Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Did Dr Benjamin Church Jr Have a Son named Benjamin?

   There is no question that Dr. Benjamin Church Jr. had a son named James Miller Church and two daughters, named Sarah and Hannah; but the assertion that he also had a son named Benjamin (Benjamin III) deserves examination. There is no record of birth for a Benjamin Church III in Boston or the Newport, R.I. area and there is no evidence contemporary with Dr. Church that indicates Benjamin III ever existed. The probative evidence for his existence is based on two documents. First, The Church family genealogy, Descendants of Richard Church of Plymouth, Mass, published in 1913 reports:
"Benjamin b about 1758 m a lady of London and became a surgeon in the British Army. A descendant of the same name and profession is said to be in the same service today."

    The 1852 edition of James Spear Loring's, The Hundred Boston Orators, contains a short biography of Dr. Church and states:

"He married Miss Hannah Hill of Ross in Herefordshire, a sister of his early friend, a young student in London. He returned to Boston, and had Benjamin, who married a lady of London, and became a surgeon in the British Army."
   Loring states that he received this information from a descendant of one of Dr. Church's children. Apparently it came from descendants of Dr. Church's daughter Hannah.

   Both the Church family genealogy and Loring report that Dr. Church married a woman named Hannah Hill when, in fact, Dr. Church's wife is named Sarah Hill. I suspect that the Church family genealogy based its report of the birth of Benjamin from the information provided by Loring.  One must question how a descendant of Dr. Church's children could get Sarah Church's first name wrong. One should note that Dr. Church's biography published in Sibley's Harvard Graduates correctly identifies Dr. Church's wife as being named Sarah.

   The assertion that Dr. Church could have had a son named Benjamin in Rhode Island has to be dismissed since Dr. Church was about four or five years old when his father moved the family to Rhode Island.
Thane of Fife - Royal Navy Snow. A Snow was a type of brig - a merchant ship that could be converted into a warship.

   After his graduation from Harvard in 1754, Church read medicine and in March 1757, he was appointed surgeon on the Massachusetts Province snow-of war, Prince of Wales. He left that ship in December of that same year, apparently just before the ship was captured by the French. The French and Indian War was being fought at this time and one might note that the famous siege of Fort William Henry occurred in August 1757. When he applied for his pay, Church said he was about to take a long voyage to London to study medicine. Church arrived in London sometime early in 1758 and "walked the hospitals." In December 1758 he wrote to Robert Treat Paine that he longed to return to Boston and when he did it would be with a wife. Whether he was referring to Sarah Hill or not is unknown. In July, 1759 Dr. Church posted an ad in the Boston Post Boy indicating that he was now in practice in Boston and had returned from London with a good assortment of drugs and medicine.
   At most, Dr. Church was in London for eighteen months. There is little doubt that his son James Miller Church was born sometime in 1759. It hardly seems plausible that he fathered two sons in the this time frame, especially since there is no mention of the existence of the second son other than what has been set forth above.
   The Church family genealogy states that Edward Church, Dr. Benjamin's brother, had a son named Benjamin who "probably died young." Edward married in November 1763 and his wife died in April 1766. It doesn't seem likely to me that Edward would have named a son Benjamin after their father if his older brother already had a son named after him who could not have been more than six or seven years old.
   There is no mention of a Benjamin III in the wills of Deacon Church or his wife Hannah. There is no record of a Benjamin Church III petitioning the Crown for a pension even though Sarah, her two daughters and James Miller Church are all mentioned in the various petition documents.
   So then where does this leave us? I think that the most plausible explanation is that there was confusion amongst the Church descendants and that James Miller Church was mistaken for a son named Benjamin. James Miller fled to London with his mother and his two sisters in July 1777 at the age of about 18. I think it is safe to assume, since he did not attend Harvard like his father, grandfather, and uncle that he studied medicine with his father. Upon his arrival in England, James Miller joined his mother and sister in petitioning the Crown for a pension. Sometime later, James Miller Church either purchased or was appointed to a commission as an ensign in the Royal (3rd)Westminster Regiment of Middlesex. This was a militia regiment based outside of London whose records for that period no longer exist. I have a feeling that this was not a regiment in being but a militia regiment with only a commander and staff that needed authorization and funding before it could recruit its full complement.
   The Town and Country Magazine, or Universal Repository of Knowledge, Instruction and Entertainment, for the Year 1784, London, Vol XVI reports that on January 1st, 1784, James Miller Church, Esq, of the West Middlesex Regiment married Miss Mary Amy Fowney, daughter to Heron Powney, Esq.

   Pension records further indicate that James Miller was made Lieutenant in 1795, surgeon's mate in 1795, and surgeon in 1796. He retired on April 18, 1817 and died fourteen years having lived on a small pension.

  Thus my feeling that the descendant(s) of Hannah Church confused James Miller Church with a son named Benjamin and that there was no Benjamin III. That's a conclusion I will support in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

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