This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." The 300-year-old home is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.
By Carl Flowers
Eventually, Elizabeth Wilder bore all seven of Jerathmeel's children. By moving from Cambridge to Chelmsford, no one would know that a formal marriage never took place. There was no need to ask. They were living together in the same house when each child was born; however, there's much more. Jerathmeel was born May 2, 1650. Elizabeth Wilder was five years older. Her headstone says she was seventy-six years old when she died in 1721. That makes 1644-45 her birth year. The Cambridge events left Jerathmeel undaunted. Even if people in Chelmsford knew about the couple's past, it didn't matter. By a unanimous vote on February 2, 1685, Jerathmeel was accepted into Chelmsford as an inhabitant.
Jerathmeel operated a still on the corner of his property and may have been the first man in Chelmsford to receive a license to sell liquor. He was actively engaged in farming and became one of Chelmsford's most prominent citizens, in addition to being a man of substantial wealth. His greatest distinctions came from serving the Town of Chelmsford as a selectman in 1690-92, state representative in 1697 and 1698, town moderator in 1705 and 1706 and as an Indian fighter.
A group of Indians had been spotted sitting around a camp fire one night, hammering out slugs
for their guns just a day or so before two Groton men had been killed. The killings brought Bowers to
Groton along with a force of about one hundred men to look for the Indians. There were other incidents where Bowers dispatched men to Groton. He also met with volunteers looking to draw a tight belt of protection around the town to keep it safe from the Indians.
After Jerathmeel's death in 1724, his son Samuel remained in Groton for the next fifteen years. The assumption is Samuel lived in his father's mansion house until 1739 when he returned to Chelmsford where he died in 1751. Samuel Bowers sold the Mistress to William Bennett, ending seventeen years of the Bowers connection to the Mistress. In 1755 at the age of 44, Samuel Jr., who grew up in the Mistress, became a licensed innkeeper at the Champney House. He became familiarly known as "landlurd" Bowers. The name was richly deserved because of his significant land holdings in Groton, which totaled approximately 359 acres. Bennett's purchase of the Mistress began a 28-year period where none of the Mistress's owners were long-term residents. She was passed around like a worn-out tavern tart whose indenture was about to expire. Andrew Foster purchased the Mistress in 1746, and then in 1758, Cotton Proctor became the owner. Stability in the Mistress's ownership returned in 1767, when Leftenant John Woods purchased her. A member of the Woods family was destined to own the Mistress for the next seventy-six years.
Chapter 4: The Woods
Even though Leftenant John Woods purchased the Mistress in 1767 for his son John Jr., the Leftenant and his wife also lived with the Mistress. He did the same thing for his youngest son, David. The Leftenant was a grandson of Samuel Woods, another of Groton's original 51 settlers. John Sr. was an Indian fighter, thus earning the rank of Leftenant in the militia. A ribbon on the left shoulder with no insignia on the right shoulder signified the rank. He appears to have been a man of wealth, as he was one of a handful of men in Groton to own a slave.
When he purchased the Mistress, Leftenant Woods was seventy years old. His wife Sara was sixty-one. She was the daughter Deacon John Longley who was taken prisoner during an Indian attack in 1694, and held prisoner for several years. Sara's Aunt Lydia was captured in the same attack and taken to New France (Quebec). Eventually Lydia was ransomed from the Indians by Jacques LeBer. A strong affection was developed between Lydia her adoptive family and she never returned to Groton. Lydia was drawn to the Catholic faith and became the first native born American to become a nun. Sara died six years after the Leftenant purchased the Mistress. The old Leftenant lived another fifteen years. About a year after Sara died, the Leftenant married his second wife, Deborah Holden, in 1774.
More than likely, with the Mistress being the mansion house that she was, the Leftenant occupied the Mistress with his wives, youngest son David, and maybe a daughter. John Jr. might have taken up quarters in the old Barron homestead, about 1400 feet to the west, but this isn't known for sure. About a year after the Woods' tenure of the Mistress began, and seven months before John Jr. married Hannah Goodhue from Westford, Massachusetts, Leftenant Woods deeded half of the Mistress's domain to John Jr. in 1768. The land area was probably in the neighborhood of eighty-five acres. By the time of this division in 1767 the Mistress's domain had grown from ten acres in 1739 to roughly 170 acres. What is so touching about the Leftenant's gift to his son is the wording of the deed, "for and in consideration of the parental love and affection I bear to my son John Woods Junr of the town of Groton." Nearly identical words were used in 1776 when the Leftenant gave his youngest son, David, a lot in New Hampshire called the Monadnock when David was 29 years old. The Lt.'s other surviving children were girls. It's assumed it was left up to them to marry responsibly by following the examples set forth during their home life.
Equally endearing as the tender expressions to his two sons is the inscription Lt. Woods had placed on the headstone of his first wife. It reads, "a faithful wife, a tender mother, a diligent & prudent mistress of a family, & a pious Christian, She lived beloved, died lamented, with a comfortable hope of entering into ye joy of her lord. Her children arise & call her blessed, her husband also & he praiseth her."
These are remarkable sentiments, especially when verbalized by a male living in an environment that was so difficult at its very best, and at other times, outright hostile. Lt. Woods died on May 7, 1782. He was the third person to die at the Mistress. His first wife, Sara Longley, was the second. To be continued.