J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Looking for Mrs. Hannah Winslow

Late last week, Thomas B. Allen, author of George Washington, Spymaster and other history books, asked if I had any ideas about the identity of a woman named among the civilians who evacuated Boston with the British military in March 1776.

The British authorities made a list of all heads of household and the number of people in their parties, about a thousand total. This list was published by the Massachusetts Historical Society and elsewhere. One section in the Ws looks like this:

Winslow, Isaac, 11
Winslow, Pelham, 1
Winslow, John, 4
Winslow, Mrs. Hannah, 4
Winslow, Edward, 1
Who was “Mrs. Hannah Winslow”? Was she a widow, or for some reason not traveling with her husband? And why couldn’t she have had a less common first name than “Hannah,” and a less common last name than “Winslow”?

I did some research and sent off my guess: that she was the wife of Customs collector Edward Winslow, Sr., who was under house arrest in Plymouth. Then I settled down to present the evidence for that guess in this posting. But as I did more research in period newspapers, I came across another candidate. In fact, a more promising candidate.

So, with apologies to Mr. Allen for my email, here’s who I now suspect Mrs. Hannah Winslow was. I’m relying mostly on Eva Phillips Boyd’s article on the Loring family, available from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society

Hannah Loring was born in on 15 Dec 1742 to Commodore Joshua Loring, Sr. In 1760, the family moved into a big house in Jamaica Plain. Three years later, on 26 Dec 1763, Hannah married Joshua Winslow, about to turn twenty-eight and a busy partner in his father’s mercantile firm. John Singleton Copley painted a portrait of the bride showing off her lace, now at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The young Joshua Winslow took over his father’s place in the family firm in 1767, and in 1773 became one of the tea consignees—the merchants designated in London to receive and resell East India Company tea. He deferred to his colleagues (most of whom were also relatives) and didn’t take a prominent role in defying the tea boycott or trying to get the tea landed. Nevertheless, the political confrontation over that tea put Winslow squarely on the side of the royal government.

On 20 Mar 1775, as the province rolled toward war, Joshua Winslow died. The 23 March Boston News-Letter ran this notice:
Last Monday Afternoon, departed this Life, after a short Illness, in the 39th Year of his Age, Mr. Joshua Winslow, Merchant of this Town:—

A Man in whom was united, almost every useful Accomplishment of Life: To a chearful benevolent Disposition was joined a sound and penetrating Judgment, which enabled him to discharge the various Duties of his Station, to the general Approbation of Mankind; and we trust to his own inward Peace. . . .

As a Husband, he was tender and affectionate: As a Parent kind and indulgent: As a Master, humane and compassionate: As a Friend, faithful and sincere. . . .

He has left a sorrowful Widow and six Children. His Funeral is to be this Afternoon, at which Time the Friends of the Deceased are desired to attend.
Winslow’s death was a shock to his family and friends. On 3 April, Henry Pelham wrote to Copley, his half-brother:
Mr. Joshua Winslow, Commodore Loring’s Son-in-Law was abroad [i.e., out of doors] the 16 of Last Month, and on the 23d was an inhabitant of the silent Tomb.
Hannah was a widow at thirty-three.

A little less than a year later, the refugee list indicates, “Mrs. Hannah Winslow” departed Boston in a party of four. Where were the other three children? Some might have traveled with their Loring grandparents, and some might have died. Some might even have stayed, though I’m not sure where.

The 15 Mar 1777 Freeman’s Journal, published in Boston, printed a long list of Loyalist refugees and where they were reportedly settling. “Mrs. Winslow Widow to Joshua Winslow” is named among the refugees still at Halifax. According to Boyd’s article, Hannah Winslow died in Canada in 1785.

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