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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Thursday, January 19, 2012

William Scott’s Wives

In publishing ladies’ reactions to his poem about his beard, and to the beard itself, shoemaker William Scott seemed to argue that some found it attractive, outrageously unfashionable as it was. So I wondered if Scott ever married.

Fortunately, researcher Annie Haven Thwing found some real-estate transactions involving William Scott, cordwainer (an old term for a shoemaker). Those deeds also state his first wife’s name, which allowed Thwing to single him out from the other men named William Scott (or Scot) in Boston records.

Our William Scott married Nancy or Nanny Coit on 24 Nov 1748, in a ceremony conducted by the Rev. Samuel Cooper (shown here, since I don’t have a picture of anyone else). They deeded some land beside their property on Ann Street in 1750, and bought two houses on North Centre Street later that month.

The Scotts had two children: Nanny born in 1751 and William in 1753. Nanny (Coit) Scott must have died shortly after the birth of that son because William married Ann Thomas on 27 Nov 1755. That second marriage produced a son named Benjamin in 1758.

In 1756 and 1758, William Scott bought more North End land from a Gloucester man with the wonderful name of Nymphas Stacey, Jr.; Stacey’s first wife was a Coit, so those deals were probably within the extended family. Stacey was a also shoemaker. In 1757 William Scott and his new wife deeded land to a blacksmith named Edward Marion.

According to Hannah Mather Crocker, Scott started to wear his beard long in the early 1760s, so there’s no evidence that he attracted a wife after growing it. He may well have still been married to his second wife, Ann, of course. It was unusual for a woman in colonial America to have a long marriage and only one child, but maybe Thwing and I just haven’t found the rest.

On 28 Apr 1774, William Scott announced the death of a son in the Boston News-Letter. Later that same week, he deeded land to Jonathan Williams, one of the town selectmen. He died in that year or the next, according to Crocker, but I didn’t find a record of his death.

So over all I’m left with more questions than answers about the hirsute William Scott.


Daud said...

This shoemaker seems to have done pretty well for himself, both owning and renting out property. It was implied that his ladies shoes were in demand and that must have been the case!

I noticed one William Scott was chosen as a "sealer of leather" for several years in the 1760s.(along side MacIntosh, the Masaniello himself)

It seems that there was another William Scott importing Irish Linen also in Anne Street. Can't these people with the same names at least live on different streets? How inconsiderate of them.

G. Lovely said...

While you may be left with more questions than answers about Mr. Scott, this series reminds me why I enjoy your posts and read them faithfully: your work puts flesh back on the bones of these long departed Bostonians, while your devotion to the facts helps ground my impressions about the people and events during the period. Thank you.

John L Smith Jr said...

Of course, you could always PhotoShop a long beard onto Rev. Samuel Cooper for a William Scott likeness. It's just an idea. Or not.

J. L. Bell said...

A lot of William Scott's real-estate transactions seem to involve in his wives and their families, suggesting that he married well and was trading in properties they inherited.

The linen-dealer William Scott advertised a lot, so he's trackable. There was also a sea captain William Scott who sailed in and out of the harbor in the 1750s and early 1760s before conveniently (for our purposes) dying.

Could our shoemaker have been chosen a Sealer of Leather, a job that involved inspecting leather (which he had the expertise to do)? It seems plausible, especially before he went all "excentric," but it would indeed be nice if he'd had a rarer name!

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the kind words about this sort of posting. I am indeed interesting in exploring the lives of ordinary folks, even the extraordinary ones.