Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dr Church's Boston Home

   Robert Calef,* a prominent Boston merchant, bought a house and land in the south-side of Boston located on the north side of Marlborough Street and Pond Street in 1707-8. In 1771, Benjamin Church, Jr. bought the estate from Calef's heirs. This is presumed to be the house that was later ransacked by a Boston mob and for which Sarah Church claimed compensation from the British Crown. In the 1770s, this part of Boston was like a large village with gardens, residences, and the elegant houses of the rich and fashionable. John Rowe, as previously mentioned, was Church's neighbor and, one could assume from the surviving sketch of his house, that the Calef estate was of the same nature. Since Church's "shop" was located on Newbury Street it was a logical place to live since Marlborough Street south of Winter and Summer Streets changed to Newbury Street directly near this location.

     To give further flavor to the environs, Pond Street was so named because the town watering hole for livestock was located on its north side not far from the corner of Marlborough Street. In 1753 the town sold the pond and land to a Daniel Wheeler so that, at the time of the Revolution, the pond was called Wheeler's Pond.

  It's impossible to locate the site of this house today since this whole area underwent a massive redevelopment in the mid 1970s and 80s.

  Although not shown on the maps below, Samuel Adams lived on Purchase Street where the map indicates "Cow Lane." John Hancock lived on Beacon Hill, and Dr Joseph Warren, along with Paul Revere, lived in the North End.

William Price's 1769 Boston Map - Precisely which is Church's home can not be determined.

John Rowe's Pond (Bedford) St Home

* This was probably Robert Calef, Jr as opposed to his father. In 1707, Robert Sr would have been 59 years old and his son 33. Robert Sr was a Baptist cloth merchant who is best known for the book "More Wonders of the Invisible World," a treatise he wrote in 1707 against the Massachusetts clergy, specifically Rev Cotton Mather, for their role in the Salem Witch trials. Because no Boston printer would publish it, it was printed in England. Rev Increase Mather, father of Cotton, had the book burned in Harvard Yard.  Robert Sr had retired to Roxbury in 1707 where he was a selectman and died in 1719. I  assume that his son kept up the business in Boston.

 Ironically, the home of Samuel Sewall, the only judge who regretted his role in the Salem Witch trials, was just up the street.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dr Church's Alleged Portrait

   The official records of the Surgeon General of the United States Army list Doctor Benjamin Church Jr as the first surgeon General of the US Army and contain what is purported to be a portrait of him. It's not a particularly flattering portrait of a somewhat foppish man with amazingly bright red lips.
    But is it Doctor Church and, if not, who is it? The answer is contained in an official US Army history written in 1905 -  "The Surgeon Generals of the United States Army", by James Even Pilcher, M.D., Ph.d., L.H.D, Major and Brigade Surgeon, Carlisle Press, The Association of Military Surgeons. Dr Pilcher concludes his article on Church with the following:

    and any portrait of him which existed was doubtless destroyed, for an extensive search reveals no trace of the survival of anything of the kind, the portrait accompanying this article being an ideal drawn from contemporary design.

    Undoubtedly the "contemporary design" was of early twentieth century since Dr Church was described by a contemporary as "tall and skinny" and his enemies satirized him as "the cadaver."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Page

 I have added a new page on Dr Church the Physician.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Curious Case of Dr Benjamin Church Jr's Elegant House and Extravagant and Disreputable Life

    Historians writing about Dr Church's "treason" have relied on various statements made at the end of 18th century and in the mid to late nineteenth century that the most significant factor driving Dr Church to furnish information to the British was his insatiable need for money to finance an elegant mansion he built in Raynham Massachusetts and where he, as one late nineteenth century historian put it in A History of New England, lived an "extravagant and locally disreputable life". As we shall see later, just how one lives such a life in a backwater like Raynham in the 1760s and 1770s is a good question.
   To my knowledge, however, no historian has done the research or examination of the records to determine if Dr Church did indeed build an extravagant mansion in that location and that it forced him into such a desperate need for cash that, some ten years later, he would sell out the patriots to the British.

   Let's trace the origin of these beliefs and see if we can establish that Dr Church did build an elegant mansion and that it drove him into financial diffculties.
  The Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society for the Year 1794, Vol III, contain a monograph titled , "A Topographical Description of Raynham in the County of Bristol, Feb 6, 1793 by the Rev Peres Fobes LLD." that gives a history of the town of Raynham, incorporated in 1731 on lands purchased from Massassoit. Dr Fobes, the third ordained minister in Raynham, relates that the town is bordered on the north by Nippaniquet Pond ( modern day Lake Nippenicket), a pond where "alewives in millions annually resort and leave their spawn." Dr Fobes goes on to relate that "allured by the pleasures of fishing and the beauty of the prospect , that curious political character, Dr Benjamin Church of Boston, came here and in the year 1768 built an elegant house upon one of the elevated sides of the pond."

Lake Nippenicket

    Dr Ezra Stiles, a legendary President of Yale from 1778 to 1795, graduated from Yale in 1746 with a degree in theology, and after practicing law for a few years, returned to the ministry and took a position, in 1755, as the pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport R. I. and remained in that position until 1771. Dr Stiles kept a literary diary, from January 1769 until his death in 1795, which was subsequently published in three volumes and is a valuable resource for his day to day writings on various aspects of colonial life and the events leading up to and culminating in the revolution. It also contains some valuable entries regarding Dr Church's arrest, trial, incarceration and fate. In an itinerary which is in his papers at Yale, but has never been published, Dr Stiles has the following entry for May 26, 1767 :

" Dr Church bot a home of 70 acres on Ninkytusset {?} Pond in Bridgewater L200. LM Hired a house large built for L200. Lm + Nippimidett {?}"

   Dr Stiles was certainly well acquainted with Dr Church but the degree of his personal relationship with him is uncertain. Residing in Newport, he would have been very aware of the prominence of the branch of the Church family started in Rhode Island when Church Jr's great-grandfather, the famous Col Benjamin Church of King Phillip's War fame married and moved from Plymouth Colony to Rhode island. ( Historians, I believe, have not appreciated the prominence and fame of this branch of the Church family in southern New England.) Dr Church was often in Rhode Island and specifically in Newport. His mother, in fact, lived for a time in Providence during the siege of Boston. So, it is certainly understandable for Church to have used Newport in an attempt to smuggle his ciphered letter to his brother-in-law in Boston. In April 1775, Stiles mentions that he read a letter from Dr Church that evening. Whether the letter was addressed to him or he was reading one sent to somebody else is unclear. There are also several entries in which Stiles discusses Church with friends who have a personal relationship with Church.
    On the two occasions in which Stiles mentions Church's "mistress", he refers to her as a "Woman of Pleasure" and "Dr Church's concubine. " It should be noted that the first x-rated English novel, more commonly known as "Fanny Hill" was published in 1748-1749 in England under the title " Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure." It's encouraging to realize that the minister was up to speed with his literary and moral references. One last little curiosity concerning Dr Stiles. While pastor in Newport , he developed a great interest in Hebrew, so much so that he became Yale's first Professor of Semitics and required all students to study Hebrew. Alas, he met with resistance from the student body and was forced in 1790 to make Hebrew study voluntary. The Second Congregational Church and Dr Stiles' home across the street still stand in Newport and are on the National Register of Historic Places. Dr Stiles' home is a private residence.

Dr Ezra Stiles

    Some contemporaries and later historians have concluded from these various references to Dr Church's "elegant home" and the fact that he apparently had been keeping a mistress, of one kind or another for some years, that he led a profligate lifestyle, was someone with a need for money, and it would be logical for him to sell his services to the British.
   Although Raynham and Bridgewater are adjacent to each other, they are located in different counties: Raynham in Bristol County and Bridgewater in Plymouth County. Bristol County records do not contain any records of a land purchase by Dr Church. The records of Plymouth County, however, do contain an entry for January 12, 1767, in which Jonathan Bozworth, Housewright of Plymouth County, sold Dr Benjamin Church approximately 60 acres of land with a dwelling house and other buildings in Bridgewater for 200 pounds (hard). A description of the land sold indicates that it was probably a farm with extensive undeveloped land since it was located northeast of Bozworth's homestead farm. In addition, Church received title to another 12 acres of land adjacent to the original sixty acres, a lot of Cedar Swamp lying on the west side of "Nippinichet Pond ", a lot in the Great Meadow of Bridgewater, and interests in several lots of Cedar Swamp located in Cutting Cove Cedar Swamp. (My title tracing skills were not sufficient to determine precisely where this farm was located and what is presently located on it.)
   There is no reason to believe that the dwelling mentioned in this land sale is the "elegant house" that Dr Fobes mentions. Bozworth lists his occupation as "housewright" so it is entirely possible that he could have contracted separately for another two hundred pounds to build Dr Church a new house. But, that is doubtful. Dr Fobes mentions in his history that there were six saw mills , three grist mills, one furnace, a forge, and a fulling in the early 1790's in this area and there was more pine standing in the settlement than upon its founding despite heavy activity for a number of years. He also mentions that there are three valuable tracts of cedar swamp. In another reference to the area's economy, Fobes mentions that the fish are so plentiful in the ponds in this area that a fishing license in Bridgewater sells for 250 pounds. As difficult as it is to believe, such an expense could only be borne for commercial purposes. This area was also a successful manufacturing area and is believed that small arms manufacture in New England, if not the colonies, began here. A 1764 census lists a population of 3,990 in Bridgewater. In a casual reference in one of the few remaining bits of Church's correspondence, he mentions stopping by the "farm." Bridgewater is equidistant between Boston and Newport and, given Church's association with both cities, would be a logical place to invest for a business venture.
   Although the sale is recorded in January 1767, it probably was executed in late 1766. 1766 was the year that the Stamp Act was repealed and there was a relative lull in the on-again off-again relationship between the colonists and the Crown.
   A review of the petitions Church's widow, Sarah, submitted to the crown to obtain her pension for losses suffered in the revolution, make no mention of this Bridgewater property although she submitted a claim for loss of a freehold dwelling house in Boston valued at 800 pounds. Nor does the petition by her son claim this farm. However, in an affidavit submitted by a Mr Sparhawk in support of Mrs Church's claim, Sparhawk states that Mrs Church lost " home and lands at Bridgewater."
   There still is the possibility that Dr Church could have acquired an elegant house in this area. Logically, there would be some reference to this in local histories, since an elegant house in this sparsely populated area (Raynham only had 1,000 people in 200 families in the 1790's), would certainly be noted and remembered, especially if it belonged at one time to the notorious Dr Church. Searches at the local historical societies and interviews with local historians and appropriate town officials failed to uncover any knowledge of any house, however elegant or inelegant, owned by Dr Church. There is, however, an "elegant house" located on the east side of Lake Nippenicket, on a rise perfectly situated to take advantage of the view and the lake; however, it was built in 1778. Could Dr Fobes have mistaken this home for the Church "elegant house'? 
   We'll never know, for as the more one delves into Dr Church's life, "curiouser and curiouser it gets."


1778 Bridgewater Home
The 1778 House is located at the north end of the drive on the east side of the Lake.
 It should also be noted that Church bought a home from an estate in Boston in April 1771 some five years after he purchased the Bridgewater farm. He was a neighbor of the merchant John Rowe, who played a significant role in the history of pre-revolutionary Boston.

John Rowe's Bedford (Pond) Street Home

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.

Who is Dr Benjamin Church Jr and why is this blog devoted to him ?

   It has become common place and accepted practice to identify Dr Benjamin Church Jr, first Surgeon General of the Continental Army, principal political satirist and spokesman for the Boston Whigs and, often forgotten, perhaps colonial America's best poet, as the first American traitor supplanting Benedict Arnold for that dubious distinction. Dr Church has all but been forgotten by most Americans and even those who have an interest in and are knowledgeable about the origins of the political struggle in Boston that culminated in Lexington and Concord know little of him and, quite understandably, have been influenced by the quite scant original research that has gone into Church's life and actions. It has long been forgotten that Dr Church was one of the three most prominent Whigs in pre-1775 Boston. He, along with Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren, kept the agitation alive and these three could be characterized as the heart and soul of that effort. There were others involved but these three were the most prominent and active. John Hancock wavered in his ardor and although recent historians have tried to portray Paul Revere as a giant of the revolution; at best, he was a faithful and well serving NCO, if at times a not very competent one.
    But, indeed, does Dr Church merit the distinction as America's first traitor and what is the evidence for his treachery?
    I first became fascinated with Dr Church as an undergraduate pursuing a degree in American History at Columbia. I later served twenty years in the US Air Force as a counterintelligence officer and gained considerable expertise in that world. At the time of my retirement I was the executive officer for the Directorate of Counterintelligence of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and Counterintelligence Advisor to the Director of SDI  (Star Wars).
   After my retirement I have been able to spend considerable effort, admittedly in spurts, pursuing original research into Dr Church's life and activities. All of Church's papers were burned by a Boston mob so there is no central repository one can consult. One has to research various collections of papers located at disparate locations around the country and one must look for and review references to Church in diaries, correspondence, etc. to obtain a true account of his life and activities. And, often these references to Church were written after his arrest for "treason" and are colored by the author's reluctance to be associated with a man whom once they thought of as ally and friend.
   Dr Church's tale is a fascinatingly complex one in which a researcher has to piece together snippets of information in an attempt to obtain an accurate rendering of his life and activities. I hope to use this blog to share some of my original research and thoughts into Dr Church's life and begin a reassessment of his place in American history.