Benjamin Balch - First Continental Navy Chaplain

Benjamin Balch(February 12, 1743-May 4, 1815) was born in Dedham, Massachusetts to Thomas and Mary (Sumner) Balch. At sixteen he began attending Harvard College and graduated in 1763. He spent some time studying theology with his father and in 1764 he was already serving as a minister in Machias, Maine. On March 12, 1765 Benjamin married a woman by the name of Joanna O'Brien and together Benjamin and Joanna would have twelve children.

Shortly after his marriage Benjamin returned to Dedham, Mass. where he briefly served in a church. He then made a contract with a congregation at Mendon and served, as minister, there for five years. At the end of five years there was a dispute over his pay and he abruptly sold his property, to a Quaker, and moved on. At the time selling to a Quaker was considered almost an unpardonable sin by the locals.

In 1772 Benjamin moved to New Mills (a part of Danvers later to be known as Danversport) and established a home their for eleven years. During this time he had no full time ministerial role in any church in the area. He would fill in at various churches when he was serving in the army or navy as a chaplain.

In 1775 Benjamin became Lieutenant in a Company of men raised in Danvers, Massachusetts. Under the command of Captain Edmund Putnam the troops of this company would march on Lexington where they would participate in the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775. After this Benjamin would serve as chaplain in the regiment of Colonel Ephrim Doolittle followed by some time on the Frigate Boston and other ships.

In 1781 Benjamin was serving as chaplain, under the command of Captain John Barry, on board the Frigate Alliance. On a voyage to transport an American ambassador to France the ship came under heavy attack from two British ships. The intensity of the fighting caused Benjamin to grab a musket and fight so fiercely that he earned the nickname "The Fighting Parson". Benjamin's son, Thomas, was also on board the Alliance during the fighting.

In August 1784, almost a year after the official end of the American Revolution, Benjamin would become the minister of a church in Barrington, New Hampshire. During his time, in Barrington, he would also help found the Barrington Social Library and become it's librarian.

It was in Barrington that he would remain for thirty years and is said to have been greatly beloved by his congregation. Old age would cause him to preach a farewell sermon and retire from the ministry. A few days later, on May 4, 1815, Benjamin would die suddenly while walking through the town.

Unverified Information:

At some time in his life Benjamin Balch may have been living and serving in the ministry in Berkshire County, western Massachusetts. During his time in the Berkshire area Benjamin became an opponent of an effort, in Massachusetts, for the legislature to simply impose its own constitution. Benjamin was active in petitioning the state government to allow for the "popular ratification" (approval from the people) of the state constitution. The quote below talks about Benjamin's efforts in this area.

Source: The Online Library of Liberty

"Berkshire County, in western Massachusetts, became the first local government to call for the popular ratification of a new constitution. Led by "the fighting parson" (the Rev. Benjamin Balch, who later fired the first shot at the Battle of Bennington), Berkshire citizens held a mass meeting in Pittsfield and sent a memorial to the State legislature demanding that new constitutions be submitted to the people. Offering a rationale that would soon be repeated in most of the other States, they contended that the people were the true fount of all power, that a revolutionary legislature had no right to impose a constitution upon them, and that the only valid constitution was one based on the consent of the majority."[3]

Genealogy of Benjamin:

Descended from: John Balch of Massachusetts

Father: Thomas Balch
Mother: Mary Sumner

Wife1: Joanna O'Brien
Married: 1764


1. Thomas
2. Benjamin
3. Mary
4. John
5. William
6. George Washington (Twin 1)
7. Horatio Gates (Twin 2)
8. Joanna
9. Martha
10. Jeremiah
11. Hannah
12. Joseph

Primary Sources/Links

Genealogy of the Balch Families in America - By: Galusha Balch[1]

'The Fighting Parson' Colonial pastor comes to life at Friday ceremony - Foster's Daily Democrat[2]

The Online Library of Liberty[3]

Wapedia - Wiki: United States Navy Chaplains Corp (Image Source)[4]

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