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TWO: Edward and Letitia Boswell

Eric Trudgill    -    30 June 2013

Tracing Gypsy Families Back Despite The Lack Of Records

TWO: Edward and Letitia Boswell

Last month I argued Lawrence Boswell, born about 1757 and founder of the Derbyshire Boswells, was a son of the Henry and Elizabeth Boswell buried in Ickleford, Herts in 1780 and 1782, and a brother of William, Mary and Henry junior. This month I’m arguing the two co-wives who bore him children, Carnation and Peggy Boswell, were both daughters of Edward and Letitia, and sisters of Elisha and possibly of John, Robert and Lettice. As before, faced with so many gaps in the records, I’m dealing with probabilities, not certainties, and until more evidence emerges, if it ever does, I’ll remain alert to the possibility I’m wrong.

The evidence starts with Lawrence Boswell’s appearance as a witness at the wedding in Manea, Cambs in 1785 of Elisha Boswell and Sarah Lovell, and Lawrence’s arrest for vagrancy in Warminster, Wilts in 1787 with Sarah Boswell, who was surely Elisha’s wife. Last month I took Lawrence’s appearance as a witness at the wedding of William Boswell in 1786 and their apparent travelling together in 1790 and in 1793 as evidence they were brothers. But the evidence suggests Lawrence and Elisha were not brothers but brothers-in-law.

Firstly we know who Elisha’s parents were, and they were not Henry and Elizabeth: when he was charged with vagrancy in Kirton, Lincs in 1796, Elisha claimed he was born in Easton, Wilts, which makes him the Elisha Boswell son of Edward and Letitia baptised in Easton, Wilts in 1767. And we know almost certainly who two of Elisha’s siblings were. He was surely brother of Lawrence’s wife, Carnation, who was of Devizes, Wilts at their wedding in 1774, and who, as far as we know, was Lawrence’s only Boswell wife at the time of Elisha’s marriage in 1785 (Peggy Boswell’s first child by Lawrence seems to have been the short-lived Thorney baptised in Thorney Abbey, Cambs in 1789). And Peggy was surely Carnation’s sister: not just because at this time the co-wives of Romany men so often were, but because nine years after Elisha was charged with vagrancy in Kirton, Lincs a Letitia Boswell was charged with vagrancy in Boston, Lincs, and charged with her sister, Peggy, which very much makes it look as if Lawrence’s second Boswell wife was named after her aunt.

Elisha was certainly a child of Edward and Letitia, and in all probability so too were Carnation and Peggy. John Boswell, father of the famous Major baptised in 1780, was a possible child of Edward and Letitia: Major, whose daughter, Teany, married Lawrence and Carnation’s son, Samuel/Samson, was said by the Derbyshire Boswells to have been a close relative of Lawrence’s family, and although his baptism in Bloxham, Oxf in 1780, next door to Adderbury, where Lawrence christened his daughter, Hardmaid, seven years later, may suggest John was Lawrence’s brother, any travelling connections, as with Elisha, could be down to their being brothers-in-law. Robert Boswell, husband of Lawrence’s sister, Mary, was also a possible child of Edward and Letitia (Romany siblings so often married siblings). And so was Lettice, wife of Lawrence’s brother, Henry (for the same reason, plus the appropriateness of a Lettice being daughter of a Letitia).

This is of course pure speculation, as is what I can offer about Letitia’s antecedents. When she and her sister, Peggy, were charged with vagrancy in 1805, they claimed, through their (unnamed) father, settlement in Trumpington, Cambs, which seemingly makes them daughters of the Samuel Boswell baptised in Trumpington in 1688 son of John and Elizabeth, strangers and travellers. This in turn raises a further possibility: if, as is possible (given the Romany liking for cousin marriages), Letitia Boswell was a sibling of Henry Boswell, husband of Elizabeth, we can trace Lawrence Boswell, as well as his two Boswell wives, back to a John and Elizabeth christening children in the later decades of the seventeenth century. In gypsy genealogy (especially where the records are so sparse), as in finance, you have to speculate in order to accumulate, and you won’t lose much, when looking for data that supports your ideas, provided you’re always ready to find data that demolishes them.

Copyright © 2013 Eric Trudgill