Robert Maynard Peck. Son of Hester Plaisted and Boston glazier John Peck (1721-1761), Robert Maynard Peck was born on 1 October 1747, a little over ten months after his parents were married on 15 December 1746. Peck’s grandparents were John Peck and Margaret Maynard, from whom he received his middle name. Robert’s father died when he was thirteen years old and his uncle Thomas Handasyde Peck was appointed administrator of John’s estate on 11 September 1761. Thomas Handasyde Peck (1712-1777) was a wealthy Boston merchant and a “gentleman of great integrity and respectability” who lived in a mansion at the head of Peck’s Court on Merchants’ Row near the Golden Ball Tavern. Known locally as “Honest Peck”, Robert’s Uncle Thomas was an importer of furs and hatter by occupation, his Merchant’s Row store called the “Hatt & Beaver”. It is believed Robert Maynard Peck had a younger sister named Mary whose uncle, Thomas Handasyde Peck, was also her guardian.
Thomas Handasyde Peck himself had a son born in 1743 named John Peck who was a druggist or doctor. Four years older than cousin Robert Maynard Peck, this twenty-one year old John Peck was married to Sarah Brewer on 11 November 1764 at Boston. Sadly, less than four years later the 14 March 1768 Boston Evening Post reports the death of “Mr. John Peck apothecary, after a lingering illness in the 25th year of his age”. The couple had one child, also named Thomas Handasyde Peck after his grandfather who was named administrator of his eldest son’s estate. Apparently Robert Maynard Peck married the young widow Sarah Brewer Peck sixteen months after his cousin’s death on 3 July 1769. Sarah Brewer and Robert Maynard Peck shared four children of their own together including: John born on 12 January 1770, Ann Brewer also known as Nancy born in 1771, William and Robert Maynard, junior. The youngster Thomas Handasyde Peck was also living in their household as late as 1774 when his grandfather generously remembered both his namesake and the boy’s stepfather in a will dated that year. The will published in “A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Joseph Peck” by Ira Ballou Peck (1868) reads in part, “I give to my Nephew Robert Maynard Peck, sixty six Pounds thirteen shillings & four pence, lawful Money, to be paid in one Month after my Decease; & if he owes me any Debts on Book Note or otherwise, I release them.” The patriarch Thomas Handasyde Peck died three years later on 21 June 1777 at the age of sixty-five. It is also possible that Robert Maynard Peck, a “gentleman and feltmaker” according to Frederic Fairchild Sherman in “Art in America and Elsewhere, Volume 10” (1922), worked in the shop of his uncle as well.
It is not known whether Robert Maynard Peck’s service in the Continental Navy which is documented in the pension application #W-6,857 of his son John’s widow Elizabeth commenced earlier than the Queen of France’s second domestic cruise under Captain John Peck Rathbun. Robert Maynard Peck may have served as Master’s Mate or Midshipman on other government vessels or on the 28-gun Continental frigate’s earlier cruise under Captain Joseph Olney between 13 March and 20 April 1779. Departing Boston on 18 June 1779 under Captain John Peck Rathbun, the Queen of France sailed in company with the Providence and Ranger, on board thirty-two year old Midshipman Robert Maynard Peck and his nine year old son John Peck, a “mizzen top boy”. The American squadron under the command of Commodore Abraham Whipple encountered the Jamaican merchant fleet near the Grand Banks in mid-July. Sailing in dense fog amongst British warships protecting the fleet, the Americans took eleven prizes in secrecy before making their escape.
John Peck’s pension record elaborates on the details of this eventful cruise. “His father was at the same time on board the Queen of France. After a cruise of nearly two months, whilst lying on the banks of Newfoundland in a thick fog which continued for nearly three weeks, about meridian they were surprized at hearing guns and bells sounding, as if from a large fleet, and the fog just then clearing up, the American ships were found to be in the midst of a fleet of from 150 to 200 sail as reported by the prisoners, under convoy of a 74 and several frigates of the enemy. Captain Rathbourn passing himself as a Captain of a British frigate, captured one of the enemy’s merchant ships without giving the alarm, by which he obtained the private signals of the enemy. Com. Whipple gave the signal to stand out of the fleet, but on the urgent application of Captain Rathbourn, he permitted him to remain and make as many captures as possible. He succeeded in capturing as many as five vessels before next morning without giving alarm, whilst the other two vessels had captured 5 or 6 more. In all 10 or 11 vessels, one of which was a Snow, the rest were ships. The next morning suspicion being excited, and the Queen of France having no more spare hands, she stood out and with the other vessels were chased by a 44 frigate until night, when the enemy gave over the chase.”
Eight of the eleven vessels taken made Boston with the three Continental ships in late August, the prize ships and cargoes selling for more than a million dollars. The pension application includes a “true copy” of the Queen of France ledger book receipt of agent Samuel Brown detailing payment for prize monies to Robert May’d Peck at Boston on 10 November 1779, “Rec’d of Brown & Co. two hundreds & forty eight pounds 15 (shillings) 8-1/2 (pence) in full for my own & my son John Peck’s share in Q. France.” Interestingly, this copy was provided in 1833 by William Vernon, Esq. Of Newport, executor of the last will and testament of Samuel Brown. Obviously, Vernon was in possession of the Queen of France ledger books at that time. From a statement of claims adjusted and allowed by the Treasury Department on 27 March 1792, we can ascertain that John Peck’s rate on the Queen of France’s roll was Boy with his service ending on 1 September 1779, shortly after making port at Boston. The Treasury Department settlement also reveals that John’s father Robert M. Peck continued in service with the frigate until after the fall of Charleston on 15 July 1780.
Robert Maynard Peck’s experience on the last cruise of the the frigate Queen of France can be surmised from the pension record of James W. Head, a boy who entered the vessel at the age of fourteen in October 1779 just one month after his own son left the ship in that same capacity. Head indicates the ship cruised first to Bermuda and then “went into Charleston, South Carolina in December and lay there in company with the ship Providence, Commodore Whipple; ship Boston, Capt. Tucker & ship Ranger”. James’ brother adds, “Queen of France (was) there sunk to prevent the British fleet coming up the channel. The officers and crew were placed in the fort under the command of General Lincoln. The fort was taken by the British after a severe bombardment.” Head concludes, “all surrendered to the British in May 1780.” Although James W. Head returned to Providence, RI in a cartel and was discharged in June 1780, Midshipman Peck was not so fortunate. Either in the siege, bombardment or incarceration afterward; Robert Maynard Peck died as a result of the action at Charleston, probably on 15 July 1780, the date settlement of his wages due.
John Peck. Born on 12 January 1770, nine year old John Peck served on the frigate Queen of France for one nine week cruise with his father Robert Maynard Peck between 18 June 1779 and his discharge on 1 September of that same year. John Peck’s 1833 pension testimony sheds light his later wartime exploits, “After his return to port he again entered into various privateers & letters of Marque, in which he served to the end of the war, having during the war been twice captured by the enemy.” The first time he was taken, Peck was on board the 18-gun Tracy under Captain John Burroughs Hopkins of Providence, RI. The Massachusetts privateer ship Tracy of 200 tons was commissioned on 19 May 1780. The owners and bonders were John Cushing and Samuel White of Boston. The vessel was commissioned as a 16-gun ship crewed with a compliment of 100 men. One of the owners, Samuel White petitioned the governing Council on 25 August 1780, “asking for liberty to proceed on a cruise against the enemy” and requesting “the commanding officer at the Castle be directed to permit said ship to pass.”
During her first cruise, the Tracy captured first a brig and then retook a sloop recently captured by British frigates Virginia and Raleigh. Hopkins next engaged the 250-ton British transport Jane under the command of Capt. McCausland who refused to strike, choosing instead a “sharp and close Conflict”. Tracy escorted her prize into Boston on 2 July 1780 where the Independent Chronicle published a report on 6 July. “Last Sunday returned from a cruize the privateer ship Tracy, Capt. Hopkins, and brought in with him a prize ship mounting 14 carriage guns, four and six pounders and about 50 seaman, from Cork bound to New York…The Tracy mounts 18 carriage guns, four and six pounders. The prize engaged Capt. Hopkins about 20 minutes, in which time she had 5 men killed and 8 wounded. Capt. Hopkins had only 3 men wounded.” It is not known if ten year old John Peck participated in this cruise or engagement; however, it is most certain the boy was on board when the privateer sailed for a second cruise in late August or early September 1780.
The privateer Tracy fell in with the British warships Intrepid under the command of Captain Anthony James Pye Molloy and Cyclops under Captain John Robinson on 13 September 1780 and was taken along with the American brig Providence under Capt. Warner from the port of the same name and the ship Hannibal under Capt. O’Brian of Newbury. The three prizes were carried into New York by 2 October 1780 where Peck, Noah Edmester and most of their shipmates were confined on the infamous Old Jersey. According to pension testimony, the boy John Peck “escaped by swimming after three weeks imprisonment”. While some of his shipmates like Edmester were exchanged within months, others were removed from New York to Mill Prison in early 1781. British records for the prize ship Tracy are in The National Archives at Kew, England under the reference HCA 32/463/9/1-8. Upon his release in early 1781, Captain John B. Hopkins took the helm of the RI privateer sloop Success which he commanded for the balance of the war.
According to pension records, John Peck’s second seizure while on a privateer came on the Massachusetts brigantine Wexford under his former captain on the Queen of France- John Peck Rathbun of Boston. Rathbun, paroled with other American captains captured during the loss of Charleston, returned to New England to find no Continental Navy commands available. On 4 August 1781, Captain Rathbun was offered command of the privateer Wexford, formerly the prize ship Mars. The Wexford sailed from Boston within weeks in mid-August on a trans-Atlantic cruise bound for St. George’s Channel. She was sighted by the 32-gun British frigate Recovery off the coast of Ireland on 28 September 1781. The Pennsylvania Journal of 29 December publishes an extract of a 10 October 1781 letter from the commander of Recovery, Lord Hervey to the Admiralty Office. “I beg you will acquaint their Lordships, that at daylight on the 28th ult. Cape Clear [Island] bearing N.E. distant about 20 leagues (or sixty miles), I saw a sail under the lee bow, and immediately stood towards her; after a chace of 22 hours, having got up alongside of her, she struck to his Majesty’s ship. She is an American privateer brig, called the Wexford, mounts 20 twelve pounders, carries 120 men, and is 320 tons burthen. She had only been six weeks from Boston, and had taken nothing.”
At over twice the displacement, almost twice the manpower and considerably more armament, the Recovery was a formidable opponent. Lord Hervey reports in additional detail that he was “still in Chase at 1/2 past 12 p.m. saw the Chace standing on the larboard Tack passed by her and fired a Broadside at her and chased after her.” Attempting to outrun Recovery, Captain Rathbun gave up the Wexford only when faced with a certain second and likely deadly broadside. The victor’s boats took possession of the Wexford at mid-morning and the prize was kept in company with the Recovery until she was brought into Cork, Ireland in mid-October 1781. Other American privateers taken off of Cape Clear Island and brought into Cork at the same time include the 22-gun Jason and 20-gun Hercules. Lieutenant Phillips of the Wexford recalls “We were carried to Ireland and from thence to Kinsale Prison.” According to pension records, eleven year old John Peck was “carried into Kinsale and after remaining there a few weeks, he escaped to France with some French prisoners who were returning home, being exchanged.” The youngster was fortunate to have escaped as at least seventeen of the crew reportedly died in Kinsale Prison by the end of January 1782. Wexford shipmate Peleg Tallman wrote of his Kinsale experience, “hove into a loathsome prison, where the survivors of us remained thirteen or fourteen months. About half our number died with smallpox and other disorders.” Captain Rathbun fared even worse than his crew, having been sent to notorious Mill Prison at Plymouth, England where he eventually died on 20 June 1782.
After the death of Midshipman Robert Maynard Peck at Charleston in 1780, his widow Sarah Brewer Peck was married for the third time to twenty-four year old “trader” William Bryant on 29 January 1782 by the Rev. Joseph Eckley, minister of the Old South Church in Boston. Seasoned mariner and battle-tested veteran John Peck was just twelve years old at the time. According to “A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Joseph Peck” by Ira Ballou Peck (1868), Sarah was appointed administratrix of her late husband Robert Maynard Peck’s estate on the day before her wedding to Bryant. Frederic Fairchild Sherman in “Art in America and Elsewhere, Volume 10” (1922) adds that later on 6 December 1782, William Bryant was appointed guardian of Robert’s four children, including oldest son John. Between November 1784 and March 1786, William Bryant frequently advertised his brokerage services operating out of “Shop No. 34 opposite the State Treasurer’s Office, two Doors Southward of the Old-South Meeting-House, Marlborough-Street” where he offered financial services such as negotiated purchase and sale of currency issues, loan certificates, specie notes and public securities. It is probable that the teenaged John worked in the office of his stepfather, eventually taking on the role of trusted associate. It is recorded that “John Peck, broker of Boston,” participated in a Massachusetts Land Lottery drawing which took place in June of 1787 when he was just seventeen years old. Tickets for the lottery offering a Grand Prize of 21,760 acres in Washington County, ME were sold for L60 each, over $4,300 today. Peck’s ticket #776, one of only 437 chances sold, bought him a 160 acre parcel in Alexander. With administrative costs exceeding revenue, Massachusetts abandoned the lottery by 1790.
Just months before Bryant’s death, the sale of lottery tickets and public securities are advertised impersonally “at William Bryant’s Office.” When John Peck was just nineteen years old, Sarah Peck Bryant’s third husband, William Bryant died on Sunday 16 August 1789 at the age of thirty-two. Two days later the Herald of Freedom reports, “His funeral will be from his house in Milk Street, precisely at 5 o’clock this afternoon.” A posting in the same newspaper placed on 25 August 1789 by his executrix Sarah Bryant implores “all persons indebted to the estate are requested to make speedy payment” due the estate of “William Bryant, late of Boston, Broker” at No. 34 Marlborough Street, today known as Washington Street. The advertisement concludes “N.B. The BROKERS BUSINESS carried on at said Office, as usual.” Less than one year after the death of his stepfather, twenty year old John Peck is advertising the sale of Leicester Academy Lottery shares in the 3 July 1790 edition of the Columbian Centinel, conducting his business from No. 33 Marlborough Street opposite the State Treasurer’s office. An advertisement of 29 June 1791 published in the same newspaper indicates the young businessman’s first trading interests are based on post-war veterans’ benefits, “CASH GIVEN for STATE and CONTINENTAL BOUNTY LANDS, By JOHN PECK, BROKER, No. 35, MARLBOROUGH-STREET, opposite the Treasurer’s-Office, Boston.” During that Summer of 1791, he also advertised “CASH, and the highest price, paid for PENSIONERS ARREARS OF PAY by JOHN PECK, No. 33, MARLBOROUGH-STREET.” An Independent Chronicle advertisement “John Peck, Stock-Broker”, like his late stepfather William Bryant, indicates he was also trading in public securities out of the Marlborough Street address.
Known later in life by his military rank, Major John Peck was recruited as a member of the Artillery Company of Boston in 1791. Peck served as adjutant of the 1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of Massachusetts Volunteer Militia between 1791 and 1794. According to Fleet’s Pocket Almanack for the years 1793 and 1794, Peck’s superior officers in the 1st Division representing Suffolk County were Col. William Scollay and Major General Henry Jackson, both of Boston. The Columbus Centinel of 13 February 1793 includes an official report of the acquittal of Captain Moses Wallach by a court of inquiry signed by John Peck in the capacity of adjutant.
It appears the twenty-two year old John Peck was appointed guardian of his younger brother William on 17 July 1792, perhaps indicative of yet a fourth marriage for his mother Sarah Brewer Peck Bryant. Nothing is yet known of his youngest brother Robert Maynard Peck, Jr. or his mother after the death of William Bryant in 1789 except that one genealogical source indicates she lived until 1821. Younger than him by one year, John’s sister Ann (Nancy) Brewer Peck was married to Boston merchant Edward Stow on 2 June 1793 by the Rev. William Walter, rector of Christ Church. A portrait of her painted at Bordentown, NJ in 1802 or 1803 by Gilbert Stuart today hangs in the Columbus Museum. It was about this time that John Peck went into business with his brother-in-law Edward Stow, both serving as directors of the New England Mississippi Land Company. Previously Stow and fellow Boston merchant John Kennedy were engaged in the partnership of “Stow and Kennedy” which was disolved in May of 1790. Peck and Stow’s activities during this period are no doubt chronicled in the manuscript Letter Copy Book covering the period of September 1789 through November 1795 presently offered for sale by Michael Brown Rare Books, LLC of Philadelphia. Included in the book are several letters to Joshua Loring regarding a shipbuilding project Stow was involved with which may account for Frederic Fairchild Sherman’s assertion in “Art in America and Elsewhere, Volume 10” (1922) that John Peck was a Boston shipbuilder. The young Continental Navy veteran should not be confused with the older Revolutionary War era naval architect of the same name. John Peck and The New England Mississippi Land Company would later become defendants in a landmark court battle known as the the Yazoo land settlement case which established legal precedents for sales by states of land to individuals and speculators.
Peck’s brokerage activities at No. 33 Marlborough Street continued unabated at least until March of 1794. A number of advertisements appear in February 1793 for “CASH, and the highest price, given for Rhode-Island STATE NOTES, Military Bounty RIGHTS of LAND, and Massachusetts LOTTERY LANDS, By JOHN PECK.” Massachusetts Land Lottery tickets are the chief target of his cash investments in May through July of 1793, joined by Rights in the Ohio Company and Military Rights of the United States and of New York in November and December 1793. After 1793, Peck’s business interests appear to shift toward land speculation and development. In 1796, John Peck apparently purchased the “Province House” from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Formerly a “Government House” occupied by the Governor, Council, Secretary of State and Treasurer; the Province House was more recently used as the official residence of the Governor. Sold to Peck because of pressing needs due to constructing the present State House building, the State took ownership of the mansion again three years later after John Peck was unable to meet conditions of the sale.
Thirty-one year old John Peck was married to thirty year old Elizabeth Blodgett Gilman, daughter of Mary Blodgett and Samuel Gilman, at Brookline on 2 February 1801 by Episcopal clergyman Rev. Dr. Samuel Parker, rector of Trinity Church. Parker once served as assistant to Rev. William Walter, the minister who married his sister Ann, and would be consecrated Bishop of Massachusetts three years later in 1804. Soon after their wedding, Peck commenced constructing a large home in Newton, about ten miles west of Boston. Samuel Francis Smith in the “History of Newton, MA” (1880) reveals their story uncovered by Rev. George W. Merrill of Salem, “Mr. John Peck, of Boston… married a wealthy lady whose name was Gilman. Soon after the marriage, the lady’s father died; her mother shared the home of the daughter, and her father’s estate was administered by her husband. In the natural order of things, the guardianship of Mrs. Gilman’s property passed into the hands of Mr. Peck. For this family a large farm was bought in Newton, and the house, afterwards known as the Old Mansion House.” Smith continues, “The site was considered one of the most desirable in the vicinity of Boston. The aspect of the hill has changed since that day. I do not know whether the eastern slope was as bare of trees, as it is now, or not; but the western side was much more thickly wooded, and the southern slope as well. The view from the top, where the house was built, was much the same as now, with the exception that the surrounding towns and villages were comparatively small, and therefore not so marked a feature of the landscape. The farm was within easy riding-distance of the city, and the stage-coach passed the foot of the hill daily, on its regular trips from Needham to Boston and back again.” Built between 1801 and 1805, the Mansion House as it was known, eventually came into the ownership of the Newton Theological Institution and was demolished when Sturtevant Hall was constructed in 1866. An image of the Peck house is published in “Newton” by Thelma Fleishman (1999).
On 9 March 1804 John Peck and others incorporated the Boston Mill Corporation for the purpose of developing real estate at the site of Boston’s Mill Pond. Wealthy Boston shareholders included John Welles, Harrison Gray Otis, William Minot, Thomas C. Amory, William Payne, Ebenezer Francis, Robert G. Shaw, Benjamin Bussey. Peck, together with his wife and mother-in-law Mary Gilman owned a majority interest in one of the mills on the pond at least as early as 22 November 1800 when he executed a deed to Jonas Welsh with certain restrictions, a transaction later challenged in court. By the American Revolution, the city had built a dam across the North Cove of the Charles River creating a pond used to power mills. The Mill Pond was stagnant and no longer a crucial power source by the time Peck thought to fill in the forty acre site to sell land for working class housing. Development was slowed due to negotiations between the private developer and the city concerning the public share of sales revenue. On 24 July 1807, an agreement was reached authorizing the Boston Mill Corporation to fill the pond with soils excavated from Beacon and Copp’s Hills. The following July, an agreement was also inked concerning the layout of public streets. The neighborhood, between present day Haymarket Square and Causeway Street built directly over the original dam, became known as the Bulfinch triangle because of the shape created by the perimeter streets. The 5 September 1809 edition of the New England Palladium advertises a request for proposal for canal construction also related to the Mill Pond fill project, noting John Peck’s Boston address as 13 Franklin Street. Using only hand tools and horse-drawn wagons, it took twenty-one years to fill in the pond. Ironically at the completion of the project in 1828, John Peck sued the Boston Mill Corporation because the development cut off the supply of water necessary to the operation of his Charles River Wharf. Early land growth at Boston is detailed in the publication “Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston” (2003) and original records concerning the Boston Mill Company can be found in the Harvard Business Library. Oliver Ayer Roberts in “History of the Military company of the Massachusetts, now called the Ancient and honorable artillery company of Massachusetts. 1637-1888 , Vol. 2” (1897) hypothesizes that John Peck got in over his head with the Boston Mill Corporation and “not realizing his sanguine expectations in a ready sale, he became involved, and removed to Kentucky.”
In addition to his local Boston development interests, John Peck was avidly pursuing speculative real estate transactions in Maine, then still a part of Massachusetts. In addition to the 160 acres he acquired in the Massachusetts Land Lottery during 1787, John Peck eventually gained title to almost 95,000 acres in Washington, Penobscot and Oxford Counties. Advertisements for the sale of land at Township #13 in Washington County first appear in the 18 May 1801 edition of the Independent Chronicle. Boston’s Columbian Centinel of 19 November 1803 reads, “FOR SALE- two Townships in the District of Maine. For particulars, inquire of JOHN Peck.” A 4 February 1804 advertisement in the same newspaper offers “Township #12, commonly called Orangetown” for sale. The Centinal follows on 16 April 1806 with an ad for 22,000 acres in Township #7 of Oxford County near the Androscoggin River. It is assumed the “21,700 acres of excellent Land” in the same township advertised in the Independent Chronicle of 10 December 1807 is the same parcel. The second ad continues “through the center of this township runs a beautiful river (on which are mill-seats) which falls into the Androscoggin River. The above township is now surveyed into lots of 100 acres each, and will be sold on reasonable terms… For particulars, apply to JOHN PECK, No. 32, Marlborough-street.” The last newspaper reference to Peck’s Maine land holdings in March 1811, refer to him as proprietor of Township #15 in Washington County.
Continental Navy veteran John Peck was a central figure in a landmark court case arising out of what came to be known as the Yazoo land scandal, named for the Yazoo River which ran through a 35 million acre tract of land at the heart of the litigation. During the 1780’s, Georgia claimed much of what is present day Alabama and Mississippi and sold much of this land to real estate speculators in 1789. Much of the Yazoo land was not settled due to native-Americans living on the land and because of this, a disgruntled investor from South Carolina sued the State of Georgia. Other states still ridden with debt from the Revolutionary War, quickly reacted by ratifying the 11th Amendment in February of 1795 forbidding similar legal action against the government. Within months, many Georgia legislators were bribed to pass a law granting the Yazoo lands to four companies for one and a half cents per acre. One of those companies was the Georgia Mississippi Company, formed by Philadelphia financier James Greenleaf and others. When the scandal was exposed, the new legislature repealed the Act in 1796, selling the land instead to the Yazoo Land Company. On the very day that the law was repealed, Greenleaf sold his interest in the land grant to John Peck and other Boston capitalists who formed the New England Mississippi Land Company speculating to attract other New England investors to purchase Mississippi property. The New England Mississippi Land Company acquired 11,380,000 acres for ten cents per acre, a 650% profit for Greenleaf and his consortium’s thirteen month Yazoo investment. The Columbian Centinel of 21 December 1796 names Joseph Barrell, Leonard Jarvis, John Joy, Junior, John Peck and George Blake as agents representing the New England Mississippi Land Company. The purchase price was to be made in five installments: two cents on 1 May 1796, another penny on 1 October 1796, two and a half cents on 1 May 1797, the same again on 1 May 1798 with the balance of two cents due on or before the first day of May 1799. The whole amount of the purchase money was secured by negotiable notes made payable to Thomas Cumming, President of the Georgia Mississippi Company. Dated 13 February 1796, the deed was placed in escrow with Boston lawyer George R. Minot representing the New England Mississippi Land Company upon the initial two cent installment payable by May of that year. The consortium of purchasers agreed to hold themselves jointly responsible for payment of this first payment only. After the purchase, but before the deed was received, these investors formed the New England Mississippi Land Company. The grantees of the deed were William Wetmore, Leonard Jarvis, and Henry Newman, in trust for the purchasers; who in turn executed new deeds to purchasers for lands in proportion to their original investment.
In 1802 Congress decided that all the lands originally claimed by Georgia, with the exception of lands owned by settlers prior to the Spanish evacuation, would be ceded to the U.S. Government in return for compensation. As a result of the 11th Amendment’s prohibition of a lawsuit against Georgia for clouding clear title by reselling the land, Massachusetts resident John Peck and Robert Fletcher of Amherst, NH entered into a “feigned case” federal lawsuit designed to test their ownership and potential right to compensation. Having purchased land from someone who could demonstrate a chain of title to the State of Georgia, Peck then sold 13,000 acres to Fletcher on 14 May 1803 warranting good title. Alleging the title was bad, Fletcher sued Peck in federal court demanding his contract be declared null and void and his purchase payment returned. John Peck was represented by Massachusetts Senator and future President John Quincy Adams who claimed his sale was valid and protected by the Contracts Clause of the Constitution. The case was heard before a jury at Boston in October 1806 and adjudicated in favor of Peck one year later, the decision published locally by Munroe, Francis and Parker in 1808. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and was initially heard in early 1809. Held over for one year and argued during the Supreme Court’s February 1810 Term, Peck was represented by Joseph Story and Robert Goodloe Harper, a South Carolina congressman who had been an investor in the South Carolina Mississippi Company, one of the land speculation companies involved in the scandal. In a unanimous decision issued on 16 March 1810, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the original sale was valid despite being granted by a corrupt Georgia legislature. The Court further decided that the new legislators could not annul the original sale after the fact because Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution prohibits states from passing any “law impairing the obligation of contracts.”
John Peck was also on the periphery of a second landmark U.S. Supreme Court case which confirmed the legality of Yazoo land claims and sought to force Congress to compensate purchasers like New England Mississippi Land Company who had acquired land from the Georgia Mississippi Land Company. Peck’s mother-in-law Mary Gilman was the defendant in Brown vs. Gilman. After Wetmore, Jarvis and Newman executed new deeds to original purchasers in proportion to their investment shares, the balance of land was sold or conveyed via certificates issued by the three trustees. William Wetmore’s share in the deal was 900,000 acres, of which 500,000 acres were distributed to investors. The balance of 400,000 acres were conveyed to Robert Williams, of which three certificates for 20,000 acres each ultimately came into the hands of Mrs. Mary Gilman as a proprietor of the New England Mississippi Land Company. Despite the fact that some of the original purchase money to the Georgia Mississippi Company went unpaid by Wetmore, thereby excluding the New England Mississippi Land Company’s claim for the amount of the share of the plaintiff Brown, Mrs. Gilman was found to be a bona fide purchaser who was unaware the non-payment and entitled to the monetary relief she claimed.
An angry Congress responded to the Supreme Court decisions by passing “An act providing for the indemnification of certain claimants of public lands in the Mississippi Territory” on 31 March 1814 which provided five million dollars to settle Yazoo lands claims. In some cases, the claims took decades to settle and eventually the federal government paid out a total of $4.2 million. One of these claims was made by John Peck on behalf of the New England Mississippi Land Company and was persistently communicated to the House of Representatives in January and December 1814, March 1815 and February 1816. In the end, the New England Mississippi Land Company was awarded $1,083,812 for their claims. Apparently Peck also acquired interest in 20,000 acres on Bayou Pierre from Thaddeus Lyman who originally communicated his land claim to the U.S. House of Representatives in January 1809. Lyman’s ownership dated to a 2 February 1775 mandamus, or government court order, which was clouded by confiscation by the Spanish during the American Revolution and post-war settlers who had taken possession of the land in the meanwhile.
Samuel Francis Smith in the “History of Newton, MA” (1880) fills in details concerning John Peck’s home at Newton and his move to Kentucky about this time. “Probably the house was never counted finished; for Mr. Peck’s professed ambition was to have the finest residence in all the region, and no efforts were spared to make it such; and workmen were almost constantly employed in new enterprises, or else in improving what had already been done. The rarest and most beautiful plants adorned the grounds, and the kitchen garden was especially famous. A fine avenue was graded at great expense from the high-road to the top of the hill, and shade-trees were planted on each side of it (now Institution Avenue). In the execution of these plans the wealth of the family was soon found to be vanishing all too fast. Not only Mr. Peck’s property failed him, but that of the wife and mother-in-law was also greatly diminished. The further prosecution of the work ceased, and it was not long before the beauties of the place began to disappear. Then came on the war of 1812, and it was thought that perhaps the lost fortune might be retrieved. The great prices paid for wool induced Mr. Peck, as well as many other gentlemen in the vicinity of Boston, to purchase sheep, and raise large flocks. Accordingly, the hill became a great pasture ground. As many as five hundred sheep were owned by Mr. Peck at one time. But apparently the venture did not prosper; for the owner felt obliged to give up the estate, and, with the little property that remained to them, the family removed to the West.
It is much more likely that John Peck was financially strapped due to his ongoing legal battles over real estate holdings tied up in the courts for over a decade. Smith records local ridicule of Peck’s unfortunate situation, “The misfortunes of Mr. Peck, in connection with the old house, gave rise to an ancient joke, ascribed to Rev. Mr. Grafton, then pastor of the First Baptist church. The house was called, at one time, in allusion to its breezy situation, crowned with a cupola, at the summit of the hill, a mill, that had ground one Peck, at least.” The mockery is particularly ungracious as the reverend was happy to accept Peck’s generous purchase of three pews to help subsidize the cost of expanding his Baptist Meeting House in April 1804. The Rev. Joseph Grafton (1757-1836) went on to found the Newton Theological Institution which is today known as Andover Newton Theological School and which occupies the site of the Peck mansion house. Smith completes the history of John Peck’s Newton estate, “After its builder and first owner left the house, it was occupied by two or three families, before it came into the possession of the Corporation. Tradition speaks vaguely of one Tavener, as one of these tenants, and, with a more certain tone, of a family named Morrill, which held possession at the time of its purchase for the Institution. At this time there was a very high board-fence around that portion of the land afterwards known as ‘ the farm.’ The estate contained at this time eighty-five acres.”
The Census of 1810 records thirteen members of the Newton household of Elizabeth and John Peck including ten children and one older female believed to be Elizabeth’s mother Mary Gilman. The children included three boys and girls under the age of ten and two boys and girls between the ages of 16 and 25. Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana (1892) places the Peck family’s move to Kentucky in 1815 when Dr. Henry J. Peck, born in 1803 at Boston, “immigrated with his parents to Kentucky when a boy of twelve years”. According to testimony in the pension application, John Peck “remained a citizen of Massachusetts until 1816 when he removed to Lexington, Ky where he has resided ever since.” It continues “they lived in Lexington, Ky for a number of years and raised a large family of children, most of who live in Lexington and vicinity.” The Kentucky Gazette of 23 September 1816 dates the family’s residence there with a solicitation for tradesmen to work at the Licking Iron Works “near the main road leading from Louisville to Vincennes, about fifty miles from Louisville”, at present day French Lick, Indiana- referring applicants to contact “John Peck, Lexington”. According to www.catahoulahistory.com , Major John Peck of Boston was also “a successful planter and served on the Board of Directors of the Owensville Bank in Owensville, Kentucky in 1818.” The 1820 Census indicates fifty year old John Peck and his wife Elizabeth are living in Lexington with five male and six female presumed children. One of the boys is under the age of ten, two are between ten and fifteen, one is sixteen to eighteen with the eldest between eighteen and twenty-five years old. Two girls are under ten, two are ten to fifteen, one is between sixteen and twenty-five with the eldest being twenty-six or older. In addition, three slaves- one male and two females- are living in the Peck household at the time. One genealogical source suggests John and Elizabeth Peck had twelve children, among them: Henry John (1803-1881) who married Laminda McKinney Smith, Thomas John (1803-?), Gilman Maynard (1806-1879), Alexander Hamilton (1808-1880), Charles Clarendon, Ellen Augusta (1802-1879) who married A.F. Hawkins and Henrietta Sophia Peck (1811-1884) who married Walter Carr Young.
The article “A Memoir of Lexington and its Vicinity” by William A. Leavy published in the Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society in October 1943 suggests that sometime during the 1820’s, John Peck purchased the distinctive brick house on the Southeast corner of Mill and Maxwell Streets in Lexington built by nearby brickyard owner Nathaniel Gist. The home was constructed on a lot acquired in 1816 for Nathaniel’s nephew Levi I. Gist who in turn sold it to Peck. A transcription of the undated typescript “Old Houses of Lexington” by C. Frank Dunn located in the Lexington Public Library and posted on http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kyfayett/dunn/krickel_francis.htm notes the Francis Krickel-Henry Lancaster House at 306 West Maxwell Street located on the Southwest corner of the same intersection was “opposite the residence of John Peck, Esq.” in July 1829. An old photograph of the one-story tri-partite flemish bond brick residence with central recessed stucco porch and fanlighted doorway appears in Clay Lancaster’s “Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky” (1991). The old Revolutionary War pensioner was living at this address as late as July 1846 when the funeral of his grandson Charles Claredon Peck, son of Dr. Henry John Peck was held at the “residence of his grandfather, John Peck, Esq on Mill St.” The house is no longer, having been demolished for construction of the Maxwell Street Christian Church completed in 1910. Interestingly, the Historic Dudley Square development at 380 South Mill Street now stands on the Northeast corner of that same intersection. Constructed in 1881, this building replaced the four room residence which initially housed the Dudley School. Opened in 1852, the school was named for Chairman of Anatomy and Surgery at the Transylvania Medical School Dr. Benjamin W. Dudley, under whose tutelage reportedly four of John Peck’s sons achieved doctorate degrees.
Sixty-three year old John Peck first filed an application for pension benefits based on his Continental Navy service over a half century earlier in December 1833. His pension certificate #26641 dated 12 April 1834 was issued in the amount of $20 per annum. The following year, pensioner John Peck was named chairman of a group assembled at St. John’s Chapel, an Independent Methodist church at Lexington. The meeting was called to order by his friend Dr. Caleb W. Cloud, the “eccentric and independent” rector of St. John’s and a testator in Peck’s pension record. A noted preacher and physician, he was the son of Rev. Robert Cloud, an early pioneer who settled at Lexington in 1792. The 5 December 1835 edition of the Kentucky Gazette describes the both the purpose and result of meeting held three days earlier, “The citizens of Lexington having understood that their bretheren in Texas were in trouble, by the invasion of Santa Anna”. Furthermore, the group led by the old veteran Peck “Resolved, That we, the citizens of Lexington, will subscribe according to our means, to assist those who have volunteered their services to aid our brother Texians” offering contributions and considering a “contemplated expedition”. After Texian and Tejano volunteers forced Mexican General de Cos to surrender San Antonio that same month, the victorious men occupied the Alamo and fortified its defenses. Most American schoolchildren know the rest of the story of the Alamo, lost on 6 March 1836 with Colonel William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and almost two hundred others fighting to their death.
Seventy-seven year old Continental Navy veteran John Peck died at Lexington on 31 May 1847. The Observer and Reporter noted on 2 June that Peck was a native of Boston “but for 30 years resided in Lexington”. He is buried in Section I of Lexington Cemetery and his gravestone can be viewed at: http://www.findagrave.com . After the death of her husband John, Elizabeth B. Peck lived with her daughter Ellen A. Hawkins and her husband A. F. Hawkins. The sixty-eight year old widow is noted living in the Lexington household of son-in-law A.F. Hawkins at the time of the 1850 Census. Also living at home are eighteen year old John J. Hawkins, eleven year old Strother J. Hawkins and Mississippi-born five year old Julia Ann Peck. Seventy-four year old Elizabeth B. Peck applied for a widow’s pension based on her husband’s Revolutionary War service as a boy in October 1856. A pension of $20 per year was granted her the following month on 24 November 1856. Later, Elizabeth is recorded again in the 1860 Census among the household of A.F. Hawkins, whose occupation is noted as cashier for the Northern Bank of KY. The same two Hawkins sons are still living at home as is the fifteen year old girl identified in the 1860 Census as Ellen J. Peck. Also noted in the household is 45 year old G.M. Marable. Elizabeth Blodgett Gilman Peck died at Lexington later that same year on 29 December 1860.
According to Frederic Fairchild Sherman in “Art in America and Elsewhere, Volume 10” (1922), a portrait of Robert Maynard Peck’s son John Peck painted by Boston artist and Revolutionary War veteran John Johnston (1752-1818) once hung in the Union League Club Exhibition of March 1922. The portrait of John Peck was given by Ann’s husband Edward Stow to his daughter Caroline Adelaide, the gift recorded in a letter owned by a descendant, Mrs. Adelaide Walton of Oakland, NJ in the early twentieth century.