Peter Pelham, Jr. (1721 - 1805)

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Birthplace: London, Greater London, United Kingdom
Death: Died in Virginia, United States
Managed by: Ned Reynolds
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Peter Pelham, Jr.

Peter Pelham of Virginia (1721-1805)

Peter Pelham, the great-grandfather of Major John Pelham, was born on December 9, 1721 in London, the son of Peter Pelham and his first wife, Martha Guy. In 1726 his father came to America with his wife and two sons.

Peter showed a talent for music. It is not known where he was educated, but his background in music was excellent. At the age of 19 he was teaching the sister of Lady Deloraine of Charleston, South Carolina the harpischord. Lady Deloraine reported his progress to his grandfather in England, for in 1741 his grandfather noted that Lady Deloraine found him "a very Genteel, Clever young man." In November 1744 Peter took a position as organist at Boston Trinity Church. His salary eventually reached 100 pounds per year.

On June 25, 1746, Peter married Ann Creese of Boston. By 1749 they had two children. Perhaps he was looking for a larger salary, but he resigned his position at Boston Trinity and moved to Virginia. Tradition has Pelham arriving in Williamsburg in 1752, yet two of his children were born in Hampton and one daughter was born in Suffolk, Virginia. Besides Bruton Parish Church (Episcopal) did not get its organ until 1755. In that year Pelham was appointed organist of the church. If he had been looking for a larger salary he was disappointed -- he was paid only 25 pounds per year.

With a growing family (the Pelhams would have 14 children) 25 pounds was not enough, and in 1771 Pelham, besides being organist and giving music lessons, became the town gaoler. As gaoler it was Pelham's job to keep suspects in custody as well as those sentenced into custody, and he also advertised for runaway slaves as well as other escapees from justice. At least one person in the Virgnia Gazette thanked Pelham for his humane treatment of him while he was in Pelham's custody! As gaoler, Pelham frequently had to testify to the Virginia Assembly as to prison conditions (not always so good, even by 18th century standards). At one time it was suspected that he was allowing prisoners to escape for a fee, but an investigation by the General Assembly cleared him of charges. Peter Pelham remained the organist at Bruton Parish Church for 43 years. After the capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond, the town was much quieter. In his old age, Peter finally left Williamsburg to live with his daughter Sarah and her husband, Reverend Benjamin Blagrove, in Richmond. He died in April 1805, and was buried in St. John's Church in Richmond.

Peter Pelham was remembered for his musical ability. In his journal in 1783 Alexander Mccauley called him "the modern Orpheus, the inimitable Pelham." Jane Carson in her book, Colonial Virginians at Play, wrote: "A decade later, when the organist was an old man, his concerts were cited as evidence of cultural interests still to be found in the little town after the capital had been moved to Richmond." His concerts had been attended by Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry. Today, Bruton Parish Church and the gaol are among the original buildings in a reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg.

-- by Peggy Vogtsberger

This article first appeared in Volume 1, No. 6 of The Cannoneer.

http://www.gallantpelham.org/articles/showart.cfm?id_art=71

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Peter Pelham, Jr.'s Timeline

1721
December 17, 1721
London, Greater London, United Kingdom
1805
April 28, 1805
Age 83
Virginia, United States
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