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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Monday, April 28, 2014

Capt. Gabriel Maturin’s “impenetrable Secrecy”

In late 2012, The Magazine Antiques [yes, I know] published an article by Christopher Bryant about a John Singleton Copley portrait he had recently identified.

In 1768, Gen. Thomas Gage came to Boston to oversee the arrival of troops patrolling the town, and while he was there Copley painted him. Evidently the general and his wife liked the result enough that they wanted the artist to visit New York in 1771 and paint her as well. So Gage’s officers went to work to make that happen, Bryant wrote:
While Captain John Small flattered and cajoled Copley to come to New York, Captain Stephen Kemble, Gage’s aide-de-camp and brother-in-law, went about the practical business of securing sufficient portrait commissions so that “Mr. Copely might be at a certainty” in making the trip. After friends and colleagues had been canvassed, Kemble sent Copley in April 1771 what survives as the only known contemporary list of Copley’s sitters, in this case fifteen indi­viduals who “subscribed” for a total of sixteen portraits of stated sizes.

Given its origins, the list naturally reflected the Anglo-American colonial administration centered in New York. Margaret Kemble Gage’s name appears first, while fourth down was the name “Captain Maturin.” Captain Gabriel Maturin, after having distinguished himself in action with his regiment at the Battle of Quebec, had been from 1760 General Gage’s military secretary and as such the general’s closest aide and effectively his chief of staff. As the grandson of a French Huguenot refugee to Ireland, Ga­briel Maturin had the requisite command of the French language required by Gage when he was appointed military governor of Montreal, but it was Maturin’s tact, charm, and discretion that made him an indispensible member of Gage’s command right up until Maturin’s death in Boston at the eve of the American Revolution.
Maturin had accompanied Gen. Gage to Massachusetts in 1774 (the same year that Copley left for Europe, never to return). The captain died on 15 December of a “throat distemper” or “Peripnenmony.” John Rowe described the funeral procession on the 17th:
first part of the 4th Regiment Under Arms
then the Band of Musick
then the Clergy—then the Corps
then the Generall & his Family
then the 4th Regiment without Arms
then the Officers of the Army & afterwards the Gentlemen of the Town.
The next month, Maturin’s New York obituary praised him as a military secretary: “eminent Abilities, unshaken Integrity, and impenetrable Secrecy.” Gage might have needed the last. That death notice also said, “a most amiable Wife is left to deplore her unspeakable Loss, in the Bereavement of the most affectionate, polite, tender and indulgent Husband.”

That wife was presumably back in New York, since Rowe hadn’t mentioned her, and presumably had the Copley portrait. But what happened to them then?

TOMORROW: Mr. Livingston, I presume?

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