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, November 03, 2009

“Carried Miss Suky Sheaffe to Hampton”

In early 1769 William Sheaffe, Deputy Collector of Customs for Boston, refused permission for his daughter Susannah and Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth to get married. After all, as I described yesterday, they had just met the previous October, and she was only fifteen.

But, according to Sheaffe family traditions recorded by Lorenzo Sabine, Susannah had had an ally:

Her governess, to whom she entrusted her grief, espoused her cause, and favored immediate union; and the result accordingly was, the flight of the three to Rhode Island, where the loving pair pronounced their nuptial vows.
Usually Boston couples eloped across the border to New Hampshire if they wanted to marry in secret, and indeed that’s where the merchant John Rowe said Ponsonby and Susannah went in his diary entry for 21 Apr 1769:
Capt. Molesworth of the 29th. carried Miss Suky Sheaffe to Hampton.
But Rowe may just have been guessing. The young printer John Boyle also noted this marriage in his “Journal of Occurrences in Boston” on 27 April, perhaps the day they returned to Boston.

Ponsonby and Susannah Molesworth had a child baptized at Trinity Church on 23 Feb 1770. They called this boy William Carr Molesworth, honoring the colonel in charge of the 29th Regiment (as well as, arguably, the Deputy Collector).

Ten days later, a corporal from Capt. Ponsonby’s company, William Wemys, and several other soldiers from the 29th were caught up in the shooting that became known as the Boston Massacre. To defuse tensions, army commanders moved the whole regiment to Castle William, and then to New Jersey, and eventually to Florida.

Capt. Molesworth went with them, but what about his young wife and child? A incomplete genealogy of the family says that Ponsonby and Susannah Molesworth had a child named Eliza about 1772—perhaps in Boston. But maybe the young wife traveled with her husband. In any event, Sabine concludes:
Molesworth sold his commission [and retired from the army] in 1776, and in December of that year was in England with his wife. Their married life proved uncommonly happy; and they lived to see their children’s children.
Which makes us think how relatively rare it was in that time to see one’s grandchildren grow to a significant age. Susannah died in 1834, Ponsonby sometime before that.

Back in Boston, William Sheaffe “died of a fit of the Palsey” in November 1771, in the words of artist Henry Pelham. He left his widow and several other children in poor straits.

COMING UP: What happened to the Sheaffes?


Corporal Dalton said...

So did he sell his commission before the 29th was shipped to fight in Quebec, or was it after he'd arrived in America once again?

J. L. Bell said...

That’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer. For that detail I’m relying on Sabine, who is evidently relying on memories or letters that remained with Sheaffe family descendants in America. British military records may have more detail.

Sheaffe said...

All the descendants of William Sheaffe of Boston of the same surnane live in Australia

J. L. Bell said...

Lorenzo Sabine wrote, “To Miss Isabella Child, of Cambridge, to my excellent and nearest neighbor, Thomas Hale Child, of Roxbury, and to Miss Mary P. Hale, of Boston,…I am indebted for the several papers used in the notices of the Sheaffes.” The Childs apparently descended from a sibling of William Sheaffe, and Hale was probably also a relative of that sort.