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, March 20, 2011

“Onboard the Prison Ship at New York”

A little more than nine months after Richard Carpenterimmigrant, barber, and former prisoner of warresigned from the Continental Army, his wife Elizabeth had another child. That boy died young and was “Buryd in the Burying ground at the back of the Alms house” in what we now call the Granary Burying Ground.

In March 1778 the Carpenters’ older three children were “Inoculated by Doctor [Thomas] Bulfinch for the Small Pox.” In February 1780 Elizabeth Carpenter had her second daughter, Kathrine. However, she held off on the baby’s baptism at Trinity Church for over two years, until July 1782.

I suspect that was because Richard had once more left town, and she was hoping to have the ceremony when he was back. According to the memoir of Ebenezer Fox, apprenticed to another barber in Boston around 1780, there wasn’t enough hairdressing work in town. Inflation was high, and Richard Carpenter had that growing family to feed. In addition, his swimming adventures in 1775 suggest he might have been a man of bold ideas. Like Fox, Carpenter apparently signed onto a privateer or naval warship.

Carpenter’s ship was then captured by the Royal Navy (as was Fox’s). The barber’s name appears as “Richards Carpenter” on the British government’s roll of prisoners put on board the Jersey in New York harbor. That was an overcrowded, disease-ridden hulk.

The last entry on the family records page says:

Richard Carpenter Senior, Died onboard the Prison Ship at New York 6th Jany 1781 in the 35th Year of His Age
Carpenter had been caught and locked up by the British twice before, in Boston and then after escaping in Halifax. The third time he didn’t survive.

Later, someone made additions to earlier entries in the family records to say that Richard and Elizabeth’s three youngest children all got through the measles in February 1790.

An Elizabeth Carpenter married Thomas Lewis, Jr., in King’s Chapel in 1794. Another Elizabeth Carpenter married Josiah Nottage in 1796. Those brides could have been the barber’s widow or daughter, or unrelated women with the same name.

The records of King’s Chapel say that Samuel Carpenter and his wife Abigail had a son named George Washington Brackett Carpenter on 15 Feb 1801. I’m convinced Samuel was Richard’s second son, born while he was locked up in Boston jail; the little baby’s long name honors his father’s commander-in-chief and his mother’s family.

Samuel and Abigail named their other children William Dodd Carpenter and Caleb Strong Carpenter. They actually had three other boys, but the first William Dodd and Caleb Strong died within weeks of each other in 1803, so the couple named their next baby William Dodd as well. I haven’t found any more information about the family.


John L. Smith said...

This Carpenter family history, and in particular the story of Richard Carpenter was a fascinating swatch of a life and lives of the un-famous in colonial Boston. I enjoyed the serial story very much!

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks. I really like being able to put together different sources to bring out a little more about the life of uncommon “common” people.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for posting this! George Washington Brackett Carpenter was my 4x great-grandfather. You have provided more information regarding Richard Carpenter than I have found anywhere. I will have to look for the Carpenter papers the next time I go to NEHGS.

Unknown said...

Incredible story. I am married to Richard Carpenter, my name is Christy. My husband Richard is amaz