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 23, 2009

James Smithwick: mariner

James Smithwick was a mariner from Britain or Ireland, according to the understanding of descendants related in Charles Hudson’s History of the Town of Lexington. That fits with how when he came to Boston he attended the town’s Anglican churches rather than its many Congregationalist meetings.

On 20 Aug 1763, Capt. Smithwick married Mary Connell at Christ Church, now often called Old North. The couple’s first child, also named Mary, died a year and ten days later. They also lost children a daughter named Margaret at fifteen months in 1769 and a son named Peter at two years in 1773.

Happily, other children survived: James, born 11 Mar 1770 (six days after the Boston Massacre), Francis in 1773, and another Mary in 1774.

During the war Christ Church was closed for a while, and the family might then appear on the Trinity Church records. A “Capt. John Smithwick” and his wife Mary had a son named Cunnell or Connell in July 1777, and he died in October 1778. That unusual given name was Mary Smithwick’s family name.

By the mid-1770s Capt. Smithwick was prosperous enough to own real estate and slaves. On 23 Sept 1777 two of his enslaved servants, Rose and Waterford, announced their intention to marry.

(Waterford Smithwick remarried in 1787 to a woman listed as “Tamer Phillips.” In 1792, Tamar Smithwick married a man named James Scott; both were labeled as “molattoes.”)

In 1776, Capt. Smithwick’s name came up in a draft for the Continental Army from Boston’s ward 3, in the lower North End. (This listing of Smithwick in connection to ward 3 might be why Hudson wrote that the captain “was warden of the town in 1776.” He never held that office.)

The captain paid a fine to be excused from army service, as most men of means did. That left him free to continue sailing out of Boston harbor.

TOMORROW: Which turned out not to be the best idea.

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