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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Friday, December 27, 2019

The Voyage of Nathaniel Balch

Earlier this year I introduced the figure of Nathaniel Balch, a hatter who was prominent in Boston society before and after the Revolutionary War.

Balch was close to Revolutionary leaders, particularly John Hancock. In August 1769, Balch entertained at the Sons of Liberty banquet. So I assume he was a Whig.

When the war broke out in April 1775, Balch was inside Boston. Many people who opposed the royal government spent the next few weeks working to get out to the countryside, a safe distance behind the provincial lines. Balch had other plans.

On 6 May, merchant John Andrews wrote to his relative William Barrell:
Your uncle Joe has engag’d a passage for London, at the expence of one hundred Guineas for himself and wife, to expedite her sailing without waiting for freight. Balch, brother Joe and his wife, Jno. Amory, &ca., &ca., go in her. . . . You must know, that no person who leaves the town is allow’d to return again.
That same day the young merchant David Greene sent the same news to a relative in Demerara:
I am going to London with Captain Callahan, and expect to have for fellow-passengers Mr. J[oseph]. Green and wife, of School Street; Mr. J. Barrell and lady, Mr. John Amory and lady, Mrs. Callahan, Mr. Balch, Mr. S[amuel]. Quincey, D[avid]. Sears, &c. As I have long entertained thoughts of making this voyage, as it will be impossible to do any business here, and as I may find something to do in England, I doubt not you will approve of my intention.
John Callahan sailed regularly between Boston and London in the 1770s. His name often appeared in the newspapers attached to the latest news or goods from London. When Gov. Thomas Hutchinson left Massachusetts in the spring of 1774, he traveled on Capt. Callahan’s Minerva.

The 22 May 1862 Boston Evening Transcript offered more information, tagged to Viscount Lyndhurst, the eminent British attorney who had been born in Boston as the oldest son of John Singleton and Susanna Copley:
If it is of sufficient importance to know the exact time that Lord Lyndhurst left this country for England, allow me to state that he was a passenger on board the ship Minerva, Capt. Callahan, which sailed from Marblehead May 27, 1775, with fourteen other cabin passengers; thirty-nine souls in all on board.

The cabin passengers were Mrs. Callahan, Joseph Green, Esq., and lady, Mr. John Amory and lady, Mrs. Copley and three children, Mrs. Jackson, Samuel Quincy, Esq., Lieut. Wm. Aug. Merrick, of the Royal Navy, Mr. David Green, Mr. David Sears, Mr. Nath. Balch, Mr. Isaac Smith, Jr., besides servants, and six steerage passengers.

The above is from the diary of a fellow passenger, who landed at Dover 24th June, and arrived in London 6 P. M. next day. Lord Lyndhurst was born 21st May, 1772—of course, was just 3 years and six days old.

E.
At first I doubted that the Minerva really sailed from Marblehead, thinking that was a legal fiction that the Customs service allowed because the port of Boston was still legally closed. But the 31 May Massachusetts Spy reported, “Captain Callahan is to sail this week for London from Salem.”

Balch, therefore, along with the many Loyalists in that party, got a pass to leave besieged Boston, crossed into territory held by the provincial army, and then got onto a ship to sail to Britain itself. He must really have wanted to go.

TOMORROW: Reasons for leaving.

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