Revolutionary War artifacts going on block





Dedham, Mass. –  Dr. John Warren heard the cannon fire and saw the flames from the battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.  As a surgeon with Colonel Pickering’s Colonial Regiment in Salem, Dr. John Warren left Salem for Charlestown to tend to the wounded, carrying with him a tool of his trade, an amputation kit.  Warren knew that his older brother General Dr. Joseph Warren would be at Bunker Hill.  However, upon his arrival in Medford, he learned that his brother was missing.  Dr. Warren continued his journey to Cambridge, where for several days he made inquiries about his brother to soldiers that had survived the bloody battle.  Although the accounts of what transpired on Breed’s Hill varied, the truth was that his brother had been shot and killed, with his body bayoneted and buried in a shallow trench.  John Warren eventually went to Charlestown in search of his brother’s body, unfortunately, he was intercepted by a British sentry who bayoneted him in the side as a warning not to return.  

Grogan and Company is honored to announce the upcoming sale of an Important Collection of 18th and 19th century Medical Kits, including two amputation kits and a Petit’s Tourniquet owned and used by Dr. John Warren during the Revolutionary War.  The featured lot includes a fish skin covered amputation kit given to Dr. Warren by his brother, General Joseph Warren; a wooden amputation kit with a label noting Used during the Revolutionary War by Dr. John Warren; a Petit’s Tourniquet, a 19th century medical kit once belonging to Dr. John Collins Warren, and a 19th century Medical kit once belonging to Dr. Henry Bigelow of Boston.  Dr. John Warren’s kits and tourniquet used during the Revolutionary War hail from a time before the importance of sterilization was known to doctors and show signs of heavy use, with the remains of dried layers of blood from the many patriots Dr. Warren operated on still evident over 200 years later.  The condition of these kits acts as a time capsule and stark reminder of the pain and suffering our forefathers bore for our freedom.

Amputation kits were essential on the battlefield, as wounds were rarely superficial. One of the most common wounds was caused by musket ball fire and often resulted in limbs with shattered bones that could not be saved.  In these cases, the surgeon would perform an amputation without anesthesia or sterilization.  Only 35% of amputees survived after surgery, due to infections and unsanitary conditions.   “When I look at these kits, I think of the young Dr. Warren having to perform amputation, after amputation on a multitude of young soldiers and what price these brave patriots paid for our country to gain it’s freedom,” remarked Allyson Lee, gallery manager of Grogan and Company, “It all becomes very real to me.”  Very few Revolutionary War kits come to market, and even fewer in untouched condition with such a prominent provenance.   The current auction record for a Revolutionary War relic is $12.3 million, achieved in 2006 by Sotheby’s for an American flag captured by the British in the 1779 battle at Bedford, New York. The four medical kits and the Petit’s tourniquet have a pre-sale estimate of $30,000-50,000.  

Dr. John Warren, founder of the first Boston Medical School and the first Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at Harvard Medical School, was a prominent figure during the Revolutionary War.  After the British burned Charlestown in retaliation for Bunker Hill, General George Washington reorganized the troops and made Dr. John Warren senior surgeon of the Continental Army in Cambridge.  He was 22 years old.  After the British evacuated Boston, Warren was sent to active duty at the General Hospital in New York City.  He tended to the wounded of the Battle of Long Island, the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton.  In July 1777, Dr. Warren was made the senior surgeon of the General Hospital in Boston, and later, in 1778, he saw his last field action at the Battle of Quaker Hill in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Dr. Warren was released from military duty in 1780, at the age of 27.  He opened a private medical school in Boston, where his patriot friend, Paul Revere, created a diploma for the first graduates of the school.  The engraving Revere created for the diploma depicts Dr. Warren performing an operation with a curved knife, similar to a knife in one of these amputation kits, resting on the table beside him.  Warren’s battlefield surgical experience and his reputation and success at instructing young medical students attracted the attention of his Alma Mater, Harvard University, and in 1782, Harvard Medical School was founded with Dr. John Warren appointed first Professor of Anatomy and Surgery. 

A journal entry in the Daily Journal of Dr. John Collins Warren, dated February 19, 1850, in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Warren papers, states that John Collins Warren had lent, as a present, the Petit’s Tourniquet and an amputation kit, both having belonged to his father Dr. John Warren and used during the Revolutionary War, to Dr. Henry Bigelow.  Dr. Henry Bigelow, a colleague of John Collins Warren and a close family friend, was known to have owned a large collection of medical kits.  Dr. Bigelow, also a surgeon, worked diligently with his colleagues to promote safe methods of anesthesia.  Bigelow was present when Dr. John Collins Warren performed his famous 1846 surgery successfully using ether anesthesia administered by Dr. William Morton at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Dr. Henry J. Bigelow died in 1890 leaving his possessions to his son, Warren Sturgis Bigelow.  What happened to the Bigelow Medical Kit Collection has remained a mystery from the time of Warren Bigelow’s death in 1926, until a large collection of Medical kits were discovered in an abandoned storage unit in the early 1990’s.  Amongst the large collection of 18th and 19th century medical kits found in the warehouse were the four kits that will be offered at Grogan and Company on October 26th.   “The discovery of these kits is a unique opportunity to connect with the roots of American History,” states Michael Grogan, President and Chief Auctioneer of Grogan & Company. “The provenance is impressive and should attract the attention of collector’s who will understand, cherish and protect these national treasures.”            

The Warren and Bigelow Medical kits will be auctioned on Sunday, October 16th at Grogan and Company’s Dedham Gallery.  To request more information regarding the sale of these objects, please contact Grogan & Company at 781-461-9500, or visit www.groganco.com.  Private viewings are available by appointment.  



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