Exploring New Worlds When You Have Hemophilia: John Oliver

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By Richard Atwood

Have you ever thought of traveling overseas?

A benefit of current treatment of hemophilia is the freedom to safely travel. This was not always possible before the use of factor concentrates. Now with just a few precautions, such as carrying a medical ID, a letter from your hematologist, and a travel case of factor concentrate with necessary supplies, along with your passport and a credit card, you can easily travel to many destinations in the world.

Suppose you wanted to travel across the Atlantic Ocean from England to America. Today you could take a five-hour flight from London to Boston. Now compare that to the voyage of John Oliver (1613-1641), the first recognized individual with hemophilia to travel across the ocean almost 400 years ago. Newly married in 1639, Oliver left England to settle in the Colonies.

John Oliver born in Bristol. The eldest child of James Oliver (1586-1629) and Frances Cary (1590-1635), Oliver had two sisters and two brothers who lived to be adults, and possibly three sisters who died as children. It’s unknown whether a family history of hemophilia existed. At 16, Oliver was apprenticed for eight years to his uncle, Walter Stephens of Bristol, a dealer in textile fabrics. Oliver belonged to a multigenerational extended family of seemingly prosperous merchants.

By 1639, Oliver finished his apprenticeship and received his inheritance after both parents died. His 22-year-old brother James died that year, allowing the speculation that he had hemophilia. Oliver received his brother’s inheritance of £50. After marrying Joanna Lowle (later spelled Lowell), Oliver, at age 26, packed their belongings. Then accompanied by his in-laws, the couple probably traveled by wagon to London, where everyone boarded the Jonathan.

The Jonathan was about 100 feet in length with a capacity of 200 to 300 tons. There were two or three small cabins for important passengers plus a hold for 100 passengers (with maybe room for cattle on the deck). There were over 50 individuals who were aboard. A regular fare was £5 (around $4 in today’s market) and a cabin cost £17, plus £8 for one group’s luggage, and even more for food.

Sailing under Master John Whetstone, the Jonathan departed London on April 12, stopped briefly in Southampton, and arrived in Boston Harbor on June 23. A voyage across the ocean at that time was expected to take six weeks. This trip lasted over nine weeks, indicating bad weather or other problems. Some of the passengers died on board from childbirth complications, infant illnesses, and possibly infectious diseases. Sanitary conditions were most likely impossible to maintain, and food supplies were limited.

John Oliver traveled in a party of 17 led by his father-in-law Percival Lowle (1571-1665), an importer and merchant in Bristol. Lowle was accompanied by his wife, his two married sons and their families, his two married daughters and their families, plus business associates and apprentices. This was the beginning of the prominent Lowell pedigree in New England. (The city of Lowell is named after them, and is home to University of Massachusetts Lowell.)

Soon after arriving in Massachusetts Bay Colony, Oliver and his wife settled in Newbury, about 35 miles north of Boston. The couple bought house lots and arable lands, meadows, marsh, orchard, fences, privileges, and commons from Mr. Stephen Bachelor and Christopher Hussey for six score pounds. Oliver was a merchant of imported goods from England, probably working from his home. In 1640, he was admitted as a Freeman and his daughter, Mary, was born. The next year he was chosen to serve on the General Court appointed commissioners for small causes in Newbury.

Oliver must have died in January 1642, probably due to complications of his hemophilia, leaving an estate worth £420 in lands and goods. In 1645, his widow married Captain William Gerrish, another merchant who traveled in the Lowle party. Later in 1656, 16-year-old Mary Oliver, a hemophilia carrier, married Major Samuel Appleton Jr. from that prominent New England pedigree in Ipswich. Their marriage started the extensive Appleton-Swain pedigree of hemophilia A in Massachusetts—the first known family with hemophilia in the Americas.

Today we are often critical of air travel. High cost, lack of leg and elbow room, inadequate bin size, rude passengers, extra charges, security checks, long delays. Consider what John Oliver had to endure during those nine weeks he was aboard a ship to appreciate how we travel today in airplanes! Yet like Oliver, we also have to pay extra for luggage and food, so some complaints about traveling seem to persist forever. But don’t let that hinder your travels abroad!

America’s First Family with Hemophilia

New England, 1639. Imagine that you are standing on the deck of the sailing ship Jonathan. You have just glimpsed the shore of your new home, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Imagine the brilliant New England foliage, the bright chilly wind. Imagine your dream of farming your newly acquired land. Imagine the adventure. Now, imagine that you are the first European with hemophilia to step on the North American shore.appleton-farms.jpg (1024×682)John Oliver (1613–1642) traveled from Bristol, England with his family to settle under the leadership of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He lived for only three years after he reached North America, fathering one child, Mary, and dying young as a consequence of his hemophilia. Not until after 1800 did the medical community begin using the term hemophilia to describe his disorder. John’s daughter, Mary Oliver (1640–1698), was likely the first hemophilia carrier of European descent born in the colonies. With her husband, Major Samuel Appleton, Jr. (1625–1696), Mary had three daughters and five sons. One of these sons, Oliver Appleton (1677–1759), was the first American colonist born with hemophilia.

Early Ipswich Roots
Mary and Major Appleton lived in a settlement known to native Americans as Agawam, but re-christened by the English in 1633 as the town of Ipswich. What would life in Ipswich have offered their son, Oliver Appleton? Thirty miles north of Boston on the Atlantic shore, Ipswich was owned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony; it was purchased earlier in the century from Native Americans for 20 British pounds. By the mid-1600s, Ipswich ranked second only to Boston in population and wealth. The Appletons were a wealthy colonial family. Major Samuel Appleton, Jr., Oliver’s father, was the son of Samuel Appleton Sr., one of the “landed gentry,” and a good friend of John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Appleton’s fertile 460 acres of farmland had been granted to him by the Colony in 1638, and left to his son, Major Appleton, around 1670.
Major Appleton, who served as a judge at the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, died in 1696. He left his now nearly 600 acres, split into four parcels, to his four sons: Oliver, Isaac, Samuel and John. Oliver’s 100-plus acre inheritance included his father’s sawmill, ox pasture, and farmland bordering his brothers’ parcels.

In 1701, Oliver married Sarah Perkins. Well-to-do millers, farmers and traders, Oliver and Sarah possessed numerous household and farm goods. They were involved in local politics, church affairs and business. Together they raised fourteen children; several sons and their descendants would become fine cabinetmakers. At the turn of the eighteenth century, Oliver and his three brothers were working their adjoining farms in a loosely communal style. Each brother might grow a crop that the other brothers could use. Yet each brother farmed separately, produced his own goods for trade (like basket hoops), and kept his own business ledger. The brothers owned cattle, sheep, turkeys and hogs, and traded goods with family and friends in Ipswich.

A Dangerous Occupation?
On their “new” land (already cleared and cultivated by Native Americans), the Appletons cut and milled timber, raised livestock and worked the farm. Today, farming is still one of the most dangerous occupations. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its hazards were surely compounded by Oliver’s hemophilia, and the harsh New England winters. Yet Oliver lived to be 82—a considerable age in any century.

Late in life, Oliver was confined to his bed and developed bedsores on his hips. At age 82, his cause of death is recorded as bleeding from his bedsores and his urethra. Oliver appears to have been a generous and fair man, dividing his estate equitably among his children and his wife Sarah.

Making Medical History
Oliver and Sarah had six daughters and eight sons. Two of the daughters, Sarah and Hannah, had sons with hemophilia.

Interestingly, Hannah’s sons, Oliver and Thomas Swaim, were doctors. What would they have thought of their family’s disorder?

Without letters or other documents, we can only guess. Yet it was the Swaim branch of the Appleton family that attracted the attention of the medical community. Based on his personal connection with the Swaim family, Dr. John Hay, a Massachusetts physician, published an article on the Appletons in a New England medical journal in 1813. Following this publication, the Appleton family history appeared in numerous medical journals, at least as late as 1962. By then, the family had been traced through 350 years and 11 generations: 25 males with hemophilia, and 27 carrier females. In 1961 a blood sample, drawn from the last known living carrier in the family tree, revealed factor VIII deficiency, or hemophilia A.

Are the Appletons America’s “First Family” with hemophilia? Perhaps, in the sense that our knowledge of hemophilia has been enriched by the study of this large and long-lived colonial family. Thanks to our American Revolution, we have no “royal family” with hemophilia. Yet we can still honor and remember the Appleton family. This Thanksgiving, we can recall the challenges faced by earlier generations with hemophilia—people who contributed to our heritage as Americans, and as a hemophilia community. To understand ourselves, and create our vision for the future, we must always remember the past.

You can visit Appleton Farms in Ipswich, Massachusetts. 

From the November 2002 Issue Parent Empowerment Newsletter
“THE APPLETONS: America’s ‘First Family’ With Hemophilia”
by Richard J. Atwood and Sara P. Evangelos
© 2002 LA Kelley Communications, Inc.

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