Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Update/A Boston Wit

   I have published a new page which lists all of the posts on this blog. Hopefully, it will enable readers to locate a specific post more easily.

  The next subject to be discussed in forthcoming posts is Edward Church, Dr Church's younger brother, who had a role to play, albeit minor, in the lead up to the Revolution and is a rather interesting character in his own right.

  My posts on Deacon Church mention that he was a member of the Hollis Street Church whose pastor was the Rev Mather Byles, a very prominent figure in Pre-Revolutionary Boston and member of the "Mather aristocracy." Rev Byles had a reputation as one of the best wits in Boston and was very well known through out the town for it. Some of his remarks were quite sarcastic and some quite cruel; undoubtedly he suffered for them after war broke out. I thought I might share a couple of instances of Byles' wit to give you a flavor of what was considered really witty and funny in Boston at this time.

  A man with a bad toothache asked Rev Byles where he should go to have his tooth drawn. Rev Byles responded with directions to an isolated house near Beacon Hill where he told the man he would find someone "to draw it." The man made the apparently long walk to this house where he found, not a dentist, but John Singleton Copley, the artist. "This is a poor joke for Doctor Byles," said Copley. "I do not think my drawing your tooth would ease the pain very much."

   Dr Byles, while walking past the North Church, came upon a crowd watching a man who had climbed the steeple and was flapping some artificial wings to the great delight of the crowd below. "What has this crowd gathered for?", declaimed the celebrated wit. "We have come, sir, to see a man fly," someone answered him. "Pooh! Pooh!," said the doctor, "I have seen a horse fly."

  Dr Byles, one day, in a very agitated manner, told his household Irish servant girl who apparently was  not too too bright, to run upstairs and tell her Mistress that "Dr Byles has put an end to himself." She did so and her Mistress came dashing down the stairs with her daughters to find Dr Byles waltzing around the room with part of a cow's tail he had found somewhere tied to the tail of his coat.

  I don't make this stuff up, folks.

  I should mention that Mather Byles was very good friends with John Singleton Copley, so he may have been playing a jest on a good friend when he sent the man with a toothache to him. Copley, a Tory sympathizer, lived on an eleven acre estate, perhaps the largest in Boston at that time.
John Singleton Copley. Self-portrait. 1769

   Dr Byles also carried on a long correspondence with Benjamin Franklin  with whom he apparently became acquainted with when both were boys in Boston, albeit from different social backgrounds. They were born in the same year.

   But the Rev Byles became a casualty of the Revolutionary War and one can sympathize with him and his daughters for the really unfair abuse they had to absorb from the Patriots. But then civil wars are the most bitter and the Revolutionary War certainly had the characteristics of one.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Devastated Deacon - V

   As war broke out after the fateful skirmishes at Lexington and Concord and the bloody British retreat back to Boston, thousands of New Englanders rallied to the cause and surrounded Boston - the siege of Boston had begun. Deacon Church, father to two well known and dedicated Patriot sons, one of whom was very prominent in the leadership, and a man who had always supported the Whig cause, fled along with thousands of other Bostonians from the city. The precise day he left is unknown but it was very early in the siege. The Deacon, his wife, and presumably the wife and children of his son Doctor Church traveld to the Rhode Island border to stay with the Crocker family in Taunton, Mass.

   The Deacon returned to Boston in April, 1776, perhaps one year after he had departed; the British had evacuated the city on March 17, 1776. Deacon Church was not prepared for what he found. Within several weeks of Lexington and Concord, Boston, a town of some 15,000, had plummeted in population to only some 3,000 colonials. General Gage, the Governor of Massachusetts, in fact, facilitated the departure of the town's population feeling he did not need all of those "troublemakers" on his hands.All possessions except plate and firearms could be taken from the town; of course, there was insufficient means of transportation for the citizens to take more than would fit on a wagon, horseback, or on their backs. British troops searched everything going out of the city and were rather indiscriminate as to what what they allowed to pass. As terrified Bostonians fled the town, equally terrified Loyalists, many of whom had suffered for their loyalty to the Crown from their neighbors, streamed into the town. As the siege progressed, food and fuel (wood) supplies became ever more scarce. In addition to the bombardment of the town by the rebels causing indiscriminate damage, depredations to property by British soldiers became worse and worse. General Gage tried to stop this with severe punishments but  he was largely unsuccessful. Storms and fires took their toll. In March 1776, the Patriot bombardment of the town increased in intensity and that's when widespread looting broke out. Bands of Loyalists looted Whig homes, occupied or not. There was an element of revenge as word had been coming in of Patriot confiscation of the properties the Loyalists had left behind.

British Evacuation of Boston, 1776. A 1911 print by A.J. Aylward

   The scene that the returning Bostonians faced was one of utter devastation. The town was in shambles; many homes were unrecognizable. Some had been torn down. Paint peeled from their sides, broken windows glistened in the sunlight, and shutters hung loosely from their fastenings. In the South End, some residents found fortifications where their homes had once stood. Limbs of trees from the Commons were placed across manure-filled streets, and caltrops were scattered on the ground. In homes near the main avenue into town residents found loaded shells with trains of powder covered by straw.

   Personal property damage ran into enormous sums for some. Not only were homes and stores destroyed, but in some instances, the fleeing British soldiers "destroyed the furniture of the houses, broke the windows, chairs, desks, tables &c. They loaded their vessels so deep that they threw overboard much of their lumber, which floats on water."

   Deacon Church arrived in Boston to find his fine "double brick home" severely damaged and his possessions looted. Not only had he been unable to earn any income for approximately one year, but now he discovered that his business was destroyed. His son Edward spoke of his father and mother "reduced from affluence to a state of needy dependence."  The town appointed him to a committee to investigate the damage suffered by the inhabitants of Ward 11 during the siege.

   The Deacon was now 72 years old and lived in a town that by 1780 would only reach a population of approximately 10,000 and teetered on the edge of economic collapse.

   Then, less than six months after he had returned to Boston, the Deacon received word that his son and namesake, Dr Benjamin Church, Jr had been arrested for "criminal correspondence." The Deacon was devastated and, to his dying day, believed in his son's innocence. And, he was now faced with providing financial support for his son, his daughter-in-law and Benjamin Jr's children.

   When Benjamin Jr was transferred to custody in the Boston jail in the summer of 1776, the Deacon supported his son who otherwise might have starved. On August 5, 1776, he appealed to John Hancock, sitting as President of the Continental Congress, for help. Hancock had to have been well acquainted with the Deacon:

It is hard upon me - in my present distressed Circumstances - as I am oblig'd to support Him {Benjamin Jr}, and family - as there is no provision made for his subsistance - I have been robb'd of everything valuable in the Town of Boston by those Robbers that lately possess'd the same - vizt L500 Steling in furniture - Merchantize - &c. And at present is no business - Mr. Bodwin {sic, probably James Bowdoin then President of the Massachusetts Provisonal Congress' executive council} &c Advis'd me to apply to Capt Bradford  for the sale of prize goods - as Auctioneer - I have seen Him - and He has inform'd me, He has no power to appoint - being restricted by Your self - but shou'd be ready to serve me, yea in preference if in his power - considering my present Scituation & many distressing difficulties - pray Sir consider me - One line from Your self will be sufficient.
   The Captain Bradford referenced in the letter is John Bradford, prize agent in Boston for the Continental Navy. He was responsible for, among other things, disposition of any prizes and their cargoes that would be seized and brought to Boston harbor. John Hancock, had he been so inclined, could have given the Deacon a commission to serve as auctioneer for prizes seized and disposed of in the port of Boston.

   The Deacon's financial difficulties continued and on March 28th, 1778, he wrote to John Hancock , in what must have been in extreme desperation, to attempt, once again, apparently, to obtain back pay for his son  for the approximately two months when he served as "Surgeon General" of the Continental Army! This is three months after Benjamin Jr was sent into exile, placed on a ship and subsequently lost at sea.

Hon. Sr.
   You may remember some time past I, by my son's desire, requested the favour of two months pay months pay as Surgeon Gen'll to the Hospitall at Cambridge, viz't from July to Sep'ber 1775 at which unhappy for Him - He was taken up and confined for writing a L'tr, to he brother Fleming which was deemed by some prejudiciall to his country, but to me and others He has repeatedly affirmed the contrary, that He never meant to injure, but to save his country, which He said if He might be admitted to triall He would have evinced to all mankind - but that could not be obtained - and now alas! he is banished! His demand for the service above is 252 Dollars - wherefore if, Dear Sir, through your interest it could be obtained. I have full power to receive the same - Hon'd Sir; as a grateful acknowledgement for favours' rec'd please to accept the following essay to perpetuate Your memory - from Yr Humble Serv't. Benjamin Church.

   The essay is a Latin acrostic spelling "Johannes Hancock Jus."

   Obviously, the Deacon's request was never fulfilled.

   In 1779, the Deacon was still looking out for his son's interests as he engaged in proceedings to keep his son's house out of the hands of an unscrupulous land speculator. By this time his daughter-in-law was resident in England and was helpless.

   The Deacon died on October 10, 1781, two days after his 77th birthday. Still uncertain of his namesake's fate and still believing in his innocence, he stipulated in his will that Benjamin should receive five pounds, the same amount as the rest of his children:
Item - I give unto my Son Benjamin if alive (for alas! He is now absent - being cruelly banish'd his Country - and whither living, or dead God only knows) five pounds sterling, and the remains of my broken library - but if He shou'd be deceas'd - to his son James Miller Church now in London -
   The probate inventory lists over 200 books in English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French. The Deacon must have, at one time, possessed one of the finest libraries in Boston.  Also included in the inventory are thirty two pictures under glass in the large brick house indicating, perhaps, the extent and value of the deacon's possessions prior to Lexington and Concord.

   The Deacon's personal possessions were only valued at approximately L142. A "small building and 170 square foot of land (mortgaged)" were valued at L120. The only other item in the estate was the Deacon's double brick house that he had acquired when he first arrived in Boston, unvalued.

   Hannah Church, the deacon's wife, was named executrix of the estate and a report of the commissioners on April 8, 1783 showed claims of L1154, 11s 5d., against the estate and the balance in the hands of the executrix as L129, 3s, 7 1/2 d. Hannah died in April 1794, almost thirteen years after her husband, without completing the settlement of the estate. It was only after litigation from her heirs that the Deacon's brick double house, the prized possession he had manged to hold on to throughout all the years of financial difficulties, was sold for L1900 pounds so that the estate could be settled.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Benjamin Church, Sr - IV

  In 1762, Deacon Church was one of the incorporators of the "Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge Among the Indians of North America." The incorporators, some of whom were members of the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company along with the Deacon, collected a substantial endowment, obtained a charter from the Provincial Government, and began proselytizing. When the act of incorporation was forwarded to England for approval, the Archbishop of Canterbury, fearing that this new society would interfere with one already established for that purpose by the Church of England, or, perhaps more relevantly, concerned that a society of this type independent of the Church of England could obtain substantial influence and power convinced the King to oppose the incorporating act in Parliament, and thus killed the Society. This killed the Society until after the Revolution. There is little doubt that the Deacon was a very pious man who took his religion seriously and to whom this would have been a severe blow.

   In 1769, the Deacon agreed not to handle any goods at his auctions which were imported in contravention of the Non-Importation Agreements.

   In 1771, Samuel Southwick, a printer and publisher in Newport, R.I. decided to reissue a reprint of the 1716 edition of the Deacon's grandfather's history of King Philip's War, titled "The History of King Philip's War", and enlisted the services of Dr. Ezra Stiles, then pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, R.I.. (Dr Stiles has been mentioned a number of times in this blog and I invite the readers to read the posts concerning him.) Dr Stiles enlisted the then 67 year old Deacon, who some may recall lived with his grandfather for a number of years as a young boy, to contribute to a Life of Col Church that was to be appended to the the new edition. We do not know precisely what information Deacon Church provided to Dr. Stiles concerning the life of his grandfather, but it appears from the Stiles papers that Stiles just used whatever he received without specific attribution. The Deacon also furnished a 30 line poem, an "Ode Heroica, " in Latin, to be included in the book as a tribute to Col Church; it was duly incorporated. I will spare the modern reader a translation of the poem, but will state that the author took as his inspiration the Roman biographer, Cornelius Nepos, and the work is filled with classical Roman and biblical references. The Deacon's other inspiration appears to have been Publius Ovidus Naso (Ovid).

Paul Revere's engraving of Col Church from the 1772 edition. There is no known portrait of Col Church and it is believed that Revere took an engraving of an English poet named Church and added the powder horn and the coat. Deacon Church is alleged to have looked on the engraving and agreed to it since it allegedly resembled a number of Churches. I cannot corroborate the Deacon ever so advised Revere.


   On 27 March 1773, the selectman of the town of Boston met to implement an act of the General Court from the previous session to limit the number of individuals authorized to sell goods at "public-vendue" to four and to provide licenses for them. Deacon Church (and he was so referenced in the official record) and three other individuals were "chose into the Office of Vendue-Master for the Town of Boston for the term of one year...whereupon they voluntarily agreed and declared to the Selectman that they would not sell any British or European goods at private sale but at auction or Public Vendue only."

A December 1768 issue of the Boston Chronicle advertising items for sale at "public vendue."

  Thus, at the eve of the outbreak of the Revolution in April 1775,  seventy year old Benjamin Church, Sr had been resident in Boston for some thirty-three years, had risen to be one of its most respected citizens, and had become prosperous enough to be considered a gentleman. He had eight children and two of his sons were active Patriots. One was of such prominence in the Whig movement that there were few who stood higher. Benjamin Sr was a scholar and respected Deacon living in a substantial brick home with an extensive library with books in English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French. The revolution, however, would bring his world crashing down upon him.

To be continued in the final chapter - The Destitute Deacon