In Love With A Loyalist

William Tudor was in love with a loyalist, an awkward position for a rebel who would become the first judge advocate general of the Continental Army. Worse, she was a loyalist who helped British soldiers wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Watching the Fight from Copps Hill by Winslow Homer (Appeared in Harper's Weekly, Boston Public Library)

Watching the Fight from Copps Hill by Winslow Homer (Appeared in Harper's Weekly, Boston Public Library)

Her name was Delia Jarvis.

Like William, Delia Jarvis came from one of Boston’s elite families. She was born in 1752 to Elias and Deliverance Atkins Jarvis. Her granddaughter, Delia Stewart Parnell, described her as ‘sprightly, beautiful and highly accomplished.’ “Her hair was dark auburn, her eyes deep blue, her face lovely and beaming with kind feeling for everyone.” The family’s loyalties to the Crown were so pronounced they served tea, the forbidden beverage. In Boston, that was akin to a crime.

William was the only son of Deacon John Tudor, a prominent, wealthy and miserly Bostonian. William graduated from Harvard in 1869, already an overt rebel and patriot. He studied law under John Adams, who praised him for his ‘clear head and honest faithful heart.’ Adams noticed how unhappy his young law clerk was, and wrote to his father asking him to give him more money or a small piece of property. Adams had noticed he barely had enough money for rent and the laundry bill.

William had also fallen in love with Delia Jarvis on their first meeting. She was ambivalent toward him, and he would later confess to a struggle between his feelings for her and his love for his country.


The Boston Massacre, engraving by Paul Revere

The Boston Massacre, engraving by Paul Revere

William Tudor was one of John Adams’ clerks during the Boston Massacre trial, during which Adams defended the British soldiers. William was admitted to the bar on Jan. 29, 1775. Weeks later, on April 19, 1775 the Battles of Concord and Lexington were fought. From that day, New England militiamen laid siege to Boston, preventing British troops from moving.

Delia and her family stayed at their home in Boston, though with growing anxiety about their safety. William Tudor stayed in Boston for the next three weeks as the provincial congress quickly trained and armed troops. On May 12, 1775, he escaped Boston through Point Shirley (what is now Winthrop) and joined the besieging army at Cambridge. On Adams’ recommendation he was appointed judge advocate, later judge advocate general, of the Continental Army.

The Battle of Bunker Hill broke out on June 17, 1775. From her home, Delia watched the British troops march past her front door toward battle. Then she watched them return, carrying the wounded on litters. Years after the battle, her son wrote about the incident in his 1823 book, The Life of James Otis of Massachusetts.

He wrote that Delia mixed a refreshing beverage and, with a female servant by her side, stood at the door and offered it to the sufferers as they were borne along, burning with fever and parched with thirst.  Some of the soldiers tried to console her by assuring her they had destroyed their enemy.  One young officer said, “never mind it my brave young lady, we have peppered ’em well, depend upon it.”

Thus her feelings were unintentionally lacerated, wrote her son, because of her deep interest in William Tudor.

After Bunker Hill, Delia and her family moved to Noddles Island (now East Boston) for safety, and William remained in Cambridge with Washington. They kept up a correspondence during the 11-month siege, and William longed to see her. But the British fleet lay off Noddles Island, and it was too dangerous to approach it by boat. William Tudor would swim across from the mainland to the island to visit her, carrying his clothes on his head, according to his father’s diary, Deacon Tudor’s Diary; or, Memorandums from 1709, &c.


On March 17, 1776. Washington forced the British to evacuate after fortifying Dorchester Heights with guns seized at Ticonderoga. William left Cambridge with Washington on April 4 for New York. He continued to woo Delia through the mail, though she didn’t always respond the way he wanted her to.

In May 1776 he wrote to her asking, "Am I only what I was that first charming Hour, an Acquaintance and a Friend?" Her answer was, basically, 'Yes.'

Delia Jarvis Tudor

Delia Jarvis Tudor

In a letter from Makefield (Pennsilvania) Dec. 24th, 1776, he complained of a ‘cold, inanimate, unfriendly line.’ She had written him she’d ‘rather hear from him than not.’

In that letter, he revealed his conflicted feelings about his love for her, his affection for Washington and his love of his country:

My Hopes of soon returning to Boston are vanished. I cannot desert a Man (& it would certainly be Desertion in a Court of Honour) who has deserted every Thing to defend his Country, & whose chief Misfortune among ten thousand others, is, that a large Part of It wants Spirit to defend itself. I have not "yet ceased to love my Country

Delia, & I am sure from the Magnanimity of your Sentiments, that your Friendship would revolt at the Idea of my quitting it's Service disreputably; & that Man must certainly do so who forsakes it at a Crisis important as the present. If I know my own heart, I think my last wish will be for the Happiness of America, my last but one for yours.

Soft Charms of Wedlock

William Tudor finally persuaded Delia Jarvis to marry him. They wed on March 5, 1778 and he resigned his commission on April 9. Adams wrote a congratulatory letter, saying he was ‘exchanging the Pride, Pomp and Circumstance of Glorious War, for the soft Charms of Wedlock and domestic Felicity.’

Wedlock wasn’t always full of soft charms for the Tudors, as William speculated in land and lost a good deal of the fortune he inherited from his father. He and Delia sometimes traveled to Europe to escape creditors.

Known as Judge Jarvis after the war, William was a successful lawyer, state representative, state senator and secretary of the commonwealth. He was also a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and their home in Court Street became the first meeting place. Delia became one of the celebrities of post-Revolutionary Boston, learning Italian at the age of 80, according to her son William. Their summer home in what is now Nahant eventually became the Nahant Country Club.

Together they had six children. Their son William founded the North American Review literary magazine; Frederic founded The Tudor Ice Company; daughter Delia married Charles Stewart, captain of the USS Constitution. Their grandson, Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish nationalist, is considered one of the greatest leaders of the 19th century.

Thanks to the Boston 1775 blog by J.L. Bell.

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