"The said John Bozell's way of life is mostly in pretending to tell fortunes, and fraudulently getting people's money by telling them, that by giving him such a sum of money, in such a place they shall find a great sum, and has brought a great many ignorant people to ruin."
Although there are other candidates, it's possible his son, John, was the 'Black Jack' Boswell who gave rise to the later famous Derbyshire Boswell clan. But that John was said to be a brother to other well-known Boswells of the period, Lawrence, Bartholomew and Edmond, and there are other names in the ring for their parentage too. But it could at least be said there is a close link with another historic Boswell - Shadrach the soldier, who was likely press-ganged into service as a result of the Vagrancy Act, and fought the French in Canada in 1779 - he may have been a cousin.
It seems fairly well accepted that John and Edmond were brothers and variously went by the name of Boss, sometimes also called the 'Kak' Boswells, on account of a lazy eye, or eyes of a different colour. One daughter went by the title of 'Gall-Eyed Licia', and I tend to blame the Boss family genes whenever yet another photo of me emerges with one of my eyes half-closed.
Edmond was the husband of Eldorai Boss, reputed to be a sister of Shadrach. One of their children was Eliza, and she became the wife of Anselo Boswell (often recorded as Joseph Boss), the son of Edmond's brother John. Anselo's siblings included Viney, Hairy Tom, Black Ambrose and John - the latter, or his father, claimed to be 'The Flaming Tinman' of Borrow's popular Lavengro, but it was more likely to be the son given that his age was "not much under fifty".
John Boss (the father) has been recorded as marrying one Mary Newberry in Loughborough, Leicestershire, in 1780, but this seems unlikely. Mary's maiden name was Wood, and she married the recently widowed William Newberry, a Loughborough butcher, in 1775. They had a daughter, Parnell, in 1776 (she would go on to marry a cavalryman and then work in the Royal household), before William died in 1779. In 1778 he had taken an apprentice, John Boss, most likely his cousin, and it was this John, apprentice butcher, who married the widowed Mary Newberry in 1780. Little of this has the Gypsy stamp upon it.
Anselo and Eliza had a number of children baptised across Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Lincolnshire and Cheshire. One of these, in 1812, was Mary Ann Tracey, known as Tresi. In 1832 she married William Sherriff at Rugeley, Staffordshire, allegedly a mumper - a slightly derogatory term the Romanies used for someone less than a true Gypsy, a beggar, a vagrant, a hedge dweller. But the Sherriffs themselves have a pedigree of travelling, at least back into the beginning of the 18th century. Some of these Sherriffs married into the Hodgkins and Clayton families, and others into Tresi's Boswell clan. William Sherriff's sisters, Patience and Ambretty, were both wives at different times of Tresi's uncle, Hairy Tom Boswell.
William and Tresi had a dozen or so children, with several marrying into 'good' families - Claytons, Hollands and Boswells. Youngest son Hope married Trinity Boyling, the daughter of "tale-teller" Absalom 'Appy' Boswell. In 1903 Hope and three of his sons were apprehended for the murder of a policeman - Hope was acquitted but the three sons ended up in prison on a charge of manslaughter. One died during his sentence, while another, Thomas, came out to fight in the Great War, only to be killed on the first day of the Somme.
The Gypsyologist Thomas W. Thompson wrote that "no marriages have been recorded" for four of the Sherriff children - Alfred, William, Lorcni and Joseph. My own research shows that William had a son with an Ann, and then lived for a number of years with an Elizabeth Allen, before being killed in a fight at Ripley. As for Joseph, he was my 3xg-grandfather, and he married Eliza Johnson at Uttoxeter in 1871. Eliza was a widow previously married to Joseph's cousin, Joseph Clayton, son of his aunt Ann Sherriff.
Eliza had three children: Alfred, Mary Ann Tracey (who died age 4), and Charlotte (my gg-grandmother), all born before she married Joseph Sherriff in 1871. But were they the children of Joseph Sherriff or Joseph Clayton? If it's the latter then I am not descended from the Boswells at all, and I'll have no one to blame for my sometimes-lazy eye. Both Josephs were chair makers, and both had fathers called William, also chair makers. Furthermore, daughter Charlotte recorded the maiden name of Claydon on seven of her 11 children's birth certificates.
Although they married in 1871, Joseph Sherriff was with Eliza and the eldest child, Alfred, on the 1861 census. Joseph's age and birthplace are consistent with previous and later census returns to indicate he is the Boswell descendant. Even so, this is thin evidence in the Gypsy world where facts are often made out of nothing better than sand. But further research into first husband, Joseph Claydon, puts it almost beyond dispute. In 1846 Claydon was apprehended for his involvement in a violent house robbery over a year before - he was found guilty and given the harsh sentence of transportation for life. He arrived on the remote Norfolk Island in September 1846, but seven months later he was dead from dysentery. This may explain the late wedding of his cousin to Eliza if they did not know his fate.
My gg-grandmother, Charlotte Sherriff, married William Hodgkins, her first-cousin once-removed (Charlotte's grandmother was also William's aunt), and though they went on to have 11 children, only five survived into childhood, and only three of those into older age.
My great-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins, survived WWI but died a few years later, age 34. He had two daughters by then, including my Granny, May. Both her and her second daughter, my Mum, always claimed their dark hair was a sign of their "True Romany Gypsy" heritage, even though by then the names and stories had been mostly forgotten.
More on my Gypsy family history here.