What I know about James Oliver (my maternal 6th great-grandfather) begins with his marriage to Abigail Bryant, daughter of Major Joseph Bryant of Stoneham, Middlesex County, MA. The marriage intention was published in James’ home town, Boston, on Dec. 22, 1779.
The actual marriage occurred in Reading, near to the bride’s home town, Stoneham. The marriage took place on Jan. 18, 1780. At the time of their marriage, James was 30 years old, and Abigail was 23.
Their first child, Abigail, was born on Jan. 15, 1780 — three days before their marriage (!). When I first made note of this, I thought it must be an error in the records. But research revealed that premarital sex in the mid-18th century was not uncommon. One source reports that, in that era, over 40% of women were pregnant at the time of their marriage (The Colonial Family in America). Apparently, sexual relations between a couple was commonplace once they were engaged to marry. And an engagement could precede the publication of their intent to marry.
Not long after his daughter was born, James left his wife and child, presumably in the care of his in-laws, and headed to sea aboard the Junius Brutus, a privateer commissioned by the Continental Congress to engage the British Navy. The Revolutionary War was still raging, both on land and at sea.
As James was 30 years old in 1780, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that he’d already been in naval service before joining the crew of the Junius Brutus. Especially as he was from the port city of Boston. He did apparently maintain a career at sea, for in many vital records and other citations following his service record above, he is referred to as “Capt. James Oliver.” Also, no land, tax, or census records can be located for him. This supports the theory that he led a seafaring life.
James certainly had shore leave in Stoneham to spend time with Abigail from time to time. They had six children together (one stillborn), as recorded by Abigail’s father:
Sadly, their youngest born child, Joseph, only lived 6 months. He died in November, 1790. Sadder still, Abigail passed away the following summer, leaving behind four children and a husband who very well may have been away at sea. She was 35 years old.
Of James & Abigail Oliver’s four children, only one would live past the age of 30 (Abigail Oliver Wheeler, my 5th great grandmother). The tombstone inscriptions for Abigail and little Joseph read as follows:
I have yet to determine exactly when and where James Oliver died. I only know that in July 1801, Abigail’s father, Major Joseph Bryant, was awarded guardianship of James’ only son, James Oliver (1785-1808). The Major took care of his grandchildren, favoring them generous bequests in his will. I assume that the orphaned children grew up in their grandparents’ home.
The identity of Capt. James Oliver’s parents, the existence of siblings and other background information on him remains elusive. Did he die at sea? Was he indeed a “captain?” Or, was his rank exaggerated, as is nearly always the case.
One true thing about family history research: the end always remains far away!