ICYMI: A Lowell mystery

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 28 September 2017.]

One of the upcoming Early New England Families Study Project sketches is that for Richard Lowell of Newbury, Massachusetts. Richard was the son of Percival Lowell, who came to New England in 1639 at the age of about 69 with several grown children. Richard, Percival’s eldest son, was 37, and he apparently brought with him a wife and either an infant or in utero son who was named Percival. Richard had three more children born in Newbury: Rebecca, 27 January 1641[/42]; Samuel, about 1644; and Thomas, 28 September 1649.

The big mystery surrounding Richard’s family is the identification of his wife or wives. He named his loving wife Margaret in his will in 1682, but there is some question whether she was the mother of his children born between 1639 and 1649. From her age in several depositions we can estimate Margaret’s birth between 1603 and 1605, which would make her contemporary to her husband, who was baptized in January 1601/2. It would also make her about age 34-36 when Richard’s eldest known son, Percival, was born about 1639, and 44-46 when Richard’s youngest son Thomas was born in 1649.

There is, in fact, no record of the given name of Richard’s wife before the earliest deposition by Margaret in 1673.

The old, error-filled 1899 genealogy, Lowells of America,[1] states that Richard had two wives named Margaret, the first of whom died at Newbury on 27 January 1641/42. That is the date of birth for Richard’s daughter, Rebecca, but the record does not give the name of Rebecca’s mother (likewise for the births of her two younger brothers, Samuel and Thomas), nor is there a record of Rebecca’s mother having died the day she was born. There is, in fact, no record of the given name of Richard’s wife before the earliest deposition by Margaret in 1673.

A couple of possibilities come to mind. If Richard’s widow, Margaret, was his only wife, either they had a very late marriage in their mid-30s based on what we know of their children, or if they had married at an earlier age, any other children they might have had prior to 1639 did not survive, yet Margaret had four surviving children in her 30s and 40s.

But if Richard had an earlier, younger wife, she might have been of a more appropriate age to have begun her family in 1639, and if she did not die until after Thomas’s birth in 1649, then Richard’s marriage to Margaret would have been a later-in-life event to a woman more his contemporary in age, perhaps a widow.

Then, just to make things more interesting – since Richard was in his mid-30s when son Percival was born, if Percival’s mother was a younger woman, did Richard, perhaps, have a previous wife nearer his own age, who had died without surviving children? One, two, or three wives?

A cursory look by this writer through online English records has not uncovered any marriages for Richard Lowell nor births of children in the area of Portbury, Somerset, England, where the family originated, so for the purposes of Richard’s Early New England Families sketch, we will have to leave the question open for other researchers to solve. Let me know if you do.


[1] Delmar R. Lowell, The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899 (Rutland, Vt.: 1899). The 2011 Lowell genealogy provides much improved information on the first generation and follows descendants through Richard’s brother, John2 Lowell. It does not address the question of Richard’s wives.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

3 thoughts on “ICYMI: A Lowell mystery

  1. Enjoyed your article. I am preparing to write up an article on the early New England family of Gabriel Mead.
    Can you advise if one has been written prior? Or if I may submit one?

  2. Hi Lola, Gabriel Meade arrived in New England in 1637, so he belongs to the “Great Migration Study Project” rather than “Early New England Families.” The next series for Great Migration is being written by Ian Watson and will cover families that arrived in 1636 and 1637, although he is currently working “B” names and it will be an indeterminate period of time before “M”s are begun. Neither Great Migration nor Early New England Families accept submissions, however. To contact Ian Watson, use greatmigration@nehgs.org

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