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, December 30, 2019

Legends of Nathaniel Balch

As I discussed back here, the hatter Nathaniel Balch was well known in post-Revolutionary Boston for his sense of humor and his friendship with Gov. John Hancock.

The Genealogy of the Balch Families in America (1897) shared a family tradition about one of the jokes that Hancock and Balch shared:

Governor Hancock one day said to Balch, ”Come up and see a Savage I have locked in my garret.”

He complied, and found that the Governor was protecting a portrait painter named Savage from arrest for debt. Savage was engaged on a portrait of the Governor, and at the request of Hancock, also made one of Balch.
Edward Savage (1761-1817) was a native of Princeton, Massachusetts. He trained as a goldsmith but by the late 1780s was making copies of Copleys and evidently learning a lot from them. Around 1788 Savage painted a full-length portrait of John and Dorothy Hancock, which I believe is now at the Katzen Art Center of American University. I don’t have any evidence to confirm that Savage was hiding out from creditors at the time.

Savage’s smaller portrait of the hatter, labeled on the back “painted by the artist Savage by order of Governor Hancock of Massachusetts,” descended in the Balch family into this century.

In 1840 the writer E. S. Thomas recalled about Gov. Hancock, “such was the mutual attachment between the governor and Mr. Balch, that if the former was called away, no matter what distance, ’Squire Balch attended him, like his shadow.”

In fact, Balch’s entertaining personality could overshadow the governor. This item in the 31 July 1792 Argus became a little famous for joking about that:

TOMORROW: Mrs. Balch and Mr. Paine.

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