A Major Bastard

When a cousin named Rose from Las Vegas emailed to ask if I could shed any light on her distant ancestors Mansfield and Betsey Taplin, I was at first fairly sure I couldn’t.  Genealogy can be confusing enough in an average generation.  But, when it comes to the great Lovewell/Taplin merger, when enough of Nehemiah Lovewell’s sons and daughters paired off with enough young Taplins to form their own baseball team - even before the begetting got underway - I always feel myself getting woozy.  Then I remembered that the family has a ringer tucked away in the Lovewell hall of fame.

The celebrity who immediately came to mind was Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, a man whose genealogy was prepared by at least three contributors.  Being pros, William Addams Reitwiesner, Michael J. Wood and John Blythe Dobson cite sources, give reasons for their conclusions, and provide juicy supplementary records.  They also offer some interesting amendments to what many of us will recognize as the traditional family story.  Reading their report is like settling down to watch a DVD with lots of extras and Easter eggs.  It transpires that Sir Tim also has a Taplin/Lovewell pairing in his past, Major John Taplin and Catherine Lovewell, eldest daughter of Nehemiah.  Major John Taplin was the brother of Rose’s ancestor, Mansfield Taplin.  Major John and Mansfield and their sisters Sophia, Hebsibah and Polly, the five Taplin siblings who married Lovewells, were children of Col. John Taplin.  The Berners-Lee study pushes the Taplin line back one more generation to Col. John’s father, an Englishman who was also named Mansfield.  This senior Mansfield Taplin married Mary Johnson, “settled in Charlestown, Mass., and died there in 1734.”

Most genealogies hesitate to give the family name of Nehemiah Lovewell’s mother Hannah, widow of Captain John Lovewell.  According to the Berners-Lee researchers, she was born Hannah Lull 26 Nov. 1696 at Ipswich, Mass., to Thomas and Rebecca (Kimball) Lull.  The Berners-Lee report also ignores Gloria Lovewell’s assertion that the man who brought the Lovewell family to America was Robert Lovell, who sailed from Weymouth aboard the Marygould as part of the Reverend Hull’s company.  No, they say, it was most likely the John Lovewell who was born around 1629 at Bristol, Gloucester, England, and married Elizabeth Silvester at Scituate, Mass., in 1658.  Robert Lovell did have a boy named John who married Jane Hatch, but the couple and their children all seemed content with the surname “Lovell."

While the researchers who prepared Sir Tim’s genealogical record insist on drawing a curtain over the arrival of the Lovewell family in America, they uncover a wealth of information on the Taplins, particularly an account of some incidents in the life of Col. John Taplin, including one which his descendants did what they could to obscure.  

 The rather evasive discussion of his marriage date in Hamilton Child, 'Gazetteer Of Washington County, Vermont, 1783-1899' [Syracuse, N.Y., 1889], was doubtless occasioned by its inconvenient proximity to the birth of his son … If the dates of his birth and his parents' marriage have been recorded correctly as to the year (and in fact unless both are recorded incorrectly so as to make them appear closer together than they really were), he was clearly illegitimate. Accordingly, some accounts of this family have suppressed or falsified the date of his parents' marriage.

Illegitimacy was a serious matter in that day, especially among the class of people represented by the Lovewells and Taplins (Later on, it must not have been such a big deal, as a number of family researchers have discovered to our chagrin).  If an illegitimate birth was suspected, there could be a charge of fornication or adultery, and the child might be denied an inheritance - hence the need for creatively muddled birth and marriage records in the case of Major John Taplin and his father, the Colonel.  Everything seems to have worked out well for John Taplin, Jr., who was left in charge of his father’s estate when the Colonel decided to sit out the Revolutionary War in Canada, instead of choosing sides.

We may be surprised to learn how widespread illegitimate birth was in Puritan New England.  We can easily have a look at the evidence provided by Martha Ballard, a midwife in Augusta, Maine, who noted in her diary (See: A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812) when the child whose birth she attended was illegitimate.  Of the 814 birthings that Martha assisted, 38% of the offspring were born with a strike against them.

There is also such a scary thing as retroactive illegitimacy.  That’s the discovery that a spouse burdened by an undissolved previous marriage was not legally free to wed, rendering the subsequent marriage invalid, and all issue from it, illegitimate.  When neither spouse was free to wed, the result is double-secret retroactive illegitimacy.  Anyway, that’s what I call it, and for any kind of illegitimacy you can name, almost every family has an example tucked away in its book of deep, dark secrets.  And yet we’re all still here, and doing just fine. 

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com