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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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dr. Church Jumps Out a Window

And speaking of Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., as I did yesterday, I have to correct a posting from back in 2007. I wrote that Dr. Church sailed away from Boston in May 1776, which was a year and a half too early. I got lazy, and instead of looking up his departure date in my books I relied on a webpage from the U.S. military, which has since been taken down. A Boston 1775 reader using the fine pseudonym A Staunch Whig caught the error.

I’ve now corrected that posting, and may also get around to fixing the Wikipedia page on Church that relied on the same .mil source. Dr. Church didn’t leave Massachusetts “soon after” Connecticut sent him back to that province in May 1776. In fact, he had a fairly eventful eighteen months, considering he was locked up most of the time. I’ll explore that period over the next few days.

To start with, Sheriff Prosper Wetmore [yes, that was really his name] of New London County delivered legal custody of Church to the Massachusetts Council on 3 June 1776. The Council, meeting at the Edmund Fowle House in Watertown, was exercising executive power in Massachusetts in the absence of a governor (though whose fault was that?).

Sheriff Wetmore left Dr. Church under guard in a house in Waltham. And the locals didn’t like it. On 5 June, James Warren (shown above) wrote to John Adams from Watertown:

Doctr. Church is Arrived here. Is not your resolve relative to him somewhat Extraordinary. [In other words, what in the world do you guys in the Continental Congress mean by letting a suspected traitor out of jail and sending him back here?]

I fear the People will kill him if at large. The Night before last he went to Lodge at Waltham, was saved by the Interposition of the selectmen but by Jumping out A Chamber Window and flying.

His Life is of no great Consequence but such A Step has a tendency to lessen the Confidence of the People in the doings of Congress.
The Massachusetts authorities then put the doctor into the Boston jail, perhaps for his safety as much as the new state’s. In August, Church’s father complained to John Hancock as head of the Congress that such close confinement was ruining his son’s health. But there he stayed until the following summer.

TOMORROW: An attempted prisoner exchange.

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