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.

Follow by Email


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Peter Pelham from Boston to Williamsburg

Here’s another podcast of interest, from Colonial Williamsburg. Harmony Hunter interviews Michael Monaco about the historical figure he portrays: Peter Pelham (1721-1805), church organist and jailer.

Pelham was probably the inhabitant of Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 1770s with the closest ties to Boston. During the pre-Revolutionary turmoil, Pelham’s brother Charles was teaching school in Newton, and his stepbrother John Singleton Copley was training their half-brother Henry in the basics of being an artist.

Pelham had been born in London, son of an artist of the same name. The elder Peter Pelham had learned the advanced engraving technique of mezzotint; among his portraits was one of Massachusetts governor Samuel Shute, who spent most of the 1720s not in Massachusetts.

It’s unclear why Peter, Sr., brought his growing family to Boston in 1726 or 1727. A letter from his father in 1739 suggests there had been some family estrangement. The mezzotint artist may have had bad timing. In June 1727 George I died, and a change in court meant shuffling of appointees and favored artists. But instead Pelham was angling for customers in Boston with a portrait of that town’s biggest celebrity, the Rev. Cotton Mather.

Peter, Jr., was the eldest son of the family, and his talents leaned toward music. He became an apprentice to Charles Theodore Pachelbel, traveling to Newport, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina. In 1739 his grandfather wrote to his father:
I am heartily Pleasd to hear, by Lady D:Lorain that Came from Charlestowne in Carolina about a year ago, that my Grandson Peter was a very Genteel Clever young man being very well acquainted with him by teaching Miss Fenwick her sister to play on the Harpsicord which he Performs very well.
In 1743 Pelham returned to Boston and became organist at Trinity Church. But around 1750 he left for a smaller town and more limited prospects, just as his father had. Again it’s unclear why. But in Williamsburg, the younger Peter Pelham built the organ for the Bruton Parish Church and then played it for many decades.

Here’s another Williamsburg podcast from five years ago featuring Monaco as Pelham on the organ.

No comments: