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.

Follow by Email


Friday, August 01, 2014

Searching for Mrs. Seaver

Yesterday I quoted from the page of the Hopkinton meetinghouse records shown above, photographed this week for the New York Times:
February 26th. 1763. The Church met at the meeting-house (pursuant to adjournment) and unanimously Voted, That the Charge brought against Mrs. Seaver, appear’d to them to be Sufficiently prov’d; and that therefore they could not Consent to her owning the Covenant, and receiving Baptism for her Child.
Who was Mrs. Seaver? What was the charge against her? Obviously her Hopkinton neighbors were convinced she’d done something wrong—but what?

The first place I went looking for Mrs. Seaver was in those same Hopkinton meetinghouse records—the part published within the vital records of Hopkinton for genealogists. They show that on 11 Sept 1763, or six and a half months later the church vote, two children of Moses “Sever” were baptized in that meetinghouse: Nabby and Amos Carril. A third Seaver baby, named Moses, was baptized in October 1765. The mother of those children isn’t named, but other baptism records from the same decade also omit the mother’s name, so that may not be significant.

The Westboro birth records say that Abigail (Nabby) Seaver was born 8 Mar 1761, so she was two and a half years old when she was baptized in Hopkinton. That delay points to her mother being the “Mrs. Seaver” whom the Hopkinton church didn’t want to admit.

It looks like Mrs. Seaver was born Lucy Carril(l) in Hopkinton in November 1737. On 21 Aug 1755, she married nineteen-year-old Hezekiah Johnson of Southboro, according to records from Hopkinton. This Johnson genealogy says Hezekiah died near Albany during the war against the French in 1756.

The Johnsons had a child named Miriam. Westboro records say she was born on 28 May 1756. But she was baptized on 5 September in Hopkinton, listed as “child of Lucy” with no father named. Evidently Hezekiah was no longer alive, or no longer present.

In May 1758, Lucy Johnson remarried to Moses Sever or Seaver, as recorded in the Hopkinton and Westboro records. Their first child, Lucia, was baptized in Framingham the following March. In 1762 they were living in Sudbury. During that period Lucy gave birth to Nabby, Amos Carrill, and Moses.

Sadly, according to this webpage, as of 1766 the family consisted of “Moses Sever from Hopkinton, his wife Lucy, Lucy’s daughter Merriam Johnson, and his daughter Naby.” So it looks like three of those five children died very young.

By that year, Moses and Lucy Seaver had gone back to Westboro, and they finally seem to have achieved some stability there. They remained in that town for the birth of three more boys and a girl, all of whom lived to adulthood. Moses Seaver died in 1809 or 1810. Lucy died in 1816.

What was “the Charge brought against Mrs. Seaver” that the Hopkinton church felt should bar her from admission? I couldn’t find a clear answer. One might lurk within the meetinghouse records, though more often such details were left out.

One common problem was sex outside of—usually before—marriage. For example, the Seavers’ first child, Lucia, might have been born well within nine months of their wedding. The surviving records don’t tell us her birthdate, so it’s possible the Seavers took her to Framingham to be baptized some months after she arrived.

Eighteenth-century New England congregations were quite used to dealing with brides who had been pregnant at the altar. They usually required one or both parents to admit that they had strayed before they were admitted into church membership, thus allowing their children to be baptized. And after that no one cared. Was that what ultimately happened in this case? Or was Lucy (Carrill Johnson) Seaver denying some greater scandal?

No comments: