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Peter Pelham

Peter Pelham (1721-1805) was one of Virginia's premier musicians in the late eighteenth century. Born in England, he was raised in Boston, and moved to Williamsburg by the 1750s. Raised in an artistic family, Pelham taught and played music and was the organist at Bruton Parish Church. However, music could not sustain him financially, so with the aid of his well-connected associates and friends, he obtained various government posts, including committee clerk of the House of Burgesses and jailer.

Thomas Jefferson knew Pelham and it is likely that he saw Pelham perform while he was in Williamsburg.

Primary Source References[1]

1768 June 4. "Pd. for play tickets 20/."[2]

1769 May 5. "Pd. Pelham for playing an organ 2/6."[3]

1770 June 27. "Pd. P. Pelham for my commn. of county Lieutt. 40/."[4]

1770 July 28. "To Pelham for comms. + dedimus commn. to swear Lieutt. at Ct. Must[er]."[5]

1779 October 30. "Pd. subscription for Pelham till Dec. 31. L6."[6]


  1. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  2. Jefferson may have attended the performance of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and other pieces. Pelham directed the music for that evening. See MB, 1:78.
  3. Ibid, 1:142.
  4. Jefferson was in charge of the Albemarle county militia. Ibid, 1:205.
  5. Ibid,1:34.
  6. Ibid, 1:488.

Further Sources

  • Cox, Jim. "Williamsburg's 'Divine Orpheus' Peter Pelham: Organist and Gaoler." Colonial Williamsburg. (Spring 2000): 17-22.
  • Cripe, Helen. Thomas Jefferson and Music (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974), 6.
  • Rouse Jr., Parke. 'The Modern Orpheus': Peter Pelham." The Iron Worker. 39(Winter 1975): 2-6.


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