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
To the Groton Historical Commission, historical significance seemed to be a way to take control from the owner, all in the name of preservation. What's so interesting about all of this is the fact that a copy of every communication about the Mistress from the state historical commission was mailed to the Groton Historical Commission. Not once during the nominating process did the local historical commission offer any supportive assistance with the research or where to find information.
A third book about Groton's history was published in 2005 called, Groton at 350. The book was written to celebrate the town's 350th anniversary and said, "the earliest Irish name to be recorded in a Groton Town Report is that of James Fitzpatrick in the year 1857." The 1857 date is an error, and a regurgitation of People and Places of Groton, published in 1986.
The earliest known town report tells of James Fitzpatrick being paid $6.50 for road work he did in 1856. The date is a year off and while this is not a monumental error in the scheme of things, the incorrect date illustrates how an error can begin to take on a life of its own. People and Places of Groton did, however, allude to James Fitzpatrick's home
This gets significantly refined in "Immigrants and Yankees." Published in 1981 it said, "among the earliest Celts was a married couple, James and Elizabeth Quigley Fitzpatrick, who transferred from Lowell to Groton in the early 1840s. They bought the Woods farm in the eastern part of town." The actual facts are, James Fitzpatrick came to Groton in 1843, but his father Nicholas was the one who bought the Woods farm. Not until 1859 did James, Nicholas Fitzpatrick's son, became the sole owner of the Mistress.
The exact location of the Mistress wasn't pinpointed on any town map until 1830. That's when Caleb Butler made his Map of Groton. He had already surveyed the town in 1828 and 1829. Making the improved map was merely a matter of tweaking the survey to accommodate the 1830 mandates of a state resolve that required all Massachusetts towns to make a survey. The resulting map had to show town roads, boundaries, rivers, streams and a lot of other things unrelated to the Mistress.
The survey showed that the Mistress was occupied by John Woods, who fled to Brooklyn, N.Y., to escape debtor's prison. He was the grandson of Lt. John Woods, who was the first of the Woods family to own the Mistress when he purchased her in 1767. According to Butler, the Mistress was one of Groton's 295 dwelling houses, and sat right on the town line between Groton and Dunstable. Out of the 295 houses that were around in 1830, 45 are still standing. This statistic personifies the significance of the Mistress. Obviously, the Groton Historical Commission didn't know this or didn't care.
Nowadays there are well over 4,100 single family houses in Groton. This doesn't include all the duplexes, apartment buildings and condominiums in town. In 1848, Caleb Butler published his "History of Groton, Mass." The book included a map of the towns of Groton, Shirley and Pepperell which clearly reveals the Mistress' Groton location at the town line between Groton and Dunstable. She was shown to be occupied by James Fitzpatrick, even though his father Nicholas Fitzpatrick was the owner of record.
Butler didn't say a single word about the Mistress or her caretaker, and those aren't the only omissions. The John Woods that Butler mentioned was Lt. John Woods, but nothing at all was said about the lieutenant's son or grandson.
Another early history of Groton is Samuel A. Green's 1899 "Groton Historical Series". This four-volume series, shouldn't be confused with any of the other books he wrote. Green was a contemporary of the Fitzpatricks, yet he makes no mention of them, just as Butler made no mention of John Woods Jr. or his son. With only 345 Groton households in 1899, it's likely Green would have known the head of every one of them.
But then we discover Samuel Green wasn't a Groton resident after he went off to college. Instead, he lived in Boston at 72 Harrison Ave. for more than 20 years. This wasn't terribly far from City Hospital, which was also on Harrison Avenue. There, Dr. Samuel A. Green practiced medicine.
Many changes occurred along the avenue. Presumably, these changes are what prompted Dr. Green to relocate to new quarters at the Hotel Lenox where he died Dec. 5, 1918, at the age of 88. Prior to living on Harrison Avenue, Green lived at 25 Kneeland St. So Groton history was just one of Green's many hobbies, as he was far too busy with his Boston activities to become acquainted with Groton's inhabitants. This is not to say Dr. Green's histories are not without merit, or that his devotion to society is diminished. His service as a Civil War surgeon, surgeon general during the Grant Administration, city physician, Mayor of Boston, member of the Boston School Board and a trustee of The Boston Public Library all attest to Dr. Green's devotion to society and the needs of his fellow man.
However, most people make the assumption Dr. Green lived and practiced medicine in Groton. This is not the case and is a possible explanation of why Samuel Green had no knowledge of the Fitzpatricks.
At least Butler's two maps identified the location of the Mistress.
The next confusion comes from the date the Groton Assessor's Office attaches to the Mistress. They have her listed as being built in 1910. That's 188 years too late. You would at least think she would have an 1848 date, or an 1830 date. The dates on Caleb Butler's two maps could unequivocally be confirmed, had any of the town's historians bothered to examine Groton's tax records for the respective years or look at either of Butler's maps.
To be continued next week.