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The Cleveland/Cromwell Connection

Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland

Recently I received a letter from a Cleveland Family Chronicles Research Society (CFCRS) member in Scottdale, GA, requesting clarifying information on a couple of genealogical puzzles dealing with the Southern Line of Clevelands: 1. the rumor that we have a blood connection to Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, and 2. the controversy over whether the original immigrant of the Southern Line was Roger or Alexander Cleveland.

Since the formation of CFCRS, my genealogical role has become more that of "Keeper of the Clearinghouse" rather than of actual researcher, which is fine. Keeper of the Clearinghouse is important enough, and it's work that I enjoy. (There are some who think "Organization" is my middle name.) However, I do rely more heavily on the kindness of others to share their research discoveries with me. Consequently, I wrote to another CFCRS member, Grace Green, because I knew she is a thorough and painstaking researcher, especially in matters dealing with the Cromwell/Roger/Alexander problem, and because she is very careful about documentary evidence.

Grace graciously shared with me some interesting material I am now, in turn, sharing with you. Much of the following information came to me via Grace, but I did consult the Encyclopedia Britannica and various on-line sources, including a webpage by Cromwell descendant Bob Cromwell of Purdue University. Unless otherewise noted, however, the material you see here came from Grace's patient research. Though there are many interesting details in Oliver's life, I am focusing only on those that may pertain to our Cleveland genealogy.

Grace bases some of her Cromwell research on volumes I and II of Memoirs of the Protectoral-House of Cromwell, by Mark Noble F.A.S. of L. & E., the third edition, with improvements. The group sheets she sent to me refer to Cromwell as "Oliver WILLIAMS alias CROMWELL." The Williamses, an ancient family, were lords of Scotland since before 1066. Oliver's paternal great-great-great-grandfather, Morgan WILLIAMS, is said to have belonged to a respectable Glamorgan family and to have accompanied King Henry VII from Wales. Kathryn Cromwell, sister of Lord Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, married Morgan Williams. Because Lord Thomas Cromwell and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Pryore, had no surviving male heirs, all his estate when to Sir Richard Williams, son of Kathryn Cromwell Williams and nephew of Lord Thomas, IF RICHARD WOULD CARRY ON THE NAME OF CROMWELL, as was the custom in those days. Oliver, however, did sign his name was Williams in the parish register.

Oliver was born 15 April 1599 in Huntingdon, County Cambridge, England, to Robert Williams (alias Cromwell) and Elizabeth Steward. Elizabeth's ancestor was Alexander, Lord-High Steward, of Scotland. She and King Charles I were eighth cousins [Visitation of Cambridgeshire Records of Ely, England]. For purposes of the original immigrant question, it is interesting to note that Elizabeth had a brother named Alexander and a son-in-law named Roger.

The family rumor that has been handed down through generations claims that the American Cleveland line is descended from Cromwell through a court beauty, Elizabeth Cleveland, who attracted first the attention of King Charles I. She subsequently won the sympathies of Cromwell when he assumed control of government. According to the family rumor, she became Cromwell's mistress and had a son by him. This son, Alexander [William?] Cleveland, wrote a book called The Life and Adventures of Mr. Cromwell, the Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell. The first name of this son is never actually presented in this book. He is referred to as "Mr. Cromwell" throughout. Consequently, there is some difference of opinion as to whether his name is Alexander or William.

Many historians have dismissed this rumor as romantic speculation. They cite Oliver's strictly Puritannical standards as reasons why Oliver would never have had an extra-marital affair. In fact, when one of Oliver's daughters became pregnant out of wedlock, he banished her to the American colonies. However, Alexander Cleveland was born c1620, when Oliver was about twenty-one years old. Oliver did not marry until August of that year (Elizabeth Bourchier, by whom he had five sons and four daughters). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "During his early married life, Cromwell, like his father, was profoundly conscious of his responsibilities to his fellow men..., but he was also the victim of a spiritual and and psychological struggle that perplexed his mind and damaged his health. He does not appear to have experienced conversion until he was nearly 30; later he described to a cousin how he emerged from darkness into light. Yet he had been unable to receive the grace of God without feeling a sense of 'self, vanity, and badness.' He was convinced that he had been 'the chief of sinners' before he learned that he was one of God's Chosen." A note on Grace's group sheets says that Oliver "was known as a troublemaker and womanizer in his youth."

Grace wrote the following in 1987:
"An entry in the Register of St. John Baptist Church, Huntingdon, England, dated early 1621 of a personal nature is recorded. Oliver Cromwell was rebuked for ill-doing and did penance. The nature of the wrong is not specified. Another entry made seven years later in 1628 has the same wording. Another one (not dated) has 'adulterer-Cromwell's bastard' written beside it in a different handwriting (probably after 1657). This has been penned through. Also in the same register is written beside the entry of Cromwell's birth in 1599, ?England?s plague for 5 years." This has also been scored through with a pen. [Ref: Register of St. John Baptist Church, Huntingdon, Eng., later called All Saints Church] "In writing his story of his life, perhaps because of the circumstances surrounding his birth, Alexander Cleveland tended to be more passionate and elaborate, especially where his mother was concerned. Most persons would do the same. This has caused at least one British author, Rev. Mark Noble, when writing Memoirs of the Protectoral-House of Cromwell, Birmingham, 1787, to comment, 'Cromwell probably had natural children, but these Adventures, are too marvelous to be true.' (Most likely referring in part to the fact that Alexander said Elizabeth Cleveland, his mother, was a beauty and daughter of an officer of the Palace of Hampton Court in the time of Charles the First.)

"This statement was quoted by Lyman C. Draper in his King's Mountain and Its Heroes, Cincinnati, OH 1881. Mr. Draper writes that he thinks that 'it is exceedingly doubtful that the Clevelands descended from such a questionable origin, they (the Clevelands) being such an ancient family.'

"Amazing!...since, according to Mr. Draper himself, family tradition says Col. Benjamin Cleveland, one of the heroes of King's Mountain, fathered an illegitimate daughter, Jemima. Other sources seem to support this.

"The naming of descendants of Alexander Cleveland tells another story, since over a hundred of them, both male and female, carried the name Oliver Cromwell as a first or middle name (in my records alone, and I'm still counting) for over 200 years, from the early 1700's to 1900.

"The Scots-Irish had a strict naming code, that was almost always followed in every generation. The first son was named for the father's father, the first daughter was named for the mother's mother. Also it became very common for the first son or daughter to also carry the surname of the mother in later generations.

"Alexander Cleveland's book was printed in several difference languages. So there must have been many published. Hopefully someday one of us will find one." [Vikki's Note: This book has since been located by another CFCRS member and is the subject of another webpage at this site: The Prevost Novel on "The Natural Son of Cromwell."

Oliver was not elected to Parliament until 1628, and King Charles was not arrested until 1648, with Oliver summoning the first Protectorate Parliament of his Commonwealth in 1654 [Encyclopedia Britannica]. Any Cromwellian liaison that might have produced Alexander Cleveland happened well before Oliver's rise to power.

In 1635, with his cousin John Hampden, Oliver was about to set sail for Virginia, but, for whatever reason, they were not allowed to leave England. It was an unsettled time in England and in Cromwell's life in 1635. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Cromwell also had financial worries until, at the age of 39, he inherited property at Ely from his mother's brother. Like other lesser gentry, he contended with bad harvests and a variety of taxes and impositions, such as ship money, exacted by the monarchy not only to pay for the upkeep of the navy but to sustain the lavish tastes of the court. Though in 1628 he had been elected a member of Parliament for the borough of Huntingdon, King Charles I dissolved the Parliament in 1629 and did not call another for 11 years. During the interval, country gentlemen like Cromwell accumulated grievances. The Cromwell family was but one of a network of dissatisfied gentry who belonged to what one might call the political nation: for example, John Hampden, the wealthy Buckinghamshire squire who brought a test case against the crown over the levying of ship money, was Cromwell?s first cousin."

Also in 1635 [Samuel] Cleaveland, a brother of the Cavalier poet John Cle(a)veland, left England for the American colonies. Some researchers think that Samuel was really the Moses Cleveland who founded the Northern Line of Clevelands from which the President was descended. Alexander Cleveland left about the same time (1629) with Sir Henry Skipwith of Cotes and Henry Herrick of Bean Manor Park, "so the story goes."

Another Cleveland-Cromwell connection exists between Oliver and the aforementioned poet John Cleveland. John was a fierce supporter of King Charles I and "a loyalist," Grace writes, "when it was a dangerous virtue." When Oliver came into power in England, he ordered that John, and many others, be thrown into the Tower for treason. Some of the imprisoned notables never returned. Author Mark Noble states, "John Cleveland was later released while others were left to rot." Did Oliver demonstrate this unexpected mercy for "old time's sake," because of another Cleveland in his past? Surely John did little to bring about his own release. Of Oliver he wrote, "This Cromwell should be a bird of prey, by his bloody beak, his nose is able to try a young eagle whether he be lawfully begotten, but all is not gold that glisters."

In August 1658, after his favorite daughter, Elizabeth, died of cancer, Oliver became ill with malaria and was taken to London to live in St. James Palace. However, he died in Whitehall on September 3. His body was secretly interred in Westminster Abbey on November 10, thirteen days before his state funeral. In 1661, after the restoration of King Charles II, Cromwell's embalmed remains were dug out of the tomb and hung up at Tyburn, where criminals were executed. His body was then buried beneath the gallows, but his head was stuck on a pole on top of Westminster Hall, where it supposedly remained until the end of the reign of Charles II [Encyclopedia Britannica].

Grace reminds us that there is enough circumstantial evidence to study the following group sheet information seriously:

Husband: Oliver WILLIAMS alias CROMWELL. Occ: Planter and Brewer. Born: 25 Apr 1599, Huntingdon, County Cambridge, England. Note 1: Mar 1628, enters House of Commons as MP for Huntingdon, 1643 made Gov of Ely. Died: 3 Sep 1658, Whitehall, London, England (skeletal head was found in 1960). Buried: 1660, the pit under Old Tyburn, England (junction of Connaught Place and Connaught Square, head was chopped off). Ad Info: 16 Dec 1653, London, becomes Protector of England (May 1657 rejects offer of Kingship, June installed as Lord Protector). Of Interest: 1635, London, was about to sail for VA with his cousin John Hampden, but they were not allowed to leave. Father: Robert WILLIAMS alias CROMWELL. Mother: Elizabeth STEWARD.

Elizabeth CLEVELAND (never married to Oliver Williams alias Cromwell). Born: c1602, Normanton, County York, England [Church of the Latter Day Saints, County York Parish Records]. Of Interest: Listed 1615 in Loughboro Parish, County Leicester, England. Father: William CLEVELAND. Marriage: c1636 James BRIDGAR.

Alexander CLEVELAND [Virkus' Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy and family tradition]. Occ: Gentleman. Born: c1620, probably Loughboro Parish, County Leicester, England. Married: c1645, probably Chickacoan (later Northumberland Count, VA), to Lady --?-- AXMINSTER/ARMISTEAD [Virkus]. Died: c1700, probably Occuquan, Prince William County, VA. Immigrated: 1629 to VA from Loughboro Parish, County Leicester, England.

Children of Alexander Cleveland and his wife, Lady --?-- Axminster/Armistead (born c1625, probably London, England; died c1680 probably Occoquan, Prince William County, VA):

Roger CLEVELAND (believed to be a son of this couple), Born: c1650, probably Occoquan, Prince William Coounty, VA. Married: c1683, probably Gloucester County, VA, to Dorcas --?-- (second wife). Children by his first wife (name unknown): John CLEVELAND, born c1675 [Ref: George A. Martin, 1958]. Children by second wife: Elizabeth CLEVELAND, christened 31 Oct 1684 in Abingdon Parish, Gloucester County, VA [Ref: Parish Records, 1678-1761, p.8]; and Alexander CLEVELAND, christened 31 July 1687 Abingdon Parish, married c1711 Abingdon Parish to Mary --?-- [Ref: Parish Records].

Alexander CLEVELAND II [Orange County, VA, Land Records: Alexander Cleveland (alone) deeds John Taylor, 22 Nov 1752, 100 acres, part of a patent granted to Lawrence Franklyn for 400 acres, consid. 5 shillings; cross mark to Cleveland's name to deed. Same to same, 23 Nov 1752, 100 acres, part of patent to same party, consid. L12.108.] Born: 1659, probably Occuquan, Prince William County, VA. Married: c1694, probably Northumberland County, VA, to Milley Presley (Alexander and Milley/Milly Presley Cleveland advanced the Southern Line of Clevelands, who migrated westward into primarily Southern states like Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, etc. Alexander and Milley/Milly are fairly well accepted as "authentic." The controvery and questions lie with the father of this Alexander (see Original Immigrant of the Southern Clevelands). Died: 1770, probably Blue Run, Orange County, VA. Buried: probably Blue Run, Orange County, VA. Ad Info: 6 Feb 1764, Orange County, VA, bought 100 acres from Lawrence and Mary Franklin, part of 400 acres patented by Lawrence [DB 13, p. 49].

The late June Rayfield Welch, another Cleveland researcher and a former history professor and author, was among many who doubt the Cromwell connection. "The Oliver Cromwell fairy tale," he wrote, "still seems to have much life in it. It always has. Colonel Ben [Cleveland] was not the only one who wanted to believe in such a descent. It made for a good story. It was something to talk about back when a Davy Crockett was half lion and half alligator.

"The number of times the Cromwell name has been used suggests the popularity of the story--not the truth of the tale. No one ever accused Colonel Ben Cleveland of being a scholar or researcher.

"The historical dates make it impossible for Ben and father to have descended from Cromwell. Furthermore, my recollection is that the book which lovers of the tradition cite was fiction, written and published as such.

"We all love a good story; as Frank Dobie wrote about an incident at the Alamo: 'If it isn't true, it ought to be.'"

Grace, however, doesn't so readily write off the authenticity of the story. "Alexander Cleveland I wrote ONE book," she points out. "It was in all likelihood HIS Diary, an account of his life, he was no author, at least we have never heard of anything else he wrote. His book was written as the truth (maybe more descriptive than necessary, but it was NOT fiction). Why would Rev. Mark Noble, a British biographer, write in his Memoirs of the Protectoral-House of Cromwell, 'there's no doubt Cromwell had natural sons, but these adventures seem too marvelous to be true.' Had Cleveland's book been written AS FICTION, there would have been no need for this comment. Alexander's book was first published after his death, with his consent by his son Alexander II. First in 1731, a second edition with a French translation in 1741, and another edition in 1760.

"The dates fit perfectly; Oliver Williams alias Cromwell b. April 1599; Alexander Cleveland I b. c1629; Alexander II b. c1659; John Cleveland b. c1700; Col. Benjamin Cleveland b. 26 May 1738.

"The above Alexander is not to be confused with the Alexander Cleveland b. 31 Jul 1687, s/o Roger and Dorcas Cleveland, who also had a son named John.

"None of us are researching fairy tales, that we know of anyway. As Sherlock Holmes once said, 'What cannot be proved, cannot be disproved.'"

With no actual documentation uncovered at this time, each researcher must make his/her own decision based on the information that is available. More information about Mr. Cleveland?s book, The Life and Adventures of Mr. Cleveland, the Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell, will be available at this website at a later date.

I am deeply grateful to Grace Lee Smith Green for her diligent research, her generosity in sharing her material, and her continuing support of CFCRS.

c1995 by Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland and Cleveland Family Chronicles
All rights reserved.

Links to Other Clevelands

Cleveland Family Chronicles
Cleveland Family Forum
Edmund Janes Cleveland and Horace Gillette Cleveland
Original Immigrant of the Southern Clevelands
Original Immigrant of the Northern 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 Prevost Novel on "The Natural Son of Cromwell"
More Genealogical Links
Rooting Out Your AnceStory: A Primer for Beginning Genealogy

E-mail Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland at

Background courtesy of Graphics by Tess
Graphics courtesy of Heraldry and Coat-of-Arms Web Ring
Cromwell photo courtesy of Bob Cromwell