William Tudor fell in love with a loyalist. It was an awkward position for a rebel who would become the first judge advocate general of the Continental Army.
Worse, his loyalist love interest helped British soldiers wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
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,” wrote her granddaughter.
Delia’s loyalist family served tea, the forbidden beverage. In Boston, that amounted to a crime.
He 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 his young law clerk ‘s unhappiness, and wrote to his father asking him to give him more money or a small piece of property. Adams saw the young man barely had enough money for rent and the laundry bill.
William had also fallen in love with Delia Jarvis on their first meeting. She felt ambivalent toward him. Later he would confess to a struggle between his feelings for her and his love for his country.
William Tudor served as one of John Adams’ clerks during the Boston Massacre trial, during which Adams defended the British soldiers. William was then admitted to the bar on Jan. 29, 1775. Weeks later, on April 19, 1775 the American Revolution broke out with the Battles of Concord and Lexington. From that day, New England militiamen laid siege to Boston, preventing British troops from moving.
Delia and her loyalist 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. With a female servant by her side, she stood at the door and offered it to the wounded, 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.”
The comment unintentionally lacerated her feelings, 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. 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 swam across from the mainland to visit his loyalist love. He carried 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 Tudor 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.’
In a letter from Makefield (Pennsylvania) 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. He wrote that his former law clerk was ‘exchanging the Pride, Pomp and Circumstance of Glorious War, for the soft Charms of Wedlock and domestic Felicity.’
Wedlock didn’t always have soft charms for the Tudors, as William speculated in land. He lost a good deal of the fortune he inherited from his father. Sometimes he and Delia traveled to Europe to escape creditors.
Known as Judge Jarvis after the war, William Tudor did succeed in politics and law. He served as state representative, state senator and secretary of the Commonwealth. He also co-founded the Massachusetts Historical Society, and his and Delia’s 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 Tudor founded the North American Review literary magazine. Frederic Tudor founded The Tudor Ice Company, while 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. This story about William Tudor was updated in 2019.