Thursday, November 7, 2013

Edward Church -III



   It is not easy to trace Edward Church's movements after he rowed his brother Benjamin out to Boston Harbor to board the sloop Welcome and exile in 1778. There are records of him selling off his property in Massachusetts, presumably to raise capital. In November 1778, he sold his land on Newbury Street in Boston for L2500 and in September, 1778, he sold his approximately 80 acre farm in Braintree for L1000. An entry in the Suffolk County Deeds Records show an entry dated March 2, 1785:
Whereas Leonard Jarvis and Joseph Russell of Boston, Merchants, hold a judgment against Edward Church, of Boston, Merchant, in the sum of L606, 7 1/4 shillings which has not been paid, his goods are to be sold and himself committed to gaol until he pay the debt.
   Appraisers were appointed and on March 19, 1785, listed his property on Green Street as having a value of L225. The creditors accepted this and the property was transferred to them. Chances of actually going to prison for debt in Boston in 1785 were rather slim and even those few who did were released after a day.

Portion of William Price's 1743 map of Boston showing the location of the Boston jail on Queen Street.

  In 1787, Edward Church was in Austrian Flanders trying to raise capital and where he was involved in a project to "propagate the culture of cotton upon a large scale." He sailed from Ostend with several potential investors and arrived in Savannah, Georgia sometime late in the year. But, in Georgia, the potential investors "thought proper, upon experiment, to decline the undertaking."  Edward's plan to raise cotton in Georgia proved to be a little premature since Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, revolutionizing the cotton industry in the United States  and leading to a growth in a slavery that his peers believed was dying out.

  Although the family believes that Edward then moved to New York, he most probably was back in Boston. The recently ratified US Constitution provided for the election of the First President of the United States who would assume office on April 30, 1789; but the election was held between December 15, 1788 and January 10, 1779. Washington's election as the First President was a forgone conclusion, so the real race was for the office of Vice-President, for which there were nine candidates, John Adams being one of them. But since the Constitution forbade the electors from distinguishing their votes for President or Vice-President, all votes were cast for President. After Washington's election, Edward Church traveled to New York where the first government under the Constitution was located and he petitioned President Washington for a job in a letter dated May 11, 1789.

I was an wholesale merchant in Boston before the late war, and since the peace have made various attempts in several foreign countries to repair a ruined fortune, but I find it too late for me to begin the world anew with any probable prospect of success.*... Since the meeting of the present Congress, I have been induced from exigence to come forward to offer myself a candidate for the office of Collector of Imposts for the Port of Savannah. I have a wife and five children, and at present without means for their support. I have sustained some very heavy losses in that State...If, notwithstanding there should be found one more eligible I would then most humbly entreat your Excellency to nominate me to the appointment of Consul in Holland. I am not alone in the opinion that the appointment of a person competent to the office might be very beneficial to the commerce of America, as also that defenceless class of men, the American Seamen, whom I have known frequently to suffer great injuries and impositions in foreign countries...If therefore, it should be my lot to be rejected, I will never cease to venerate your name and to revere your justice. But if the consideration of my former eligible situation in life, my character, the sacrifices which I have made, my experience in business foreign and domestic, a most sincere wish to serve my country, the importance of my request, not to myself alone, but a most amiable wife and five children., and to two venerable and aged relations whom the fortunes of war have reduced from affluence to a state of needy dependence...it would restore happiness to a family threatened with speedy distress.

   Samuel Adams, who had just been elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts  (John Hancock was elected Governor), hearing of this application, sent in an unsolicited letter of recommendation to Washington, writing:

I take him to have been a steady friend to the liberties of our country, and a man of sense and integrity; if  it will not weary you with application, I will beg your notice of him; and after your own inquiries, afford him your influence, if you shall think it proper in promoting him to a suitable employment under Congress in the State of Georgia. This I mention without his solicitation or knowledge.

   When no immediate action was taken on this petition and a similar application to Secretary of War Henry Knox, Church wrote a long satirical poem attacking John Adams. It was published in a sixteen page pamphlet, printed in Boston, and distributed in Boston and New York. A copy of this pamphlet is in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress and,after looking at, it must say that it was not cheaply published and must have been of considerable expense to a man of very little means. The pamphlet is titled:

                 Dangerous Vice --------- A Fragment,
                 Addressed to all whom it may concern.
                 By a Gentleman, formerly of Boston.

   Having read through the entire sixteen page poem, I will not subject you to much of it since,even by the standards of late eighteenth century poetry, it is bad poetry. There is very fulsome and lavish praise of Washington and there is no mistaking the viciousness of the attack on John Adams. By addressing the poem to "Dangerous Vice", Church was not being subtle as to whom he was attacking.

            All are not like old Cincinnatus now,
            To take up their old trades, or dirty plough
John Adams, 1783, John Singleton Copley
            John! __ bid the coachman drive up to the door,
            Let's hand the Ladies in __ and say no more.
            These are the blessings of our halcyon days,
            Let ev'ry happy favorite toast their praise,
            Be grateful, then - be prudent, modest wife,
            Nor with your tow'ring crests assail the skies;
            Lest the offended Deity show'd frown;
            And on your native dunghills set you down...
         
            Resist the Vice ___ and that contagious pride
            To that o'erweening vice ___ so near ally'd.
            Within your sacred walls let virtue reign'
            With unlick'd lordlings fully not your fame,
            Nor daub our Patriot with a lacker'd name...

   The poem concludes:
            
             Freedom! which these firm Patriots deify'd
             Who in Rome's Senate stab'd the Patricide.
             Freedom! For fair Columbia bravely won
             By the long toils of virtuous Washington,
             Ne'er basely barter for a paltry crown.
             "But piously transmit the blessing down."


 

   John Adams said that he was bewildered that "Ned Church" would libel him in such a manner and speculated that it was because he had done nothing to assist Edward in his efforts to aid his brother Benjamin. Although, I can find no documentation indicating precisely what dealings Edward Church had with John Adams over his brother Benjamin, I find Adams' surprise at Edward's reactions as somewhat disingenuous. Adams cannot be wholly trusted in matters like these and it's my deep impression that there were a number of instances, undocumented, in which Edward, and his father, tried to solicit Adams' support in efforts to release their brother and son from a very harsh prison regime but received no help from Adams. Adams, of course, was rather disingenuous when commenting on Benjamin's arrest and tried to give an impression of very little acquaintance with Church, which, of course, is false.
 
    A more plausible explanation for Edward's publication of this poem was that he, most likely,  blamed John Adams' influence as being instrumental in Washington's refusal to appoint him to a position that he desperately needed to support his wife and five children. Combine that with Edward's conviction that Adams had failed to support him in 1776 and the fact that while Edward, an ardent Patriot and Whig, had been ruined by the War, John Adams prospered and, I think, you have Edward's motivation.
 
   Henry Knox assured John Adams that the poem "was universally despised by all parties and descriptions of men." and that Edward Church's character was "well known." In spite of Henry Knox's assertions as to Edward Church's character, President Washington, in June, 1790, appointed Church consul at Bilbao, Spain, at that time a very prosperous Spanish port which was located in the Basque region of Spain. Edward did not like this post so he remained at home and campaigned for a better job. In May 1792, President Washington appointed him consul at Lisbon, Portugal. In December 1793, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward to warn him that he would lose the post at Lisbon if he did not get there soon. But, in fact, Edward Church was already in Lisbon for in August, 1793, an American visiting Lisbon had found a "A board well furnished with viands and liquors," and "new incitement to indulgence, from the unceremonious hospitality of both Mr. and Mrs. Church."
 
   To be continued
 
 
 
   * Edward was 49 years old at the time.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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