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
It’s presumed John (Woods) Jr. had been living in the old Barron homestead and moved into the Mistress after his father’s death in 1782. During the years John Jr. lived with the Mistress, he and his wife, Hanna, had three girls and four boys. They were the first children to be born in the Mistress. Before John Jr’s. marriage, he was a bayonet man in Captain John Bulkley’s Company and may have been involved in an expedition against Nova Scotia. Around that time, a number of French families were separated from each other and brought to Massachusetts. Some of these transplanted individuals ended up in Groton.
After his marriage, John Jr. made his living by farming, but from time-to-time he served the town as a constable in 1772, and as hog reeve in 1776, 1781, and 1790. He was also one of the town’s surveyors of highways in 1771 and 1788. The most time consuming of the three positions was that of constable, which was the equivalent to being a police officer today. Getting the position was a job one couldn’t really refuse. Anyone who did paid a fine. During the Revolutionary War, many of the men who were appointed as constables preferred to pay the fine rather than accept their duties. Taxes had to be paid in hard money instead of inflated paper money. Maybe the appointed constables were men who were sympathetic toward their fellow townsmen who didn’t have adequate amounts of hard money for paying their taxes, or maybe they didn’t want to worry about being ambushed along some desolate cart path.
Besides collecting taxes, a constable’s other duties included impressing workmen for public works, inflicting whippings, taking notice of idle persons, serving all the selectmen’s warrants, apprehending vagabonds, furnishing information on single women entertaining lodgers and hanging sheep-killing dogs. Many modern day people deny constables ever warned people out of town, but they did. If a warned individual didn’t leave on their own, they were physically escorted out of town. This is what happened to Esther Simond from Woburn on April 17, 1772, when she came to Groton to live with Joseph Lakin. The same thing happened to Esther Kemp from Pepperell June 8 of the same year when she moved in with old Samuel Kemp. Noah Johnson from Marlborough and Samuel French of Dunstable had the same experience as Esther Simond and Esther Kemp, all at the hands of John Woods Jr. The practice didn’t begin or end with John Woods Jr’s. tenure as Groton’s constable. Other duties constables had to perform go on-and-on.
As a hog reeve, it was up to John Jr. to see that all of the town’s hogs were properly ringed through the nose by their owners. The purpose of the ringing was to make it easier to get a hog’s attention focused on cooperatively exiting a corn field, meadow, pasture or garden where it might have been blissfully browsing, especially if the field wasn’t its owner’s. Free-ranging hogs could be a danger to young children and the elderly. Many eighteenth century paintings show men and women with a cane in hand. This wasn’t because they were terribly old and decrepit. The cane was used as a source of protection by rendering a crisp swat across a hog’s nose if it got a little rambunctious.
As highway surveyor John Jr. shared in the responsibility of keeping the town’s roads properly maintained. At first, highway surveyors were appointed and assigned roadwork in a specific section of town. Their job was to keep the roads safe and convenient for travelers, teams and drovers. When work needed to be done, John Jr. arranged the laborers’ assignments for whatever work that was needed.
Most of the work was taken care of during the milder seasons. If a cart and a pair of oxen were required, the Town of Groton would pay a shilling and four pence for each day of work. Any man willing to work on the roads was paid two shillings and eight pence a day until the end of August, when the pay went to two shillings. After the last day of September the pay dropped to one shilling and four pence per day. The difference in pay was influenced by when farming activities were most intensive. Ninety-five percent of the town’s inhabitants made their living by some type of farming activity. When road work was being done, workers cut down, dug up, or removed all sorts of trees, bushes, stones, fences, gates, enclosures or any other thing that impeded convenient passage.
During the 1770s, John Jr. would have been vitally concerned about all the events going on with England, especially those that occurred immediately before and after 1775. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, John Jr. found himself drafted and placed on a list of men slated to serve in the Continental Army for a term of eight months in Colonel Jonathan Reed’s Sixth Middlesex County Regiment. Fortunately for him, he was never mustered and continued working the farm. This wouldn’t have precluded his participation in drill practice in preparation for the defense of the town. Household chatter in the Woods house might have included news of the Boston Massacre in 1770, right along with the birth of John Jr’s. second child. The Tea Act of 1773 coincided with the birth of the fourth child, and his fifth child was born the same year as the 1774 Boston Port Bill.
Other purported indignities were reported to the inhabitants of Groton by its Committee of Correspondence.
To be continued.