Rethinking Charlotte

A few years ago, when I was still naive enough to go searching for Thomas Lovewell’s long-lost daughters (Rumor had it there were two of them), I found Nettie Lovewell residing at a hotel in Hugo, Colorado, in 1880 and wondered what a young, single Lovewell girl was doing working as a waitress along the wild frontier, 80 miles west of the Kansas border.

Nettie did not turn out to be Thomas Lovewell’s daughter (There was actually only one to be accounted for and she was a housewife living in Carbondale, Kansas, in 1880), but his niece, one of the daughters of Thomas’s older brother William.  William died in 1875, leaving his children at the mercy of the former Matilda Wise who, at least two family stories agree, was every inch the classic stepmother that fairytales warned us about.

I was happy to run across Nettie’s story on a few days ago.  It’s a memoir evidently compiled by a family member in the late 1940’s when Nettie was in her 90’s and living in Lawrence.  Embedded in the tale are gritty stories of everyday life in Kansas during the Civil War era, and a few vivid, quickly-sketched character studies of family members.  Nettie’s sister Lizzie, the eldest of William’s daughters by a widow named Martha Morris Ogden, is presented as “auburn haired, blue eyed and quick tempered.”  Life in the Lovewell household must have been trying after Martha’s death, since William’s next wife was “red haired quick tempered Matilda Wise.  She was very young and the responsibilities of a large family made her irritable.”  Matilda was indeed twenty-one years younger than her husband and only ten years older than his daughter Lizzie.

Lizzie married a young man named John Shaw who died of tuberculosis, leaving her with two small children.  The need to send money to help support her older sister evidently explains Nettie’s situation in the 1880 census.

She decided to go to Colorado where they were paying waitresses what in those days was high wages.  The town was Hugo where the west was “wooly” in those days.  The big hotel fed the railroad men between trains.  A few cow boys wandered in once in a while.  They would unstrap their guns and throw them on the floor by their tables while eating.  Nettie was half afraid of them but no trouble ever took place.

Although Nettie’s memoir goes back no further than her father’s marriage to the “patient and unselfish and very ambitious” Martha Morris Ogden, the idea that William Lovewell’s first wife may have been a few years older than he, and also a widow with five children, made me reconsider the tale of Charlotte Bohall.  I reported in December that while some genealogies list her as the first Mrs. William B. Lovewell, a brief bio of John A. Lovewell of Mississippi County, Arkansas, insists that Charlotte's husband, John A. Lovewell's father, was another man altogether, a native of New York named William A. Lovewell who settled in Indiana and died in 1850 during a business trip to Natchez.

Looking up the marriage record of William Lovewell and Charlotte Bohall, I found that the groom's middle initial was not “A” but “B,” and although the couple tied the knot in Indiana, it was in Vanderburgh County along the Ohio River and about 300 miles downstream from the birthplace of William B. Lovewell and his brothers and sisters in Athens County, Ohio.  John A. Lovewell’s father, a carpenter and contractor, supposedly died in 1850, the same census year that William B. Lovewell can be found working as a carpenter while staying at his brother Thomas’s cabin in Warren County, Illinois.  The “A” in John A. Lovewell stood for “Alfred," which is also the name of the youngest of the Lovewell brothers from Athens County.  All things considered, I may need to take back what I said back in December in “You Only Die Twice.”  The smart money seems to be on three marriages for William B. Lovewell.     

I did mention in December that I’ve learned to be cautious when passing along information about deaths in the 19th century, even musing back then that William could have faked his own death and scurried off to hide out in Thomas’s cabin before taking a gamble on matrimony again in December.  When his bio was printed in Mississippi, John A. Lovewell’s father and mother were both long dead.  Any information about a father who disappeared while his sons were toddlers must have been handed down by Charlotte, who had found a second husband before the family moved to Arkansas in 1856.  She apparently died in 1859 while her Lovewell sons were still boys.  The story that he died while away on business at Natchez may have been a face-saving family tale, like the one Thomas Lovewell’s estranged wife Nancy told her girls about her first husband dying in the Civil War, and a second husband being killed in a runaway accident.  

It was good of our ancestors to leave us all those stories about their lives a century and a half ago.  It’s too bad that more of them didn’t follow Nettie Lovewell’s lead and tell the simple truth. 

© Dale Switzer 2023