Gurdon Saltonstall, who would later become a larger-than-life figure in both church and state, was born in Haverhill, MA in 1666. He was the first child of Nathaniel Saltonstall (1639-1707) and his wife Elizabeth Ward. Nathaniel Saltonstall was a prominent judge who served on the Court of Oyer and Terminer during the Salem Witch Trials. He strongly objected the harsh verdicts being issued by the Court, and resigned in 1692 around the time of Bridget Bishop’s trial. At the age of fourteen, Gurdon began his studies at Harvard, and graduated from their divinity school in 1687. Already recognized as a gifted and commanding orator, Saltonstall was courted by the town of New London, CT to serve as minister of the First Christ Church, with a staggering yearly salary in excess of £120. He was received into the First Christ Church in November 1691, and served as their minister until 1708 when he was called to civil service (see S. Leroy Bake, The Early History of the First Church of Christ, New London, Conn., 1897, pp. 193-197).
As a highly respected and beloved minister in New London, Saltonstall developed a close relationship with Fitz-John Winthrop (1637-1707), Governor of the Connecticut Colony. Saltonstall served as both Winthrop’s confidant and spiritual advisor, and was perceived as an ideal, albeit unconventional, gubernatorial replacement following Winthrop’s death in 1707. Hesitant to leave the Church, Saltonstall was eventually persuaded to take up the office of governor, a position he held until his sudden death by stroke in September 1724. As governor, Saltonstall served as the commander of the Connecticut militia, representative of the colony in England (1709) and was appointed judge of the superior court. It was said that “he had a great compass of learning, was a profound divine, a great judge in the law, and a consummate statesman” (Leroy, 1897, pp. 230-234).
Governor Saltonstall was married three times; firstly to Jerusha Richards (1665-1697), again to Elizabeth Roswell (1670-1710), and lastly to Mary Whittingham (1665-1730). Through these unions he produced nine children, most of whom survived infancy. The Saltonstalls were among the earliest aristocrats living in colonial America and likewise led quite comfortable lives. In addition to his generous salary, Saltonstall inherited estates from his father in Massachusetts, grandfather in England, and his first two wives.
The Staltonstalls had plentiful means derived from multiple sources of income, and thus it is not surprising that they are associated with some of the most important and costly known works of early colonial silver, including a remarkable and rare silver sugar box by Edward Winslow, Boston, circa 1702, engraved with the initials of Gurdon and Mary Saltonstall now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (42.251) . Incidentally, Governor Saltonstall and his family are connected to a number of late 17th-early 18th century important silver basins, most of which appear to have been created initially for domestic use, replacing and improving upon large pewter chargers. The present lot is one of two silver basins by Dummer listed by Patricia E. Kane in Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths and Jewelers, 1998, p. 398. The other Dummer basin, dated 1695 and likely the earliest known basin, is engraved with the Brattle coat-of-arms for Rev. William Brattle (1662-1717). The Brattle basin was gifted to the First Church, Unitarian of Cambridge upon Rev. Brattle’s death. His will directs: “I bequeath and present to the Church of Christ in Cambridge for a baptismal basin, my great silver basin, an inscription upon which I leave to the prudence of the Rev’d President and Rd Mr. Simon Bradstreet” (Herman F. Clarke, “Jeremiah Dummer, Silversmith (1645-1718)”, Early American Silver and Its Makers, 1979, p. 67). The Rev. Brattle was father-in-law to Governor Saltonstall’s daughter Katharine. Governor Saltonstall’s third wife Mary Wittingham also owned a great silver basin by John Coney, 1690-1700, now in the collection of the Yale University Art Galleries (2016.54.1). Mary originally owned the Coney basin with her first husband William Clarke (d. 1710) of Boston. Her will created in 1728 states: “I Give to the Brick South Church [Old South Church] when bilt (at its Dedication if I live not to see it and do it myself) my Silver Basin on which it shall be written that it is my Gift vizt or the Gift of Mary Saltonstall to us.” Francis Hill Bigelow notes that Mary’s basin was also made originally for domestic purposes (See Francis Hill Bigelow, Historic Silver of the Colonies and Its Makers, 1917, p. 224).
The particularly deep bowl and shortened flat rim of the Saltonstall basin offered here is echoed in the silhouettes of basins made later outside of Boston. A basin of this form by silversmith Phyllip Syng of Philadelphia was gifted by Robert Quary (d. 1712-13) to Christ Church in Philadelphia (See Bigelow, 1897, pp. 225-226, illus. 135). Additionally, a 1731 silver basin made by Cornelius Kierstede during the time he resided in New Haven, CT, was gifted to the Milford Church by Alice Buckingham (1664-1741/42) in 1731. The Kierstede basin sold in these rooms on 21 January 2015, lot 115.