Monday, July 25, 2011

Supply Belcher (1751-1836), Supply Wheeler Edwards (1817-1893), Supply Twyng Holbrook (1822-1895)

   This curiously named gentleman is Supply Belcher, a prominent Maine resident who rose to become one of the most highly regarded American composers during the late 18th and early 19th century. While quite notable in this regard, it is Belcher's political doings (that of a multi-term Massachusetts state legislator) that earn him a place here on the site.
   Supply Belcher was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts on March 29, 1751, the son of Clifford and Mehitable Belcher. It is mentioned in the 1885 work The History of Farmington, Franklin County, Maine that Belcher received a "superior English education" during his youth eventually entered into "mercantile life in Boston". Belcher would go on to serve as a private during the Revolutionary War and was eventually promoted to Captain. Belcher married Ms. Margaret More in May 1775 and over the course of their sixty-year marriage became the parents of ten children!
   Belcher began composing music in the late 1770s and early 1780s whilst being the proprietor of a tavern in Stoughton. Over the succeeding years, he became increasingly popular throughout the New England area not only for his compositions but also for his being a violinist, choirmaster, and singer. He was the leader of Farmington's first choir and in 1794 was dubbed by a New England periodical as the "Handel of Maine", because of musical similarities to German composer Georg Freidrich Handel (1685-1759). Many of his classical compositions were published in 1794 under the title "The Harmony of Maine". In 1978, more than a century after his death, Belcher's works were adapted by American minimalist composer John Cage in a work entitled Some of the 'Harmony of Maine'.
   Throughout his life, Belcher served in a number of civic posts, including stints as a tavern owner, Farmington town clerk, schoolmaster and tax assessor. In 1798 he was elected to the Massachusetts General Court as a representative from Farmington and served three more terms in 1799, 1801 and 1802. The History of Farmington, Franklin County Maine also gives note that Belcher received 13 votes for Governor of Massachusetts in 1799. A result from this election has been posted below, and one should note that the then current Massachusetts Governor also had an unusual name.....Increase Sumner! Public service continued in the Belcher family when Supply's son Hiram Belcher (1790-1857) served as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts for one term (1847-1849.)

   Supply Belcher died at the age of 85 on June 9, 1836, and following his death was interred at the Center Meeting House Cemetery in Farmington, Franklin County, Maine. He is chiefly remembered today for his unusual name and his musical pursuits, and sources of the time also note that Belcher had a nickname, being referred to by some of his contemporaries as "Uncle Ply". In an amusing side note, Belcher returned from the grave earlier this year and established his own Twitter account, where he expounds humorous quotes about the world around him (seeing that he's been dead for over 170 years, he has a lot to catch up on!) If you would like to see what he's been up to all this time, please visit!/Supply_Belcher for more information.

This rare painting of Supply Belcher is in the possession of the Farmington Historical Society.

From Hurd's History of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, 1885.

   One term New Hampshire state legislator Supply Wheeler Edwards was born on April 9, 1817, in Temple, New Hampshire, a son of Nathaniel and Sarah Wilson Edwards. It is mentioned in the History of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire that Edwards had "no advantages in his youth for education beyond what his native town could furnish" and that after finishing school began a career as a stonemason. He married in December 1840 to Ms. Elizabeth Winn (born 1820) and later became the father to three sons, who are listed as follows in order of their birth: John Wheeler (1844-1864), Charles Warren (born 1847) and George Walter (1849-1935).
  The majority of Supply Edwards' life was spent in the private sector, and for most of his 76 years of life was engaged in farming in addition to the aforementioned trade of stone-masonry. In 1875 he was elected to the New Hampshire State House of Representatives from Temple and served during the legislative session of 1876-77. Edwards died at age 76 on July 3, 1893, in the village in which he was born.

From the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut, 1891.

   Two term Connecticut state representative Supply Twyng Holbrook was born on September 7, 1822, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the son of Sabin (1786-1833) and Mary Holbrook. Holbrook received his education at home under his parents, and the Modern History of New London County, Connecticut gives note that he "became well versed and proficient in music." This work further relates that after he left Roxbury, Holbrook journeyed to Hartford, Connecticut where he became a member of a brass band. His stay in Hartford was short, as he soon removed to the town of Norwich, where he resided until his death.
  Soon after his resettlement, Holbrook began involving himself in musical affairs in his new hometown, eventually becoming organist at the Second Congregationalist Church. In addition to this position, Holbrook is also recorded as being a vocal teacher and director for the Universalist Church located in Norwich.

   In the mid-1850s Holbrook's musical interests were cast aside when he began pursuing a career in law, and in 1856 was admitted to the New London County bar. Later that same year he was named as judge of probate for New London County and held this post until 1868. Holbrook was reelected to this judgeship in 1879 and served on the bench until his retirement in 1892 when he was 70. In 1873 and 1876 the citizens of Norwich elected Holbrook as their representative in the Connecticut state legislature, and a roster from the latter session (bearing Holbrook's name) has been posted below.

   During his legislative service, Holbrook is mentioned by the Modern History of New London County as taking "an active and prominent part in the business of the House". After leaving the legislature he continued in his earlier judgeship and also served as the president of the Connecticut probate assembly on several occasions. Supply T. Holbrook died at age 72 on April 19, 1895 at his home in Norwich, and he was memorialized in the earlier mentioned Modern History of New London County as a " man of sunny of cheerful disposition, the kind of man it was a pleasure to meet in the daily walks of life." 

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