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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Friday, October 31, 2008

Young James Lovell Makes His Move

Yesterday, when we left James Lovell, the illegitimate son of the South Latin School usher of the same name, he had stormed out of that school, angry that his grandfather, Master John Lovell, had whipped him so much. Young James said he would attend Master John Proctor’s Writing School instead.

According to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Homer, James then “met one of Master Proctor’s boys, who asked him whither he was going, and when informed, warned him not to go, for he would fare worse.”

So the younger James Lovell eventually returned to his grandfather’s and father’s school and completed the course there. In the expected fashion, he moved on to Harvard College, where he graduated in 1776.

In 1777, at the age of nineteen, Lovell became an ensign (equivalent of second lieutenant) in Col. Henry Jackson’s regiment of the Continental Army. In 1780 he was with Lt. Col. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s battalion of light dragoons. (The picture above shows Lee, courtesy of Stratford Hall.) Lovell usually served as adjutant, or administrative officer. He spent considerable time in South Carolina.

According to Southern Womanhood and Slavery, by Leigh Fought, Lovell claimed to have been “the favorite secretary of General George Washington” when he wooed and married a wealthy Orangeburg, South Carolina, widow named Ann Reid. (Some people heard even wilder tales about “Major Lovell.”)

Some of Ann Lovell’s relatives remembered that James ran through her fortune quickly, “leaving her poor and with several children.” However, Fought notes that tax records showed that Ann Lovell remained rich, and actually became richer, from 1790 to 1810. Other family traditions confirm that the plantation flourished. The source of marital trouble was not that James got his hands on her property, but that he couldn’t.

By 1806, the couple’s children had all died, and James Lovell lit out for New Orleans, where he remained until 1811. On James’s return, Ann took legal steps to preserve her property outside his control. The couple quarreled over an inheritance in 1826, and James left again. Ann died in 1834 while James lived on, returning to Cambridge for Harvard commencement in 1846. He died in Orangeburg in 1850.

(As far as I’ve seen, sources in Massachusetts have nothing but good things to say about James Lovell while sources from South Carolina have almost nothing good to say.)

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