Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Life and Entertaining Adventures of Mr. Cleveland,
Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell

Vikki's Note: In 1996, I received copies of correspondence from Cleveland Family Chronicles Research Society (CFCRS) members John Arnett, Grace Green, and the late June Rayfield Welch concerning the possible connection between Oliver Cromwell and the Cleveland line, and the infamous book supposedly written by Cromwell's "natural son." Their genealogical "triumvirate" may be contributing as much to our family research efforts as Horace and Edmund's worthy genealogical volumes of 1899. Many thanks to them for their continuing support of and contributions to CFCRS.]

[From a letter to Grace Green, dated 2 Jan 1996]

Dear Grace,

I've read with interest your comments in the CFCRS and have been intending to write you anyway to inquire more about what you knew regarding the Cleveland-Cromwell connection....

This past year I read Antonia Fraser's Cromwell and found the study of his life most interesting. Like most of the Cleveland descendants, I had hoped that the connection would eventually turn out to be correct...and it may yet be. On a trip to Washington a year or so ago, I copied some Coffey material and noted in the Coffey family writings a similar interest in trying to make a connection. A Rice Coffey who was the grandson of John Cleveland (m. Elizabeth Coffey) was quite certain that his grandfather was descended from English nobility, and several subsequent family members apparently claimed a Lady Axminster to have been an ancestor.

In the Draper manuscripts Mr. Draper had included some correspondence with a Mrs. Lingow of Forkville, TN, who wrote that a William Cromwell was the "natural son of Oliver Cromwell" who wrote the four-volume Life and Adventures book of which she had a copy (published in 1760 by Livingston, Fletcher, et al.) She also claimed that William's son Alexander Cleveland, Sr., was born in England and then moved to Woburn, MA, and that his son Alexander Cleveland, Jr., was born in MA and moved to Albemarle County, VA, where he died, according to her, at age 100. Mrs. Lingow's grandfather was John Cleveland (m. Elizabeth Coffey), and her father was Jeremiah Cleveland. Her given name was Martha Cleveland, and she was in her 80's when she wrote to Mr. Draper in the early 1870's. However, Draper also had correspondence with a John H. Watkins, who knew Mrs. Lingow personally and had also read the Cleveland book. In July 1874, Watkins wrote Draper, "Mrs. Lingow's mind is nearly gone...and she also believes that Benjamin Franklin is an ancestor." He further stated, "I have read The life of Mr. Cleveland and am confident that descent from Cromwell all originated from this story, and that the 'history' of Col. Cleveland's spoken of by Mrs. Watson [a friend or relative of Mrs. Lingow?s] was also the same thing. I am inclined to look at the book as a poorly written sensational novel." [Vikki's Note: In Mrs. Lingow's defense, her grandparents, John and Elizabeth Coffey Cleveland, had a daughter, Mary, who married Bernard Franklin. Bernard and Mary Cleveland Franklin had a son named Benjamin Franklin, and several descendants of Bernard and Mary also carried that name.]

Nevertheless, legends die hard, and I was hoping like most of us that there would be some truth in the tradition. Thus, when I learned from a distant cousin who is interested in genealogy about a company in Michigan which specialized in finding and copying books which are long out of print, I decided to see if they could find the book and make a copy for me.... I called them and they were able to check their computer and actually had a copy of the book in microfilm. I bit the bullet and ordered the complete four volumes (when they sent the copies it was five volumes). The cost was outrageous, but I thought I could provide a service to the Cleveland descendants by checking it out personally. I am still trying to get through it and have another volume to finish reading. What I had planned to do then was to write out a synopsis of the ?plot? and story line with the names which are mentioned and send it to Vikki to publish in the CFCRS bulletin. There are some 1500 4x6 inch pages and the S's are printed as F's, but I eventually would like to try scanning the book into a computer or have it transcribed and then printed in a more condensed type and made available to any who would want to read the book themselves.

Clearly, this is the book of which we have heard so much. Its official title is Le philosophe anglais; ou, Histoire de Monsieur Cleveland, fil naturel de Cromwell, ecrite par lui meme (The Life and Entertaining Adventures of Mr. Cleveland, Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell, Written by Himself.) It was written by Abbe (Antoine Francois) Prevost (1697-1763). He was one of several 18th century novel writers (others being Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Jonathan Swift, John Arbuthnot, et al.) The Library has a multivolume series called Literature Criticism and in Volume I, Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, there?s a lengthy section on Prevost's works and the comments of many critics about his work over the ensuing years. Prevost, according to the article, wrote at least nine other works, the best known apparently was Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality, Written Originally in the French Tongue by Himself after His Retirement from the World (1738). The Life of...Mr. Cleveland was written in 1741 primarily to earn money according to Prevost. Prevost was trained as a Jesuit and got a Papal dispensation which permitted him to join the Benedictines where he had more freedom to write.

I won't go through the story line at this time, but will get to work setting it out for you and others to see. You might be interested to know some of the characters, though. Mr. Cleveland is never referred to by his first name. He has a grandfather Cleveland (no first name) who was a Royalist in the Court of Charles I and later of Charles II. The grandfather disowned his daughter, Elizabeth, because of her sympathies with the Protestants and she had a liaison with Oliver Cromwell. Elizabeth and her son by Oliver, Mr. Cleveland, were treated very badly by Oliver, who tried to have them killed. [Oliver is portrayed in a very poor light in the novel and one wonders why the Clevelands, if they read the book, would have been eager to claim kinship!] It turns out that a woman named Bridge also had an affair with Oliver, and Mr. Cleveland later developed a friendship with the son Mr. Bridge (no first name). Mr. Cleveland then meets a Lord Axminster, whose mother was poorly treated by Oliver as well, and they have many adventures together. Mr. Cleveland eventually marries Lord Axminster's daughter, Fanny, but she later deserts him. Mr. Cleveland has may adventures in Virginia, the Carolinas, and the Caribbean [with some obvious errors in geography which indicate Prevost was never there] and spends much of his time bewailing the inability of his philosophy to protect him from the twists of fate and passion...

I am descended from Robert Cleveland's daughter, Fanny, and I assume that her name may have come from the book as well. It's of interest that Fanny named her first daughter, also of my line, Clarissa Harlowe after the heroine of a Samuel Richardson novel of the period by the same name.

I suppose there's still the possibility that there was a Mr. Cleveland whom Prevost knew of who had boasted that he was the illegitimate son of Oliver Cromwell and then Prevost just embellished the story somewhat. Or it could be all fiction. One item I haven't been able to find any information about is whether there was an actual Lord or Lady Axminster. I haven't been able to find any mention of the Axminsters in various books on English nobility. There is a town of Axminster in Devonshire near a spot where Mr. Cleveland, in the novel, hid out in some caves and met the Lord Axminster, but I don't know if anyone more versed in English genealogy has looked into that line.

In her book on Cromwell, Fraser discounts any illicit affairs by Cromwell though there is that period of about 1620 when he was apparently living a raucous life.

In the LDS Library, as you know, there are very few (actually only 2) Alexander Clevelands before 1700, and we may be descended from one or both of them. Of course, there's the Abingdon records which seem to show Roger is our ancestor, but he could have had a brother, Alexander...

Hopefully, we'll be able to make some more sense of this some day. I am particularly interested in the Baptist origins of the Clevelands and wonder when that transformation occurred. There were some notable Puritans named Roger (including Roger Williams and Roger Wilson), and it may be that his name was given in their memory. We'll keep on searching.

Do you have any more information about Alexander Cleveland who m. 1604 to Priscilla Cantrill in St. Andrew-the-Great, Cambridge, England? As you know, there's an Alexander Cleveland mentioned in the LDS files from an unnamed county in England who is said to have been born in 1659. Do you think this could have been a brother of Roger Cleveland? We don't know when Roger was born, but since he was in Gloucester, VA, working for his landlord, Robert Bryan, in November 1670, I've assumed he was born before the 1659 Alexander and possibly a brother. I'm assuming that Roger and his brother Alexander were grandsons of the Alexander who married Priscilla and possibly distant cousins of the Northern Cleveland line.

As to Alexander I (b. 1687) having been the one about whom his son, Alexander II (b. 1712), wrote a biography, I don't know. It was 1749 when Alexander II's seventh child was born and given the name Oliver. It could be that by that time he had read Prevost's novel which was published in 1741 and decided to latch on to that connection.

...I read part of the Prevost book and noted that "Fanny" was actually Frances, so I guess that was her real name and she was called Fanny as in the book. It would make sense that her name came from the book since I don't think the name Frances occurs anywhere else in the family line up to that time.

There's still that nagging question about whether there really was a Lady Axminster in history and whether there is some historical fact that Prevost was drawing upon. An English genealogist might be able to help us if you know any.

John Arnett

[From a letter to John Arnett, dated 7 Jan 1996]

Dear John,

I received your letter Friday. I can't believe it! That is really the Cleveland Book we have looked for, for 200 years....

Prevost himself says, "These Papers were given to me by Mr. Cleveland, the author's son, a person advanced in years." He says he lives now in Kingsfleet, Westminster. This had to be before 1734. (Alex Cleveland II was born c1659, died 1770 in VA.) Prevost says he first saw the Papers in Paris where he and Mr. Cleveland were at the time. He says, "I was very urgent with him to have them printed, persuaded that they would be a very acceptable present to the public. He told me that the only objection he had to my proposal was the confused method in which they were writ; and the difficult task it would be to digest them in such a manner, as might make them worthy of appearing in the world especially as he was engaged in a tedious lawsuit (maybe we can find that in English records?) which took up the greatest part of his time. This I obviated by a modest offer of my service, which my good friend accepted; and an ingenious French gentleman, who understands the English toung [sic] perfectly well, agreeing to share with me in it, we methodized it in the manner in which it is now published, without altering a single circumstance in the whole work...."

We must remember that this book was written by Mr. Cleveland probably late in life and he had read a lot of books in his youth. Living in the cave (Merlin?) was maybe only a few days but to a boy under the age of 10 (his mother died before he was 15) it would seem like a long time. This book has most likely been exaggerated by Mr. Cleveland, that may have been one of the reasons his son didn't want it published. The Indian thing seems a little far-fetched.

I have the novel by Lady Antonia Fraser. She has been loyal to her beliefs, as has Rev. Mark Noble, no "bad" things from him. The British are funny that way. I think Lyman Draper, although a noted historian, has in this case repeated the beliefs of other authors.

Grace Green

[From a letter to John Arnett, dated 7 Jan 1996]

Dear John:

Bless your heart! No one else would have done this very appropriate and necessary thing. Thank you.

You are quite correct in stating that many of us would like for the Cromwell connection to be true--it makes for a great story. In fact, a few years ago the British had come upon an ancient pike that still had the head of Cromwell impaled upon it. They purported to not know what they should do with it. (Simply restoring it to the coffin containing the body had not occurred to them.) As a leg-pull I thought seriously about writing and asserting that I was a descendant and directing that Oliver Cromwell's head be sent along to me.

But there is no evidence. Lots of years ago I came down with Hodgkins disease and thought I had bought the farm. So I put down everything in my notes and published it in book form in the hope my research would survive and others could do the necessary research to see what was and was not true. I repeated the Cromwell story that old Ben had loved so well and that had probably affected the way that some of the Clevelands had seen themselves and handled their lives. (Who can know if old Ben and the others, without the myth, would have stood as tall and held such ambitions as commanding armed bodies of men who set their hands against their King George? And would Ben have decorated the tree on the courthouse square at North Wilkesboro with Tories if he had not believed the blood of The Protector coursed in his veins?)

These notes of mine on the Clevelands are set down with much the same motivation--to keep the data from being lost until such time as I can do proper research. They have been gathered in these years while I have practiced law and taught full-time in the university and written 18 books. So there are no doubt many errors.

All of this Cromwell business--and the Lady Axminster ancestor--comes from a novel written by a French writer of fiction. And now you have come up with solid information on the basis of misinformation. (My ancestors would not have made a distinction between history and fiction--if it appeared in writing, it had to be true.)

So I am grateful for you expenditure of treasure and labor in the search for truth.

Your old Cleveland cousin,
June Rayfield Welch

[From a letter dated 15 Jan 1996]

Dear Vikki,

Since 1749 when Alexander Cleveland, Jr., named one of his sons Oliver, there has circulated the family tradition that the "Southern" Clevelands had descended from an illegitimate son of Oliver Cromwell, and Col. Benjamin Cleveland possessed a book which was allegedly written by the son of this "natural" son of Cromwell which he proudly pointed to as proof of his kinship. In the pages of the CFCRS [newsletter] and among other writings of the Coffey clan, there has been lively discussion of the exact nature of this pedigree and its proof.

A few months ago I was able to secure a copy of the famous book from University Microfilms International in Ann Arbor, MI, and now, having read it through, am submitting an analysis of the work and some comments of its significance. The book published in 1734 was a historical satire or romance novel by a former Jesuit and later Benedictine French monk named Abbe (Antoine Francois) Prevost (1697-1763). The preface to the work, written by Prevost, states that the son of a Mr. Cleveland gave him a manuscript in which his father had written extensively about his life and adventures as this illegitimate son of Oliver Cromwell.

Some who have read this book have taken the preface at face value, but, in fact, the preface is part of the fiction much in the same style as the introductory remarks which precede Jonathan Swift?s Gulliver's Travels (1726) and Daniel Defoe?s Robinson Crusoe (1719). In his preface, Prevost even mentions Lemuel [Gulliver] by name as though he were a real person. The book is presented in five volumes containing eleven books and runs on for some 1200 4x6-inch pages with about 100 words per page (total of some 380,000 words).

So what now? There is the possibility that Prevost based his historical fiction on some real-life Cleveland and Lady Axminster and merely embellished the story. But most serious Cromwell researchers, such as Antonia Fraser, discount the possibility that Oliver Cromwell fathered any illegitimate children and attribute such stories to Royalist propagandists who were trying to discredit him. Although Prevost is certainly not a fan of Cromwell's, neither is he much more sympathetic to the intrigues of the court of Charles II and the Catholic Church. His motive in writing the book seems more just for the fun of it. But for us the descendants of the Cleveland families who for years accepted the fact of the novel and even named their children for Oliver Cromwell, what can we hope to gain by this bit of revisionist history?

First, it's important that our ancestors believed the story and by it gained inspiration in several ways: Col. Benjamin Cleveland was inspired to honor the Protestant and anti-Royalist cause of Cromwell as he fought Tories in North Carolina; the Protestant and Baptist Clevelands were inspired in their religion by the pro-Protestant and anti-Catholic tone of the "history"; the moral values of marital fidelity, honor, and duty were strong influences for their families? behavior as were such other books as Pilgrim's Progress and Fox's Book of Martyrs; and the trials of Mr. Cleveland were no doubt an inspiration to them as they braved the difficulties of the western Carolina and east Tennesse frontiers. And, the story has certainly generated interest among genealogists to try to elucidate more precisely our family's lineage.

Second, some of the names of our ancestors likely come from the book: Oliver, Frances (Fanny), Elizabeth, and others. (Fanny Cleveland Watkins named her first child, Clarissa Harlowe, after the heroine of a Samuel Richardson novel of the same name, published 1747.) Third, the fact that the family read this book and others like it gives us some inkling of what they read in addition to the Bible and the values they espoused in their daily lives.

And fourth, the book actually makes for interesting reading and gives a glimpse of history in a different context than that found in most non-fiction histories of seventeenth-century England and France, and it encourages one to study the religio-political conflicts of that century which gave birth to America. In fact, the story would make an interesting and engaging movie much along the lines of Tom Jones.

Further research may yet show there was, indeed, a Lady Axminster and a Mr. Cleveland in our heritage, but for the moment we'll have to live with the facts we know....

John Arnett

[From a letter dated 16 Jan 1996]

Dear Cousin Vikki,

Yes...I can't believe our GOOD luck!

I put a message on the bulletin board on the Internet, and within about three weeks I received an answer from John Arnett.

Now, after three hundred years, we can all see and read what is REALLY in the Cleveland Papers, and judge for ourselves. As John has said he is going to make it available to us....

We can already see from reading some of the first volume, that whoever read the Cleveland Papers long ago, has misinterpreted the part about a marriage of Elizabeth Cleveland to a Mr. Bridge. That Mr. Bridge, called half-brother by Mr. Cleveland, was the illegitimate son of Mollie Bridge, who was one of Cromwell's mistresses, and indeed a half-brother of our Mr. Cleveland. So strike out that Elizabeth Cleveland/James Bridge marriage.

Oliver Cromwell entered the House of Commons as MP for Huntingdon March 1628. This is most likely what Mr. Cleveland was talking about, and what the editor, Antoine Prevost, has said "may be objected to by readers, since we don?t find any such circumstance in history."

We are going to have a hard time trying to date this work, when and where the events really happened, since it really does seem to be written in a "confused method." For one thing, King Charles I was executed 30 Jan 1649. They should have been in America when this happened? I can only guess that it was written by Alexander Clevalnd I when he was quite old and from memory and the events are not in proper order, according to historical dates, and as Mr. Prevost said, he has put it down "without altering a single circumstance."

Well, we have got our work cut out for us, and with so many heads together, we gotta come up with some kind of answer.

Grace Green

c1996 by Cleveland Family Chronicles
All rights reserved.

Click here to read John Arnett's synopsis of the Prevost book.

Links to Other Clevelands

Cleveland Family Chronicles
Cleveland Family Forum
Edmund Janes Cleveland and Horace Gillette Cleveland
Original Immigrant of Northern Clevelands
Original Immigrant of Southern Clevelands
In Memory of L. Jeanne Cleveland
The Cleveland Connection to Black Hawk Down: SSG William David Cleveland, Jr.
The Cleveland Coat-of-Arms
Colonel Benjamin Cleveland
"Sweet Lips: The Battle of King's Mountain"
President Grover Cleveland
Early History of the Cleveland Family
The Cleveland/Cromwell Connection
More Genealogical Links
Rooting Out Your AnceStory: A Primer for Beginning Genealogy

E-mail Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland at