John Hunter, Captain’s Clerk, Chaplain

John Hunter. John Hunter served as Captain’s Clerk and Chaplain of the frigate Queen of France under the command of Captain John Peck Rathbun (1746-1782). It is not known if John Hunter served on the Queen of France prior to Rathbun’s command beginning May of 1779. The ship was previously under the command of Captain Joseph Olney and John Green who brought the vessel, originally named La Brune, from France after her purchase for the Continental Navy in September 1777. While cruising under Rathbun off the coast of Newfoundland in July 1779; the Queen of France, in company with the Providence and Ranger, fell in with a convoy of British merchantmen and captured eleven vessels. With John Hunter aboard in 1780, the Queen of France sailed with Commodore Abraham Whipple’s fleet to assist in the defense of Charleston. The Queen of France was stationed in the Ashley River to prevent British forces from attacking the city. Eventually her guns were removed and she was scuttled, her officers and men going ashore and serving as artillerymen until the city fell. According to the rejected pension application R-5402 of his widow, Hunter “was present when the vessel was destroyed to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy …when the post in Charleston, South Carolina was surrendered to the British in 1780.” In addition to the loss of the Queen of France, the Continental Navy frigates Boston, Providence and Ranger were captured at the same time. The siege of Charleston ended with her fall to the British on 12 May 1780. John Hunter married Elizabeth Wells Darby, the widow of Joseph Darby, about 1787. In some DAR records, John Hunter is incorrectly identified as Andrew Hunter (1750-1823). According to her pension application W-15196 based on Darby’s Revolutionary War service, Elizabeth Wells was married to Joseph Darby of Boxford on 25 December 1781 by the Rev. Samuel Stillman, preacher at the First Baptist Church in Boston from 1764-1807. Joseph Darby had served three years beginning 18 March 1777 in Captain Thomas Wells’ Company of Colonel John Crane’s Massachusetts Regiment of Continental Artillery. Darby was an Orderly Sergeant on furlough at the time of their wedding. About a week after the marriage, Darby rejoined the Army and his newlywed wife “never afterwards saw her said husband” again. Elizabeth Wells Darby received word of her husband’s death at Egg Harbor, NJ when some sailors brought the news in January 1783. She was never informed of the cause of his death. It is possible that Hunter also was previously married as a Boston newspaper dated 30 November 1785 announces the death of 28 year old Mrs. Sally Hunter residing at Ball’s Alley, the wife of John Hunter. After her marriage to John Hunter; it appears that Elizabeth bore two children, only “one of whom is living” in 1848. According to census records, daughter Catharine was born about 1792. His daughter was approximately fourteen years old when John Hunter died about 1806, leaving his wife Elizabeth widowed a second time. Two years later, daughter Catharine Hunter was first married to Benjamin C. Brooks on 26 November 1808. At the time of the 1810 Census, the teenage bride is the only female in the Ward 4, Creek Square household of nine males including eight men between the ages of 16 and 44. Between 1809 and 1816, Benjamin C. Brooks’ addresses in the Boston directories include 16 Back Street, Creek Lane and 19 Merchant’s Row. Mrs. Catherine Hunter Rogers was married a second time on Sunday evening 14 November 1819 to Archibald Bean by the Rev. Mr. Asa Eaton, rector from 1805 to 1829 of Christ Church, also known as Old North Church. Shortly after the time of her daughter’s first marriage, Elizabeth Wells Darby Hunter was married a third time to John Perkins. Perkins died in 1823, leaving his wife Elizabeth a widow for the third time. It is under this married name, Elizabeth Perkins, that she sought a Revolutionary War widow’s pension for the service of her first two husbands. By the time of the 1830 Census, the aging woman was living in the household of her daughter Catharine and her husband Archibald Bean, a Boston sailmaker born in Scotland. The census records of subsequent years 1840 and 1850 indicate Elizabeth Perkins continued to live at East Boston in the Bean household, which also included grand-daughters Christianna, Susan and Mary Bean. John Sheppard in The Life of Samuel Tucker (1868) describes his observations at meeting with the ninety-five year old widow, “an intelligent old lady, who was born there May 1, 1755,—Mrs. Elizabeth Perkins, a niece of the late eminent Samuel Adams. She was christened by the Rev. Dr. Byles, of such eccentric wit; her first husband was the Rev. John Hunter, chaplain of the frigate Queen of France, and her sister was married to Benjamin Brown, M. D., surgeon in the frigate Boston, when commanded by Tucker… Her hearing and her sight were remarkably good, and for sixty or seventy years she had drank one cup of strong coffee, that “slow poison,” every morning. Mrs. Perkins was then taking care of a sick daughter, she spoke so humbly, so meekly, and with such fervent faith, resigning all her hopes in a Savior’s love, that it left a strong conviction that her cheerful frame of spirits, fondness for lively company, and that elegant and innocent accomplishment, dancing, had made her old age serene and happy, and her powers of conversation a delight to all who knew her.” Elizabeth Perkins died at the age of ninety-nine years and four months on Saturday 24 September 1853 at her residence on Maverick Street in East Boston with funeral services held at Christ Church. “She was probably at the time of her death, the oldest person in Boston” and “retained full possession of all of her faculties to the hour of dissolution.”

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