Wednesday, June 19, 2024

John Linzee and “the appearance of mental derangement”

On 4 Oct 1792, about two months after giving birth to her tenth child in Boston, Susannah Linzee died. She was thirty-eight years old.

That baby, named George Inman Linzee, died the following 21 March.

His next oldest sister, Mary Inman Linzee, died on 18 May.

Within a year, retired Royal Navy captain John Linzee had lost his wife and their two youngest children. He was still responsible for six older children.

(The oldest, Samuel Hood Linzee, was by then a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He had gotten a head start in the seniority system by being listed as his father’s servant and senior clerk aboard H.M.S. Falcon in 1775, when he was less than two years old.)

The death of Linzee’s wife also led to him losing his house on Essex Street in Boston. The merchant John Rowe had left it to his niece Susannah in his will, but only after the death of his widow, Hannah Rowe.

Rowe had her own house nearby, but she decided to reclaim this one now that Susannah hadn’t survived to inherit it. In July 1794 the widow told the court she owned the
House & Land…demised to the said John Linzee for a Term that is past, after which it ought to return to her again, but the said John Linzee still withholds the said House & Land & their appurtenances
She sued the retired captain for £1,000. Sheriff Jeremiah Allen certified that he had “attached a chair as the property of the within named John Linzee and left a summons at his last and usual place of Abode.”

John William Linzee’s 1917 history of the family reprints a couple of documents from that court case but doesn’t show how it was resolved. He declared, “this disagreement was of short duration,” pointing to how Hannah Rowe left bequests to the Linzee children. However, that will was written in 1803, after John Linzee had died. It would be just as consistent with Hannah Rowe strong-arming him out of the scene and raising her great-nephews and great-nieces herself.

In fact, there’s evidence that the death of his wife cast Linzee into a depression that alienated him from people. The merchant Samuel Breck, who praised the captain as “a good officer” in earlier years, recalled:
At her death the eccentricities of the captain assumed the appearance of mental derangement. He retired to a small box in the neighborhood of Milton, where he lived entirely by himself, rode out armed, and tapped his cider-cask by firing a ball into the head.

As he was seldom to be seen at home, he fixed a parcel of hooks in his kitchen for the butchers to hang their meat on, giving a standing order to put daily a joint upon one of the hooks. It so happened on one occasion, when he was detained in Boston about a fortnight by sickness, that he found on his return home fifteen or sixteen pieces of meat hanging around the walls of his kitchen.
Linzee died in 1798. He left his estate, worth almost $18,000, to his children and grandchildren and asked to be buried next to his wife.

The Linzees’ oldest daughter, Hannah, married Thomas C. Amory. Their son John Inman Linzee served as treasurer of Massachusetts. A granddaughter married a grandson of Dr. John Warren, a great-granddaughter married a grandson of Paul Revere, and, as I wrote here, another granddaughter married a grandson of William Prescott.


  1. John Linzee appears to be an 18th century Zelig. Among the many other events of his relatively short life he was Captain of the three-master Beaver, whose tender was the infamous Gaspee.

    It was Linzee's "interrogation (threatening whipping and hanging) of a "negro servant" named Aaron Briggs, tasked with salvaging metalwork from the hulk of the Gaspee, that led to identification of the local men responsible for the ship's burning.

  2. Yes, Linzee shows up in several New England stories. John Rowe’s diary gives us the track of his courtship of Susannah Inman, and it’s possible that relationship made the captain ask to keep his naval service close to Boston before the war. Enough people knew him in Boston that even with his role in the Gaspee affair he remained welcome in town.