Brick Walls

John Laurence Judge John Lawrance (1750-1810)

My most recent immigrant ancestor was a great-great-grandfather, William Boucher Jr. (1822–1899), who followed his father from Germany to Baltimore in 1845. One generation back, I have three unknown great-great-great-grandparents and a further four who arrived during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries:

  • Campbell Patrick White (1787–1859), who went with his parents to Baltimore from Belfast following the Uprising of 1798;
  • Henry G. Hughes (c1811–1860) and his wife Olivia Letitia Coulton (c1817–1847), from Ireland to Geneva and Brooklyn, New York; and
  • Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Esprit Boucher (b. in 1798), a native of Hamburg who was in New York during the 1830s and in Baltimore (with a second wife and young family) during the 1840s and 1850s.

Among my great-great-great-great-grandparents I have at least four more immigrant ancestors:

  • Dr. John Campbell White (1757–1847) and his wife Elizabeth Getty (c1760–1839), from Larne and Belfast to Baltimore;
  • John Finlay (1774–1833), from Montreal to New York by 1809, with many return trips to Canada thereafter; and
  • Joseph Fowler (c1796–1859), “of London,” to New York in 1820.

It is Joseph – and his father-in-law Judge John Lawrance (1750–1810) – who provides the most frustrating of brick walls, as both men were prominent figures in the New York of their day. Joseph Fowler apparently met his future wife in England or on the Continent, as he arrived in New York in late 1820 and promptly married Emily Ann Lawrance (1792–1855). An heiress with her sisters and their Lawrance and Allen half-siblings, Emily’s appearance in a variety of legal maneuverings in New York’s Chancery Court help to trace the family and their holdings. Joseph went on to financial prosperity and social success of his own, and he was at one time the acting British Consul in New York as well as a perennial officer of the St. George’s Society.

John Lawrance – an aide to George Washington, judge advocate general at the trial of John André, the first congressman from New York City, Senator from New York, and in 1798 president pro tem. of the Senate – was the son-in-law first of General Alexander McDougall and then John Lawrence, a former Mayor of Philadelphia. His second wife, Elizabeth (Lawrence) (Allen) Lawrance, was a first cousin of Margaret (Shippen) Arnold, and the Lawrence and Francis families were leading families of the mid-Atlantic colonies.

And yet … Joseph Fowler appears out of nowhere in 1820, said to be of London at the date of his marriage. Which Joseph Fowler of London was he? There is a tantalizing hint of something more in the fact that his wedding in New York was noticed in a Cumberland newspaper in 1820, but even there he is identified as “of London.” He has a biography in the records of the St. George’s Society, but no clues about his origins are offered. His three children were Joseph D. Fowler, Elizabeth Lawrance Fowler (my great-great-great-grandmother), and James Bowden Fowler – should the last child’s name be telling me something?

As for John Lawrance, he is called “of Cornwall” in all references to his early life, which is really not very helpful. What I’ve been struck by, though, as I look anew at this pair of brick walls, is that Emily Lawrance Fowler’s elder half-sister lived for much of her life in Canada and England – she is probably the Ann Lawrance Bolton of Richmond, Surrey, whose will was proved in 1855. Perhaps it is among her English descendants – if there are any – that I will find references to John Lawrance of Cornwall and New York, one of the founders of the new United States at a time when, evidently, undue recognition of his British origins (and those of his son-in-law) seemed unnecessary!

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward