John Barker Church (1748-1818)

John Barker Church M.P., of Berkeley Square, London & Down Place, Berkshire

Associated Houses

Down Place

Bray, near Windsor



He was born in Suffolk, England. His wealthy uncle gave him money to establish himself in business but by 1774 he was declared bankrupt through a combination of bad decisions on the stock market and gambling debts. To escape his creditors, he fled to America under the alias of "John Carter". In 1777, he eloped from New York to Boston with Angelica, daughter of General Schuyler who thoroughly disapproved of the match, but her mother's family brought about a reconciliation and he was accepted. Through his wife, he became a close friend of her distinguished brother-in-law, Alexander Hamilton. In Boston, helped by having secured a contract to supply the French Army, he prospered in business. By 1783, this allowed him to travel in France and secure his discharge from bankruptcy in London. After tidying up his affairs in America, he returned to England in 1785 and bought a townhouse on Berkeley Square in London and a country villa, Down Place. The Churches, "lived in extravagant style and their doors were always open to distinguished American (and French) visitors".

When Church expressed his desire to enter politics, even George III remarked that, "his principles are so avowedly inimical that his political conduct may easily be judged". Church bought an estate at Wendover - a 'rotten borough' - and became its M.P. in 1790. In 1796, he quit politics, sold the estate, and returned to America having got into hot water for his French and Republican sympathies. Back in New York, along with Daniel Ludlow and John Delafield, he was one of the three largest underwriters in the city, and he took 100,000-acres in balance of debts owed to him by Robert Morris on which his son, Philip, founded Angelica and built Belvidere. John was less successful in other speculative ventures and eventually lost those acres. In 1799, he fought a duel against Aaron Burr, and it was his same pistols that were used in the Hamilton/Burr duel five years later. After his wife died in 1814, he returned to London, but was no longer the society figure he once had been and died worth just £1,500. He and his wife were the parents of eight children. 
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 05/12/2019 and last updated on 16/01/2024.