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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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Trail of Sally Edwards

Yesterday I shared some details about how a woman named Sally Edwards—possibly still in her teens, with no husband in sight—gave birth to a baby, also named Sally Edwards, in Dedham in June 1775.

There are two big problems in tracking that mother and child much further. One is that people probably took steps to keep them from being tracked. The other is that their name was not uncommon—and looking for “Sarah Edwards” as well brings up possibilities all over the place.

According to Dr. Sam Forman in his new biography Dr. Joseph Warren, which unearthed this event, the baby remained in Dedham for another three years, with Warren’s former medical students paying the bills for her support.

The mother—to innkeeper Dr. Nathaniel Ames’s relief—returned to Boston after the siege in mid-1776. Forman cites letters from Warren’s fiancée Mercy Scollay to say that a “Mrs. Charles Miller” took in both Sally Edwards and Dr. Warren’s oldest child Betsey in 1776.

The most prominent Charles Miller around at the time was a Boston merchant whom the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had appointed deputy commissary general in May 1775. After the Continental Congress took over the war, he worked under commissary general Joseph Trumbull for the rest of the siege. In 1776, Miller stayed in Massachusetts as Trumbull’s deputy in the work of collecting and shipping food to the Continental Army.

That Charles Miller was born in 1742 at Braintree, son of the region’s Anglican minister. In 1769 he married Elizabeth Cary, daughter of prominent Charlestown merchant Richard Cary, in King’s Chapel, Boston’s most prestigious Anglican church.

That religious affiliation may help to explain why Sally Edwards had her baby baptized by an Anglican minister in Dedham—and they were scarce on the ground in New England outside Boston during the siege. Did she come from an Anglican family? Was she feeling more support from the Millers than from anyone else in her life?

I have no further clues about either Sally Edwards, mother or daughter. As has been discussed previously on Boston 1775, some families have claimed descent from Dr. Joseph Warren through an undocumented daughter. In one case that daughter was said to be named “Sarah Warren.” However, I haven’t seen evidence to support those traditions, and Sarah was (as I said above) a very common name.


Anonymous said...

Is is possible that the name Sally was a nickname for Sarah?

Joanq said...

I believe that it was common at the time for "Sally" to be used as a nickname for Sarah.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, that’s why I mentioned how widening the search to “Sarah Edwards” brings up many more candidates.

For example, Paul Revere’s son Paul married a woman named Sally Edwards who was a teenager in 1775. Her church baptism records give the name Sarah Edwards. But there was another Sarah Edwards baptized three years before her, and thus also a teenager in 1775.

Paul Revere House said...

So intriguing!

Daud said...

I wonder what she was doing to be such a bother to Dr. Ames- I mean, other than being a young, unmarried woman in his care.