Nobody Knows the Lovells I’ve Seen

The identity of the first Lovewell to arrive in America remains a mystery.  Neither do we know when the family reached the shores of the New World, only that it must have been by the 1650’s.  Numerous websites (mine included, until recently) confidently list Robert Lovell as the nom de voyage of the father of "John Lowwell the tanner," who married Elizabeth Silvester (or Sylvester) at Scituate, Massachusetts, and became the progenitor of the Lovewells of Dunstable.  There is now officially a tsunami of evidence clearing Robert Lovell of any complicity in this matter.  Robert is the ancestor of a long and illustrious line of American Lovells, but listing him in Lovewell genealogies amounts to nothing less than ancestor-poaching.  A whole bunch of us still have some pruning to do.

Researchers preparing the family tree of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, declare a John Lovewell who was born at Bristol, Gloucester, England, around 1629 and died at Boston in 1693 or 1694, to be Sir Tim’s earliest-known Lovewell ancestor, and the grandfather of Captain John Lovewell, a man made immortal by dying in Lovewell’s Fight.  Unfortunately, even genealogical sleuths Michael J. Wood and John Blythe Dobson don’t hazard a guess as to the identity of the parents of John Lovewell from Bristol, making Bristol the end of the line, or the beginning, for Lovewell descendants in America.

While reading Prof. Joseph Taplin Lovewell’s 1896 application for Sons of the American Revolution I was surprised to find that even he had named Robert as the most distant Lovewell ancestor that he knew of.  Either the professor held on to a genuine fragment of family history that’s lost to the rest of us, or a few Lovells were mistakenly grafted onto the Lovewell family tree long, long ago.

New England historian Ezra S. Stearns tried to clear up some confusion in 1911 by pointing out that there were two men sometimes identified as John Lowell living in Boston in the early 1660’s, one a cooper, the other a tanner, and that one had been blended with the other in certain genealogies.  A later researcher named Waler Goodwin Davis further clarified the matter in a footnote to his 1957 work, “The Ancestry of Phoebe Tilton, 1775-1847, Wife of Capt. Abel Lunt of Newburyport, Massachusetts.” 

In addition to this John Lowle, a cooper of Boston, who married Hannah Proctor, there was a John “Lovwell,” as he signed his name in 1700, a tanner, who was Lowle’s contemporary.  This was the man who married Elizabeth Silvester in Scituate on January 24, 1658, the clerk entering his name as “Lowell.”  This man, who history is quite clear, lived successively in Boston, Rehoboth, Lynn and Dunstable where his descendants bore the name of Lovewell.  Deceived by the spelling of the tanner’s name, the Lowell genealogist incorporated the children of this John “Lowell” or Lovewell and his wife Elizabeth (Silvester) into the family of John Lowle, cooper, of Boston, where they do not belong.

The final sentence of that footnote seems to be Walter Goodwin Davis’s amen to the same conclusion Ezra S. Stearns reached in 1911.  The difference is that Stearns thought John “Lovwell" the Boston tanner had arrived in America as a Lowell, just from a different line of Lowells than John Lowell (or “Lowle”) the cooper.  Neither Davis nor Stearns may have been aware of a third fly in the ointment, John Lovell, the son of Robert Lovell of Weymouth, England, who arrived in Massachusetts with the rest of his family on the Marygould in 1635.  

All three of these young men, John Lovewell, John Lowell, and John Lovell, were probably around the same age.  John Lowell the cooper married Hannah Proctor in 1652 or ’53.  John Lovell must have married Jane Hatch a year or two afterward, since their first child, Phebe, was born in 1856.  John Lovewell the tanner married Elizabeth Silvester in 1658, two years before the birth of their long-remembered son John, the man who would one day greet Hannah Duston on her return from captivity.  The three Johns married different women, had different occupations, lived in different places, yet continue to be mistaken for one other.  At the very least, details from the life of one are sometimes pasted on the biographies of the other two.  Other kinds of mistakes in Lovewell family trees can sometimes be traced back to foggy evidence.

Among the historical source files on Ancestry is a photocopy of an 1861 handwritten transcription of “Massachusetts Town and Vital Records” reporting the marriage of John Lovewell (It’s the one where his family name is spelled “Lowwell”) and Elizabeth Silvester January 24, 1658.  However, the writing is faint, the image is washed out, and the “8” is sometimes misinterpreted as a “6,” suggesting that Elizabeth became a bride the day after her 13th birthday.  A printed volume of records from Scituate published in 1909 clearly gives the wedding date as January 24, 1658, by which time she had become a mature young woman of 15.

If you look up Elizabeth Silvester Lovewell on family heritage websites, you’re likely to discover that she died in 1666, a date that doesn’t seem to be supported by a scrap of evidence.  Ezra Stearns was certain that she and her husband John were still living in 1700.  By the way, the birth year generally given for her husband John Lovewell, 1627, is really the calculated birth year of John Lovell, who was eight years old when he arrived in America with his father Robert in 1635.

The most persistent family legend, apparently based on a similarity of family names, may be the idea that if the Lovewells didn’t arrive in America as Lowells, as Stearns believed, then they must have crossed the ocean as Lovells.  This supposed connection reached full flower in 1970 with the publication of "The genealogy of Robert Lovewell of Weymouth, England and Massachusetts, through his son, John Lovewell (1627-1700) of Dunstable, Middlesex County, Massachusetts” by genealogist Sherman Lee Pompey.  Unfortunately, Pompey traded correspondence with Lovewell family historian Orel Elizabeth Poole and, apparently, with Gloria Lovewell.  We probably have Sherman Lee Pompey to thank for the long introductory section in Gloria Lovewell’s “The Lovewell Family,” reprinted from the 1924 "A Biographical Genealogy of the Lovell Family in England and America” by May Lovell Rhodes and T. D. Rhodes.

As you might have assumed from the title of this entry, I’ve been re-reading the Rhodes volume of Lovell history just to be sure I hadn't missed some clue that connects the two families.  In an entire volume composed of begats, I’ve found no Lovell who ever begat a Lovewell or turned into one, or turned into someone with quite the same life experience as any known Lovewell - with a single exception.  According to the Lovell book, the first John Lovell’s son John was a veteran of King Philip's War.  One of the proud distinctions of Captain John Lovewell’s father was his service in the same war, and his participation in a crucial battle in 1675 called the Great Narragansett Swamp Fight.    

Finding an 1891 volume of “Soldiers in King Philip’s War” on, I checked the lists of soldiers from the Massachusetts Colony, and sure enough, on page 108 there was the name John Lovell among those under Capt. Samuel Appleton’s command.  On page 109, listed among the newly-promoted Maj. Appleton’s company in the Narragansett campaign, was John Lovewell.  Just on a hunch, I looked for one more soldier.  On page 287, John Lowell is in the roster of Capt. Scottow’s men.

There.  That settles it.  They’re not the same man.        


© Dale Switzer 2023