Friday, October 21, 2016

Dr Church and the Royal Maritime Hospital

   Before I get into Dr Church's rather tumultuous stint as Director of the Continental Army Hospital, I would like to discuss his earlier attempt to establish a Royal Maritime Hospital in Boston.

   In 1771, Boston had no hospital, as we understand it. It did have a Quarantine Hospital located on Rainsford Island in Boston Harbor but that Hospital was used to isolate people suspected of having smallpox. Sometime in early 1771, probably April, Dr Church and his brother-in-law, John Fleeming,  became very interested in a proposal to establish a Royal Maritime Hospital in Boston. The origin of this proposal is quite cloudy and, at first glance, the rationale for establishing such a hospital in Boston is rather nebulous. Although Royal Navy ships transited Boston quite regularly, the Headquarters of the North American Squadron was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But due to the unrest in Boston (The Boston Massacre occurred in March 1770), Whitehall, at the recommendation of the Privy Council, took a number of steps in response to the turmoil of the past months, one of which was to transfer the Headquarters of the North American Squadron from Halifax to Boston. It thought that the sight of Royal Navy ships in the harbor would provide a daily reminder to Bostonians of the might of the Empire. In any event, Boston in early 1771 was a somewhat different place than in 1770. The Boston Massacre trials had concluded in the fall of 1770; soldiers no longer patrolled the streets and there were no sentry boxes. There was no stamp tax or duties placed on lead, glass, paper, and painters' colors.

Boston Harbor 1770 by Franz Xaver Habermann

   Trade exploded with the demise of the non-importation agreements.  In 1771, imports from Great Britain into Boston increased six times over those in 1769. But all was not rosy. British ships anchored in the Harbor, British troops were only three miles away and the Declaratory Act still remained in effect. The Whigs controlled Boston and held majorities in the House and the Council, but Thomas Hutchinson was governor and he controlled the executive and judicial branches of government, still formidable if somewhat weakened. Bostonians resented the imposition of Parliamentary rule over them but most just wanted some semblance of their earlier lives and reluctantly accepted the status quo.

   It was in this atmosphere that Dr Church and his brother-in-law became involved in the proposal to establish a permanent Royal Maritime Hospital. John Fleeming, as you recall, was a strong supporter of the Royal government and had been involved with his partner, John Mein in the publishing of the Boston Chronicle in its successful campaign to undermine the non-importation agreements. You may also recall that John Mein was forced to flee Boston and on June 30, 1770, Fleeming himself had to flee for his own safety to Castle William in Boston Harbor. But popular rage against Fleeming soon abated and he was able to open a new printing shop on King Street, this time without a partner.

   It is not known just how Fleeming came to marry Church's younger sister Alice ( birth date unknown) in August 1770, but it is a most curious marriage. Dr Church was as prominent a Whig as there was and Fleeming was very well known for his activities on behalf of the Crown. That the marriage took place in Portsmouth, New Hampshire says a great deal. In any event John Fleeming and Dr Church seem to have developed a close relationship. Fleeming became a Mason sometime in 1770, most likely influenced by his new brother-in-law, a very prominent Boston Mason; and Fleeming was to join his brother-in-law when he received permission from John Rowe to start a new masonic lodge, the Rising Sun Lodge in August 1772.

   Boston had not forgotten Fleeming's actions and political sympathies and his printing business did not flourish. Fleeming soon found himself in financial difficulty when a printing contract he had hoped to receive from the Royal government did not come through and he found himself unable to pay even the interest on a loan he had taken out in London to purchase supplies to serve the contract.

   Whether the scheme to establish the Royal Maritime Hospital in Boston was influenced by Fleeming's financial difficulties is not known but it is probable. There are vague references to Fleeming having certain "connections" in London which would aid the two brothers-in-law in obtaining approval. Dr Church apparently was charged with obtaining a recommendation of approval for the hospital from Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

Thomas Hutchinson by Edward Truman, 1741.
 This is the only known portrait of him and was painted when he was 30 years old.

   Governor Hutchinson led  Church a merry chase in his attempt to obtain his approval for the hospital and one contemporary remarked that "Hutch made him [Church] dance attendance. " Hutchinson played it cool and one gets the impression that Church really pushed this Hospital plan. Church had to know just how he was viewed in Government circles yet he still pursued this. I doubt that Church was pushing this scheme because of financial difficulties of his own since in April of 1771 he was able to purchase a Boston estate becoming a neighbor of the wealthy John Rowe.

John Rowe's Bedford St. home.

 Church pursued his attempt to sway Hutchinson through 1772. Whatever he said to Hutchinson, at one point Hutchinson wrote to Francis Bernard (January 29,1772):
"The faction seems to be breaking, the Doctor Church who wrote The Times is now a writer on the side of the Government."
   If Church had been writing for the Loyalists, it was a deep dark secret because there is no evidence elsewhere that this was the case. Any such writing would have been published in the Boston Censor and there is absolutely no evidence of this. If Church had been flirting with the Loyalists, he certainly would not have been selected to give the Boston Massacre oration in March 1773.

  I might add that this attempt to found a Royal Hospital becomes even more curious in light of the fact that the man Hutchinson was writing to in London, Francis Bernard, had been recalled to England from his position as Governor of Massachusetts Bay in August 1769 because of his harsh stand against the Whigs. He remained an advisor to the Government and certainly was no friend of Church who had  published two scathing poems viciously attacking him. The two poems, published in Boston in 1769,  are titled  "An Address to a Provincial Bashaw" and "An Elegy to the Infamous Memory of Sr. F[rancis] B [ernard ], the first published before Bernard left Massachusetts and the second after. Although rather curious to the modern ear, these two poems are masterpieces of political invective and satire and were recognized at the time as having a poetic voice that was powerful and persuasive. The third stanza of the "Address to a Provincial Bashaw" gives you the flavor of Church's attack against Bernard.

But when some Miscreant eminently vile;   
Springs into place, and blindly arm'd with power;
Presuming on his privilege to spoil;
Betrays a keen impatience to devour;

   John Fleeming's financial difficulties continued through 1772 and on April 2, 1772, Hutchinson writes in a letter to London:

   "The Commissioners are desired to employ Mr Flemming. He is in the utmost distress and says his family must starve. But this is not all, it hurts his Majestys Service and our enemies triumph and take encouragement to persevere when they see or hear of any one being deserted who has been a friend to Government as well as of any being promoted who has joined with them in their measures for distressing governments. Mr Flemming had been suffering as well as Green [another Boston printer] and the Commissioners had given him the supply of their Stationery...It is too small an affair to trouble Lord Hillsborough or else (?) for the reasons I have mentioned to you.

   So, Governor Hutchinson would lobby for John Fleeming in London, but he would only go so far, even if Fleeming was starving.

   In any event, the proposal for the Royal Hospital fell through in March of 1773 since there was no real push for it in Massachusetts or London. Facing financial ruin, John Fleeming sold his equipment and supplies to the new partnership of Mills and Hicks who had taken over his business and sailed, with his family, for London in April 1773. He would return to Boston sometime in 1774, probably May of 1774 and renew his acquataince with his brother-in-law.

  It is this relationship between two brothers-in-law that no historian has yet, to my knowledge, acknowledged or been aware of when they mention that the infamous letter that Dr Church attempted to smuggle into Boston was addressed to his brother-in-law.

N.B. I have researched and completed the only known biography, as sketchy as it is, of John Fleeming and those interested can read it in these three previous posts on this blog.