Josiah Quincy, Jr. was born in Boston on a frigid day in February 1744. Though a frail child, he grew up within a strong, already prominent family. He was the youngest of 4, and especially adored his brother Samuel, nine years his senior. Following in Samuel's footsteps, Josiah attended Harvard and studied law.
Josiah presented an impassioned dissertation at Harvard's 1766 commencement on Liberty. Among those in attendance were Sam Adams and James Otis -- already well known by the powers in Britain for their objection to the burdensome taxation upon the colonies without the privilege of representation. Adams and Otis immediately invited the young orator to join an elusive, secretive group they had established now referred as the "Long Room Club."
Though a list of the members of this club was never officially kept, history has revealed the identity of many: John Adams, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, Paul Revere -- as well as the Quincy brothers Samuel and Josiah. Most members were Harvard or Yale graduates -- students of World History and the Enlightenment. (Today we might label them as "progressives.") The Long Room Club was the think-tank of the pre-Revolution years. Their main focus was to communicate with friends in Great Britain in an attempt to bring harmony between the colonies and Mother Country. A second focus was to educate the public on what was happening. From this group came the Committee of Donations--putting jobless men to work doing needed "infrastructure" in Boston. The Sons of Liberty sprouted from this club. And, perhaps most important was the vital Inter-Colonial Committee of Correspondence, created by young Josiah as a means of getting factual information from one colony to the next. (Were it not for this, the First Continental Congress may never have taken place!)
Josiah's sincere belief in Liberty was not practiced only for American Colonists. At one point, Josiah's physician Dr. Joseph Warren made clear to him that unless he went to a warmer climate he would not survive the winter. Josiah had contracted consumption--now referred to as tuberculosis. When traveling through the Southern Colonies, he frequently journaled the cruel treatment of those held in bondage. And, when the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre found themselves in need of legal representation, he took on the job even the Tory attorneys in Boston rejected.
By the time of the Boston Massacre, Samuel Quincy had been offered the prestigious position of Solicitor General for the Massachusetts Bay Colony (likened to today's State Attorney General.) Those in great power making Samuel the offer in their darkened wisdom knew that a dog doesn't bite the hand that feeds it. Samuel's new position would make him submissive to Great Britain. At first Samuel swore to his friends he would never abandon the purposes of the Long Room Club -- and argued that he could be more effective in having personal attention from those in Parliament. It was not long, however, before Samuel's loyalty to his fellow Bostonians -- even his family -- all but ended.
In a most ironic turn of events, Samuel the newly avowed Loyalist would prosecute the King's troops while his brother Josiah served as their defense. This is a story historians have ignored -- an emotional story of two brothers facing off in the courtroom to represent that which was opposite their political views. Two estranged brothers prophetically displaying the division of the civil war to come.
Historians missed this intensely charged, painful reality of the Boston Massacre Trials. Instead, John Adams takes center stage--most historians completely missing the fact that young Josiah was the attorney the British soldiers turned to.
Josiah had no moral struggle in accepting the case--to him, the sin would be in not accepting. For, if his belief in Liberty was true, it extended to all mankind. Even these British soldiers should be viewed as innocent until proven guilty--should have representation.
Josiah's struggle was with the fact that his zeal for Liberty was known by the powers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Because of this, according to Quincy family tradition, he was denied the esteemed robe of a barrister by the governor. Without the robe, he was not supposed to try a case before a jury. He could do all the foot work to prepare, but could not argue before the jury. He needed an attorney who could. He turned to John Adams.
Adams has received the "glory" from historians for being the attorney who presented the case, and with Josiah dead only a few short years after, Adams barely gave mention of Josiah's leading role in his famous journal. But, it was Josiah who took the case. It was Josiah who laid the groundwork. And, indeed it was Josiah who ultimately dared to argue before the jury without the robe--he was well known and respected by fellow attorneys in Boston for his legal genius and devotion to his profession. No one objected.
Josiah, only 26 years-old defeated the Solicitor General in the courtroom--his brother Samuel.
He would go on to inspire, with his impassioned words, the crowd at Old South Meetinghouse the night of the Boston Tea Party. He would write the response to the Boston Port Bill, which would circulate in Europe.
In September of 1774, Josiah volunteered for a mission to secretly leave the colonies for England. His mission was to gather accurate information on the state of affairs toward the colonies as well as deliver accurate information to friends in Parliament. It was a mission fraught with danger. He might be arrested upon arrival and tried for sedition. If so, he would be brutally executed.
Josiah determined that he, and he alone, had the best chance of carrying out the mission. Another member of the Long Room Club would most certainly be arrested--but he was the brother of the Solicitor General. He defended the British solders and won. And, if even these facts did not protect him, consumption would soon extinguish his life.
While in Great Britain he meet with men in powerful positions. For his own safety, and that of his friends, he was unable to put in writing what he was learning.
In February of 1775, he was summoned back to the colonies by the Continental Congress. They needed to know the intel he had gathered. Before he boarded the ship bound for Boston, the cold, damp winter had already seeped into his lungs. The frigid weeks upon the ocean, with poor nutrition and hygiene only worsened his condition.
Hammock-bound, a sailor sat with him, writing his last words to his beloved wife and father. Josiah shared with the sailor that he had information he could not entrust to writing, and would only share face to face with Sam Adams or Joseph Warren.
Three days from the Massachusetts shore, Josiah succumbed to consumption. No doctor attended him; no loved one held his hand. He left behind a wife and young son; a father who had already lost 2 sons; and friends desperate to know if the blood that was to be shed in the war to come could somehow be prevented.
Josiah is buried in the Hancock Cemetery in Quincy, MA. Few stop to ponder at this sacred grave of an unknown, forgotten hero of the American Revolution. Here lay a man whose courage and determination in facing the challenges presented helped birth a nation he would never see. Indeed. Had he not faced these challenges, America's history would be vastly altered.
Not very many stop to visit the grave or think upon this True Patriot, Josiah Quincy, Jr.
Posthumous portrait of Josiah Quincy, Jr. by Gilbert Stuart