The new issue of American Ancestors just arrived, and it shares interesting gossip about one of the people I’ll mention in my “Ladies of Tory Row” walking tour this afternoon at 3:30.
I’ll touch on this person only briefly—my focus at that stop will be his mom, and he was only eight at the time. So I’m sharing the gossip here.
Jonathan Sewell (1766-1839, shown here) grew up in Cambridge as the namesake son of Massachusetts’s Attorney General. The family left the province as Loyalists and spent some unhappy years in England, where they started spelling their name Sewell instead of Sewall. As a young man Sewell emigrated to Canada, studied law, and eventually became the Chief Justice of Upper Canada (Quebec).
In 1793, Sewell acknowledged that he was the father of an infant boy, baptized John St. Alban Sewell. Sewell wasn’t married at the time. Neither was the baby’s mother, Elizabeth Cornfield. The situation was awkward, but you no doubt see a solution—the parents got married.
To other people. Within a few months Cornfield married Sgt. John Finch, a British army musician. Three years later Sewell married Henrietta Smith, whose family were Loyalists from New York. The Sewell household included Jonathan’s little boy, who grew up to be a very handsome British army officer.
In later years some of John St. Alban Sewell’s descendants whispered that the Chief Justice wasn’t his real father. Rather, that man had been covering up for the actual parents, Prince Edward of Britain (1767-1820) and his mistress, Julie St. Laurent. Or maybe Prince Edward and Elizabeth Cornfield. Either way, the officer was secretly a half-sibling of Queen Victoria.
Eben W. Graves is researching the genealogy of all the Sewells in North America, as he relates on his website. His American Ancestors article describes the results of Y-chromosome testing he recently arranged for five volunteers from different patrilineal branches of the Sewell family, including one descendant of John St. Alban Sewell.
And the shocking result was: that baby boy was actually a Sewell. His patrilineal descendant has the same genetic haplotype as other descendants of the first Sewall to settle in Massachusetts. So this paternity revealed…what the written record had said all along.
What was the evidence for a royal paternity? As far as I can see on Graves’s webpage about John St. Alban Sewell, it wasn’t very compelling. One point is:
When Jonathan Sewell married in 1796, John St. Alban remained in the home and was brought up as an elder brother of the family. Then, as now, it was completely and totally socially unacceptable for a child from a previous relationship that didn’t have the blessing of the church to even be referred to, let alone remain in the family.Some Revolutionary-era American men did bring up illegitimate children within their households: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Flucker, James Lovell. And now we have another eighteenth-century example.