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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Monday, November 02, 2009

Capt. Molesworth Falls in Love

According to Sheaffe family tradition, which was apparently first published in the 1864 edition of Lorenzo Sabine’s American Loyalists, Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth spotted Susannah Sheaffe on the first day he arrived in Boston, 1 Oct 1768.

He was marching his company of the 29th Regiment off their transport ship and up Long Wharf. (See those little red figures in the print above?) She and her little sisters were watching from the balcony of their house. And he immediately fell in love.

That’s a lovely “How I Met Your Grandmother” story. And even in the spotty genealogical records of colonial Boston, we can find some more detail to fill it out.

Susannah’s father was William Sheaffe, born in 1705 in Charlestown. He became Deputy Collector of Customs for the port of Boston, a mid-level position which meant he usually ended up doing all the work for less pay. (Especially in the 1750s, when the Collector was Sir Harry Frankland, who was busy chasing barmaids.)

Sheaffe was also the Customs official who handled writs of assistance following the latterly famous court case that we discuss at the Old State House on Wednesday. Sheaffe tried to help search Daniel Malcom’s house in 1766, as described back here. He never seems to have become as unpopular as some of his colleagues, but it wasn’t an easy job.

On 1 Oct 1752, Sheaffe married Susannah Child at Trinity Church. He was in his later forties, twice widowed, and she was in her very early twenties. Seven months later, their first child was baptized at the same church; this little William didn’t survive to adulthood.

In the spring of 1754 Susannah Sheaffe was born, followed by the usual pattern of one child every one to three years until their mother reached menopause. Three died young, and eleven survived to adulthood. (The best recreation of their family tree, though still missing little William, appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1971.)

Susannah was thus fourteen years old when Capt. Molesworth reportedly spotted her. The family lore says that she had just turned fifteen when the captain asked for her hand in marriage. William Sheaffe thought that was too young, and refused.

TOMORROW: The young couple find help from an unexpected source.

(Picture of the British army landing in 1768 above courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection. http://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/ / CC BY 2.0)

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