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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Spinster (almost) Elizabeth Sylvester Brown

If half the dates on Ancestry trees are to be believed, then this oldest daughter (perhaps) of my great times 8 grandparents, Nathaniel and Grissell Sylvester, namely Elizabeth Sylvester, may not have married until she was 41, and to a widower even then, Jonathan Brown (1654-1710).

I don't know when it happened that women who spun thread, and made cloth on looms, became known as spinsters, from spinner obviously.  All cloth was made this way before the industrial revolution I'm pretty sure...whether with flax /linen, wool, cotton, or silk (not available in most households in New England of course.)

And at some point a spinster became synonymous with a woman who didn't marry and stayed at home with her parents.  The marrying age in early America was probably around 20, give or take 5 years.  So to last until her 4th decade unmarried says something about Elizabeth.
Spinster, one who spins

Let's suppose she was truly born in 1653, and then watched her parents have 11 more children in the next 22 years, she might have established her rights as eldest child and wanted to not have a family right away, if any women did that at that time.  Perhaps she was busy with her father's business sailing ships and moving merchandise around by the time she was twenty.  Perhaps she was dedicated religiously and didn't want marriage.  By the time her last sibling was born, she was 22, and perhaps she was more interested in learning.  These were people who had many servants (sad to say they were slaves).  She had a multitude of choices before her.

Oh I forgot the favorite romantic possibility for young women, that which is used in many novels...perhaps she fell in love with a man who wasn't available or "suitable for her class."  Or perhaps the more modern version of her own gender identity and partners of the same sex.  That will certainly never be known.

She was born in a home which was the foundation for the house which later became known as Sylvester Manor, on Shelter Island, which her father owned.  The house and the Island are still in the family today.

Sylvester Manor built 1737 by Brinley Sylvester (still standing)
So a woman of privilege is pretty obvious.  And yet her younger sisters married and started having families many years before she did.  Her one year younger sister, Grissell, married at age 21, in 1676, but didn't have a child until 1685.  Grissell had just 4 children and died in 1691, probably a childbirth death as she and her last son died the same year. Her husband, James Lloyd remarried in the same year and then had one more child with his second wife.

Perhaps the death of their father, Nathaniel Sylvester in 1780 might have had some bearing on Elizabeth's postponed marriage.  I see him as the driving force of the family, a seafaring man, who made partnerships and deals in this new land which provided him with riches.  The fact that this early in the 1600s he was using slave labor to acquire his wealth was surprising to me, especially on Long Island, NY.

Actually, now that I look at the list of Sylvester children, several of her brothers didn't marry either, at least as far as I know. Her younger sister, Patience was born in 1664, who grew up and married (age 30) in 1694, (see yesterday's post about her romantic marriage.)

There was also King Phillips war in New England that started in 1675, but I don't know that the Native Americans came over to Long Island as well.  Something to investigate further.

The other interesting fact about Elizabeth Sylvester Brown is that she lived until 1734, age 81.

I'm pretty sure many of the dates for birth and deaths of her children and even her step-children are approximates.  There were too many with the same birth and death dates to be coincidental.  And somehow there aren't any civic or church records about them at this time.

We only know that they were children of these parents in this community apparently.  For instance, her step children (who's mother was also named Elizabeth) include Hannah and Elizabeth, both born 1688 both died 1750. And her own children Jonahtan and Rachel, apparently they were both born 1698 and died 1704. Both of them. This could be twins, except for the part about dying the same year.

 Not to mention a common Ancestry problem that the first wife Elizabeth had a child named Rachel Brown in 1692, (lived until 1738 apparently) before our Sylvester Elizabeth had her Rachel Brown in 1698.  No father would have a living daughter Rachel and then name another daughter the same name with his second wife. Just because he had two Elizabeth Browns for his wives..really!

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