Saturday, September 29, 2012

Benjamin Church, Sr - III

   Upon his return to Boston in 1742, the thirty-seven year old Benjamin Church Sr was elected to membership in "The Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company" of Boston, presumably because of the military fame of his grandfather. The "Ancient and Honorable" was founded in 1638 as a militia unit for the defense of the the colony but by 1742 had become a private organization for men who wanted to practice and demonstrate their military skills. It had long lost any connection with artillery. There were five other men recruited in the same year as Benjamin Sr and the occupations of the three that could be determined were: carpenter, leather-dresser, and escutcheon maker. I could find no information indicating that Benjamin Sr was an active participant in any of the organization's activities and, I suspect, he had very little to do with it since there is no information to indicate that he had any interest in military affairs other than contributing to a new edition of his grandfather's exploits in King Philips' War.

Faneuil Hall in 1775
  Originally constructed in 1740, Faneuil Hall burnt down in 1761 but was rebuilt and expanded in 1762. It has served as the headquarters of the Ancient and Honourable Company since its original construction.
 A visit to the Ancient and Artillery Company's fourth floor museum is a must for any visitor to Boston.

   Benjamin continued to pursue his career as an auctioneer but apparently began to import and sell his own goods as well, allowing him to assume the title of merchant. In 1745, Boston selected him as a constable for Ward 11. The office of constable was less than desirable and most "gentlemen" and merchants avoided it. To avoid service as constable, one could pay a fine, but Benjamin Sr chose not to do so and it was reported that Church cheerfully took the oath. One of Church's duties as a constable was "to serve as the arm of the law" when a committee of gentlemen, headed by Thomas Hubbard (Harvard 1721), went through Ward 11, dwelling by dwelling, interviewed every inhabitant and "warned out the undesirables." Presumably Church was the enforcer. In later years Benjamin Sr served as one of the gentlemen members on such committees. In 1752, the town of Boston elected him an assessor, an office which he held  for twenty six consecutive years. In March 1765, he was also elected a warden.

   As mentioned previously, Benjamin Sr was a religious man from early in life. Very early upon his arrival in Boston, he joined the Hollis Street Meeting House whose pastor was the Rev Mather Byles. This church had been founded in 1732 by the Rev Joseph Sewall, pastor of the Old South Church and Byles was its first pastor. It appears that Benjamin Sr chose this church simply because it was convenient to his home and business. It is also alleged that Church was much more "conservative" in his ideology than Byles. In any event, Benjamin Sr attended this church through to the Revolution and in 1762 was named a deacon of the Church. References to him in official Boston records and by his contemporaries then became "Deacon Church" for the rest of his life. Perhaps some of the motivation for that was to distinguish him from his son who was refereed to as "Doctor Church."
Location of Old Hollis Street Meeting House from a hand sketch drawn in 1787. The original wood building burned down in the great fire of 1787. The present day Hollis Street Church is Unitarian and shares very little with the church attended by Deacon Church and pastored by the Rev Byles.


The Rev Mather Byles became a victim of the Revolution. Known as a trenchant wit, he had very strong Tory politics. A graduate of Harvard (1725) he was a grandson of Increase Mather and a nephew of John Mather. His first wife was the niece of Governor Jonathan Belcher ( the marriage taking place in the Province House) who donated the land on which the church was built - a wooden structure, with a steeple, and 40 pews on the ground floor and nine in the gallery. Gov Belcher owned a country house located near the junction of Hollis and Orange Street and owned considerable land in the area. This area was rapidly being built up as people moved out of the increasingly crowded North End and Gov Belcher wanted to give them a church to attend, not to mention that a church would increase the attractiveness and value of his land holdings in the area.
A mezzotint of Jonathan Belcher from a Richard Phillips painting1734.

 Although Rev Byles claimed that he never discussed politics from the pulpit, he was accused of praying that the colonists would submit to the British. The townsmen became so embittered at this and his other actions and politics that in August, 1776 his congregation voted to dismiss him from his position after 44 years of service.

  ( For those with a further interest in Dr Byles and his two daughters after his dismissal as Pastor, the following might be of interest.:

   By 1763, Deacon Church and his son Doctor Church were fixtures in Boston life and the Deacon was now prosperous and either owned or sponsored a slave named York. On October 7,1762, the records of the Hollis Street Church indicate that the Rev Mather Byles married a "Negro York, servant to Benjamin Church and Margaret Salt." The records of the Church indicate that York was a "free negro" while Sibley's Harvard Graduates indicates that he was a slave.

    In that same year the Deacon, now a substantial property holder, lost two houses, one burnt down and one pulled down to prevent the spread of the fire. For the latter house, he tried to obtain compensation from the town but witnesses claimed that it was already on fire when it was torn down. Socially, the Deacon had come a long way in the eyes of his fellow Bostonians since the day he was elected a constable. When, on the eve of the Revolution, his granddaughter (daughter of his first child Martha and James Chaloner) married a Boston bookbinder by the name of Abraham Ellison, this alliance was "by no means agreeable to the young Lady's relations."

To be continued

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