Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Littlest Martyr

Charles Pratt Marston, 1775, Burlington, MA
Like Lydia Dyar, Charles Pratt Marston died as an exile from Boston during the siege of 1775-6. Though he was only nine months old when he died, Marston was buried under an impressive monument that cast him as a casualty of British aggression. I have written about young Charles' gravestone before, but have only recently begun to flesh out his story.

Charles Pratt Marston was born c. January 1775 to John and Elizabeth (Greenwood) Marston. I have been unable to find any exact record of his birth, but the official Boston birth records from 1775 are a mess, probably due to the siege.

Charles' father, John Marston (1715-1786), was a tavern keeper and a strong Whig. He ran the Golden Ball tavern from 1757 until 1775, when he took over management of the famous Bunch of Grapes in King Street. Both of these taverns were known as gathering places for Whig partisans.

Boston News-Letter and New England Chronicle, 4 April 1765 via Archive of Americana

In 1768, fifteen Sons of Liberty, including John Marston, commissioned Paul Revere to craft an ornate silver punch bowl to commemorate the 92 representatives who, "undaunted by the insolent Menaces of Villains in Power," voted not to rescind the Massachusetts Circular Letter. All fifteen names are engraved on the bowl — Marston's is first. It seems likely that the bowl was kept at Marston's tavern, where it would have advertised the political commitments of both proprietor and patrons. The bowl is currently part of the Early American Silver collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

John Marston's family was originally from Salem, where his father and grandfather were "master mariners." Though I have not found any evidence that John ever went to sea, one grandson (also named John Marston, son of John's eldest son, John) became a Rear Admiral in the US Navy, while another (Ward Marston) served as a colonel with the Marines. This suggests that the family remained somewhat connected to the maritime culture of Boston, even though John Marston's taverns were in the merchant district, rather than in the city's North End.

John Marston was married three times — to Hannah Welland in 1740, to Elizabeth Welland Blake in 1751, and to Elizabeth Greenwood in 1755. His third wife was the mother of all his surviving children, as well as of Charles Pratt Marston. John may have met Elizabeth through his family's maritime connections, as her family were sailmakers in Boston, Beverly, and Salem.

Some sources indicate that John Marston (or, more likely, his son, John Jr. (b. 1756)) participated in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Though "family legend" is notoriously unreliable in these matters, it is not unthinkable that a 17-year-old with a tavern-keeper father and a hatful of sailmaking cousins and soon-to-be-privateer uncles, all of whom were noted Whigs, may have participated in the Tea Party. It is at least plausible.

All of this genealogy helps to paint a picture of Charles Pratt Marston's family at the time of his birth in 1775. These were die-hard Whigs — the type of people whose decision to name their new son after an America-friendly member of parliament (Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden) was one of many overtly political displays. Like the Dyars, the Marstons were intimately connected to Boston's waterfront community, though they were a bit wealthier than the chandlers, coopers, and seed-sellers in the Dyar family. John Marston's position as a tavern keeper allowed him to rub shoulders with some of Boston's most important Whigs, as I will show in a later post.

Tomorrow: John Marston, Jr. remembers a dinner party at the Marston house.

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