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, September 10, 2016

Tracking Down Thomas Apthorp

To prepare yesterday’s post I poked around in the evidence about Thomas Apthorp, who as a little boy appears to have lost his whizzer toy near Faneuil Hall.

Thomas was born in Boston in 1741 and baptized in King’s Chapel, the town’s upper-class Anglican church. Which makes sense, since he was from one of the town’s most upper-class Anglican families.

Along with most of his brothers, Thomas Apthorp left Boston with the British military in March 1776. Several of his sisters remained in town with their husbands, however. That meant Boston chroniclers of the next century had no records on his later life but could ask relatives about what they had heard.

This was the local scoop on Thomas Apthorp that appeared in Thomas Bridgman’s Memorials of the Dead in Boston (1853):
Thomas, b. 19 October, 1741. He continued paymaster of the British forces after his father’s death, from 1758 to 1776, when he went to England, and lived several years at Ludlow, Wales. He visited Lisbon for health, where he married. He returned to Ludlow, where he died, leaving a widow and one son.
That information was repeated almost word for word in James L. Stark’s 1907 Loyalists of Massachusetts.

But it’s not entirely reliable. That profile says Thomas inherited his father’s job as paymaster for all the British army in North America in 1758. But Thomas was only seventeen years old when Charles Apthorp died. The Crown would never have given that important and coveted position to a minor. Instead, as a young man Thomas Apthorp went into business as a merchant. According to the Rev. Nicholas Hoppin in 1858, he owned a country estate in the part of Cambridge that’s now Brighton, attending the town’s Christ Church.

In 1768 the Crown deployed four army regiments to Boston, and Thomas Apthorp probably then called on old ties to become a deputy paymaster. That seems to be what he told the Loyalist Commission in 1784, according to Peter Wilson Coldham’s American Migrations. By then he was in his late twenties and established, though he gladly set aside a lot of his import business for the paymaster post.

As late as 6 May 1776, after the British forces and officials had left for Halifax, Thomas Apthorp’s official position was “Acting Deputy Paymaster General,” according to this Treasury Department document.

As for the statement that Apthorp settled “at Ludlow, Wales,” that’s dubious because Ludlow isn’t actually in Wales. Thomas Apthorp did go to Wales, his ancestral country, during or after the war. We know that because of an inscription that Alice Hadley transcribed in The First Volume of the Conway Parish Registers, in the Rural Deanery of Arllechwedd, Diocese of Bangor, Caernarvonshire, 1541 to 1793 (1900). According to Hadley, one memorial tablet at Arllechwedd reads:
uxori Thomas Apthorp Armig
que annum tricessimum agens
decessit Septr. 28: MDCCLXXXIV.
maritus americanus
ob fidem regi debitam
morens [mœreus?]
P. [posuit?]
Which I’ve done my best to translate as:
wife of Thomas Apthorp gentleman [“armiger,” someone worthy of a heraldic crest]
in the thirtieth year of life [?]
died 28 Sept 1784
[her] American husband
due to loyal faith to the king
grieves [?]
I’m guessing this is imperfectly transcribed because descriptions of the same tablet in two more recent books give Anne Apthorp’s date of death as 1786. Which certainly fits better with the burial record that Hadley also transcribed: “Buried Anne, the wife of Thomas Apthorp Esqr., an American . . Octr 3rd [1786].”

One of Thomas’s older sisters was Susan Apthorp (1734-1815, shown above in 1757, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts). She married Dr. Thomas Bulfinch of Boston, and some of her correspondence was published in The Life and Letters of Charles Bulfinch, Architect: with Other Family Papers (1896). In 1803 she told the Rev. Dr. East Apthorp, “I wish also to have an account of my Brother Thomas and his family.” The minister appears to have put the siblings in direct touch because Bulfinch wrote to Thomas in 1806.

In her last letter, dated 13 June 1814, Susan Bulfinch told a brother and sister in Britain that she felt a fatal illness coming on. She wrote, “When you have an opportunity mention me affectionately to my Brother T. and wife and little Son, of course.” Bulfinch died eight months later.

Thus, it appears that at age seventy-two Thomas Apthorp was still alive in Britain (possibly even in Ludlow), had recently remarried, and had a young son. This was no doubt the wife he met in Lisbon, as the Apthorp descendants in Boston understood the story. But I haven’t found any more.

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