By Mark Hurwitz
In 1718, Arthur Savage displayed the first exotic animal to set foot in the American colonies. He exhibited a male lion at his Brattle Street home where a hand painted sign declared, “The lion King of beasts is to be seen here.” Such a royal and commanding African animal surely would have attracted throngs of colonists eager for this unusual opportunity. Savage’s enslaved man Sharper served as “the Negro at the Gate” to manage the crowds that came through. Strangely enough, some of the lion’s hair was cut by Wait Winthrop (Chief Judge of the Massachusetts Court) to be placed as a strengthening tonic under the armpits of his sick grandchild!
The newspaper advertisement for viewing the lion read:
“All persons having the curiosity of seeing the Noble and Royal beast the Lyon never one before in America, may see him at the house of Capt. Arthur Savage near Mr. Colmans (Brattle Square) church.”
Boston News-Letter, March 31st, 1718
So who was Arthur Savage?
b. March 29, 1680 | d. April 20, 1735
Like many men of Boston in the 18th century, he was a sea captain and merchant, dealing in West India goods. He co-owned Province Galley, a vessel that conducted trade between Boston and London, which he kept at Long Wharf. Among his other professions, he served as constable of Boston in 1716 and naval officer of the port of Annapolis Royal* in Nova Scotia in 1720. He also became the Secretary of the province, becoming the first Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia. His responsibilities included the collection of customs from ships arriving at or departing from Annapolis Royal. To add to his list of interesting professions, he was appointed coroner in 1728 and served as a Marshal of the Court of Vice Admiralty for Rhode Island in 1729.
Savage is connected to Old North in several ways. He married Faith Phillips, sister to fellow Old North Church member Gillam Phillips in 1710. By 1725, he owned pews #23 and #38 at Old North Church, which remained in his possession until his death. A few years later, he donated to the church a silver christening basin with his name inscribed on it, a special basin that is still in use today for baptisms held at Old North!
Buried at King’s Chapel, Savage left behind his wife, two sons Arthur Jr. and William, and two slaves named Nancy and Sharper. His estate was valued at over five thousand British pounds. In his will, he requested that a portion of his estate be donated to the poor.
* Annapolis Royal was the French settlement of Port Royal until the siege of Port Royal in 1710 by Great Britain. The town was the capital of Acadia and later Nova Scotia for almost one hundred and fifty years, until the founding of the city of Halifax in 1749. It was attacked by the British six times before permanently changing hands after the siege of Port Royal in 1710. Over the next fifty years, the French and their allies made six unsuccessful military attempts to regain the capital, including a raid during the American Revolution.