts House of Representatives eleven years into his marriage with Mercy. He also became a speaker of the House and President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
When her husband realized she could speak more clearly than he ever could, he encouraged her to write about her convictions. James Warren affectionately dubbed his wife his "scribbler." Together, they helped motivate the patriots to freedom. Their house even became a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty.
With the influences she had in her life, it should come as no surprise that she took up her pen in behalf of the liberty of America.
In 1774, she described the American situation as follows:
Years later, she describes America as standing more ready:
Along with these letters, she wrote plays expressing her political opinions. in 1772, she published The Adulateur, which was directed against Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts and predicted the Revolutionary War. Several other plays were written, also cryptically directed against Governor Hutchinson, and all were written anonymously. It would be 1790 before Mercy Otis Warren would put her own name to a book.
The attacks on the British, and specifically on Governor Hutchinson, weighed on Mercy, and she worried that she had overstepped propriety. Abigail Adams, another influential Revolutionary War woman, wrote to encourage her:
In other words, Ms. Adams argues that Mercy's sharp satire is mixed with benevolence, love of virtue, and abhorrence of vice, and that as such she is to be praised and not blamed.
Mercy Otis Warren was a woman on fire for what she held dearly. If she wasn't able to speak her opinions, she wrote them down. Her writings contained her beliefs, thoughts, and opinions about wars and political issues.
She wrote her last book, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, in 1805. President Jefferson ordered advance copies for himself and every cabinet member in the White House.
Mercy Otis Warren died on October 19, 1814. The cause of death is unknown. She was 86 years old. She was buried at Old Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts beside her husband, James Warren, who had died in 1808. In her honor a warship which fought in World War II was called the SS Mercy Warren.
Mercy was inducted into the Woman's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York in 2002.
The legacy she left behind is amazing.
Mercy Otis Warren's life encourages women to speak up. Mercy's example can be followed in many ways. She spoke up when she needed to, and everyone benefited from the things she said. She was inspirational and worth remembering as a builder of our nation.