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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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Grizzell Apthorp: Widow, Employer, Property Owner

This is an image of Robert Feke’s portrait of Grizzell Apthorp (1709-1796), made in the late 1740s. The original now belongs to the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

The sitter was born Grizzell Eastwick in Jamaica. Her maternal grandfather was Sir John Lloyd, a baronet. Grizzell’s family moved to Boston in 1716, and ten years later she married Charles Apthorp (1698-1758) at King’s Chapel. They were part of a class of wealthy Anglicans who had a lot of money from Caribbean sugar plantations and slave labor.

Charles Apthorp earned even more money as a merchant and supplier of specie to the British army during the imperial wars of the mid-1700s. As a measure of how rich he became, his junior partner was Thomas Hancock, the rich uncle who left his fortune to John Hancock. In other words, the Apthorps had even more money than the Hancocks. In 1758 the New-Hampshire Gazette called Charles Apthorp “the greatest merchant on this continent.”

Having married in her teens, Grizzell Apthorp had the good health to bear eighteen children, over a dozen surviving to adulthood. Grizzell’s namesake daughter married Barlow Trecothick, who became a London alderman and briefly lord mayor. Her daughter Susan married Dr. Thomas Bulfinch, father of the architect, and her daughter Ann married Nathaniel Wheelwright, a linchpin of Boston finance until 1765.

Charles died in 1758, and his eldest son Charles Ward Apthorp took over most of his business, moving to New York when the army command located there. Another son, Thomas, succeeded his father as paymaster to the British troops. Other sons remained in Boston. East Apthorp was the first minister of Christ Church in Cambridge, but the provincial reaction to him was so hostile that he moved to England; the mansion he commissioned, still called Apthorp House, is now part of Harvard.

After her husband’s death Grizzell was usually called “Madam Apthorp,” the title of respect for a rich widow as opposed to an ordinary one. She was a devout supporter of King’s Chapel. A 1771 letter to Robert Treat Paine shows she was also active in looking after her real estate outside town.

Grizzell Apthorp became connected to the political violence of early 1770 in at least two ways:
  • Young Christopher Seider was “living” at her house when he died on 22 February, meaning that he was working there at least part-time as a domestic servant.
  • She owned the house on King Street that the Customs service rented as an office. The Boston Massacre occurred outside that building on 5 March.
In addition, in 1821 octogenarian Mary Turell recalled that some of the British army officers of the time boarded in another house Madam Apthorp owned.

Though most of her family were Loyalists, Grizzell Apthorp never left Massachusetts and thus never lost her property during the war. She remained in Boston and in the King’s Chapel congregation through the changes of the 1780s, still “Madam Apthorp” to her neighbors. A death notice declared: “So unexceptionable was her deportment in every relation of life, though she remained near a century upon its theatre, and passed through successive empires of beauty and fortune, envy never dared to utter a lisp, or slander to forge a dart against her fame.”


Daud said...

I've always wondered if there was a connection between Mme. Apthorp and Sarah Apthorp Morton, but I never looked it up. I'm sure they were related in some way.

J. L. Bell said...

Grandmother and granddaughter, I believe.