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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Friday, February 05, 2016

Joanna Cleveland’s “Leap in the Dark”

Over the past two days I quoted dueling advertisements from issues of the New-London Gazette in January 1766, documenting the failed marriage of Robert and Joanna Hebbard.

I learned about those notices from the Twitter feed of Carl Robert Keyes and his Adverts 250 Project. (The first also shows up in the Runaway Connecticut database.)

Figuring out a little more about that marriage meant, among other things, delving into the affairs of the Cle(a)veland family of New England. They were fairly prominent, which usually provides good documentation, but they also moved around a lot. That means their vital milestones appear in the records of a lot of different towns. With the guidance of professional genealogist Liz Loveland, here’s what I found out.

According to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Robert Hebbard was born 30 Apr 1706 in Windham, Connecticut. (His surname is also spelled Hebard and Hibbard.) At the age of twenty-four, he married Ruth Wheelock, sister of the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, eventually the founder of Dartmouth College.

Josiah Cleveland and Joanna Porter married in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in January 1735, according to The Genealogies and Estates of Charlestown. Josiah’s younger brother Aaron was a minister who married Joanna’s sister Susannah; he filled the pulpit in Haddam, Connecticut, from 1739 to 1746, giving the family a connection in that colony. (Later the Rev. Mr. Cleveland switched to the Church of England; he then traveled to London, Nova Scotia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, where he died.)

Josiah and Joanna Cleveland had a son named Aaron baptized in Medford, Massachusetts, in December 1736. They had a daughter named Joanna in East Haddam, Connecticut, in June 1739, where the couple had evidently moved to be near their siblings/in-laws.

In 1757, Ruth Hebbard died, leaving her husband Robert with several children, the youngest aged five. (The oldest were already married and having children themselves.)

Three years later, on 12 May 1760, Robert Hebbard married Joanna Cleveland. She was about to turn twenty-one, the niece of a minister. He, having already married into another ministerial family, was of the same social class. He might have had money or land. He probably needed a wife to look after the home and children. No matter that he was thirty-three years older than she was.

That’s the marriage that didn’t last. By the end of 1765, he was in Amenia, New York, where his eldest son had settled with his wife and children. She was in Norwich, Connecticut, perhaps with her brother Aaron. (Unfortunately, another Aaron Cleveland, ten years older, was a prominent man in Canterbury, Connecticut, at this time, confusing matters.)

Thus, when Robert Hebbard took out an ad in New London to declare his wife had eloped and he wasn’t going to honor any of her debts, the Connecticut gentleman who came to her defense—Aaron Cleaveland—was her older brother. He called the marriage “a Leap in the Dark,” regretting that she didn’t know her husband better before they wed.

Hebbard died in 1771. His son was a militia captain during the Revolutionary War. Aaron Cleaveland of Norwich was a Connecticut legislator in that period, advocating an end to slavery. I haven’t found a record of Joanna Hebbard’s later life. She would have been only thirty-two when her husband died, able to remarry if she wanted to take another leap.

(The photo above shows, for want of anything better, the pre-1740 Edmund Gookin House in Norwich’s Bean Hill district, where Aaron Cleaveland lived.)


Unknown said...

There was a Rev. Cleavland in Stoneham in 1794 who left rather quickly from the town due to what some people thought questionable behavior with his servant. I don't know if he is from the same family.

J. L. Bell said...

Oh, you know what I like. A quick check shows that that Rev. John Cleaveland's grandfather was born in Canterbury, Connecticut, so he came from that branch of the family rather than the one that came from Cambridge/Charlestown/Medford to Haddam and Norwich, Connecticut. But both branches might join further back.