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
The town was definitely sympathetic toward the Patriot point of view. When the Port of Boston was blockaded, Groton came to Boston's aid by sending forty bushels of grain consisting of rye and indian corn. A more inflammatory event than the Boston Port Bill occurred one Sunday morning in March 1775 when Reverend Samuel Dana stoked the smoldering patriotic embers of Groton into a raging inferno. This event took place at Groton's fourth meeting house (now the First Parish Church).
Reverend Dana's sermon centered on the relationship between England and the colonies by encouraging colonial cooperation and nonresistance, which was a view that gave great offense to those individuals who advocated unwavering resistance. In fact, some residents were so incensed they fired bullets into Reverend Dana's house, causing great danger and harm to him and his family. The following Sunday as Dana entered the meeting house to deliver his weekly sermon, he found himself locked out. The building was locked tighter than a funeral drum. When the doors were finally opened, Reverend Dana was forbidden to enter the church and informed of his dismissal from further pastoral duties.
A third John Woods became the keeper of the Mistress, just as his grandfather, Leftenant John Woods and his father John Woods Jr. In fact, young John, (the third John Woods) at the age of twenty-three became her owner in 1799, when he paid a thousand dollars to his father. Young John married Betsy Farnsworth on February 20, 1804, and together they had eight children, two girls and six boys. Condition of the Mistress and the size of her domain at the time of his marriage must have been below the threshold of acceptance to young John because an extravagant borrowing and spending spree began. Speculation might suggest improvements were being made to the old Barron homestead instead of the Mistress, but this just doesn't seem likely. There are too many Federal and Early Greek Revival renovations to the Mistress that architecturally cover the period from about 1790 to 1830.
During young John's tenure, he appears to have adopted the mentality of more and bigger are better. The first trouble came to young John in December 1806, when he squared off over a debt with the wily David Green and lost. While David Green had the reputation for filing suit against practically anyone he did business with, John Woods was sued by many. He was constantly being hauled into court for the nonpayment of debts. The pace escalated a bit In 1809 when he borrowed five hundred dollars from Abraham Biglow of Cambridge using the Mistress and her domain as collateral. The money was to be repaid by January 1811; however, the loan was not satisfied until December 1817.
After John's father died in 1823, the impetuous spending spree escalated to a much grander scale. Nothing in town records, the records of any of the neighboring towns or the records of the state archives give a place of burial for John Jr. The same is true for Hannah, John Jr's. wife. Could it be they're buried somewhere on the Mistress's domain? This is not beyond a reasonable possibility. Maybe young John didn't have the money to give his father and mother a proper funeral. Paupers were buried in the old burying ground and no one knows where they're buried.
From the late 1820s continuing into 1830 and 1831, young John signed a number of notes for amounts as small as eight dollars to as much as one hundred dollars. The notes were undoubtedly being used in payment for renovations to the Mistress, as they were given to cabinet makers, yeoman, husbandmen, blacksmiths and others. However, these notes were nickel and dime stuff compared to what else was going on. Young John borrowed twelve hundred dollars from John Popkin in Cambridge, five hundred dollars from Simon Farnsworth of Millbury and five hundred dollars from John Cummings in Dunstable. These large amounts were secured by the Mistress as collateral. Young John claimed his acreage increased with each borrowed dollar, while the reality is, the Mistress's domain didn't increase in size at all.
As it turns out, young John's son was in Concord jail for a debt he owed William Biscoe of Putnam County, Georgia, in the amount of $2,000. The reason for the debt isn't stated in a suit against Charles, but some guesses can be made. Biscoe's occupation is listed in the suit as being a merchant and Charles Woods' occupation is listed as a "laborer alias trader." You have to ask, what kind of business could Charles be involved in as a trader with someone in Georgia, who was a merchant. There are only two likely options to choose from. One is slavery and the other is cotton.
Caleb Butler represented William Biscoe, while Samuel Hoar and Luther Lawrence represented Charles Woods. For the period involved, slavery was not illegal in Massachusetts. Only the importation of slaves from Africa was against the law, but slavery was certainly frowned upon by many people.
By late 1830 or early 1831 young John knew he was in over his head and prepared to get out of Groton while the getting was good. He absconded to Brooklyn, New York, to escape debtors prison. This was a time in Massachusetts when debtors prison was a distinct possibility to anyone owing more than ten dollars. Young John Woods knew he could very well end up there if he stayed.
The collapse of young John's unmanageable empire of debt began in February 1830. William Bancroft, a Middlesex County Deputy Sheriff, had an order of execution to carry out in favor of Frederick Blood and John Popkin. The result was an auction at Joseph Hoar's house in Groton. Everything belonging to young John Woods was sold. The auction was advertised in Groton, Dunstable, and Pepperell and set off a frenzy among those who held signature notes, each wanting to salvage whatever they could. Suits swelled in numbers like hatching tadpoles in a pond on a warm summer day. The frenzy began in March 1831, and continued into 1832. All of the judgments were in favor of the plaintiffs, due to the non-appearance of young John Woods.
To be continued.