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, September 26, 2017

Tracking Miss Troutbeck

Yesterday I quoted a description of Capt. Thomas Preston, the British army officer tried for the Boston Massacre, credited to “Miss Troutbeck who resided in Hingham, daughter of the clergyman in Boston.”

I found two women who fit that description, both daughters of the Rev. John Troutbeck, assistant rector at King’s Chapel in Boston from 1755 to 1776, and his wife Sarah. They had seven daughters baptized at the chapel between 1760 and 1774, four dying at young ages.

The extended Troutbeck family evacuated with the British military in March 1776, and the minister died three years later. His widow was unusually active in applying for support as a Loyalist, pursuing debts, and seeking to recover property left by her father in Massachusetts. She came back to the state for a visit in the 1785 and eventually settled permanently, bringing her oldest daughter Sarah, baptized in 1760. According to the Annals of King’s Chapel:
About 1803 or 1804 they found a home in Hingham, occupying the house of General [Benjamin] Lincoln, then collector of the port of Boston; and again, five years after, resided there in the Beal house, and later removed to Dr. [Thomas] Thaxter’s, where they lived till the mother’s death in 1813, at the age of seventy-seven.
Gen. Lincoln’s house appears above.

Meanwhile, in England the Troutbecks’ other daughter, Hannah (1768-1851) married William Bowes (1771-1850), the son of another Loyalist refugee, also named William Bowes (1734-1805). The Annals says:
Their marriage was a clandestine one, on account of the opposition of his father, formerly a Boston merchant, cousin and joint-heir with John Hancock. Having separated from her husband, she came to this country, where she was known only as Miss Troutbeck. . . .

After her mother’s death Miss Troutbeck went to England, where she had previously rejoined her husband after his father’s death, residing for a time with his mother, Mrs. Bowes, at Otterton.
I can’t find any exact statement of when William and Hannah Bowes married. Their first recorded child was Emily, born in London in 1806, who became the mother of the author Edmund Gosse. Two more children were born in 1808 and 1813.

All the Troutbeck women appear to have moved around a lot, propelled by family crises and genteel poverty. In 1829 Sarah Troutbeck wrote to a friend that “About four months back, by the death of a clergyman who had a large fortune and took an interest in us, I came into possession of a comfortable house, ready furnished, for life; and at my death it is to go to my Sister, and then revert to the family from which we receive it.” She died in 1840.

Thus, the most likely “Miss Troutbeck” to have spoken to Caleb Bates in Hingham was Sarah, who lived in that town for about a decade until 1813 and perhaps later. However, it’s also possible that Bates’s informant was Hannah Bowes, using the name “Miss Troutbeck” while living in America apart from her husband.

TOMORROW: Assessing Miss Troutbeck’s story.

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