Friday, September 28, 2012

Benjamin Church, Sr - II

 The first evidence that Benjamin Church, Sr had established residence in Boston, MA is his subscription on February 29, 1739 to the Land Bank.* Four months later he bought three homes and a distillery in the South End of Boston near Wheeler's Pond, which was owned by the Town and was used as a popular watering spot for livestock. The Pond, however, because of its swampy nature and use was becoming a "nuisance" to those townsmen who were moving out of the thickly populated North End and building homes in this area. Church petitioned the town to sell the pond to him since, once drained and filled in, the land would prove to be very valuable. Twice the Town voted to deny Church's petition.
   We do not know what prompted Church to move to Boston but one motivating factor could be that the Viall family, the family of Church's first wife and by whom he had two children, had owned property (probably on Newbury Street) and Church acquired from them, means unknown, a "double house" and pasture which Church proceeded to rent. Sibley's Harvard Graduates indicates that Church, at this time, was "not too prosperous" for at times he sold and mortgaged parts of his property. I'm not sure that this is an indication of financial problems but simply the actions of an entrepreneur, or, perhaps, a little bit of both.
   Benjamin Sr, however, did not stay long in Boston for sometime in late 1739 or early 1740, he was resident in Fayal, one of the Azores, where his son, Edward, was born on Sep 12, 1740. Since Benjamin obviously took his wife with him, one presumes that he took the rest of his family, to include Benjamin, Jr. Benjamin Sr returned to Boston sometime in 1742 and lived the rest of his life there except for when he was forced to leave Boston because of the British occupation of the town after Lexington and Concord.
   So, what was Benjamin doing in the Azores? In the mid 1700's the Azores served as one of the stopping off ports for ships traveling to North and South America.

   Fayal, one of the islands in the northern Azores, had several English merchants in residence. They carried out trade with neighbouring islands, especially the island of Pico where grapes are cultivated and wine is made. Since the inhabitants of Fayal owned most of the wineries on Pico, the wine produced there became known as "Fayal." An early 19th century account states:
The island {Fayal} has several towns well inhabited and produces yearly from 16 to 24,000 pipes of a white wine, of a remarkable salubrious quality, something between Madeira and Hock; this wine has of late years been much improved; it becomes quite mellow in about three years, or in about wight months, if sent on a sea voyage. The Passado, or Fayal Malmsey, is peculiar to the island.The method of making it is as follows: when the grapes are ripe, the choicest bunches are culled and exposed for fifteen days on large lava stones, and the grapes are turned every day, so that all the watery particles are exhaled; when afterwards compressed, their juice is quite thick and luscious, and brandy is put in to preserve it, so that it becomes quite a cordial.
   Pre-Revolutionary Boston's most widely drunk alcoholic beverage was rum, which was obtained from local distilleries. However, "the quality" in Boston drank wine and, for instance, in 1772 Boston imported 37,000 gallons of port wine. Under the Navigation Acts and Mercantilism, restrictions were placed on the import and export of all goods. "Fayal" wine imported from England through an English merchant paid a tax of 10 shillings duty per ton of 252 gallons while "fayal" imported directly from the Azores was taxed seven pounds sterling per ton. If ever there was a system designed to encourage smuggling, it was this one. Between 1700 and 1775, Madeira accounted for 64% of wine imports to Boston and Fayal, 7%.
Village of Horta in Fayal from a painting in the New Bedford Whaling Museum c. 1842

   And Benjamin Church Sr's connection to this? Recall that Benjamin's father-in-law and his father, Col Giles Dyer, Jr and Col Giles Dyer, Sr., were wealthy Boston merchants who imported "fayal" wine, sugar, rum, and salt, much of it apparently in their own vessels, and sold it from their warehouse in Boston. I don't think that it is too far a leap to surmise that Benjamin Sr was somehow pursuing some Dyer business interests or capitalizing on some old interests in the Azores. There is also a remote possibility that Benjamin Church Sr could have had some relationship to John Banister, the oldest son of Boston merchant Thomas Banister of Minot & Banister. John Banister had moved to Newport, R.I in 1737 where he ran one of the most prosperous trading firms in New England. Hannah Dyer's mother was a Banister, although not a direct descendant of Thomas Banister, and some connection could have been formed while the Churches and John Banister lived in Rhode Island. John Banister married Hermione Pelham, a granddaughter of Gov Benedict Arnold, great-grandfather to the Benedict Arnold and traded with England, the West Indies, and many other places. He also engaged in the slave trade and, in 1752, held one of the last public slave auctions in Rhode island at his store.
   Upon his return to Boston, Benjamin Sr opened a "public vendue room in the South End" which, in time became a Boston insitution. The main business of an auctioneer in Boston at that time was the disposal of newly imported goods. Church advertised "Broadcloths, Kerseys, Camblets, Calamancoes, Gauzes, flower'd Lawns, Handkerchiefs, Irish Hollands, Dowlasses, striped Hollands, Plaids, Checks, unglaz'd Linnens, House Furniture, Wearing Apparel, Watches, &c." In later years, Church imported goods for himself, in a small way.
   Church's "auction house, was located on Newbury Street, "two doors south of the sign of the Lamb" (a tavern), in the vicinity of Wheeler's Pond, and where his son Benjamin Jr would have his home. (see my Aug 14, 2010 post).

The Lamb Tavern, razed in 1845, from an engraving by John Ritto Oenniman and Abel Brown, c 1805-1834.
General Location Of Benjamin Sr's auction house

To be continued

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