Monday, August 16, 2010

John Rowe

   Benjamin Church's neighbor and fellow mason, John Rowe (1715 - 1787), was born in England but emigrated to Boston with two of his younger brothers some time before 1736. He apparently came with a substantial inheritance since he purchased, at the age of 21 in 1736, a warehouse on Long Wharf. Rowe, a very active Anglican, married a twin sister who was the fist wife of a Cambridge Loyalist and remained close to that family for the rest of his life. Rowe purchased land on Pond Street and proceeded to tear down the house that came with it and built a new one, into which he moved in October 1766. That house was sold after Rowe's widow's death and subsequently torn down in 1845. Rowe's new home sat on nearly three acres of land which was referred to as "Rowe's pasture," on which Rowe raised hay and vegetables as well pasturing sheep and cattle. In addition to his wharf, Rowe had extensive property holdings in Boston as well as thirteen other towns as far away as Connecticut.

   Rowe was a vary industrious merchant, one of the wealthiest men in Boston, whose ships plied up and down the coast and into the Caribbean. Primarily he was a purveyor for the British naval ships that were in and out of Boston harbor; that is, until the conflict between the Bostonians and the Crown made that trade very problematic. One of Rowe's ships, the Eleanor, was one of the ships carrying the tea involved in the Boston Tea Party. According to some accounts, Rowe uttered the words "perhaps salt water and tea will mix tonight" at a meeting called to discuss what action should be taken in reference to the tea. Rowe's diary indicates that he was unwell that night and did not take part in the meeting; however, several  sources placed him at that meeting. It's rather inexplicable that he would lie about himself in his own diary.

   Rowe was not a "Patriot" but rather a "moderate businessman", primarily interested in maintaining his own position and trying to steer a path that would preserve his own interests in a conflict that was becoming more and more incendiary. He belonged to no political clubs but was a member of something called the "Possee", something of  a social club. Rowe attended a social club almost every evening and visited one of Boston's many taverns almost every evening. Although he considered the Crown's position to be harsh, unreasonable, and intolerant of any dissent or opposition, he certainly did not favor any forcible resistance or, indeed, independence. Some historians have related the story that, in 1766 when Rowe was suggested as a representative for Boston, Samuel Adams rather artfully suggested that John Hancock be nominated instead with the utterance of the words: " Is there not another John that may do better?" I, however, would characterize it as one of those pieces of apocryphal gossip that cannot be substantiated and that permeate so much of the history of this period. That Samuel Adams, that master tactician, would choose to alienate the extremely wealthy John Rowe in 1766 is rather hard to swallow. On May 12, 1768 Rowe became the Masonic Provincial Grand Master of North America.
   Rowe remained in Boston during the siege, allegedly to safeguard his property, and this did not sit well with many of the Patriots. It seems, however, that he did apply for a pass to remove himself and his effects on April 28, 1775, but, for some reason, it was refused. In any event the British forces upon evacuation from Boston stole goods valued at 2260 pounds sterling from him. Resentment against him was so great that, after the evacuation, when his proposal that he be allowed to join in the ceremonies for the internment of Dr Joseph Warren, a fellow mason (both were very prominent masons), was met with such hostility that he thought it prudent to withdraw. John Rowe was a very active mason and had been named Grandmaster of the "Grand Lodge"  (St John's) in 1768. Joseph Warren was the grandmaster of the "Ancient Lodge" (St Andrew's). Benjamin Church was also an active mason and, in fact, petitioned and received permission to start his own lodge in 1772. The role of the masons in pre-revolutionary Boston is quite more complex than historians, especially masonic historians, would have us believe and Church's activities as a mason will be covered in a separate page.

  After the war, Rowe continued to live a prosperous life and, although he died childless, his home was full of relatives' children.

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