Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hannah Church Weld

   I was excited to discover recently that the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, Mass has a pastel portrait in its collection of Hannah Church Weld, the older sister of Dr Benjamin Church, Jr.. This would be the only authentic portrait of any of Deacon Church's children known to us since, as I related in a very early post, the alleged portrait of Dr Benjamin Church Jr.is a complete fabrication. I was hoping to discern some of Dr Church's physical attributes from the portrait, but I must confess I cannot. The portrait is by Gerrit Schipper* who, in August and September of 1804, was traveling through Boston, Worcester, and Salem, Mass and painted six pastels of the Isaiah Thomas family. Isaiah Thomas was the founder of the AAS  but more on the connection of Hannah Weld to the Thomas family comes later.

  Hannah's birth date is not known for certain but it most likely was in 1733, which would make her a year older than Benjamin Jr.. Hannah Church Weld died on September 14th, 1804, and so, this is probably the last likeness made of her, at the age of 71.

Hannah Church Weld by Gerritt Schipper, September 1804

   We know nothing of Hannah Church's life until she married Edward Weld of Roxbury, Mass on April 7, 1757 when she was 23 or 24 years of age. In 1760, when Edward Weld sold out his property rights to a training field in Salem, Mass, his occupation was listed as "shopjoyner." (A "shopjoyner" was a specialized carpenter who would finish interiors of buildings by joining together pieces of wood and might also work on door and window frames and staircases and other wood pieces within a house or building.) Edward's father, Edmund, was also a joiner but was a man of some wealth whose estate, upon his death, was valued at L1614, and included substantial property to include a "mansion house";  Edmund was listed as a "gentleman." Edmund Weld, however, died some nine years before the marriage of his son to Hannah Church and one could not say that Edward's inheritance was substantial since an older brother seems to have been the main beneficiary.
   On  July 31,  1755 Weld bought, in company with Thomas Grant, a goldsmith, a dwelling house in Marblehead, Mass which they divided according to a plan filed Jun 15 1767. In the 1770s, the Welds moved to Andover, Mass. Later Edward Weld was a prosperous and wealthy merchant of Boston. Edward and Hannah Weld had seven children - three sons and four daughters. I find it interesting that the three sons were named Benjamin, Edward, and Giles, the names of three of Hannah's four brothers.

Miss Hannah Weld by Gerrit Schipper, 1804. Hannah was 42 years of age at the time of the portrait and unmarried.
    Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Mary Weld was the fifth child of Edward and Hannah Church Weld. She grew up in Boston, where her father had become a prosperous merchant and property owner. In 1797, she married Isaiah Thomas, Jr, a printer and publisher, and the son of the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, Isaiah Thomas, Sr. The couple lived in Worcester and had twelve children, six girls and six boys. In September of 1804, around the time the portrait below was drawn, Mary Weld Thomas was nearly eight months pregnant with her seventh child.
Mary Weld Thomas
   Born in Boston in 1756, the son of a printer, Isaiah Thomas founded The Massachusetts Spy, a newspaper that became one of the leading advocates of the Whig cause and a thorn in the side of the Royal Government. Efforts to suppress the newspaper resulted in an order by Governor Thomas Hutchinson to the Attorney General to prosecute Thomas but a grand jury refused to indict him. Thomas, through The Massachusetts Spy, advanced the Whig cause from 1770 to 1776. In April 1775, Thomas became so concerned over the Government's animosity that he moved his printing presses to Worcester. His other property was destroyed. Thomas prospered in Worcester and built a publishing empire. His ambition throughout his life was to write an extensive book on the history of publishing. He began what would become ( fully titled)  History of Printing in America, with a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers. It was published in two volumes in 1810. A second edition, published in 1874, was prepared by his grandson Benjamin Franklin Thomas and included a catalog of American publications previous to 1776 and a memoir of Isaiah Thomas. It is an invaluable resource.
In November 1812, Thomas founded the American Society of Antiquaries, now known as the American Antiquarian Society partly to take care of the extensive library he had accumulated in preparing his history of publishing. At its first meeting, Thomas was elected president, a role he held until his death. In addition to nearly 8,000 volumes from his collection, he donated to the library tracts of land, and one of the most valuable files of newspapers in the country. Thomas presented land and a hall, with a provision equal to $24,000 for its maintenance.

Thomas spent his final days in Worcester. Upon his death in 1831, he bequeathed his entire library, his collection of early American newspapers, as well as his personal papers and records to the AAS.

   Before we leave Hannah Church Weld, one final note. The AAS also has a collection of Thomas family letters in which are three letters Hannah Church wrote to her daughter. In the following, Hannah reveals her character as she gives advice to her daughter.
Depend on no other help or (illegible) but from your own Industry when we began we had nothing but by industry and prudence we made out very well. when we (illegible)then when we could not we did without we took care never to get in debt your father was never dund in his life for i never would consent to his ruining himself into dependency it is difficult to exticate one self once intangled.

   There must have been some fascinating conversations at family gatherings between the older sister of Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr. and the staunch Patriot Isaiah Thomas, publisher of The Massachusetts Spy, who had to have known her brother quite well. Not to mention those between Thomas and his daughter-in-law, Church's niece.

*Gerrit Schipper (1775 - 1832) was a Dutch painter specializing in pastel portraiture and miniature portraits. After studying in Paris in the 1790s, he spent time in Brussels and Russia. He is believed to have arrived in the United States in 1802. He was active in New York, Charleston, Savannah, and several cities in Massachusetts. In about 1807 he moved to Canada and spent time in Quebec City and Montreal, where he produced many portraits of notable local people. He moved to England in 1810. He spent part of 1803 in Boston and moved in the spring of 1804 to Salem, Massachusetts, where he might have met Isaiah Thomas, Jr., who often managed the portion of the Thomas family's printing empire on the North Shore. In August 1804, Schipper took an advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy. "G. Schipper, an eminent painter from Germany, has it in contemplation to visit Worcester, in order to favor those Ladies and Gentlemen who may wish to have correct likenesses taken; he executes them in colored crayons, set in an elegant frame and glazed for Ten Dollars, and if not an approved likeness, no payment will be expected; he requires but one sitting of three quarters of an hour. Specimens of his painting may be seen by applying to Isaiah Thomas." A second advertisement, placed after his arrival in Worcester, also noted that examples of his work could be viewed on request to Isaiah Thomas, Jr. During his stay in Worcester, Schipper drew profile pastels of several Thomas family members,