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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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meeting the Younger William Hunter

The Summer 2014 issue of the Colonial Williamsburg magazine includes an interview with William Hunter, as portrayed by Sam Miller. Hunter was one the town’s Loyalists. Though he remained in town through the late 1770s, he gave up his role in the Virginia Gazette newspaper and eventually left town with the British military because he couldn’t support an independent America.

However, the Colonial Williamsburg podcast about Hunter is a lot more interesting since it goes into his backstory. He was born out of wedlock to the Williamsburg printer William Hunter and Elizabeth Reynolds. In 1761, when the boy was about seven, his father died suddenly, acknowledging in his will “my natural Son William Hunter who now lives with Benjamin Weldon.” Some scholars interpret this to mean that most people in Williamsburg hadn’t known about the boy before.

The elder Hunter had been well connected and financially successful; he shared the job of deputy postmaster in North America with Benjamin Franklin, and his Virginia Gazette newspaper was the colony’s leading news source. He left a half-interest in that business to his son and the other half, plus the responsibility of running it, to his brother-in-law Joseph Royle.

In the mid-1760s young Billy was sent to the Franklin family in Philadelphia for education and training. Since Benjamin was in London for much of that time, scholars say that his son William (also born out of wedlock) was the real mentor for the Virginia youngster. Accounts show Billy boarded with Benjamin’s older brother Peter Franklin, and in 1768 he wrote back to Benjamin’s wife Deborah with friendly regards and requests for textbooks.

After more schooling in Virginia, in 1774 the younger William Hunter became an active partner in the Virginia Gazette with one of its two recent proprietors, John Dixon. Dixon had married Joseph Royle’s widow, and was thus also Hunter’s uncle. The new partners promised subscribers “good Paper and new Type,” probably because they now had to compete with the other recent proprietor, Alexander Purdie, who was starting his own Virginia Gazette (making three in all).

Hunter married, and in June 1777 he and his wife deeded some land near the printing office to his mother, still Elizabeth Reynolds. He also supplied her with a small house, an annuity of £40, and a “servant maid fit & able to serve wait & attend” her. His father’s bequests and connections had allowed him to become an established young businessman in the Virginia capital. But he just didn’t agree with the way the colonies were heading.

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