Thursday, February 22, 2018

so i've been doing research on these leverett characters, and i've found out several things. one that has blown my mind, and it's taken a few days to get over this, is that the very guy i'm named for, signed the document that established the first public school in the usa. that would be boston latin school, and we're talking 1630's, and mainly, the guy wrote it because he took the minutes for the people of first boston church. he wasn't exactly the inventor, more just the documenter. but if he wrote all this stuff for the church, he didn't write much for himself. his son was governor, well known and well documented, but they didn't leave a whole bunch of personal papers or records. or if they did, maybe they went down in one of the many fires that wracked wood-house boston in the seventeenth century.

public schools are worth saving, that i can tell you, but this post is more about puritan boston of the late sixteen hundreds. that's because, in the later part of the century, is when the records become unclear. names like mary and sarah are interchangeable, and our name leverett is often spelled as leverit, leveret, leueret, leveritt, leueritt, leuerit, or even leavitt though I'm not sure about that one, since there are other people around with that name. it all gets murky in a late-sixteen-hundreds kind of way and we can't prove we're related to this guy at all. more about that later. it's definitely the mystery of the day, for me.

in the late sixteen hundreds boston kept getting worked around and changed, and it's tempting to get into simply the physical aspect of it. king's chapel graveyard is where some of these leveretts are buried, and that's right on tremont street, downtown, with its ancient gravestones poking out of the grass. our leveretts apparently had a fairly large tomb, but one which was virtually buried by weeds when they found it in the 1800's. but the guy who was buried there, hudson, is really the culprit in this drama, because he never joined the church, never became a freeman, and this caused some of his descendants to fall into total obscurity. people keep mentioning his son and that kid's son as "the only male heirs of the governor (his father)" but this can't be true, if our ancestor is somehow connected to his second wife. it can be true, if one of the leverett women had an out-of-wedlock birth, but i'm still not sure how the puritans would handle that, or if it was ever the case that someone just latched onto the name and started using it, a man, for example, who married a leverett woman and simply didn't want to continue his own name. was that possible? we tend to think of these cultures (the puritan one in particular) as somewhat rigid and inflexible, but who am i to say that? it seems my best option here is to investigate every possibility.

so leverett genealogists, more than one of them, have concluded that we are related to the governor through hudson's second wife, she having slipped into obscurity, dying in roxbury in the early seventeen hundreds. did she have children? male children? i don't think we're finished with this story. hudson himself was kind of a rake. he stayed out of church; he didn't live with her; he didn't take care of his children all that well. they're still mad at him for not keeping better track. but maybe he had something on his mind.

my search takes me back to the origins of boston - as my family was one of the original ones that had come from boston, lincolnshire, and thus were hanging around with a crowd of people they'd known before they even arrived. i wouldn't say they were a clique, although they've certainly been accused of that over the years. they were "boston brahmins" and all that. there was a rhyme once, that captured the essence of their snootiness (perpetuated, to some degree, by certain lines of certain families - i'm not sure mine is included here). i tend to distinguish our branch from other branches. we are the northern branch - started in massachusetts, stayed in massachusetts, didn't go anywhere until one of us went up to maine, then fled maine for illinois. but we are also clearly not the saltonstall branch. those saltonstalls were prolific writers and had every right to use the name leverett, but they went their own way while we got buried under an explosion of migration of people from new england to the midwest, about the same time we came out here. i'm trying to close that gap, learn a little more about who we are and what we were, back then. but hudson's my man. the key lies with him, somewhere in that tomb in the king's chapel cemetery.

Monday, February 19, 2018

this guy looks formidable; he was the governor of the colony (john leverett), and quite an important fellow in colonial boston. this picture comes from the boston latin school hall of fame, although he was a student there; it was his father who i'm researching in this regard, because father, thomas, made the notes by which the boston puritans established this first free school. john, one could say, might have been its first victim, but in fact, he was seventeen upon arrival in boston, and was probably freed of the burden.

in those days latin was very important. one was educated, if one knew some. that was what this school was about. john, however, went on to a career of wheeling and dealing, running ships across the sea, etc., and had very little to do with latin, or schooling, as far as i can tell. not sure why he's in the hall of fame; perhaps because of the father. or perhaps this is intended to be the father.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

a convergence of many holidays, and a big rain/snow experience on top of it, has put me at home in my chair. there was valentine's day on wednesday; today is the big chinese new year, which means i don't teach my chinese class. in these two holidays, things are bathed in red and pink; in the elementary school i taught at on wednesday, every single girl was wearing pink or a heart on their shirt. for the chinese, it is the holiday of the year, as far as i know.

then there's president's day, on monday. back in illinois i would call president's day a stray dog holiday. that was because the city and state refused to honor it, since they were stuck on lincoln's birthday, so it did not affect garbage collection, but the feds and the schools honored it, because they had to, so everyone assumed it was a holiday, and put their garbage out a day late. and this caused garbage to be out on the curb six extra days, thus giving the stray dogs a little extra treat.

my old stereotypes and assumptions were that there were lots of sales on presidents' day. stores got tired of having extra clothes sitting around and they would want to clear them out before the summer stocks arrived. but that was back in the days of stores, and back in the days of newspaper flyers which would hold this kind of advertisement. these days, we don't have newspapers, or at least, we don't read them. i would always read the newspapers and skip the flyers anyway, but i remember, i'd have to at least handle them, to throw them away, and even now, they're made of glossy stuff that doesn't burn even when i've burned the whole rest of the newspaper. so, they are quite visible, but, the guy who's making the fire is not the same person who is going down to the stores to shop for clothes. there is a kind of disconnect there.

my research on the life of hudson leverett continues. here's a guy that, born to the guy who was to become governor of the colony, refused to become part of the community by becoming a freeman, and racked up a number of debts, so that at his death his friend benjamin alford had to pay them. they buried him in king chapel, though, with his first wife. this is kind of a mystery to me. his first son, john, was to go on to a life of fame as president of harvard. but then, upon the death of his first wife, he married immediately, and disappeared; we leveretts are hoping that our ancestor was born of this second marriage, and that it was simply unrecorded or hard to find. we have spent a long time searching, too, and come up with nothing.

so there are several signs that he was somewhat indigent, one that they refused to distribute his "estate," since he didn't have any, and another, that they referred to his children as their mother's children, not as his, as if he had no part in their bringing up. but still, if he'd had another son, they would have noticed, i would think. in fact it seems if he'd had any more children, legitimate, of his second marriage, they would have noticed. his father was the governor.

perhaps i should investigate that angle - that, while one's father is governor, one has to go to great lengths to avoid notice, and live one's life.

that's my holiday. i can't help obsessing.

Friday, February 16, 2018

more research on the genealogical situation has put me deep in the late sixteen hundreds, when there were these leveretts kicking around the boston area: roxbury, woburn, medford, scituate, those kinds of places. they were all villages back then; roxbury was actually the suburbs, not yet swallowed up by boston, not yet become "the inner city." on the contrary, it was where the landed folks ended up.

so we have this guy hudson who had a second wife and disappeared off into the gloaming. he was never made a "freeman" in any church, as he wouldn't proclaim that he was saved, and as a result was somewhat locked out of society. he was supposedly an "attorney" but died without assets, without accomplishments really. where did he disappear to? probably roxbury or perhaps medford, as his wife, after his death, died in roxbury. but the question really is, did he have kids? do we know who all his kids were?

leverett genealogists say there was one that fell through the cracks, and he was our ancestor. that's why one of his grandkids walked out of roxbury and up into maine at the age of six, saying he was directly descended from the governor if his father's father's father was hudson then yes, hudson was descended from the governor. but this guy was pretty well hidden. there's no evidence that he existed, that i can find. the kid came out of maine, yes. the kid had started in roxbury, yes. everyone was in roxbury. the place was hopping with leveretts.

there was a daughter, and she, too, disappeared off into the gloaming. you're talking 1670, 1680, 1690 here. if she had a son, out of wedlock, that son, too, would be a leverett, right? and related directly to the governor, right? perhaps this was something leverett genealogists didn't want to face.

lots of research on the era, on colonial massachusetts as it developed in the sixteen hundreds. it's wild stuff. those puritans had street brawls over such things as religion. my guess is that this young leverett fellow was hiding to save his life.

on the other hand, it appears that his son got swept off into the revolution, before his son and the grandson joseph who walked to maine; it's an honorable chain one way or the other. i'd like to write the book so it genuinely honors the line whether it came through an out-of-wedlock birth or what. the two things about the modern day that have changed are that we're a little more accepting of out-of-wedlock births, i hope, and, there's an explosion of personal information that people have put up on the web, in sites like ancestry-dot-com, where everyone can share them. other things: old birth records from suffolk, early new england marriage records, these haven't changed much. the people who dug for them a hundred years ago, and didn't find these guys, turned up most of what there was, in town and elsewhere, leaving me to expect less from ship records, birth records, suffolk records etc. mind you, i don't mind wading through old lists from the sixteen hundreds. it's just that if i can find anything new, and special, and enlightening, it probably won't be there.

it will more likely be in the small things, that have already been found, where we are left to put two and two together, and surmise why the leverett clan survived the late sixteen hundreds, and even came out of it with a young boy, who lived through the revolution, and had a grandson who walked up to maine to become a pioneer.

it's a story of drama, intrigue, and treachery. yet it shouldn't surprise anyone. boston even today is a lively place, all kinds of things going on. and puritan as hell. in that sense, nothing has changed at all.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

so, kind of brooding about my dad, who died about three weeks ago, i've been doing research into the genealogy of the leverett clan. it was always family legend that we were related to the governor of the colony, john leverett, and it was probably through the second wife of hudson, his son.

so i did some research on the puritan ancestors i was named after, thomas and john, and it was intense. they were born in england and came over on the griffin in 1633, among the original settlers of boston, having come from boston england. thomas, the elder puritan and friend of john cotton, was taken straight into the boston church where john cotton was made the pastor. john, his son, was 17 upon arrival in boston, and started hanging out with the artillery boys outside of town, where they did some hard drinking (at least his friend edward gibbons did) and in general opposed the strict puritan orthodoxy of the time.

so the puritans, who had control of boston and various towns and had more and more people coming all the time, wanted the perfect world in the colony and that's where their strict orthodoxy came from. the guys at the artillery, some, like john, who were into trading, sold furs, dealt with various people, and didn't care so much for orthodoxy. they became known as "tolerationists." i'm proud that my ancestor was a tolerationist.

but he was also a wheeler-dealer, a military man, and a man who mixed up military maneuvers with making money. he made plenty of money but more or less neglected his son hudson at home; this got worse when hudson's mom died and he remarried with the daughter of one of his trading partners. hudson became bitter. he didn't succeed in the church. he didn't register his marriages and children very carefully. by the time he married the second time, he'd stopped caring altogether. his oldest son went on to be the president of harvard - more famous, altogether, than his father, but he himself had avoided fame, even avoided being noticed by the church, avoided writing things down. there lie the problem.

his father, remember, sailed the world; lived in england; advocated for capturing forts in nova scotia; became governor of the colony; oversaw the dreadful king philip's war; was buried with great fanfare. his son, john, also went on to fame; he wrote a latin lexicon; he became president of harvard; he had a feud with cotton mather, descendent of john cotton; he changed harvard from a divinity school to a secular one. hudson was surrounded by famous leveretts on both sides.

he, himself, though, seemed to have kids by that second marriage. and lo and behold, somebody just changed the profile of elizabeth gannett, his second wife, right while i was working on it, or rather, in the last couple of weeks. once you put those people there, as children of elizabeth gannett, it becomes real. it looks like she had at least two, john and thomas, with thomas possibly being the famous 'barber of boston' - he too, disliked fame and pressure, and, when he died, there was a messy drunken wake in medford. but there's much confusion here. they have one thomas who was the son of hudson's first wife, with different dates. this other thomas may have been born later, by the second wife, or the first thomas may have been born of the second wife. in any case, hudson's not around, left no record, and it's messy.

somehow i can relate to these two - hudson and the barber - as they simply couldn't compete. when one's father is worldly and rich, and famous, and people are looking at you, what do you do? it's not obvious. we give baggage to our children, and they of course have to live in our shadow, no matter what that looks like.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


First I’d like to welcome everyone and thank those who came from so far to be here, to celebrate the life of James R. Leverett, Jr. It is a testament to his life that so many of you would come this far to be here.

The memory of my father that I will cherish the most is of him, or really us, hiking the Appalachian Trail. He had started in Georgia, and my mom and I met him in the Blue Ridge in Virginia, where my dad and I hiked, and mom met us at the places that the trail came out on the roads. This allowed us to carry a little less food, since she would feed us, and so I became acutely aware of how he had shaved fractions of pounds off of his load, little by little, even paring his cameras down to to two or three.

The Blue Ridge was foggy – thick as pea soup, he called it, but I remember how happy he was. I remember well his teaching of how to leave the woods as minimally affected as possible: no garbage, no cut trees, don’t spit your toothpaste into the brook, that kind of thing. He was in good shape, and had given up chemical engineering, which he was good at, but which caused him nothing but headaches. Since men are often defined by their career, I can tell you that he knew his chemical engineering, but his feelings about taking care of the earth were often at odds with the people and companies he worked for. For a while he ran Tifft Nature Preserve, which attempted to bring back the lowlands befowled by the Lackawanna Steel Mills in Buffalo, he was trying, I think, to address some of the problems caused by companies like the ones he worked for.Throughout our life as a family, we would often go hiking or camping, sometimes to places in Pennsylvania like Kelly Pines, or places in West Virginia or New York State. Of the 46 Adirondack Peaks that he climbed, we went with him on several. He was lucky that my mom as far as we could tell was ok with it. She would do the cooking and wash the mud off our clothes when we got home. I hear their voices even now when I teach people who don’t have a clue, how to roast marshmallows and make smores. When we go skating I think of the winter we talked him into freezing a rink into our back yard in Buffalo, only to have it flood the basement in the spring when everything melted. The basement was mostly his photography supplies, which in those days was various chemicals and the curtains he used to make his darkroom. Another memory I have is how impressed we children were by a piece of photographic paper in a tray of chemicals, turning slowly but surely into a picture. From nothing to picture in just a couple minutes, it was a miracle.

One thing I’d like to point out is his unfailing generosity toward kids, of whom there were many in his life. To him, kids weren’t naturally mean, or bad, they could only be made that way, so even that, when it happened, was essentially the parents’ fault. There were plenty of bad people in the world, and plenty of bad parents, but kids aren’t born bad, or bad by nature. So it happens that the natural world is a good place, where bears may attack you, but nobody’s really mean.

I never heard him say that he didn’t believe in God, but in general, he had a low regard for organized religion. Sometimes when people asked him his religion, he would say Druid, so that they’d leave him alone. But toward the end of his life, it’s fair to say he became interested in Taoism, which is not so much a religion as it is a philosophy of life. Really it’s a way of living, seeing the world as a path, much like that path through the Blue Ridge. Travel lightly, do minimum damage. Live in harmony with nature around you, and seek good relations with friends, family, and community. I think he did pretty well in that regard. Thank you again for coming.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

my father died on friday night, january 19th, and i was there. i took over a week off from work, as family came and we had a memorial. i could still post the eulogy here, as i did for my mom, who died almost two years earlier. one result was that, afterwards, i put aside much of what i was writing, and delved into the ancestors.

the picture above is st. botolph's, in boston, lincolnshire. my ancestor thomas leverett (whom i was named after) was a regular at this church, and as far as i can tell one of the original puritans. but puritan meant something different back then, and in fact the word wasn't even used until much later, and finally came to be used derisively for people who are too pure, too sticky about something, who, for example, don't like people wasting tape. my wife accuses me sometimes of being a puritan, so i might as well figure out what it was all about. delving into 1600's religion is an interesting diversion and this era laid the foundations for what the usa is today.

so this thomas leverett was a regular in this church when along came a devout pastor, john cotton, who was a fervent christian but didn't like the restrictions placed on the church of england from above. it was like, this is why we split off from catholicism, we should just keep going in the direction we were, and make christianity simpler, more free of liturgical tradition. people like john cotton came to be known as puritans because they wanted to purify the church from within (unlike pilgrims or quakers, who simply dropped out of it and started their own). john cotton was to be known the rest of his life for having a fervent, charismatic style, but operating a bit outside of the confines of church liturgy, and, when pressured, always sticking with the church itself, in favor of perhaps dropping out, or being banned, as some of his followers were led to do.

so he goes about preaching in st. botolphs, and one of his allies is thomas leverett; another is anne hutchinson, who is really into the whole religious side of it. the king eventually comes down on puritan-leaning pastors like thomas hooker and john cotton; hooker flees to the netherlands, while cotton eventually goes into hiding, afraid of being arrested. john winthrop invites him to come to the new world, where the first church of boston (mass.) needs a fervent puritan like him. all these guys know each other; the founders of boston mass. named the town after boston, lincolnshire. to john cotton this is a way out. he agrees.

now it so happens that england is ruled by charles the first, who believes in the divine right of kings, to do such things as force people to register to loan money to the government, and a lot of these guys, including leverett and friends, really don't like this. so they have lots of good reasons to listen to john winthrop and just go.

the ship griffin is anchored out on norfolk downs, which i still haven't found, and it can be boarded at night or in the early morning hours. this is what cotton and his wife do; they also have a daughter. leverett also is on the ship, with his wife and three kids, two of them grown. thomas hooker sneaks onto the ship; he's returned from netherlands secretly, to put his affairs in order, to go to the new world. another good friend of theirs, atherton hough, is on there as well. a novel could be made of this, obviously; the ship sets sail in early june and lands in boston in september. a baby, seaborn cotton, is born on the ship. john cotton takes this to be a sign that he's done the right thing. in the new world, he comes to control the church for years; he has trouble with hooker and with anne hutchinson, who comes the next year; one of his daughters marries a mather, and cotton mather and increase mather shape puritanism in the new world for years to come. more later.