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Anne-Marie Ford    -    31 January 2019

In Devon, on 15th March 1818, in the parish of Collumpton, a Gypsy couple, Abraham

and Unity Boswell, baptised a baby daughter with her mother’s name; it was their

first child together, and I am grateful to Mark Hughes for this information, and for

that of little Unetta’s burial, for sadly, she survived only one year.  She was to be

buried on 28th March 1819 in the same county, but by the December of 1819

Abraham and Unity were baptising another daughter, Maria, this time in Weston in

Gordano, Somerset.

There have been a number of candidates for Unity, wife of Abraham, but Unity

Parsons is, without doubt, the woman who formed a union with him sometime

around 1816 or 1817. Unity had herself been baptised in 1890 at New Alresford, Hampshire, the daughter of

Thomas Parsons/Gregory and Temperance Stanley, and her first husband was Henry

Burton, whom she had married on 26th December 1812 in Somerset by licence, a

union witnessed by Edward Boswell, Abraham’s brother.  She and Henry had

already baptised a son, Nehemiah, two years earlier, and a second son, Jeremiah,

was baptised in 1813. Unity’s eventual partnership with Abraham Boswell suggests

it is possible that the Henry Burton who was buried in Dorset in 1815, aged 26,

“Gypsy,” was her husband. It is perfectly true that another child, Henry, son of

Henry and Unity, was baptised at Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorset, in 1816, but this could

have been a baby conceived the previous year.

Whatever the case, Unity’s second union produced two more daughters after little

Unity and Maria, a Margaret, baptised as Peggy Broadwell, at Minety, in Wiltshire,

on 27th January 1822, daughter of Abraham and Unity, “Gypsies,” and an Honor,

who was born c1825, and who married Josiah Boswell, the son of Edward, in 1854,

at Swimbridge, Devon, as the daughter of “Abraham Boswell, tinman,” later

emigrating to America.

A son, Ephraim Boswell, was baptised in Aston, Warwickshire on 8th July 1827,

where the parents are noted as living in “green lanes, in tents.”  Also in

Warwickshire, on 20th June 1830, a Hoshanna was baptised at Erdington.  The cleric

has begun to write the word daughter, then thought better of it, crossed it through,

and instead wrote “son of Abraham and Unetta Boswell,”   adding that they are “in

camp, brazier and hawker.”  In fact, he was correct the first time, for this is surely

their daughter Oshanna, whom her parents would visit in her settled life in the

Channel Islands.  The final known child for Unity and Abraham is the Samuel

baptised on 19th May 1833 at Carew, Pembrokeshire, when his mother would have

been in her early forties.

Unity and Abraham appear in two census records, in 1861 they are found in the

parish of Tywardreath, Cornwall, where Abraham is recorded as a basket maker, and

in 1871 they are located in St. Helier, Jersey, where Abraham is listed as “James,”

but details for Unity and for Abraham’s profession are correct and it is where

Oshanna and her partner, George Shales, are now living with their not

inconsiderable family.  George had actually been born in Dorset, the son of William

and Elizabeth, in 1826, and in the gaol records where we find him for the 1851

census, he is recorded as a whitesmith.  Certainly the St. Helier records, both for his

children’s baptisms and census returns, describe him as a cutler, a profession some

of his sons also followed.

Unity and Abraham clearly returned to their favourite patch, in Cornwall, and

Abraham died in the registration district of Helston in 1874.  He was buried at

Mullion on 14th October, claiming to be 96 years of age.  It was surely his death that

prompted Unity’s return to her daughter in St. Helier, for she was now in her

eighties, and it was here she died of old age the following year.  Unity was buried at

St. Helier on 19th August of 1875, also claiming, at “90 years of age,” to be rather

older than she was, but not by very much.  It is this burial record that confirms her

antecedents, for the cleric has clearly written that she was “Unity Parsons, the widow

of Abraham Boswell.” *

This article first appeared in Romany Routes.

Copyright © 2019 Anne-Marie Ford