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 funeral of Lieutenant John Woods in 1782, and his wife Sara in 1773, would have been similar to Jerathmeel Bowers', but with some minor differences. Instead of John's and Sara's bodies going directly to the cemetery from the Mistress, their bodies may have gone to the meeting house and then to the cemetery. On arrival at the meeting house, a bell was tolled to call friends and family together.
From the meeting house, John and Sara would have been carried about six-tenths of a mile on a bier to their respective graves by pall bearers. They would relieve each other from time to time by other pall bearers who walked with them side by side. In most instances the pall bearers were relatives or intimate friends of the deceased; however, other individuals were available for hire. With Lieutenant Woods and his wife Sara, the pall bearers would have been family members, in addition to those who married into the Woods family with names like Trowbridge, Green, Parker, Farmer and the Wetherells from Pepperell. Mourners followed the bier.
Another change that may have occurred in Groton during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, as well as in other small towns, were prayers.
Besides Lieutenant John Woods and his wife Sara, other members of the Woods family died in the Mistress. The Lieutenant's son John Jr. died in June of 1823. He was nearly eighty-six years old. Two different secondary sources give Groton as his place of death, but the location of his burial and the burial of his wife are unknown. No headstone can be found for John Jr. and there are no probate records on file with the State of Massachusetts.
John Jr. had other surviving male children besides John III. Surely they would have inherited something, especially since John III wasn't John Jr.'s oldest surviving male child. Maybe John Jr. gave everything to John III and there was nothing to probate, but this seems strange. He should have had some money in his pocket after selling the Mistress and her domain to his son John III in 1799. If John Jr. died as a pauper, the selectmen would have paid for the burial as a town expense, but there is no record of this.
The same is true for Hannah, John Jr.'s wife, and the mother of John III. There's nothing to show where or when she died. This is the same act that made its debut in 1820 when John III's daughter died two and a half months after her birth. There's no record of where she's buried.
While this all seems to be a mystery, John III's parents and baby daughter may very well be buried in Groton's Old Burying Ground, but then, maybe they're not. Family cemeteries are scarce, but not a rarity. We know John III was spending money on the Mistress, but something else was going on.
In 1799, when John Jr. was sixty-two years old, he signed the Mistress and her domain of 166 acres over to John III for a thousand dollars. He couldn't have been terribly decrepit at that age. He lived another 25 years. Beginning in 1829, John III started borrowing some serious money on the Mistress and her domain, just as he did on several other occasions. This time it was Clark Parker, the Dunstable Town Treasurer and a distant cousin. He was tapped for two thousand dollars to post bail so that he could get his son Charles out of the Concord jail. Charles was being sued by William Biscoe from Putnam County, Georgia. Biscoe's occupation was listed as a merchant and Charles Woods' occupation was listed as a laborer and trader. You certainly wonder what kind of business the two men were in. Maybe John III was a business partner.
In terms of a dollar's value today, that $2,000 would be the equivalent to more than $40,000. The thing is, in 1829, the Mistress's domain grew to 300 acres. The 1829 deed description says the Mistress and her domain were the same as John Jr. conveyed to John III in 1799. That's a 140 acre discrepancy.
Caleb Butler was involved in some unclear way with the discrepancy. The question is, what did Caleb Butler really know?
The discrepancy on the size of the Mistress's domain grew a bit each time new money was borrowed until it peaked in 1829. The 1829 deed reveals a lot more than the exaggerated size of the Mistress's domain. In 1829, Charles was twenty-two years old. John III would have been fifty-three. In 1823, some 25 years after signing the Mistress over to John III, John Jr., at the time of his death, was nearly 86 years old. Charles in that year would have been 16. Early in 1831 or late 1830, John III was in Brooklyn to avoid going to debtor's prison, or might he have been fleeing a domestic reign of terror inflicted by son Charles.