Introduction – Short Synopsis
The monument to Peter Oliver, the former Chief Justice of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, is situated on the left-hand side of the nave, second monument from the front. Its presence in the Cathedral reminds us of both the turbulence of the eighteenth century and the universal plight of refugees.
In 1776, Peter Oliver was forced to flee Boston, having formerly been among the most eminent people of the colony. The American War of Independence had a direct effect upon him and his family; he was manhandled, prosecuted, forced to leave his mansion and take refuge in Boston, to be finally banished, his mansion burned down two years after he left. Sixty thousand people left America during this period, scattering to other British colonies including Canada, Sierra Leone, the West Indies and Barbados, with ten thousand arriving in England. Most settled in London, but other cities had their own contingent – Peter Oliver eventually settled in Birmingham. As well as Oliver being buried in St. Philip’s, his granddaughter Mary and her daughter, Margaret, as well as his grandson, Daniel, were also buried here.
Continue reading below for the full blog post on Peter Oliver.
Oliver’s Early Life
Oliver’s forbears had emigrated from England to Boston in America in 1632 and the family had flourished; the original emigrant, Thomas Oliver, had been a surgeon; Peter’s father, Daniel Oliver, became a wealthy merchant and prominent and pious citizen of Boston. His mother, Elizabeth Belcher, was the sister of a Governor, and all his life Oliver moved in the circles of the governing class. There is in existence a painting of the young Peter Oliver and his two brothers; his eldest brother Daniel died in 1727 of smallpox in London. Peter and his older brother Andrew seem to have been close. Both Peter and Andrew, who was six years older, were sent to Harvard College at the customary young age of thirteen, and they proceeded to run an import business dealing with wine and textiles, although Oliver’s interests lay in literature, the new science, and the writing of poetry. His father died in 1732, and he inherited the family mansion in Purchase Street, Boston, whilst his brother inherited the new mansion his father was building. After the death of his father both he and his brother married within a few months of each other in 1733 and 1734, Peter Oliver marrying Mary Clarke, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Andrew married at this date for the second time and had many children, who mostly immigrated to England with their uncle. Peter Oliver then began to buy land in Middleborough, situated thirty miles from Boston; the estate included an iron works which he developed, and thereafter his business interests concentrated upon producing shot and shells for the colonies, as well as domestic cast iron ware, and he became very wealthy. It was this industrial enterprise which brought sufficient profit to build his mansion, Oliver Hall, in 1744, but he also became interested in new methods of farming and the breeding of stock, on which he published. His other interests included the development of the colony and he collected documents concerning its history; and literature and poetry. It is possible that this industrial background brought contact with Birmingham, which may be why he eventually settled here. Oliver was considered an educated and urbane man, with a wife who was a gracious hostess.
Some sources state that he visited England as a young man, as had his two brothers, and he was certainly an Anglophile; his mansion was based upon an English manor house, having beautiful grounds, a library contained in a whole wing, and imported furniture and decorations from England. The family were known for their hospitality, throwing a large banquet in 1762 when news came of the birth of an heir to the king, George III. Another cause for rejoicing was the wedding of Oliver’s physician son, Peter, to the daughter of the Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, in 1769; Oliver threw a four-day reception and built his son a house in the grounds. The Hutchinsons frequently visited Oliver Hall, on one occasion bringing Benjamin Franklin. Although Oliver had two slaves, the way they were treated was quite different from southern plantations, one of them apparently being employed for his conversational abilities (these slaves, however, did not choose to come to England and there is no record of them being freed).
He and his wife had six children: Elizabeth born in 1735, Daniel born in 1738, Peter born in 1741, William born in 1743, Andrew born in 1746 and Mary born in1751, who died at a young age. It was Peter, a doctor, who later settled with his father in England. Elizabeth married at a young age in 1753, both Peter and Andrew in 1769, and it is possible that his son William had also married by the time the family left the Thirteen Colonies.
The families of Andrew and Peter Oliver and the Hutchinson family became very intertwined, creating a governing class which would come to infuriate the future rebels. The wife of Andrew Oliver was the sister of Hutchinson’s wife; Hutchinson’s son Thomas married Andrew Oliver’s daughter Sarah; Hutchinson’s daughter Sarah married Peter, the doctor son of Peter Oliver; and Hutchinson’s son Elisha married the granddaughter of Peter Oliver. These intermarriages continued for several generations. Therefore, when the struggle for Independence began, the problems for one family would, through family ties, affect the other families also.
Oliver became a prominent and involved citizen in Middleborough, and, despite having no legal training, was appointed as J.P. in 1744, and supervised the building of a new courthouse. He was elected to the Council between 1759 and 1766, and he then served as Justice of Plymouth Inferior Court and Justice of the Supreme Court, before becoming Chief Justice of Massachusetts in 1772, the last person to hold the post before the Revolution. By 1771 Hutchinson became Governor, Andrew Oliver was appointed Lieutenant Governor, and then Peter Oliver was appointed Chief Justice. Oliver knew that in taking on this position he took on a poisoned chalice, but he never hesitated in upholding the law as dictated by the British parliament.
The Chief Justice had to keep up all the show of an English judge, moving around in a four-horse coach with outriders. In seventeen years, Oliver spent £2,000 of his own income in fulfilling these legal roles, as he had to move on circuit, and it would be the issue of his inadequate salary (he scathingly stated that the doorman at the court was paid more than him) that brought things to a climax during volatile times. It has been noted that Oliver was an anglophile, and he had a supercilious attitude towards rebels. He considered it his duty to uphold the law, so when the British insisted on imposing the Stamp Act in part to pay for the Seven Years War (1756-1763), he insisted disastrously that legal papers coming to his court should have the proper stamp, despite his private reservations about the Stamp Act. Some of his attitude was due to the amount of smuggling engaged in by apparently respectable merchants, but he also had nothing but disdain towards such people as John Adams, who would eventually become the second President of the United States, accusing rebels of envy of the rich. At a time when the governing class were flourishing, there were a great many impoverished people during the recession after the Seven Years War. In addition, people who were trained in the law were infuriated that people such as Hutchinson and Oliver could become judges.
The War of Independence (1775-1783)
Until the 1760s the Hutchinsons and the Olivers flourished, shielded by their wealth, but after the end of the Seven Years War, known in America as the French and Indian War, when Britain took over American and Canadian territory from the French, the political climate began to change and both families failed to change with it. The problem for the British government was how to fund both the war and the maintenance of troops in America; the national debt was by now more than half the national product. The need to raise revenue by taxes was urgent, and taxation of the American colonies had not been large up to this point. These colonies had been accustomed to raising their own taxes, and new eighteenth century ideas of human rights led to the cry:
‘No taxation without representation,’
the colonies had no representative members in the British Parliament. What Massachusetts did have was its own House of Representatives, which passed its own laws and levels of taxation. The British government’s argument that places in the United Kingdom such as Birmingham and Manchester also had no representatives in Parliament, but had to pay taxes, reads uncomfortably to modern minds.
Andrew Oliver had been appointed Stamp Officer following the Stamp Act of 1765 (a new form of taxation) and suffered the terrible consequences: his house was ransacked, the building he was erecting to collect tax was destroyed by the mob, his effigy was hung on the Liberty Tree at Boston harbour and he was humiliatingly forced by the mob to relinquish his post in public not once but twice. The irony of his appointment was that he did not personally agree with the tax. The mob violence, by rebels who became known as the Sons of Liberty, after this date continually threatened, even though many on the side of Independence did not approve the violence. By 1768 the response of the British was to send two regiments, who were provoked by the mob and fired upon them (which became known as the Boston Massacre), resulting in a trial of the soldiers in 1770 at which Peter Oliver was one of the judges. The Stamp Act riots brought about the abolition of the tax, but the British government retained the right to tax, particularly on tea.
The Boston Tea Party of 1773, the culmination of American indignation about taxes and unfair trade forced upon them by the British Parliament, involved both Elisha and Thomas Hutchinson, sons of the future governor, as consignees of tea famously thrown in Boston harbour by the rebels. The brother-in-law of Peter Oliver, Richard Clarke, was also a consignee and agent to the East India Company. By March 1774, at the funeral of Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver, the atmosphere in Boston was so toxic that Peter Oliver was unable to attend his brother’s funeral as officials would not grant him safe conduct. The night after the funeral mobs jeeringly displayed a coffin and there was great unrest.
The eventual collapse of Peter Oliver’s American life concerned his stipend, which was granted by the Massachusetts Assembly and was inadequate. The king was mindful of the situation and offered the judges a stipend, but the Assembly stood firm on the issue that only they could pay their judges, for fear that the loyalty of their judges would be to the Crown and not to the government of Massachusetts Bay. His four fellow judges, aware of the revolutionary atmosphere in Boston, accepted the offer of the legislature, and only Oliver was prepared to accept the British money. In February 1774 the House of Representatives moved for him to be removed as a judge but Governor Hutchinson refused. The rebels sought in vain to find instances of unfair judgements by Oliver but failing in this (which is a compliment to his reputation), the House then moved for him to be impeached, which Governor Hutchinson would not allow, and in the middle of these events his brother Andrew died. The attempt to impeach him was much reported in British newspapers.
The death of Andrew Oliver, the Lieutenant Governor, caused Governor Hutchinson to delay what he regarded as a temporary departure to England, but, soon after General Gage’s appointment as Military Governor, Hutchinson departed in June 1774, together with Elisha Hutchinson, the husband of Peter Oliver’s granddaughter.
In April 1774 the issue of Peter Oliver’s salary came to the fore, with a jury refusing to serve under someone who had been impeached and General Gage sent troops to surround the court. During this period Oliver was manhandled on his way to court and his effigy strung up. On August 24th, 1774, he was forced by a mob meeting him on his way into Boston to sign a declaration that he would not exercise his office but considering that a promise made under duress was not binding, Oliver ignored it. He mostly had not suffered mobs, living thirty miles from Boston at Middleborough, but in 1774 he left his mansion for Boston where British troops were stationed, and was forced to live a confined life (his son Peter remained in Middleborough until he too had mobs surrounding his house in 1775 and then also moved into Boston). The Supreme Court was suspended, and Oliver became a Mandamus councillor under the new Governor, Gage (Mandamus councillors had no option but to serve, under British law, and were a feature of colonial rule).
Following the Boston Tea Party, the British in 1775 had sent another ten thousand troops to Boston under General Gage (the later Governor), who had authority to suspend the local government of Massachusetts Bay and set up a Provincial Congress, as well as closing the port. The response of the rebels was to besiege Boston, where the British were then forced to receive supplies from Halifax in Nova Scotia by sea. Supplies were soon running short.
From March 1775 to April 1776 Boston was encircled by rebels, supplies were already short and were to get much worse, and the town was eventually fired upon as the rebels seized control of Bunkers Hill. Oliver notes that:
‘After having been confined to the limits of Boston for eighteen months, the rebels, who had for many months surrounded the town with strong entrenchments, began to bombard and cannonade it on the 2nd of March 1776.’
The British sent one hundred and twenty ships to Boston in March 1776 to evacuate ten thousand of both the military and the loyalists, and Oliver set sail to England via Nova Scotia, together with most of his family. Due to weather conditions those on board had to wait a fortnight until 17th March before departing. Oliver had to leave behind the majority of his possessions, and a few years later his mansion was destroyed by the mob and his beautiful estate went to waste.
Before departure those on board witnessed the English troops burning Castle William where they had been quartered, a symbol of the destruction of the former life of the loyalists. Oliver’s housekeeper reported years later that apparently, he was able to slip away on the last day and reach his home in Middleborough by horseback, where he hurriedly packed some valuables before fleeing back to the ship. The ship finally sailed to New Brunswick in Canada, and five weeks later Oliver took ship again on 12th May and landed in Falmouth on 1st June. It is uncertain whether Oliver ever intended to settle in Canada, but by this time the colony was overrun with exiles, inflation was rampant and the colony was unable to cope.
On his taking leave of America Peter Oliver wrote:
‘Here I took my leave of that once happy country, where peace and plenty reigned uncontrolled, till that infernal Hydra Rebellion, with its hundred Heads, had devoured happiness, spread desolation over its fertile fields, and ravaged the peaceful mansions of its inhabitants, to whom late, very late if ever, will return that security and repose which once surrounded them… and here I bid A Dieu to that shore, which I never wish to tread again till that greatest of social blessings, a firm established British Government, precedes or accompanies me thither.’
His life in England
By the time Oliver arrived in England his wife Mary had died in 1775. His daughter Elizabeth, married to Colonel George Watson, had died in childbirth in 1767, and two of her three daughters came to England; her daughter Mary was married to Elisha Hutchinson, son of the former governor, and Elisha had already sailed to England with his father in 1774, believing he could soon return to bring his wife and children to England. Letters survive showing Elisha’s great anxiety when he was unable to bring them for three years, leaving his pregnant wife in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with her father. Oliver’s son Daniel had died unmarried in 1768, aged twenty-nine. His third son, Andrew, had died in 1772 but Andrew’s wife, Phoebe Spooner, lived to old age. She chose to remain in Middleborough, and her daughter was in contact with her family in England. According to one source, Phoebe apparently moved into Oliver Hall for two years after Peter Oliver had left, and when she moved out in 1778 it was burned down. Oliver’s daughter Mary had probably died as a child, and his son William is rather a mystery; when Oliver made his will in 1770 William was clearly alive and may have come to England but was clearly in his father’s bad books and does not appear in records of the time.
Oliver’s unmarried niece, Jenny Clarke, from his wife’s side of the family, had kept house for him after the death of his wife and also emigrated with him. In addition, his brother Andrew’s children by his second wife sailed with him, of whom two, Daniel and Louisa, settled in Birmingham.
Oliver’s son, Dr. Peter Oliver, had, with his wife and family, set sail on 25th March 1776, in a different ship from the judge, which went directly to Falmouth and landed on 31st April 1776. The son of Thomas Hutchinson, also called Thomas (who was married to Sarah Oliver, the daughter of Andrew Oliver), sailed with the doctor, together with his family; his wife gave birth whilst on board, and miraculously the baby survived, despite a terrible journey where people were seasick all the way.
On 1st June 1776, after finally landing in Falmouth about a month after his son, Peter, Oliver proceeded to visit tin and copper mines, setting a pattern for his behaviour in England. He then took coach to London by 13th June, living first in Jermyn Street where, ‘I had three rooms well-furnished at 13 guineas a week.’ Later he lodged briefly with Hutchinson, and then moved for a time to Marylebone High Street with his son Peter’s family. From the first Oliver was delighted to be in England, not least because he had been seasick all the way from Canada. On June 13th, 1776, he wrote in his diary:
‘Thanks be to Heaven, I am now in a Place where I can be protected from the Harpy Claws of that Rebellion which is now tearing out its own Bowels in America, as well as destroying all who in any Degree oppose its Progress.’
In this he was very different from Thomas Hutchinson, who had only planned a temporary stay, longed to go home and fretted constantly about the political situation. Hutchinson would die in 1780, heartbroken over the death of his son William shortly before his own death.
Hutchinson had regular contact with the court and had discovered when he arrived that George III was in touch with events in America. He also had all sorts of contacts with aristocracy, officials and politicians, and regularly visited, or was visited by, American exiles. So many exiles were arriving in London that there were several coffee houses, centres of news and gossip, where they particularly gathered, the main one being the New England Coffee House. Oliver was able to engage with this network of new and old acquaintances and was able to go to court to be received by the king, attended the queen’s birthday levee, and also met the Prime Minister, Lord North.
On 4th July 1776 both he and Hutchinson received the degree of D.C.L. (Doctor of Law) from Oxford, a splendid occasion which Oliver greatly enjoyed, spending several days visiting the area (this degree was rarely awarded and had recently been awarded to Dr. Johnson; in much later years it would be awarded to Winston Churchill). When George III had appointed Thomas Oliver, from a different family, as Governor after Hutchinson’s departure, historians agree that he had actually meant to appoint Peter Oliver. The judge was eventually to be offered the post of Lieutenant Governor in New Ireland in northern Maine after Hutchinson refused the post, but it never materialised.
After he had got his bearings in London, where members of Andrew Oliver’s family and the Clarke family lived, he spent time visiting mines, workshops, factories and engineering projects in England, investigating new scientific and engineering discoveries. He also became fond of magic shows and theatre-going and witnessed a balloon ascent. It was in September 1776 that he and Jenny Clark first visited Birmingham and its environs on a tour, together with Hutchinson and his youngest daughter Peggy, a trip which included a visit to Boston in Lincolnshire; this early visit to Birmingham may have prompted his later move.
Dr. Peter Oliver kept a diary and informs us that it was In April 1778 that the judge moved permanently to Birmingham with his housekeeper, Jenny Clarke. Oliver told Hutchinson that he intended;
‘…of fixing in the country near that town, never to come to London again,’
although he was forced to come to London several times after this date. No reason is given for his move, but it may have been business interests that were the cause. He greatly admired the Soho works and the Lunar Society, and it is interesting to note that one American traveller stated that Birmingham was the English town most like Boston. As the war continued, more and more American exiles came to England, forming small groups in several towns. With Peter Oliver in Birmingham came his son, Dr. Peter Oliver with his family, his granddaughter Mary and her husband Elisha Hutchinson with their family, and eventually his nephew and niece Daniel and Louisa Oliver, son and daughter of Andrew Oliver. Peter Oliver lived at 27 Colmore Row; Elisha settled at Hagley Row, Five Ways, and by 1784 Dr. Peter Oliver had moved to New Hall Street, having moved around several times, as had Daniel and Louisa.
In November 1778 came the news that Oliver Hall had been ransacked, which may well have added to Oliver’s feeling of now being firmly settled in England. The loyalists had originally believed that they would win the war, but as the rebels won various battles it gradually became inevitable that Independence was coming.
Dr. Peter Oliver and Elisha Hutchinson were both present in London in 1780 when Thomas Hutchinson died of a stroke, and Peter Oliver was one of the witnesses to his will. In a letter around 1781 Oliver wrote:
‘I live in a retired Part of the Town, clean, healthy & free from Noise; the Doctor and his Family with me; many of our New England Acquaintance nigh me & the rest I can see every Day. I can at once burst into the Bustle of Life or remain in a still & almost rural Retreat. The Amusements & Instruction of Life are easily entered into, or I can entertain myself, undisturbed with my Book; everything is upon such an extensive Scale, that a Person must be completely stupid to wear out Life on Complaints of having nothing to do.’
It is usually stated that this place was a cottage on the outskirts of London, but it is possible he is writing of Birmingham.
In 1781 he had his portrait painted in Birmingham by an American refugee called William Williams. Ostensibly a portrait showing him mourning the death of his wife, it has been pointed out that the inscription ‘O Maria’ has a ‘c’ imposed and is subtly demonstrating his feelings about the loss of America. This painting was sent to his granddaughter Sarah Brimmer in America. During his lifetime he had several portraits painted, one of which was by the leading American artist of the day, John Singleton Copley (married to his wife’s niece), who had come to England in 1774 (Copley also painted portraits of many members of the Oliver families, and Peter Oliver’s brother-in-law, Richard Clarke, lived with the family).
It was also in 1781 that he wrote his most important work, a book called, The Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion: a Tory View, which, because he was on the losing side, was mostly neglected until the twentieth century when it was recognised as a valuable, if biased, record and for which he is most remembered. His portraits of the rebels are wholly negative, but these were the people who are now regarded as the founders of the United States. He writes of the great suffering which befell people regarded as the enemies of the Sons of Liberty, including beatings, tarring and feathering (a violent form of humiliation), losing both their livelihoods and houses, and suffering from want. This book was not published until after his death.
By 1781 it was clear that the war in America was over, with clear success for those in favour of Independence, but as the war had spread overseas, due to the involvement of France, the Treaty of Paris was not signed until 1783 and clearly recognised the United States of America as a separate country. George III aimed to set up friendly relations thereafter, and the Whigs in Great Britain attained ascendancy over the Tories.
During these years Britain was in political turmoil, at war with France and Spain, but although the years in England might be lacking in great incident for Oliver, for all American exiles they were anxious times, with much time taken up with family and financial matters. Ships to and from America were waited for eagerly, bearing news of the war and family letters. American refugees complained of how hard it was to find work, but Oliver was absolved of such a worry. In 1779 he had been attainted for treason and his property confiscated by the American courts, so the King first granted him a pension of £400, later reduced to £300 by the British government, and Oliver also received compensation for his lost property of £2,500. The government received so many applications for pensions from exiles that they later first reduced the amount given, and then gave a one-off amount of money. Sorting out these matters involved many visits to relevant officials and the need for proof which were hard to find. Dr. Peter Oliver wrote in his diary:
‘March 12th, 1786. The Judge … and myself, rode to London in the two-day coach, and return’d the 24 inst. We went before the Commons, and soon was rid of them. They boggled about our want of proof concerning the worth of our works.’
Given that their relatives struggled to earn a living, both Oliver and Hutchinson had many people to support with the money gained from the government. The wrangles about compensation for American loyalists continued well into the nineteenth century.
We get a glimpse of Oliver in Birmingham in 1782 through the writing of Elkanah Watson, a wealthy American businessman who had connections with John Adams and the rebels. Whilst on a tour of the country Watson came to Birmingham, where he was affected by the amount of coal smoke and met Judge Oliver and Elisha Hutchinson. The judge introduced him to Dr. Priestley, James Watt and Henry Moyes, and commented that;
‘They are among the most eminent philosophers of Europe.’
Elkanah Watson went on to visit Priestley several times, and remarks that he was a Unitarian minister; it is noteworthy that we know Elisha Hutchinson originally attended a Unitarian church. It would appear that Peter Oliver was now an Anglican, having been Congregationalist in America.
Watson describes going with the judge to church, which was probably St. Philip’s as the judge lived in Colmore Row:
‘The first Sunday I spent in Birmingham I accompanied Judge Oliver to church, and when the clergyman in an audible voice pronounced, “Oh Lord, turn the hearts of our rebellious subjects in America,” the Judge gave me a smart jog on the elbow, as if to make a personal application of the prayer. The progress of events enabled me to return the hint by the retort courteous. I was again at Birmingham after the formal recognition of our Independence, and occupied with Judge Oliver a seat in the same church. After the service, I whispered to him, “Well, Sir, I waited in vain, this time, for a jog on the elbow.”’
In another passage Watson describes leaving Birmingham:
‘Mr. Green, the night previous to my departure from Birmingham, gave a supper to the Americans in the city. There was about the board twenty-five beside myself, and I was the only avowed rebel in the group. It was agreed that they might talk tory whilst I should be permitted to talk rebel; and thus being unconstrained we passed an amusing evening.’
This urbanity on the part of Oliver is only part of the story, for his very negative opinion of John Adams, leader of the rebels, was reported back when Watson returned home to America.
It is not known how Oliver knew Priestley and Watt, but an American, Judge Curwen, describes visiting Birmingham in 1780, when he visited Soho with both Oliver and Elisha Hutchinson.
From about 1788, when he was aged seventy-five, Peter Oliver became infirm and was nursed by his niece Jenny Clark. It is remarkable how his health, compared with those around him, was so good, as of his children only his son Peter outlived him. On October 13th, 1791 Dr. Peter Oliver wrote in his diary:
‘The Judge died this morning aged 78 years, 3 months and 13 days,’
and notes his burial on 19th October ‘under the new church’. On 25th February 1792, he writes:
‘I put up a Monument in St. Philip’s Church, Birmingham, to the Judge.’
By the time Oliver was driven to leave America his daughter Elizabeth, married at the age of eighteen to Colonel George Watson, had died in childbirth in 1767, and two of her five children had also died in early childhood. Colonel George Watson was a Mandamus councillor and a colonel in the British army. He died in 1800, having married again after Elizabeth died, and remained in America when his daughters left. Two of Elizabeth’s daughters, named Mary and Elizabeth, came to England, whilst her daughter Sarah remained in America; all three of her daughters were remembered in Peter Oliver’s will, and the impression is that he was a fond grandfather and great-grandfather.
Elizabeth’s daughter Mary (1754-1803) (known as Polly) was married in 1772 to Elisha Hutchinson, the son of the former Governor, who came to England with his father in 1774 believing he would soon return. He left behind his wife who was pregnant with their second child and who was with her father in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Mary remained in Boston for three years before coming to England via Dublin in 1777, and meanwhile Elisha seems to have remained with Peter Oliver in both London and Birmingham, as they were clearly close. She was buried, like her grandfather, Philip Oliver, at St. Philips in May 1803.
The number of their sons and daughters is a little uncertain, but of the ones I have traced Margaret Hutchinson, born in 1774, must have been the child Mary was pregnant with whilst Elisha was in England. She died before her mother and was buried in St. Philip’s in April 1796, described as a spinster. The oldest child, Mary Oliver Hutchinson was baptised at the Unitarian church in Street, Warwickshire in 1781 but was born in 1771. She died at Trentham in 1823 and was buried with her father at Blurton, Staffordshire, the parish church of her brother. A child named Elizabeth Hutchinson Oliver was baptised in January 1779 at the Unitarian church in Street; one book states that Elizabeth died aged fourteen in 1793, but I have not been able to ascertain this. George Watson Hutchinson, born in June 1782, was first baptised into the Unitarian church in Street a year after his sister Mary, and then baptised in the Anglican church of Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield, in October 1801 aged nineteen (as George was an adult, I would assume he wished to make his career in the Church of England at this date). The church register there not only, most unusually, gives his date of birth, but also states ‘they now live in Edgbaston’. Their son John Hutchinson, born in 1793 after the death of his great-grandfather, has an even stranger baptismal history, as he was baptised at St. Mary’s in Birmingham soon after birth, and then baptised a second time at Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield in in 1809.
Elisha lived until 1824; he says in a letter that he lived first in Colmore Row and was forced to move to Newhall Street by a drunken landlord. He then lived for many years in Hagley Row, Five Ways. He died at Blurton parsonage in Staffordshire, and was buried in the church there, where his youngest son John was a well-loved perpetual curate, as well as being Precentor at Lichfield Cathedral. John was involved in the restoration of the cathedral and was also an author who completed the last volume of his grandfather Thomas Hutchinson’s, History of Massachusetts Bay. This John married Mary Oliver Hutchinson, daughter of his first cousin the Reverend William Hutchinson (who was the son of Thomas Hutchinson’s son Thomas), and had five children. He was buried, like his father, at his church in Blurton.
George Watson Hutchinson, the older son of Elisha and Mary, was vicar of Tutbury in Staffordshire and was buried there in 1818, dying unmarried aged thirty-six of consumption. He received a very fulsome obituary as he laboured unceasingly in a very poor parish, having a special interest in education. Both he and his brother were exceptional young men who were educated in Birmingham Free School (King Edward’s) and Oxbridge.
Having suffered the death of his father and three siblings in England, in 1783 Elisha Hutchinson and his brother Thomas took their families to France for eighteen months. Elisha would visit France several times afterwards. Judge Oliver remained in constant contact, with letters to Elisha containing loving and jokey postscripts written to his great-grandchildren, whom he named “Miss Peggy”, “Miss Poll”, “Miss Betsy” and “Mr. George”.
Elizabeth’s daughter, Sarah (1759-1848) (“Sally”), married Martin Brimmer, had three children and married again after his death. Martin Brimmer was a Boston iron merchant, a mayor of Boston and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and one of their children also became mayor of Boston and member of the House of Representatives. Their grandchild, also called Martin, was the first president of the Boston Museum of Fine Art. It was Sarah in Boston, where the couple had remained after the departure of her sisters, who wrote to her sister Elizabeth in Birmingham asking for a picture of her grandfather Peter Oliver, and this portrait, painted in Birmingham, is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Art (see above). She died in Italy at the age of eighty-eight (it puzzled me why the letter in the portrait is addressed to “Betsy Watson, Plimouth”, but I suggest it is a memorial to his dead daughter, Elizabeth Watson).
The third daughter, Elizabeth (1767-1809) (“Betsy”), married two wealthy husbands and died before her second husband. She had no children by the Boston merchant Thomas Russell, who had been married twice before and already had children. She married Sir Greville Temple in 1797, after her first husband’s death, and had five children, one of whom became the 10th baronet. The family seat was in Stowe, Buckinghamshire. Sir Greville Temple was the son of the Lieutenant General of New Hampshire and his mother was the daughter of a governor of Massachusetts; his father was born in Boston and eventually became the first British Consul General to what became the United States. Elizabeth’s husband became ninth Baronet of Stowe on the death of his father; her son, the tenth earl, was a major in the British army and his brother was a captain.
Daniel went to Harvard and never married. He died at sea while on a trip for his health to the Canary Isles.
Peter married Sarah Hutchinson (1744-1780), daughter of the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, and sister to Elisha Hutchinson who married her niece; as stated above, their wedding in1769 was a very grand affair, and they went on to live in a house, especially built for them by Judge Oliver in the estate of Oliver Hall, which still survives and is carefully preserved. Peter Oliver Jr. was a doctor, who met his wife by boarding with her brother Elisha at Harvard, and he and Elisha remained close. Sarah Hutchinson is remembered as the daughter who went to her father’s house when the mob was at the door and persuaded him to leave, an act which saved his life. The house was completely destroyed, and Hutchinson later claimed for all his goods when in England. Dr. Peter Oliver describes in letters how his own house was surrounded by mobs and he was forced to move to Boston, where he became a soldier for a while.
He and his family left Boston in March 1776 on a different ship from Judge Oliver, which went straight to England on a terrible journey. He travelled with Thomas Hutchinson’s eldest son Thomas, who had tried to stay on the Minton estate of his father but was forced to take refuge in Boston. The two families had several children with them on board ship, and Thomas Hutchinson’s wife gave birth on board. Dr. Peter Oliver eventually received a pension of £50 p.a. from the British government.
Peter and Sarah had three children who survived, born in America, all of whom died unmarried. Margaret Hutchinson Oliver (1771-1796) is said to have died unmarried of consumption in Wales. Thomas Hutchinson Oliver (1772-1865), was apprenticed to a surgeon by his father in 1789, became an army surgeon, and died in Yarmouth aged ninety-three. Peter Oliver (1774-1794), was sent to sea in 1789 and died of consumption. Dr. Peter Oliver wrote in his diary most movingly of Peter:
‘He was the sickest person in a consumption I ever saw; had lost his voice about 7 months, & a very bad sore throat most of the time: continual cough and expectoration – high fever – great protraction of strength and loss of flesh. P.O. was buried in the City St. Chad’s Yard,’ (the city referred to is Shrewsbury).
Once the couple came to England the two children born there did not thrive. There was a baby called Daniel who died in 1779 aged four months whose burial place is unknown, and then another baby called Daniel, born in 1780 who caused his mother to die in childbirth just before the death of her baby. This baby was buried in 1780 aged three months by his heartbroken father in St. Philip’s; he describes him as:
‘… my dear little infant, who was very near my heart particularly.’
Dr. Peter Oliver wrote:
‘I buried my little baby the north side of St. Philip’s church, and near the vaults – six feet deep.’
It is clear that the death of this baby, the last memento of his wife, nearly broke him.
The death of the former governor, Thomas Hutchinson, was only three weeks before the death of his daughter Sarah, the wife of Dr. Peter Oliver. Her brother, William Hutchinson, had died of consumption in 1780 just before his father. Her sister Margaret, who had sailed with her father, had died in 1777 of consumption. Many of the Hutchinsons were buried in Heavitree, Essex, where her brother Thomas Hutchinson jun. later settled. However, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, his son William and his daughter Sarah were buried at Croydon, where there was an American minister. Dr. Peter Oliver had to make arrangements for his motherless children on the death of his wife, and sent his boys to Windsor, his daughter to boarding school in Moseley and the baby to a wet nurse in New Hall Street, where he died. Dr. Oliver moved into a room in High Street, opposite New Street, and later moved to New Hall Street, where he put up his doctor’s brass plate.
He wrote of his wife:
‘She was one of the most virtuous, amiable and kindest wives that ever man was blessed with,’
and when he died in 1822 aged 82, he had been a widower for forty-two years. I think it is likely that he moved to Shrewsbury after the death of his father in 1791, as his son Peter died in Shrewsbury and was buried there in 1794. It seems logical that his daughter Margaret Hutchinson Oliver, who died in 1796, would also be buried in Shrewsbury, but as she was actually buried in Wales (possibly in Cardiganshire) she may have been on holiday or on a rest cure. Dr. Oliver was buried in St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury, like his son, in 1822, and the record of Mary Clarke on the same gravestone, who also died in 1822, would suggest that she moved to Shrewsbury with her cousin. It would not be surprising if such a hard life had made the doctor bitter, as he refused to loan his father’s copy of a book by one Hubbard, The History of New England, to a Massachusetts society in 1815. His father’s copy contained the only complete last chapter in existence, but Dr. Oliver claimed that manuscripts stolen when his father’s property had been burned had never been returned, and he refused to help the society.
It is usually stated that Dr. Peter Oliver had no descendants as none of his children married, but I discovered that Thomas Hutchinson Oliver had an illegitimate daughter Sarah, by one Sarah Thornton, who was baptised in St. Peter’s, Huddersfield in 1814; he had clearly been based in Huddersfield with the army at this time.
William (1743 – ?)
In his will of 1770 Peter Oliver only leaves his son William five shillings, strongly suggesting that there is something wrong in the relationship. One reference states that he married a sister of Captain John Fulke and lived in The Hawkins near his wife’s father, but I have not been able to check this information. I would suggest that William either married a woman his father did not approve of, or he backed the rebels.
Andrew married in 1769, the same year as his brother Peter, when he was twenty-three, and was dead by twenty-six. One source states that Andrew was of intemperate habits and his wife’s father disinherited his daughter, but the Judge provided and built a house in Mattock (in Middleborough) for them. Andrew’s wife, Phoebe Spooner, gave birth to two children before her husband died, Daniel and Elizabeth, and remained in America when her father-in-law departed. In 1776 she petitioned the General Council for relief when the war was at its worst as her house had been taken from her. One source states that she moved into Peter Oliver’s mansion in Middleborough for two years, and after this she clearly remained in the area. She was the last link with Middleborough, dying there in 1831 aged eighty-two, having been a widow for sixty years. Her daughter, Elizabeth, married Dr. Waterhouse of Cambridge, Massachusetts who was famous for introducing vaccination for smallpox to America, having received samples from Dr. Jenner in England. Peter Oliver sent Dr. Waterhouse a grandfather clock, which is preserved in Harvard Medical School, and Phoebe also requested and received a portrait of the judge which still exists. Unfortunately I have been unable to trace Daniel with any certainty.
Mary was certainly dead by 1770 when Peter Oliver made his will, and probably died young.
Of the people who came to England with Peter Oliver, the children of his brother Andrew, Daniel (1743-1826) and Louisa (1759-?1801), settled in Birmingham. Neither of them married. Louisa is possibly the Louisa Oliver who is buried in 1801 in Beaudesert in Warwickshire, where the register states that she was from Henley in Arden. She did not arrive in England until 1779 and she may have lived some of the time in London. Her brother Daniel, who was a lawyer, first lived in Temple Street and then lived in Ashted on what was then the outskirts of Birmingham, and was buried in 1826 at the age of eighty-two at St. James, Ashted, where the register states he lived in Great Brook Street. Daniel and Louisa moved into Elisha Hutchinson’s house in Five Ways on the several occasions he went to France. Daniel was unmarried and left his wealth to his brother Brinley Sylvester Oliver who lived in London and was a surgeon in the British army.
Jenny Clarke proved difficult to trace. Although persistently described as Judge Oliver’s niece, I have been unable to identify her parents in the family of his wife, Mary Clarke. I found an obscure reference to a gravestone in St. Chad’s churchyard, Shrewsbury:
‘Jane Clarke, spinster, cousin to the above (Dr. Peter Oliver) age 72, 1822.’
She obviously went with the doctor when he moved to Shrewsbury after the death of the Chief Justice in 1791. From a notice in a magazine, it appears she died in either October or November in the same year that Dr. Peter Oliver died, and they therefore shared a gravestone. Perhaps she served as a housekeeper to Dr. Peter Oliver, as she had to his father.
- There are portraits available online of many of the people mentioned in this article, which difficulties over rights have prevented from reproduction.
- In older books Peter Oliver is credited with having written ‘The Scripture Lexicon’, but more recent research credits this book to a Baptist minister of the same name living in Birmingham at the time.
- Older books frequently give inaccurate information about the Oliver family, so I have used church records whenever possible.
Gill Partridge, November 2019