J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dr. Benjamin Church Sails Away at Last

Yesterday I quoted from the Massachusetts House records on that body’s vote on 8 Jan 1778 to put accused but unproven spy Dr. Benjamin Church on board the brig Friendship, which Joshua Winslow was supposed to sail to “Martinico.”

However, the resolution that actually came out of the state legislature the next day said something different:

That Doctr Benjamin Church be & he hereby is permitted to take Passage on board the Sloop Welcome Capt. James Smithwick Master bound for the Island of Martinico;

And the Majr. Part of the Council are desired to give Order to the Sherriff of the County of Suffolk to remove the said Doctr Church on board the said Sloop, when she is ready for Sailing, directing him to search his Person & Baggage to prevent his carrying any Letters or other papers that may be to the detriment of the American States;

And the sd Church is not to return to this State during the Continuance of the present War without Leave therefor first had & obtain’d from the General Court, under such pains & penalties as they shall see fit to order.
The House records make no mention of the change in ship between its first vote and final approval. Perhaps Capt. Winslow objected to carrying Church. Perhaps Capt. Smithwick was leaving earlier, or Capt. Winslow had already sailed.

(As printed decades later, the Massachusetts Acts and Resolves gives the captain’s name as “Smitharick,” but other sources say “Smithwick,” and A Staunch Whig has confirmed that that’s what the original document in the Massachusetts Archives says.)

“Martinico” was the Caribbean island now known as Martinique. In 1778 it was part of the French Empire, the U.S. of A.’s new ally. Wikipedia says that one of the island’s inhabitants that year was the future Empress Josephine. Apparently that was far enough away for Dr. Church and the Massachusetts authorities to agree that it would be safe for him to be there.

I’ve found no mention of the Welcome and its sailing date in early American newspapers. Not all departures were reported, and during the war printers might have been especially careful with that information. So all we can say is that Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., left Boston a short time after 9 Jan 1778.

And promptly disappeared.

TOMORROW: Who was Capt. James Smithwick?

(Photo of Martinique coast above by guillaumeo, via Flickr.)

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