Monday, August 9, 2010

A Chronoligical Biography of Dr Benjamin Church Jr

    BC Jr. was born on August 24, 1734 in Newport R.I., the son of Deacon (Benjamin) and Hannah Dyer Church of Philadelphia, and the great-grandson (not grandson as sometimes reported) of Col Benjamin Church of King Philip's War fame. Hannah was the Deacon's second wife. Benjamin Sr was apparently always referred to as Deacon since he was a deacon of Dr Mather Byles' Hollis Street Church in Boston. The Deacon was born in Bristol R.I and moved to Newport where he married Hannah Dyer.
   The family moved to Boston in 1740 where BC Jr. attended Boston Latin, and then entered Harvard in 1750, ranking 9th in a class of 20. Students at that time were ranked by social standing. John Hancock was also a member of that class and should have been ranked number 1 but he apparently got a" negro slave drunk" and was "busted" to number 2. (He was later restored to number 1.) After graduation from Harvard, Church read medicine and was apprenticed to Dr Joseph Pynchon, a prominent Boston physician. In 1757 he served as a Surgeon on a Provincial Snow of War but left in August to study medicine in England. From 1757-1759 he studied at London Medical College where he said he walked the hospitals for three years. On his return to Boston, he became one of only 13 Boston physicians who had studied in Europe.
   BC Jr had a brother Edward, sister Alice, and a half brother named Giles. (More information on his siblings, since they will figure prominently in BC Jr's life, will be presented in future posts.)
   In 1757, Church published a poem titled The Times, started while in Harvard and later finished, which modern critics have called the landmark poem in colonial America. His poems were to be widely circulated and admired. (Dr Church's importance and eminence as a poet will be discussed in future posts.)
   In 1758 while In England, he married Sarah Hill of Ross (Ross-on-Wye) in Herefordshire, a sister of a fellow medical student.
   That BC Jr had these three children - James Miller Church, b. 1760 (One family genealogy says 1759), Sarah, b. 1761, and Hannah, b. 1764. is firmly established.
   One historian claims that BC had a son also named Benjamin who married an English woman (they all considered themselves English prior to 1775)  and moved to England. There is no record of his birth in Boston and his existence will also be discussed in a future post.
   In July 1759, Church returned to Boston where he started to establish himself as a physician. He widely advertised his skill at smallpox inoculation ( a much more dangerous procedure then) and won appreciation from the town's selectmen for being a physician who was most active in giving free service to the poor during smallpox epidemics. John Adams was one of his patients.
   Sometime in the late summer of 1765 as opposition to the enforcement of the Stamp Act grew in Boston, Church decided to become politically active. It started with the publication of a poem (first printed in Connecticut and then reprinted in Boston) titled Liberty and Property Vindicated and the St--pm-n Burnt. Although not as widely known as some of his later political satires, it was probably his best. Church had started his career as a satirist by publishing verse satirizing his Harvard teachers and classmates.
    For the next ten years, Church immersed himself in town politics and became one of the most prominent Whigs on a level with Samuel Adams, Dr Joseph Warren, (a competitor politically and professionally), Dr Thomas Young, and William Molineaux. He served on numerous committees, published political satire known for its trenchant wit and stinging penetration, and seemingly, while the ardor for the redress of the Bostonians' grievances ebbed and flowed with the political tide and move and counter move by the Bostonians and the Crown, never faltered.  For example, in late December 1767, Thomas Hutchinson named Church and Samuel Adams in an affidavit to the British Attorney General seeking his opinion. The Attorney general responded that Adams and Church had come within a hairsbreadth of treason.
   On March 6, 1770, Dr Church performed the autopsy on Crispus Attucks at the Royal Exchange Tavern.
   In November 1772, he became a member of the first Committee of Correspondence and began a correspondence with John Wilkes.
   On March 5, 1773 Church gave the oration on the third anniversary of the "Boston Massacre", as important an occasion on the Boston political calendar as there was. Church would receive an M.A. from Yale for it.The following year he wrote most of John Hancock's oration on the same occasion.
   In 1774 Church was elected as a delegate from Boston to the Provincial Congress and in October was appointed to the Committee of Safety and charged, with two others, to hide the colony's military stores in the country. Other assignments were to report on the quantity of stores and to correspond with the Canadians.
   In December 1774, the British Attorney General responded to a British Cabinet inquiry as to whether treason was committed in Massachusetts at the time of the "tea party" that Church, Warren and Molineaux were guilty of treason, but he refused to issue arrest warrants feeling he would take the blame if something went wrong.
   On April 19, 1775, Church did a heroic job tending to the casualties of Lexington and Concord.
   By May 1775, Church had become the Chairman of the Committee of Safety and signed the letter appointing Benedict Arnold to proceed to Fort Ticonderoga. At this point, Joseph Warren, as the President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was the only man who outranked Church in the patriot Massachusetts government hierarchy. Sometime in the middle of May, in as yet unexplained incident, Warren replaced Church as Chairman of the Committee of Safety in what was described by one contemporary as a "bloodless and even noiseless coup."
   On May 20, 1775 Church departed for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia after he had been selected to present Massachusetts' request that it be allowed to govern the Province. He departed Philadelphia on June 10th and arrived in Cambridge on June 16th as the battle of Bunker Hill (yes it's appropriate to call it that) was in progress. He was put in charge of the wounded.
   On June 26th he and Moses Gill were selected by the Provincial Congress to travel to Springfield to greet George Washington, newly appointed commander of the Continental Army. Church and Gill met Washington on the 30th and accompanied him to Cambridge. Church probably had met Washington earlier in the month in Philadelphia.
   On July 13th, Church was reappointed to the Committee of Safety and on July 27th was appointed the Director and Chief Physician in hospital of the army before Boston (Surgeon General.). His pay was twice that of a Massachusetts Colonel and more than that of a Rhode Island Brigadier General.
   On September 20th, Church asked to be relieved of his post claiming ill health. On September 24, General Horatio Gates, acting for Washington as his Adjutant General, turned down the request.
  On September 29th, 1775, Church was arrested for his "criminal correspondence" and confined to the Henry Vassall House in Cambridge where his initials still remain on the panel where he carved them.
  On October 27th, he was brought before the Massachusetts House of Representatives and on November 3rd was expelled from the House and sent to Governor Johnathan Trumbell in Connecticut for confinement.
   On January 1, 1776 Congress ordered his movement to a more comfortable prison since Church had developed asthma as a result of confinement. In a letter from prison, Church stated that he had almost died of consumption a few years past. On May 16th, Congress ordered Church bailed for L1000 and handed over to the Massachusetts Council. On June 2nd, a diarist records that Church was confined in Boston.
   On June 3rd, a mob tried to lynch Church at a house in Waltham where he was confined but Church managed to jump out a window and flee to safety. On that same day, the sheriff reported to the Massachusetts House that, for some reason, Church had been remanded to his custody so he placed Church in the Boston jail, presumably for his own safety.
   In mid-June an attempt by British General William Howe to exchange Church was stopped by a Boston mob. On July 5th, a mob ransacked Church's Boston home and destroyed all of his papers. It is not clear just how extensively the structure of the house was damaged. On October 1st, Congress rejected another British offer to exchange Church.
   Finally, on January 9th, 1778, Church was given permission to sail to Martinico, an island in the West Indies then controlled by the British.
   On January 12th, the sheriff placed Church aboard the sloop Welcome. Several days later Welcome sailed to its final goodbye as it and all hands and passengers were lost at sea. Several other ships sailing in the convoy were also lost.


  1. Fortunes made on the slave trade in Boston during the time of the revolution!
    Very interesting. This story s unfolding nicely.

  2. Excellent blog about Dr. Benjamin Church.
    account of American Revolution Battle is excellent.

  3. Recent information about Benedict Arnold is just great. This blog is of real historical value.

  4. The recent post by Edward Witek on the ropewalkers is very detailed and of great value to historical research.
    It is also another great story posted right after the sections on Benedict Arnold and the Guns of Ticonderoga.
    This blog is creating new information about a critical period in the history of America.