Loving Well

My friend Steve is resigned to seeing his last name misspelled.  There is no stopping people from including an extra “l” and a superfluous “g" where they’re sure they belong.  One day Steve learned from his sister, who has delved into family history, that the name used to be spelled with two “l’s” and a “g.”  The alteration came shortly after an ancestor turned to horse thievery.  The final note about him in the family tree says something like, “He was a bad man and a horse thief, and he was hanged.”  And that is how the Hollingsheds suddenly became the Holinsheds (I’ve changed both names slightly, in this case, to protect both the innocent and the guilty).

Lovewellhistory.com has a small but loyal following, and they are a geographically diverse group.  Besides the several visitors who hail from Ukraine, people regularly stop by from Nashua (Modern Dunstable), Derry, Duluth, Superior, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Escondido, Wichita, Joplin, Cape Girardeau, Turlock, Saskatoon, Bloomington, Hendersonville, Colorado Springs, Palm Desert, and Normal.  I was not familiar with the city of Normal, Illinois, so named, I assume, because of a teaching school located there.  I had hoped to have someone drop in from Peculiar, Missouri, so I could claim to have visitors ranging from Normal to Peculiar, but there have been no nibbles from the town in Cass County, Missouri, thus far.

I bring up web analytics only to explain that when I venture into some minor genealogical point, even though there might be only a few pairs of eyes on the page, I picture eyelids growing heavy across America.  So, be warned.  This is one of those times.

As we’ve seen, Robert Lovell took his family to America with the Reverend Joseph Hull’s company in 1635, enduring 46 days at sea before coming ashore near Boston on May 6.  T. D. Rhodes and May Lovell Rhodes do not speculate what motives might have urged the 40-year-old Robert to board the Marygould, “severing his ties with England, where his people had been persons of consequence and note for many generations,” but church records give a clear picture of what drove the Reverend Joseph Hull from England.

Hull was an associate of the Reverend John Wareham, who, after being accused of denouncing certain practices of the Church of England, failing to read authorized prayers to his congregation, and preaching in private at his home on Sunday evenings, was suspended from his parish.  Before leaving for New England, Wareham wished to deliver a farewell sermon, accompanied by Joseph Hull and another cleric.  As a result of their visit, the parish wardens were cited for letting the three preach without a license and for failing to enter the men's names in the parish's "Book of Strange Preachers,” a list of visiting clergyman who were invited to speak.

In 1634, following in his absent mentor’s footsteps, Joseph Hull was prosecuted for preaching without a license.  Church leaders learned that he had next stood in front of a congregation at Glastonbury, railing “that judgment hung over the land and that first it would fall on the clergy and then the laity.”  One month before sailing for Massachusetts, Hull was expelled from the Church of England.

The Reverend Hull did not fare much better in his new home.  A Nonconformist whose views were too liberal for the congregation that awaited him at Wassaguscus, later renamed Weymouth, Massachusetts, Joseph Hull was passed over for the position of minister in favor of the Reverend John Lothrop.  Excommunicated for preaching without a license, he seems to have become an itinerant minister for a few years, apparently keeping one step ahead of the authorities.

Hull, who often sided with Anglicans against the ruling Puritans, also locked horns politically with Governor John Winthrop, and was eventually expelled from the Massachusetts colony.  He returned to England for several years, found steady work as a preacher in the wake of the Puritan revolution, but found himself out of a job, along with 2,000 of his colleagues after the Stuarts returned to power and Parliament passed the New Act of Conformity.  The Reverend Joseph Hull eventually returned to New England where he ended his days ministering at the Isles of Shoals.

Much of the information about the Reverend Mr. Hull is drawn from Laurence Cook’s “Origins of the Bicknell Family in North America As Descended from Zachary Bicknell (1589 - 1635),” summarized here.  Zachary Bicknell’s family was not simply one of the dozen who happened to be traveling to Massachusetts with Robert and Elizabeth Lovell.   Zachary had married Agnis Lovell, who is presumed to have been Robert Lovell's sister, or at least a cousin.  

What was it that compelled the Lovell and Bicknell families and their fellow passengers to leave their homes and sail to a wild, new land, full of religious discord?  They arrived on what history records as a tide of Puritan migration, but “Puritan” is sometimes a blanket term for religious dissenters of every stripe.  Bicknell and Lovell must have been aware of Joseph Hull’s liberal religious views before boarding the Marygould, and since they followed him to America, surely they would have found him an acceptable minister to lead their congregation.  A majority of the previous arrivals at Weymouth apparently preferred the more Puritanically rigid John Lothrop.  We know little about Bicknell, who died only eighteen months after setting ashore, but the descendants of his son John believe he had Calvinist leanings.

I’ve generally looked at the change from “Lovell” to “Lovewell” as an effort to conceal past missteps, the way a branch of my friend Steve’s family hoped to put some distance between themselves and a notorious horse thief by dropping a few letters from the family name.  The Lovewells may have done quite the opposite, adopting a name that boldly signaled their personal convictions, announcing themselves as a people who loved God well, loved Him correctly, loved with an open and accepting heart.      

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com