In a letter to John Wendell (Harvard 1750) dated May 27, 1774, Edward Church wrote:
I join with you that Blood shedding is to be avoided - but Firmness and Perseverance in a good cause will never fail of success...I wait to know if this be a land of Freemen or Slaves, and if the Latter I shou'd be sorry to be the proprietor of an inch.The sentiments Church expressed in this letter were reflective of the thoughts of most Whigs at this time and puts Edward Church in the mainstream of Patriot sentiment. (John Wendell was a merchant and land speculator in Portsmouth, NH; and member of a prominent Boston merchant family that had emigrated to Boston from New York. After the Revolution he lost his fortune.)
The Church Family genealogy claims that Edward Church was a member of the First Provincial Congress, but he certainly was not.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, Edward Church took refuge in Braintree where, by one account, he rented a house and took in boarders. He did, at some point acquire a farm in Braintree, for in 1780, he sold a homestead and farmland consisting of 76 1/2 acres with farm buildings, 5 acres of salt marsh and 2/1/2 acres of salt meadow for L1000. It is not known if his wife or any children were with him, but they probably were. Braintree, located just south of Boston, of course, was where John Adams was born and where his wife Abigail and their four children lived. Just what type of intercourse, if any, Edward had with Abigail Adams is unknown; but I doubt that there was much. Abigail Adams has, I believe, been transformed into something she was not by a coterie of modern historians who are using her to push an agenda. Reading her correspondence from this period, Abigail strikes me as well read, highly religious, but essentially a provincial housewife of little political sophistication and often very poor judgment.
. Benjamin most probably visited Edward in Braintree sometime in late May of 1775 on his way to the Continental Congress as a special delegate of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Benjamin did stop at Taunton, Mass (30 miles south of Braintree) to see his family where they had taken refuge and Braintree certainly would have been on the way. John Adams mentions in a letter to Abigail, dated June 2, 1775 Philadelphia, where he was a delegate to the Continental Congress, that he had received two letters from her from Dr. Church the day before. After Dr. Church's arrest, John Adams indicated to his wife that he hardly knew Dr. Church but that is just not true. As far back as 1765, Church treated Adams for smallpox and had given him medical treatment sporadically throughout the ensuing years; Adams was, after all, a bit of a hypochondriac. Adams certainly did not have the stature that Dr. Church had amongst the Whigs and my impression would be that Church probably looked at Adams with an infuriatingly condescending smile. And certainly, Adams would never acknowledge to Abigail that he knew of any of Dr. Church's dalliances with women other than his wife. In a response to a letter from Abigail asking:
What are your thoughts with regard to Dr. Church? Had you much knowledg of him? I think you had no intimate acquaintance with him.
John Adams responded:
The Fall of Dr. Ch -- h, has given me many disagreable Reflections, as it places human Nature itself in a Point of bad Light, but the Virtue, the sincerity, the Honour, of Boston and Massachusetts Patriots in a worse. -- What shall We say of a Country which produces such Characters as Hutchinson and Church? -- However to turn my Attention from this detestible Subject to another more agreable. Congress has appointed instead of Church, Dr. Morgan of this City whose Character I will pourtray for your Satisfaction.
When weighed in the balance I fear he will be found wanting. A patriot without religion in my estimation is as great a paradox as an honest Man without the fear of God. Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind can have any real Good Will towards Man, can he be a patriot who by an openly vicious conduct is undermining the very bonds of Society, corrupting the Morals of Youth and by his bad example injuring that very Country he professes to patronize more than he can possibly compensate by his intrepidity, Generosity, and honour?
|Diagram of British artillery fire at Bunker Hill from Lossing's Field Book of the Revolution|
Benjamin's arrest, however, did not damage Edward's reputation amongst the Patriots. Boston Town Records reflect that in May, 1776, Edward was one of 25 Bostonians elected to a new Committee of Correspondence, Safety, & Inspection. The top two vote getters were Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
In November 1775, the Massachusetts House decided that although there was no provision in law that would allow them to court-martial Dr. Church, freeing him would be "attended with dangerous consequences to the Cause of America," so it asked the Council to take suitable measures. After consultation with George Washington, it was decided that Church should be sent to Norwich, CT where he would be placed under the custody of his father's old Harvard classmate, Governor Jonathon Trumbull, Sr. and :
be closely confined in some secure goal in Connecticutt without pen, paper, or ink, and that no person should be allowed to converse with him, except in the presence and hearing of a magistrate or a sheriff of the county where he should be confined, and in the English language, until further notice.
|Jonathon Trumbull, Sr.|
Jonathon Trumbull, the sixty-six year old former Royal Governor of Connecticut, was one of only two Royal Governors to remain in office after Lexington and Concord. He was an ardent Patriot and responded to General Gage's request for assistance after Lexington and Concord by replying that Gage's troops would "disgrace even barbarians." He grew to be a close friend and advisor to Washington.
If anyone thought that consigning the responsibility for Dr. Church's confinement to his father's old friend would have resulted in a soft prison regime, they were sadly mistaken. Governor Trumbull assigned Dr Church to the care of Prosper Wetmore, Sheriff of New London County who detained Dr. Church in seclusion during a cold winter. Sheriff Wetmore directed a Mr. Edgerton, the jailer, to build a high picket fence around the prison and even within this enclosure, Dr Church was not permitted to "walk but once a week with the Sheriff at his side". Church was confined in a "close, narrow, dark, and noisome cell" which had been ventilated by a small grate which was boarded up prior to Church's incarceration. In Church's own words:
He had not been immured in this receptacle of misery but a few hours, when, from the weak state of his lungs, and the corrupt and stagnant air of his cell, he began to labour for breath. In his insupportable distress, which was so great as repeatedly to force blood from his mouth and nostrils, he earnestly entreated his jailer to open the grate, which he declined doing...The most violent asthma, with all the unspeakable agonies of instant strangulation, then took place.
Given that Benjamin Church was a master of propaganda, this account does ring true and there is little doubt that Church's health deteriorated dramatically during his confinement at Norwich. His health was never to be the same. It must have been especially torturous for Dr. Church, the foremost poet of his day, and a man of considerable literary talent to be denied the use of pen, ink, and paper.
(The Massachusetts House and Governor Trumbull would have loved Guantanamo.)
Using the last of his money, Dr. Church petitioned the Congress to release him to the custody of his family at Taunton, pleading the state of his health. On January 1, 1776, Congress ordered that he be moved to a more comfortable prison. Edward Church and his father, the Deacon, persevered in their attempts to aid their respective brother and son and appeared at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. From John Adams' Autobiography:
Monday May 13. 1776. Sundry Petitions were presented to Congress and read, viz. one from Dr. Benjamin Church, and one from Benjamin, Samuel and Edward Church, with a Certificate from three Physicians respecting the health of Dr. B. Church. Here I am compelled, much against my Inclination to record a Fact, which if it were not necessary to explain some things I should rather have concealed. When this Petition was before Congress, Mr. Samuel Adams said something, which I thought I confess too favourable to Dr. Church. I cannot recollect that I said any Thing against him. As it lies upon my Mind I was silent. Mr. Hancock was President, and Mr. Harrison Chairman of the Committee of the whole and a constant confidential Correspondent of General Washington. Neither of them friendly to me.* I cannot suspect Mr. Samuel Adams of writing or insinuating any Thing against me to the Friends of Dr. Church, at that time. But Mr. Samuel Adams told me that Dr. Church and Dr. Warren, had composed Mr. Hancocks oration on the fifth of March, which was so celebrated, more than two thirds of it at least. Mr. Hancock was most certainly not friendly to me at that time, and he might think himself in the Power of Dr. Church. When Mr. Edward Church printed his poetical Libel against me at New York in 1789 or 1790, I was told by an Acquaintance of his that he was full of Prejudices against me on Account of Dr. Church his Brother. I leave others to conjecture how he came by them. I know of no other Way to account for his Virulence, and his Cousin Dr. Jarvis's Virulence against me, having never injured or offended any of them. Misrepresentation at that day was a Pestilence that walked in darkness. In more modern times it has stalked abroad with more impudence at Noon day.One should take note of John Adams' position in the matter. Whereas Samuel Adams was not adverse to support his old Whig ally despite the fact that Samuel saw him as a man of questionable moral character, John Adams looked at it strictly as to how it might affect him and perhaps his relationship with Abigail.
Edward Church developed a life long antipathy towards John Adams and it started with John Adams' refusal to assist his brother. Edward was totally convinced of his brother's innocence and was appalled at the way he was treated. For some reason, which I have nor been able to pinpoint precisely, he blamed Adams for what had happened to his brother. In a future chapter we will get into the" libelous" poem that Edward published some years later but suffice it to say that Edward really hated John Adams. I take John Adams' statement that he had no idea why Edward developed this hatred with a grain of salt. One must be very careful in taking everything John Adams writes at face value. He was very conscious of his own place in history and what history might think of him. He is not above being very economical with the truth.
The efforts of the Churches in securing Church's transfer from Connecticut were successful and the Congress, deciding that Church no longer had it in his power to do mischief, ordered him bailed for L1000 and handed over to the Massachusetts Council. Benjamin Jr. certainly did not have a L1000 at this time and one must assume that it was raised by Edward and the Deacon. When a mob attacked the house in Waltham to which Church was sent and tried to lynch him, Dr. Church was transferred to confinement in the Boston jail. After some aborted attempts to effect a prisoner exchange, Church remained in the Boston jail, "confined for a great time in a dungeon and denied intercourse with his friends and refused provisions." Both Edward and the Deacon, impoverished though they were, made every attempt to ameliorate the conditions and provide food. Finally, Dr. Church was allowed to sell his Bedford Street Land, presumably to save the State the cost of feeding him.
After the excitement over Church had died down somewhat, the General Court voted on January 9th, 1778 that Church should be "permitted to take Passage on the Sloop Welcome. Capt James Smitherick Master bound for the island of Martinico," with the caveat that he should not be permitted to return without permission. Martinico is the modern day Martinique.
Family tradition has it that Edward rowed his brother Benjamin out to Boston Harbor and watched as he boarded the Welcome on January 12, 1778. Sometime later, perhaps as late as mid-February 1778, the Welcome set sail.
In sending Dr. Church to exile in Martinico, Massachusetts was doing Dr. Church no favors. Martinico was a small island in the Carribean, predominantly French. The British had seized it several times to include by an assault in 1759. It is not clear precisely who controlled the island at this time, but I was able to determine that American privateers were active out of the Martinico port of St Pierre in January 1778, so one must conclude that it was controlled by the French.
As we know, the sloop Welcome was lost at sea and Dr Benjamin Church, Jr. was never heard from again. Church family tradition has it that he was pushed overboard while at sea.
* This sentence was edited out by Charles Francis Adams.