In Devon, on 15th March 1818, in the parish of Collumpton, a Gypsy couple, Abraham and Unity Boswell, baptised a baby daughter with her mother’s name; it was their first child together, and I am grateful to Mark Hughes for this information, and for that of little Unetta’s burial, for she only survived for a year. She was to be buried on 28th March 1819 in the same county, but in December of the same year Abraham and Unity were baptising another daughter, Maria, this time in Weston in Gordano, Somerset.
There have been a number of candidates for Unity, wife of Abraham, but Unity Parsons is, without doubt, the woman who formed a union with him sometime around 1816 or 1817. Unity had herself been baptised in 1790 at New Alresford, Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Parsons/Gregory and Temperance Stanley, and her first husband was Henry Burton, whom she had married on 26th December 1812 in Somerset by licence, a union witnessed by Edward Boswell, Abraham’s brother. She and Henry had already baptised Nehemiah two years earlier, and a second son, Jeremiah, was baptised in 1813. Henry’s absence from subsequent records and Unity’s partnership with Abraham suggest it is possible that he is the Henry Burton, a Gypsy, aged 26, who was buried on 5th May 1815 at Durweston, Dorset.
Whatever the case, Unity’s second union produced two more daughters after little Unity and Maria, a Margaret, baptised as Peggy Broadwell, at Minety, in Wiltshire, on 27th January 1822, daughter of Abraham and Unity, Gypsies, and an Honor, who was born c1825, and married Josiah Boswell, the son of Edward, in 1854, at Swimbridge, Devon, as the daughter of ‘Abraham Boswell, tinman.’
A son, Ephraim Boswell, was baptised in Aston, Warwickshire, on 8th July 1827, where the parents are noted as living in ‘green lanes, in tents.’ Also in Warwickshire, on 20th June 1830, a Hoshanna was baptised at Erdington. The cleric has begun to write ‘daughter,’ then thought better of it, crossed it through, and instead wrote ‘son of Abraham and Unetta Boswell,’ adding that they are ‘in camp, brazier and hawker.’ In fact, he was correct the first time, for this is surely their daughter Oshanna, whom her parents would visit in her settled life in the Channel Islands. The final known child for Unity and Abraham is the Samuel baptised on 19th May 1833 at Carew, Pembrokeshire, when his mother would have been in her early forties.
Unity and Abraham appear in two census records, in 1861 they are found in the parish of Tywardreath, Cornwall, where Abraham is recorded as a basket maker, and in 1871 they are located in St. Helier, Jersey, where Abraham is listed as ‘James,’ but details for Unity and for Abraham’s profession are correct, and it is where Oshanna and her partner, George Shales, are living with their not inconsiderable family. George had actually been born in Dorset, the son of William and Elizabeth, in 1826 and in the goal records of 1851 he is recorded as a whitesmith. Certainly the St. Helier’s records, both for his children’s baptisms and census returns, describe him as a cutler, a profession some of his sons also followed.
Unity and Abraham clearly returned to a favourite patch in Cornwall, and Abraham died in the registration district of Helston in 1874. He was buried at Mullion on 14th October, claiming to be 96 years of age. Perhaps it was his death that prompted Unity’s return to her daughter in St. Helier, for she was now in her eighties, and it was here she died of old age the following year. Unity was buried at St. Helier on 19th August 1875, also claiming at ’90 years of age,’ to be rather older than she was, but not by very much. It was this burial records that confirms her antecedents, for the cleric had clearly written that she was ‘Unity Parsons, the window of Abraham Boswell.’