Closely-Watched Ebenezers

“Ebenezer” was the name of a stone set in place by the prophet Samuel to celebrate a major Israelite victory over the Philistines.  It’s also the name of a certain Lovewell family member no one has ever seen a picture of, found a service record for, or knows much about.  All we have for Ebenezer Lovewell are a few rumors. 

It’s just a guess, but I’ll bet there’s an Ebenezer lurking in the branches of many family trees.  That’s not to say that everyone has a relative who was named after that great big rock mentioned in the Old Testament (although it was a popular moniker for centuries until Dickens spoiled it), but there must be at least one distant cousin or grand-uncle whom family historians expound on and wholeheartedly believe in, without a shred of evidence. 

Gloria Lovewell’s 1979 tome of family information lists Ebenezer Lovewell as the first of Moody Bedel Lovewell’s dozen-or-so children, a man whom Thomas Lovewell reportedly referred to as an older brother who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Since no one alive today heard Thomas tell one of his stories, having faith in Ebenezer these days depends on putting stock in second-hand reports from Thomas’s grandchildren, who do have a fairly decent batting average when it comes to preserving authentic details of their grandfather’s life.  The stories they’ve passed along often contain a solid core, even when some of the fringe details have become frayed and tattered during decades of retransmission.

However, even among the faithful, there was always a thorny problem surrounding Ebenezer, one which Gloria Lovewell neatly sidestepped in her book by having little to say about the birth year of few of Moody’s children besides William and Thomas, and providing no information at all about Moody, Jr.  And here’s the root of the problem:  Moody Bedel Lovewell married Betsey Watkins on February 2nd of 1817, with Moody, Jr., coming along 295 days later, not close enough to the wedding to give Betsey’s mother a case of the vapors, but a date which obviously rules out any earlier legitimate offspring from the marriage.  How could Ebenezer be the eldest son?

Thomas Lovewell’s granddaughter Rhoda, taking up the torch from the late Gloria, has come across one possible solution to the mystery, meaning that we could at long last have dear old Ebenezer firmly in our sights.  Or, maybe not.  I have to admit that my pulse quickened when I read about one of Rhoda’s most surprising finds, apparently unearthed from Gloria’s post-publication notes, that Moody Bedel Lovewell may have married a girl named Lucy Moore in Hubbardston, Massachusetts, in 1814, three years before starting his better-known family in Athens County, Ohio, with Betsey.  According to Gloria, Moody's first wife died in 1816, shortly after or perhaps even while giving birth to the couple’s only child, a son.  

Yet, the exact nature of Gloria's evidence remains a mystery.  Is she quoting from something or just musing while she writes?  The notes offer no firm dates for any of her speculations, only a guess that Ebenezer (if that was indeed the name Lucy picked out for her boy) would have been born between 1814 and 1816.  We are also left to wonder whether there was some record of Lucy’s death in 1816, or if she joined the ranks of the presumed dead, conveniently wiping the slate clean for Moody before his wedding in Ohio the following year.

Rhoda goes a step further, examining probate records for Moody, Sr., and finding what struck her as an oddity, a woman named Mary Kilburn (said to have been Mary Lovewell before her marriage to Hiram Kilburn), listed in court papers as someone with an interest in the settlement.  Could this woman, Rhoda wonders, have been the widow of Ebenezer Lovewell?  If so, Ebenezer would have predeceased his father, back when the Civil War was only simmering, although bloodshed would break out soon enough in Territorial Kansas.  Rhoda winds up providing a wide range of dates when Ebenezer might have died, provided that he ever lived.

Interest in Ebenezer can be contagious and fatiguing.  I’ve wasted many hours combing through Civil War enlistments, among other sources, always emerging empty-handed.  I’ve even thumbed through a volume of births and marriages in Hubbardston without discovering a record for Moody Lovewell or Lucy Moore tying the knot or celebrating the birth of a child.  Anyone conducting an earnest search for Ebenezer is sure to be rewarded almost immediately by finding him hiding in plain sight in the 1870 census.  Unfortunately, this Ebenezer Lovewell turns out to be a brickmason who was born in Vermont in 1823, six years after Moody Lovewell moved to Ohio.  Aside from him, Ebenezer sightings begin to resemble encounters with Sasquatch.  That shadowy figure over there in the margins … could it be … could it be … 

I’ll say this:  after realizing two years ago that there was once an Ichabod Lovewell with a rather compelling Revolutionary War story attached to him, I’ll be disappointed if there turns out to be no Ebenezer.  And if there was one, I have faith that Rhoda will root him out.  Perhaps we’ll have some positive news by Christmas.

© Dale Switzer 2023