Capt Benjamin Hallowell Homestead

This article originally appeared in the Boston Daily Globe on December 29, 1901.

Captain Benjamin Hallowell Homestead. Courtesy of Boston Public Library 

Captain Benjamin Hallowell Homestead. Courtesy of Boston Public Library 

An historic old house is the old Hallowell homestead in Jamaica Plain. It is nearly 170 years old, having been built in the year 1738 by Capt Benjamin Hallowell. Here Admiral Benjamin Hallowell, one of the most noted fighters of the British navy, was born. He fought with Nelson on the Nile and at Trafalgar. And here also his brother, Ward Nicholas Boylston, was born. The latter was one of Boston and Roxbury’s most distinguished citizens, and was the man after whom Boylston St., market and school were named. Instead of calling himself Hallowell, for patriotic reasons he preferred to adopt his mother’s name of Boylston. The house stands on Center St., at the corner of Boylston.

The interesting house was erected by Benjamin Hallowell, who was staunch and true to the English cause. He was for a while known as the most unpopular, not to say most hated, man that lived in the city of Boston, or of Roxbury, and his appearance on the street during a certain period was generally the signal for a small riot, and it is related that on several occasions he barely escaped with his life.

In early life this Capt Benjamin Hallowell was the Commander of a small vessel in the British navy, and took a very prominent part in the war that ended in the conquest of Canada. His ship was a 20-gun boat called the King George, and Capt Hallowell rendered very distinguished service, notably at the occupation of Newfoundland.

After this war he moved to Boston to take up his residence, and built the old house which is now standing. He held several political positions under the King, and as the relations between England and the American provinces became more and more strained he became more and more disliked because he was looked upon as more than a direct representative of the British Crown. He finally accepted the position of Mandamus Councilor, and reached the height of his unpopularity. The resignations of various colonial officers who were in sympathy with the cause of the colonists were tendered the British government about this time, but Hallowell retained his office as Councilor, much to the disgust of every patriot.

An attack which was made upon Hallowell was virtually the cause of his leaving his homestead in Roxbury and taking up his residence within the British lines in the city proper. It seems he was passing through Cambridge Common in his chaise, accompanied by a servant on horseback, on Sept 2, 1771, the very day that the populace had assembled to accept the resignations of Danforth Lee and Olliver, other Mandamus Councilors. When the people saw him they set up a great shout, and started to pursue Hallowell’s carriage. A great mob followed him, and a squad of about 160 horsemen pressed rapidly after the unpopular man, but before they had caught him several of the wiser and cooler heads among the crowd prevailed upon them to desist from the chase and let Hallowell go in peace. A few of the more belligerent kept up the chase, however, and caught up with him just as he was passing through Roxbury.

Hallowell, to defend himself, drew a pistol and attempted to fire it, but it did not go off. He then leaped upon his servant’s horse and rode madly to the city, and fell exhausted inside the gates. From that day he kept his residence inside the town, and did not return again to his mansion, and, in fact, never passed another day under its roof as the owner of the house.

From this time until he left Boston, in March, 1776, Hallowell had very little peace, and there are on record several hand-to-hand encounters that he had to engage in upon the streets and in other public places. One in particular was with Admiral Graves in August, 1775. When the Provincial Congress met in 1775, his name was among those that it refused to pardon, and it is said that this was done in retaliation for the famous order of Gen. Gage which refused to pardon Hancock and Samuel Adams.

Hallowell left with his family for Halifax in 1776, and while there tried in vain to get a commission in the British ranks that he might engage against the colonists, but he was unsuccessful, and in July of that year went to England, where he remained until 1796. He returned to America in that year, and was very kindly received by the people that once had hated him, and spent a great deal of his time with his son, Ward Nicholas Boylston. He finally died in York (Toronto) in 1799, aged 76.

After Capt Hallowell left his home in Roxbury it was occupied for a time by a man called Jonathan Mason. It was confiscated by the State in 1791, and was sold very nearly at the time to a Frenchman named Lepirlette. When Capt Hallowell died, however, his son, Ward Nicholas Boylston acquired the home by process of law and lived there until he died in 1828.

The present owner, Dr C.E. Wing, came into possession of the property from his father, who in turn had it from the Boylston estate. The house is in an excellent state of preservation, and is exactly as it was when occupied by the original owner and builder, except for a slight addition which has been made in the rear.

The life of Admiral Benjamin Hallowell, the eldest child of the founder of the house and one of the seven Boston boys who distinguished themselves afterward in the British navy, is most interesting. He was a very dear friend of the great Nelson and fought with him in many campaigns, notably on the Nile. During these engagements he commanded a very smart ship, the Swiftsure, and it is said that his gallantry and the very fine fighting qualities of his ship were very important factors in Nelson’s achievements in Egypt. He presented the famous Admiral with the coffin that afterwards enveloped his remains.

It was rather a gruesome present for one man to make to another, but it is related that Nelson received it with good grace and much gallantry and propped it up in his cabin, where it remained for many days. The coffin was made from a mainmast of the ship Orient. Hallowell had the piece of wood picked up and made into the coffin that went to Nelson, and thus the hero of the Nile and Trafalgar had a very historical piece of wood in his bier.

Ward Nicholas Boylston, the other brother of the house, adopted his mother’s name on account, it is said of the unpopularity of his father’s name during the revolutionary period. He occupied the house until 1828, when he died. He is well known to all Bostonians, and was famous for his works of charity and for his endowments of learning. He made many valuable donations to Harvard and other institutions.

The present owner, Dr. Wing, recounts a story which he had from his father about a search for buried treasure that was made on the place. It was made during the present incumbent’s lifetime and was most mysterious in many particulars. It seems that one Sunday morning his father went into the orchard, and, while leaning on his cane under a tree, the cane suddenly slipped from his hand and went down into the earth near his feet.

He felt the sod with his toe, and found that it sank in after the cane, and then calling some workmen, they proceeded to investigate, and found that some one had removed the sod and made an excavation about three feet deep. They had done their work so neatly and carefully that not a trace of misplaced earth lay on the sward, and the sod itself had been replaced so cleverly that it defied scrutiny. The excavations were continued at the instigation of the elder Mr. Wing, but no treasure was disclosed, and it is supposed that some one had been directed there by a clairvoyant and hoped to find a fortune, presumably belonging to the old house of Hallowell. Other excavations that were made at night were subsequently found, and a close watch on the orchard never disclosed the diggers. The work has been done at intervals, although within the last eight or nine years the ground has not been disturbed.

Benjamin Hallowell Won His Fame as a British Naval Officer

Published in the Boston Daily Globe on July 29, 1906

Drake has it that Boston has given birth to seven boys who have reached distinction in the British army and navy.  Among these are two Admirals, Sir Isaac Coffin and Sir Benjamin Hallowell-Carew. 

Benjamin Hallowell was born in a house which is still standing at the corner of Center and Boylston Streets, Jamaica Plain, and which is locally known as the Hallowell House, on January 14, 1750.

His Parents were Benjamin Hallowell, a native of England, who had seen service, with the rank of Captain, in the provincial navy of America, and Mary Boylston, a native of Brookline, who was the daughter of Thomas Boylston, a Boston shopkeeper.

The Hallowells reared a family of 11 children, of whom the Admiral was the second son.

The eldest son, Ward Nicholas Hallowell, in after years and for property reasons, changed his name to Ward Nicholas Boylston, and under that name became locally famous for his benefactions.

The Admiral, Benjamin Hallowell, known in history as Sir Benjamin Hallowell-Carew, also for like reasons of property, made an addition to his name. 

The naval career of the Boston-born Admiral was full of picturesque incidents and brave and daring deeds.  Sir Benjamin entered the navy at an early age and he reached a lieutenancy under the command of Sir Samuel Hood in American waters before the storm of the American Revolution broke over the land.  A man of towering frame and with a personal courage to match, Hallowell was rapidly promoted and at the battle of the Nile, where he rendered most distinguished services, he was in command of Nelson’s flagship, the Swiftsure, and with that ship, says his biographer, Hallowell’s name is linked for all time.

Just prior to the battle of Trafalgar in 1801 the Swiftsure, while on detached duty, was captured by four French frigates-of-the-line, and Captain Hallowell became a prisoner of war at the very time in his whole career when such a misfortune proved the greatest professional disaster. For Hallowell possessed the confidence of his chief, Lord Nelson, to an extent that was hardly exceeded by any other of Nelson’s Captains, and at the great commander’s final and most notable victory at Trafalgar, this Boston-born Admiral, if he could have been present, would have but added to his naval fame.

In 1807, in command of the 80 gun ship Tigre, Captain Hallowell bore a leading part in an expedition to Egypt, and in 1812 Admiral Hallowell hoisted his flag on the Malta, which at that time was said to be the finest ship in the British navy.

In 1828 Admiral Hallowell was place on the retired list.  It was at that time also that he received his Carew inheritance, which was given at the price of the name he had rendered so illustrious on British naval decks.

He died, a Carew, in 1834.  But as the Boston-born Benjamin Hallowell he won his fame as a British naval officer.

Editor's Note:

More recent research has disproved many of the elements of the 1901 Globe account on Benjamin Hallowell.  Sandra Webber, a historian who has published on Hallowell, has provided the following information to address the inconsistencies as they relate to Hallowell’s career, his family, and the house that once stood in Jamaica Plain:

Benjamin Hallowell Family and the Jamaica Plain House

Over the centuries some of the more sensational incidents of Benjamin Hallowell’s life have come down to us more or less intact, due to his relationship to Boston events leading up to the American Revolution. However, many often repeated details, such as some of those told in the above reprinted newspaper articles are very inaccurate. As someone who has been researching Mr. Hallowell for over ten years, and has published about the family’s shipyard business, I would like to take this opportunity to correct the record where I am in possession of more accurate information. Although I am working on a complete biography of Benjamin Hallowell, I will confine myself to addressing the inconsistencies in the above entry, as relates to his career, his family, and the house in Jamaica Plain.

Benjamin Hallowell and Family

Benjamin Hallowell was born in Boston in 1725, the eldest son of eight children in an old Boston family that ran a shipyard at the juncture of Batterymarch and Milk Streets. The Hallowells arrived in Boston in the mid-17th century, and by the mid 18th century were also running a merchant shipping business. Benjamin began his own career as a ship’s captain on board privateer vessels and armed merchantmen, developing a reputation for bravery against predatory French privateers. During the 1740s and 50s he captained large merchant vessels from Boston to London and back, via the Carolinas, the West Indies and Jamaica. In 1757, at the beginning of the French and Indian or Seven Years War, he was appointed by Massachusetts-Bay to serve as Captain of the last warship launched by the Provincial government, the 20 gun ship King George, a vessel built in Boston by John Ruddock’s shipyard. Although the King George, like many other armed colonial vessels, assisted the Royal Navy during the war, Hallowell was never an officer with the Navy. He served as Captain for six years, and in 1764, with what political pull he could use, turned his attention to what he probably imagined was a less strenuous career. However, entering the Customs Office at this time would create all sorts of havoc in his life, many details of which are found in history books. In 1770, he was promoted to a post on the American Board of Customs Commissioners, located in Boston, which was the position he held at the time he and his family fled with the British fleet in March 1776. The story of the chase cited in the news article is more or less true, but took place on Sept 2, 1773, when he was returning to Boston from Salem, where the interim government was situated by royal decree, when Boston was under military rule and its harbor closed down due to the Tea Party incident. Benjamin was never a Mandamus Councillor, but it was the forced resignation of several of these Royal appointed councilors that had brought out the crowd that chased Hallowell from Cambridge that day. The 1775 street fight between Admiral Graves and Hallowell is also well documented and probably provided a bit of entertainment during a very stressful time in Boston. Because of his job and his political leanings, his name landed on the short list of Loyalists who were later proscribed and banished from their homes. Most of his own property and belongings were sold during the Revolutionary War. Although the family passed through Halifax, Nova Scotia, they soon took up residence in London, not far from Westminster, as Hallowell maintained an interest in the affairs of government. Records show that Benjamin assisted many desperate, exiled Loyalists with their applications to the Loyalist Board for financial support from the British government. He returned to America in 1796, being persuaded at the last minute to accompany his daughter Mary and her new husband John Elmsley, who had just been appointed Chief Justice for Upper Canada. Hallowell’s wife of almost fifty years, Mary Boylston Hallowell (1723-1795), had died the year before and is buried in London. Hallowell spent about a year in Boston, involved in various unfinished business, and was pleasantly surprised at his reception, even from former adversaries. Benjamin died in York (Toronto) in 1799 at age 75. Although it is sometimes stated they had ten or eleven children, in truth only three survived of the ten baptized children listed. In a higher percentage than usual for America, the Hallowells lost six children shortly after birth, and one fourteen year old daughter in 1771. The surviving children were Ward, born November 22, 1749; Benjamin, born January 1, 1761, and Mary, born October 23, 1762. In 1770, at the age of twenty one, Ward had his name officially changed, by Royal decree in London, to Ward Nicholas Boylston. This was to honor his mother’s wealthy brother, Nicholas Boylston, who promised him a bequest, and also to keep the Boylston name alive, as there were no male heirs bearing the name in the family. It is certainly untrue that Ward wished to distance himself politically from his father. In 1773, in poor health, Ward used some of Nick’s bequest to travel to the Middle East, arriving ahead of the rest of the family in London, where he helped make arrangements for them. Although Ward had begun am importing business in Boston at the age of nineteen, he had to begin again in London, and after years of struggling did manage to become quite successful in business. Ward did not return to Boston until 1800, drawn here by the deaths of several relatives, including his father Benjamin, and his duties as executor. Although he did not intend staying in America, his various legal actions detained him so long, he ended up taking up residence. His primary city dwelling was in Brookline, and later he built a large house in Princeton Massachusetts, on land he won on behalf of his uncle Thomas Boylston’s estate in a suit against the estate of Moses Gill, his uncle by marriage. Ward died in 1728 and is buried in a private tomb in the center of Princeton. His brother Benjamin was sent to private school in England as a young boy, and through connections his father had with Admiral Samuel Hood, Ben was taken into the Navy at a later age than most lads. The stories about his enormous height, humor, courage, and great friendship with Admiral Nelson are quite true, and he died an Admiral himself in 1834. The addition of Carew to his surname is a complicated story of young love and loss, which manifested years later as a real-estate gift in exchange for the name alteration. Young Benjamin’s sea exploits are beyond the scope of my research, but he is the subject of various Naval stories, and several people are presently preparing biographies. Their younger sister Mary married in 1796 and moved to York (Toronto) with her husband Elmsley and her father Benjamin Hallowell, in 1797. Hallowell died there in 1799, and Elmsley died of a fever in Montreal in 1805. Mary returned to live in England with her children.

The Jamaica Plain House

The family always referred to this house as being in the area of Roxbury, as it was originally situated in that town; apparently later town boundaries placed the house in Jamaica Plain. This bucolic area lying outside of Boston was the summer residence of many of Boston’s political elite in the 18th century. The close proximity to Boston, yet it’s removal from the violence that was worsening in the city, is probably what prompted Benjamin’s wife Mary to buy the house in the early 1770s. She purchased the property from the estate of John Dolbeare, and although all references give the building’s date as 1738, Mary Hallowell’s purchase is the first time the house was connected to the family, as far as I know. She probably used a bequest from her favorite brother Nicholas, who had died in 1771 and left her some money. The Hallowells principle residence was always in Boston proper, Benjamin having built a splendid new house in 1764 on Hanover Street, probably with prize money earned aboard the King George. Hallowell’s job as Boston Custom House Comptroller and later Customs Board commissioner would have kept him in Boston. During the Siege of Boston in 1775-76, the Jamaica Plain house was used as a hospital, and reportedly there are, or were, a number of grave-sites on the land, supposedly along the Boylston street side. After the siege, the State leased the property to Jonathan Mason, and it was sold in 1791 to Dr. Louis Leprelet. Benjamin Hallowell’s properties in Boston were confiscated and sold, but by a loophole in the laws his son Ward was able to regain the Jamaica Plain property in 1801, following a lawsuit, on the basis that his deceased mother, and not his father, had actually been the owner. It seems Ward made friends with Leprelet, who was quite sympathetic to the unusual situation. The house needed very extensive repairs when it came back into the family, according to correspondence between Ward and his brother. Ward paid for most of the restoration, as the house was gifted to the children in the mother’s will, leaving Ward a larger share. It appears the house was retained out of sentiment, as I don’t believe Ward ever lived in the house himself, but rather rented out the house with its seven acres. I do not know when the property left Ward Nicholas Boylston’s ownership, but suspect it was sold from his estate after his death.

by Sandra L. Webber January 2007

Note: A second photo of the house can be found in William R. Comer’s small 1911 book, Landmarks in the Old Bay State, Norwood Press, along with some of the above information. The rest of the facts come from too many sources to list here. John Singleton Copley portraits of Benjamin and Mary Hallowell still exist; his is jointly owned by Bowdoin and Colby Colleges, and hers is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The separate paths of these two paintings after 1800 is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Anyone interested in the family’s shipyard can consult my article “Proud Builders of Boston: The Hallowell Family Shipyard, 1635-1804”, in The American Neptune, Vol 61, No. 2, Spring 2002.