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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Monday, January 10, 2022

“Safely delivered of three Male Children”?

On 4 Dec 1752, Thomas Bourne and Susannah Beal married in Hingham’s second parish meetinghouse. In 1765 that community was designated as a district, and ten years later it became the independent town of Cohasset.

Susannah was born in February 1737, making her fifteen years old when she married. Calculating back from Thomas’s reported age at death, he was twenty-two.

Thomas and Susannah Bourne did not have their first child within seven months of their wedding. In fact, they didn’t have their first child within seven years. This was apparently a great disappointment.

On 5 Nov 1764, the Boston Evening-Post ran this article:
We hear from the second Parish in Hingham, that one Mrs. Bourne of that Place (a Person peculiarly fond of Children) was on Monday Evening [i.e., 29 October], to the great Joy of herself and Friends, safely delivered of three Male Children, after having lived upwards of Eleven Years in the connubial State without Offspring with one of the kindest Husbands, and enjoying with an unblemished Reputation every other Species of Earthly Felicity.
This is where the story turns sad. The Cohasset vital records say that all three of the Bournes’ babies died on Tuesday, 30 October. A local history says they were baptized that day and died “soon” after.

Either way, by the time the announcement of the birth of triplets appeared in Boston, those babies were dead. They had no recorded names.

This is where the story turns happy again. Exactly three years after the Evening-Post article, on 5 Nov 1767, Thomas and Susannah Bourne had a son they named Thomas, Jr. He grew up as an only child.

In 1774 and the early years of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Bourne, Sr., served on Cohasset’s governing committees. He turned out with the local militia to guard Hull beach in the winter of 1775–76. He died in 1796 at the age of sixty-six.

Thomas, Jr., grew up and married Jane Doane in 1786, when they were both still in their teens. Her uncle, the Rev. John Brown, performed the ceremony, as he had done for Thomas’s parents.

Jane died giving birth on 9 June 1787. Thomas, Jr., named their baby after her mother.

In April 1790, Thomas Bourne, Jr., married twenty-year-old Betty or Betsy Tower. That September, she gave birth to twin boys who died as infants—the family history seemed to be repeating. The following year, they had a daughter, Priscilla, who died at fourteen months. Then, however, Thomas and Betsy Bourne had a series of daughters and sons:
  • Eliza, 1793.
  • a second Priscilla, 1797.
  • Mary, 1799.
  • a new Thomas, Jr., 1803.
  • Elias, 1807.
  • Marshal, 1811.
The Doane genealogy says this Thomas Bourne became a physician; the local history says he was a farmer like his father. Public records show he served Cohasset as a church deacon, a coroner, a selectman, and eventually a representative in the Massachusetts General Court.

Susanna Bourne, widow of the older Thomas, died in 1819. She was thought to be ninety, but she was really eighty-two. Betsy Bourne, widow of the younger Thomas, died in 1846 at the age of seventy-six.

(The photo above shows Cohasset’s First Parish Meeting House, its oldest part built in 1747.)

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