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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Thursday, October 30, 2008

James Lovell’s Cambridge Secret

So here’s the scoop on James “Jemmy” Lovell (1737-1814) and “the CONJUGATION copulative.” When he graduated from Harvard College in 1756, he was already following his father John Lovell’s profession by teaching at the Cambridge Latin School. He boarded on the north side of the town’s common with Jonathan Hastings, whom different sources call a “substantial tanner” or the college steward. Hastings had a daughter Susanna, seven years Jemmy’s senior.

On 9 July 1758, Susanna Hastings died giving birth to a son. She was unmarried. The child was baptized on 6 August as James Hastings. Lovell apparently denied being the baby’s father for a while, but in April 1759 the Harvard faculty recorded his “penitential Confession” and ordered him to repeat it publicly in the college chapel.

In 1760 James Lovell went into Boston to become usher at the town’s South Latin School, working for his father. In November he married Mary Middleton, from a genteel Anglican family, and they started to have children together:

  • James Smith Lovell, born in 1762.
  • John Middleton Lovell (1763-1799?).
  • Joseph, died in 1784?
  • William, died in 1798 at sea.
  • Mary, born in 1769.
That information comes from Lovell’s entry in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates.

In 1766, when Samuel Waterhouse wrote of a “young grammarian” and “his very notable performance, on the feminine GENDER” in the Boston Evening-Press, he was bringing James Lovell’s illegitimate son, probably still living across the river in Cambridge, to public attention.

At some point, James Lovell agreed to take that young James into his household, allowing him to attend the prestigious South Latin School. This might have been in 1769 when the teachers’ notes list a “James Lobdell,” otherwise unidentified, as the last boy admitted that year. In later life young James definitely used the Lovell surname.

Master John Lovell (shown above) might not have appreciated his illegitimate grandson’s arrival at the school. The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Homer, who entered the school in 1766, later recalled: “James Lovell was so beaten by his grandfather John, that James the father rose and said, ‘Sir, you have flogged that boy enough.’” This was the only recorded example of anyone in Boston criticizing either Lovell for punishing a boy too harshly.

It’s possible that the boy in Homer’s anecdote was James Smith Lovell, who entered the South Latin School in 1771 along with his next younger brother. However, Homer was close in age to the James from Cambridge, and thus far more likely to notice him than a small lad in the first or second form.

Homer remembered: “The boy went off determined to leave school, and go to Master [John] Proctor’s” Writing School nearby. Such a transfer would not only repudiate the Lovell family heritage of learning Latin, but would also wipe out the boy’s chance of going on to Harvard.

TOMORROW: What happened next? Plus an extra dollop of gossip from South Carolina.

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