Friday, January 13, 2012

Benjamin Church Sr.

  Benjamin Church, Sr was born in Bristol, R.I. * on October 8, 1704, the son of Captain Edward Church and Martha (Burton) Church. Edward was a captain in the militia and was the fourth of Col Benjamin Church's six sons and two daughters. Edward did take part in at least one of his father's expeditions during King William's War and died intestate at the age of 26, sometime prior to December 19, 1706 when an inventory of his property was taken. His widow described him as a "mariner";  he was not a man of wealth since his estate was valued at L694 - L600 of which was the value of a two hundred acre farm in Bristol, R.I. which his father had deeded to him in 1705 when he provided settlements for his children while he was still alive, and another L26 for "a bit of land," which appears to be an orchard.
  Martha was left widowed with a three year old daughter and a two year old son and she moved in with her children's sixty-seven year old grandfather who became their legal guardian. At this time, the Colonel was living in Little Compton, R.I.. The exact relationship the young Benjamin had with his grandfather is not known, but he did live with him for some eleven years. On January 17, 1718,  the Colonel, at the age of 78, was riding out to his farm in Little Compton, R.I when his horse stumbled and he was pitched off, landing on his head and shoulders. He apparently never regained consciousness and died some six hours later. The Colonel, like his son Edward, died intestate and an inventory showed land and possessions valued at approximately L650; but, as has been mentioned previously, the Colonel had made provisions for his children while he was alive.  By any standard, he was not a wealthy man.
Col Church's tombstone.
                                                     

   It appears that Benjamin, the grandson, was the first of this branch of the Church family to go to Harvard and he became a member of the class of 1727. Upon graduation, he ranked sixth in a class of thirty seven. His classmate, Thomas Hutchinson, the future Governor of Massachusetts and the scourge of the Whigs, was ranked third. Benjamin's sketch in Sibley's Harvard Graduates describes him as "a quiet lad [who] gave no sign of having been brought up at the knee of one of New England's great soldiers. During his first two undergraduate years he lived in a private house." That Benjamin was a pious man even as early as his Harvard years (probably sooner) is indicated by the fact that he joined the "Society of Young Students" whose purpose was to revive a spirit of piety that the members believed had fallen away at the college. Members met twice weekly to pray, worship, and admonish one another. Perfecting themselves, they would serve as a light to society.  All of this is certainly in the Puritan tradition.
   Upon graduation from Harvard, Benjamin returned to Bristol where it appears that he was a "vendue-master" (auctioneer) and merchant. On October  26, 1726/7, he married Elizabeth Viall, daughter of Samuel Viall of Boston and Susanna Flint of Salem, MA. Elizabeth was born in Salem, MA but the family moved to Bristol at some unknown date. The marriage between Benjamin and Elizabeth produced two children, Martha and Samuel.
    Elizabeth died on April 9, 1730, perhaps from complications from childbirth leaving her husband with an eighteen month baby and perhaps a new born son.
   Benjamin wasted no time in finding a mother for his two infant children for on March 6, 1731, he married Hannah Dyer, daughter of Col Giles Dyer and Mary Bannister, daughter of Thomas and Sarah Bannister of Boston. Some Church genealogies indicate that this marriage took place in Newport, R.I., but it is recorded as having been undertaken in Boston. The marriage was performed by Dr Benjamin Colman of the Brattle Street Church.
   Historians have overlooked Hannah Dyer but a foray into her background proves to be quite enlightening.
   Hannah Dyer was the granddaughter of Col Giles Dyer and the daughter of his son, also known as Colonel Giles Dyer. Who were Giles Dyer, Sr and Jr? The senior Giles Dyer was a deputy receiver of His Majesty's Customs, a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, selectman of Boston, sheriff, warden of King's Chapel, and one of the largest taxpayers in Boston. Upon his death in 1713, he left a very extensive estate to include shares in sailing vessels, a substantial interest in a Boston wharf, a shop, and other businesses. Upon his graduation from Harvard with the class of 1706, young Giles hired a room at the College and settled down for a year as a resident graduate - "a year in which he he was not a influence for peace and order."
   Young Giles was an importer, among other business interests, and went overseas after his sojourn at Harvard. He returned to settle down to his father's business  but first he married Sarah, the sister of Thomas Bannister on October 7, 1710. Reverend Benjamin Colman, who also married Giles' daughter and Benjamin Church, recorded that he received the unusual sum of L2 to perform the service, "as was fit when the houses of two such important merchants as these made an alliance."
   Upon the death of his father Giles came into the bulk of his estate and he paid the Bannister heirs L2000 for part of their father's property, including a number of houses on Marlborough Street and a warehouse on one of the city's wharves. At warehouse "#3" at the foot of King Street, Colonel Dyer (In 1714 he had become Colonel of the Life Guards, a cavalry unit that served as the Royal Governor's escort) imported and sold "Fyal" wine, molasses, sugar, rum and salt, much of which he imported in his own vessels.
   But Colonel Dyer was of a "litigious temper" and his name is spread through the records of the Boston courts. His downfall started in 1714 when he borrowed L300 from the province to mortgage his property. To settle a suit brought by a London merchant,  the colonel sold some of his property back to his brothers-in-law and disposed of some land in Cambridge neck. In 1719, the colonel and a certain Mr John Bernard won recovery suits against each other. Mr Bernard left his lawyer with a power of attorney and disappeared, leaving nothing the colonel could attach to recover his damages. In 1720, the province called in its L300 mortgage and the colonel had his mansion attached. This was the signal for a flood of lawsuits from everyone from the bookseller to the distiller. And, as if the colonel didn't have enough problems, his sugar factory burned down. It only got worse from here. In 1722 the sheriff was ordered to " take up the colonel's body" because of his debts. The sheriff could not execute his writ for the colonel's goods or body, perhaps he wasn't looking that hard, but it became moot since the colonel died on April 16, 1723. His widow was also the adminstratrix of his estate and the suits kept on coming. She died on February 16, 1732.
   Just how and when Benjamin Church and Hannah Dyer met is not known, but it was most likely in Boston.  In any event, after their marriage, the Churches resided in Newport, R.I. for several years where Benjamin Jr ( born 1734) and his sister Hannah** was born. Presumably, the Church household also included the children from Benjamin's first marriage.
    It is not certain precisely when the Churches moved to Boston but it was most likely in 1739.

* The shaded portion at the western edge of Plymouth Colony shows the areas of Massachusetts that were ceded to Rhode Island in 1747. It includes Bristol and Little Compton. Although I indicate Bristol and Little Compton as being in Rhode Island, I could just as easily have placed them in Massachusetts. Col Benjamin Church was born in Plymouth Colony and later moved to Bristol which he most likekly considered part of Plymouth Colony.



** A comment about the recording of births in colonial New England. Many families did not believe in recording their children's births; the Hutchinsons being one of the most prominent. Even in those families where births were recorded, there is a remarkable inconsistency in recording all of the children's births. And it is not a matter of gender; a boy was just as likely not to be recorded as a girl.



To Be Continued