Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Revolutionary War Martyr

A cousin to my sons, Samuel Swift (1715-1775), was a member of the Sons of Liberty and called a “martyr for freedom’s cause” by his friend, Samuel Adams (1722-1803). Samuel Swift was married twice, but at the period of time we’re interested in, he was married to his second wife, Ann Foster (1729-1788), with whom he had six children.
Swift died under British house arrest in Boston, Massachusetts, having contracted an illness from which he did not recover. I suspect it may have been smallpox or diphtheria as these were two prevalent diseases during the Revolutionary War and decimated General Washington’s troops.
Let’s backtrack from Swift’s death to the events leading up to his house arrest. His good friend, Samuel Adams, was the founder of the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty, was founded in 1765 in Boston and dissolved in 1776. It was a secret organization organized in all thirteen colonies to advance the rights of the colonists and to fight taxation by the British government. It played a major role in battling the Stamp Act and applying pressure to merchants who did not comply with the non-importation associations (see prior blog). Wherever these groups existed, they were directed in secret by leading men – Samuel Swift was one of these men. 

Image from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 Additionally, Swift was part of Boston’s Committee of Correspondence. Each major city had one of these committees whose purpose was to maintain contact between colonial cities. The defined purpose of Boston’s Committee was to “Prepare a statement of the rights of colonists, and of this province in particular, as men, as Christians, and as subjects; Prepare a declaration of the infringement of those rights; and Prepare a letter to be sent to all towns in this province (Massachusetts) and to the world, giving the sense of this town.” In 1773, this Committee was charged with managing the “tea crisis” and was the driving force behind the Boston Tea Party. Samuel Swift – not an actual member of the Boston Tea Party - is alleged to have been one of the managers of the Boston Tea Party. 1 Though the Committees of Correspondence were primarily concerned with diplomacy, the Sons of Liberty were more about action. So, it was probably the Sons of Liberty members (who were also members of the Committees of Correspondence) who pulled off the Boston Tea Party. 
Google Image
 Samuel Swift was known for his zeal regarding the revolution, and Samuel Adams said that “Samuel Swift caused Bostonians to secrete their arms when the British Governor, Gage, offered the town freedom if arms were brought into the arsenal.”  Additionally, in 1775, Swift was the presiding officer at a Freemasons meeting where it was agreed to use the concealed arms and, if needed, pitchforks and axes, to attack the British soldiers stationed in Boston. About June 1775, Gov. Gage got wind of this scheme and imprisoned Samuel Swift. 2
Swift’s willingness to resort to violence is seen in a letter he wrote to Samuel Adams on October 24, 1774: “As for my part I am no Swordsman but with Gun or flail I fear no man more especially my Cause being Good as I think otherwise [sic] I would not engage.” 3 
Needless to say, Swift’s wife, Ann, was distraught about her husband’s house arrest. She and their children were forced to leave their home and went to live in Springfield, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. Ann was an inveterate diary keeper.  She writes in her diary in June 1775: “Here I am in the woods, Boston being so surrounded by armies that we could not enjoy our home: no school for the children, and the town forsaken by the ministers—the pillars of the land.” At the same time, she wrote a letter to a British officer, Captain Handfield, asking that her husband be able to come to her:
“Capt. Handfield, Sir,

            Your kindness in undertaking to me a pass for me emboldens me to ask the like favor for my dear husband whom I hear is in a very weak state of health. The anxiety of my mind is great about him. A word from you would have more weight than all the arguments that he could make use of.
            Could I come to him, this favor I would not ask. I, Sir I trust in your goodness that you will do what you can to forward Mr. Swift to me and in doing so you will greatly oblige

            Your distressed friend                        ANN SWIFT

Should be glad if he would bring out two
trunks which there is clothing in that I
want very much for myself and children.” 4

Despite his wife’s plea, Samuel Swift was not released to go to Springfield. I presume that despite his illness, Governor Gage, deemed him a threat, sick or not.  Samuel Swift died on August 30, 1775. His wife wrote in her diary: “Departed this life, in the 61st year of his age, my dear husband, Samuel Swift. He died in Boston, or in other words, murdered there. He was not allowed to come to see me and live with his wife and children in the country. There he gave up the ghost—his heart was broken; the cruel treatment he met with in being a friend to his country was more than he could bear. With six fatherless children (in the woods) and all my substance in Boston.” 5 

Both Ann Foster Swift and Samuel Adams were correct – Samuel Swift, a true Revolutionary, gave his life for his country, dying a martyr. 
Image from Find a Grave
Samuel Swift is my sons’ second cousin, nine times removed.

1 - "Committees of Correspondence: The Voice of the Patriots." Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, 5 Mar 2019,
2 - Ibid.
3 - "To John Adams from Samuel Swift, 20 October 1774," Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 2, December 1773-April 1775, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977, pp. 192-196.
4 - "North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000." Operations, Inc., 2016. Memoirs of Gen. Joseph Gardner Swift, LL D, USA : First graduate of the United States Military Academy.
5 - Ibid.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Pioneer Photographer

One of my great-uncles, Christopher Swinbourne, was a pioneer photographer in New Zealand. Christopher Swinbourne (1834-1869), was born in Ireland, and in 1852 emigrated with his parents, Richard and Ann McGrath Swinbourne, to New Zealand [see previous post].  

Christopher arrived in New Zealand at a time when photography was being introduced in Australia and New Zealand. In 1852, the year of his arrival, Australia’s first illustrated newspaper, The Illustrated Sydney News, was published.  In 1858, the tintype process reached Australia and New Zealand. And, in 1859 the carte de visite (a small photographic portrait mounted on a piece of card – 2½”-x-4”) was introduced. 1
Google Image: Christchurch, Lyttleton, and Akaroa, New Zealand
I have not been able to find when Christopher Swinbourne started his photography business, but it is believed that he received his training under a Mr. Elsbee. On August 13, 1859, the Lyttleton Times sang the praises of Swinbourne’s photographic abilities:

            We have always had a strong objection to praise or seen to puff the excellencies of anything that is a native product, simply as such; but we cannot refrain, for once, from commending the successful efforts at photographic portraiture exhibited by Mr. C. Swinbourne since his arrival in this town . . . . We have seen specimens of Mr. Swinbourne’s manipulation which speak for themselves of the progress he has made in a very short time, and which really stand well among the ordinary specimens of the art which are current in the colonies. We wish this painstaking gentleman every success.

I was not able to find out when Swinbourne actually started his own business, but he was in business by 1859 in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Here are some his advertisements. 2 You will note that in one he advertises the availability of the carte de visite.

In another article found in the Lyttleton Times, July 7, 1863, Swinbourne had set up a display in his studio window in honor of the royal wedding of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra.

There are no known photographs of Christopher nor are there any known existing photographs taken by him. 3

Christopher Swinbourne, my 3rd great-uncle in my adoptive family, is buried at the family plot in the Baradoes Street Cemetery, Christchurch, New Zealand.

1 – “Art Sets. The Photograph and Australia: Timeline.” Art Gallery NSW, Art Gallery of New South Wales,
2 – Photography, Early Canterbury. “SWINBOURNE, Christopher.” Early New Zealand Photographers, 1 Jan. 1970,
3 - ibid.
NOTE: All copies of the newspaper advertisements are from the source cited in footnote 2.