Category Archives: Pepperell MA

Ague in Pepperell, MA

I have been wondering about the “fever” that killed Oliver and Mary Shepley, so I have dug around searching for Pepperell history. I discovered that Pepperell was part of Groton, although named Pepperell, until 1775.  The fever was described in more detail – as a “burning ague”, which means a hot fever with chills, aches and pains – in the History of Groton, Massachusetts written by Caleb Butler in 1848. It contains the following items from Rev. Emerson’s notes about Pepperell:

Pages 349-350:

Summer and Fall of 1756.
We of Pepperell were visited with grievous sickness. From August 5th to the last of October there were above 180 persons sick, of which number 18 died, chiefly of a burning ague.

We were visited again with grievous sickness in 1757, the same illness we had last year. From the beginning of July to the middle of October, there were 219 persons sick, of which 25 died, 17 heads of families.

In 1758, we were again visited with the same grievous illness we have been for two years before. From the first of August to the middle of October, there were 96 persons sick of the fever of which number 11 died, 7 of whom were heads of families.

In footnote 3:
Jan 3, 1760
In a sermon by Rev. Emerson “It pleased God in the summer of 1755 to visit us with that grievous fever by which we have suffered so much, and which hath from its beginning with us obtained the name of the Pepperell fever.”

Of the 90 families living there, it was estimated that 540 people caught the fever and that 103 of them died. It appears that many of the inhabitants of Pepperell caught this fever at some point and the mortality rate was probably 15-20% of its population.

I still need to search for documents which will link Sibbel to her suspected grandparents, James and Elizabeth Williams Lakin. However, while reading the History of Groton, I discovered one more clue. Ambrose was the third child born to this couple, while Mary was the 8th, but the last child was another daughter named. . .Sybel. born 2 Jan 1736/37! Mary may have been close to this sister and named her daughter for her.

Wife of Oliver Shepley

Sibbel Shepley, born 19 Sept 1755 in Groton, Middlesex, MA,  was the wife of one of my Revolutionary War soldier ancestors, James Scripture. James was also born in Groton, in 1749, but they married in Mason, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire on 15 June 1775. James died at the relatively young age of 60, in 1810, but Sibbel survived him by 24 years, passing away in Mason in 1834. Their graves are still standing in the town cemetery and I visited there a number of years ago.

Mason New Hampshire Cemetery

Sibbel was unusual for the time period in that she was orphaned a month before her second birthday and had no siblings. Her mother has been somewhat of a mystery to me as I’ve never found a marriage for her parents or an obvious clue as to her maiden name. I also have no idea who raised Sibbel, although I suspect it was a relative from her mother’s family. I also suspect, given the pattern of two years’ space between births of children, that her mother was likely pregnant at the time she died, but probably didn’t die from childbirth complications.

Here is what I do know about Sibbel’s family:

Her father was Oliver Shepley, born 18 Jan 1734/1735 in Groton, MA, the last born of four children, all sons, of Jonathan Shepley and his wife, Lydia Lakin. Jonathan was the son of John Shepley and his wife, another Lydia Lakin. Jonathan’s mother was the daughter of Ensign John Lakin and Mary Bacon. His wife, Lydia,  was the daughter of William Lakin and Elizabeth Robertson. William was the son of Lt. William Lakin, brother of Ensign John Lakin, and his wife, Lydia Brown. If you are confused by all these Lakins, I was, too, when I first discovered them.

It is a bit easier to follow in columnar fashion:

Ens. John Lakin=Mary Bacon                 Lt.  William Lakin= Lydia Brown

John Shepley=Lydia Lakin                        William Lakin=Eliz. Robertson

Jonathan Shepley                          =             Lydia Lakin

Oliver Shepley =Mary ?

As you can see, I have a somewhat tangled Lakin family heritage, but I think I may have circumstantial proof that this heritage is even a bit more tangled.

Given that Oliver and Mary were only in their early 20’s when they died, they have left few records.  As mentioned, no marriage record has been found for them.  Groton’s marriage records survive for this time period and a cousin, John Shepley, married there in 1755, about when they would have married. It is possible that, for whatever reason, their marriage record wasn’t recorded; it is also possible that they married in a nearby town and the record didn’t survive there.

Masschusetts Vital Records to 1850 list the deaths of both Oliver and Mary.  Mary died first on 6 Aug 1757, aged 23 years, of a fever, in Pepperell, MA.  It would be easy to suggest that Mary died of childbirth fever except for the fact that her husband died only five days later on 11 Aug 1757.  Oliver also died of fever and his parents are named as Jonathan and Lydia Shepley; his age is given as 22 years, six months and 11 days. That a young couple, both in their 20’s, died of fever within five days of each other points towards some kind of pestilence, but I haven’t located any account of an epidemic in the Groton-Pepperell area at that time.

Oliver was slightly younger than his wife, Mary, according to their recorded ages at death, which I thought might help with the search for Mary’s maiden name.

Papers were filed for Oliver’s probate administration on 18 Jan 1758.  Ambrose Lakin, James Lakin and Abel Lawrence posted a L500 bond with Middlesex County Court and Ambrose Lakin was appointed administrator of Oliver’s estate. The inventory showed positive income of 27.2.2 pounds in April 1758. The estate was not closed until 18 Sept 1782, likely because of the war, and the only heir named was James Scripture, husband of Sibbel Shepley. He received the kingly  sum of 3.7.7 pounds.

I obtained the probate file from the Massachusetts State Archives many years ago. The New England Historic Genealogical Society recently obtained rights to publish them in digital form.

OliverShepleyProbate#20324

This probate file is the only other document found relating to Oliver Shepley, aside from his birth and death records, so I began to analyze the scant information in it. What stood out most of all was that Ambrose Lakin remained the estate administrator for 24 years. He obviously wasn’t making money on this estate so it seemed likely that Ambrose was related to Sibbel. Remember, her maternal grandmother and great grandmother were both Lakins. What I did find is one Ambrose Lakin, son of James Lakin and Elizabeth Williams, born 30 Apr 1722, so he was a slightly older contemporary of Oliver Shepley, and of an appropriate age to be appointed an estate administrator in 1758. Ambrose’s paternal grandparents were William Lakin and Elizabeth Robertson and his father, James, was the older brother of Oliver’s mother, Lydia.

Interestingly, Ambrose was the third born of nine children. Child number 8 was a sister, MARY, born 26 Apr 1734 in Groton. No marriage record has been located for this Mary Lakin; nor has a death record been found for her. She would have been 23 years and a few months old in Aug 1757. . . . I firmly believe that Ambrose’s younger sister, Mary, married her first cousin, Oliver Shepley, possibly not in Groton, in late 1754 or early 1755.

I happened to chat with an NEHGS staff member about the dilemma of Mrs. Oliver Shepley’s maiden name. The staff member agreed with my supposition that Oliver married his first cousin, Mary Lakin. The two families intermarried multiple times in various lines and didn’t appear to have a problem with cousin marriages. There are no further records found for Ambrose’s sister, Mary, and it made good sense that, as an older brother, he handled the Shepley estate in care for his toddler niece, Sibbel. Although he was also Oliver’s cousin, there were too many years’ difference in age for them to have grown up as close playmates and there were many Shepley males who could have administered Oliver’s estate.  A 24-year commitment seems a bit much for one of many cousins.  Ambrose’s tie to this family was his younger sister, Mary.

I have not found death records for Sibbel’s grandparents, James Lakin and Elizabeth Williams, in Middlesex County, MA. In fact, there are no Lakin estates filed there from 1757 until 1790, when James would have been 100 years old so the family may have removed to another area of MA or possibly moved north into New Hampshire, so the search for a grandchild, Sibbel, named in James’ or Elizabeth’s estate, will go on. However, I think I am on the right trail!

What happened to Sibbel? As mentioned, she married James Scripture in 1775 and they went on to have eleven children of their own, many of whom lived to old age.

SibbelScriptureGravestone

Gravestone of Sibbel Shepley Scripture

Mason, New Hampshire