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

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