This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." This 300-year-old house is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.
By Carl Flowers
Just as Isaac Woods might have been denied use of the Groton hearse (because he was buried in Dunstable), the same fate might have been encountered by the Fitzpatricks. Nicholas Fitzpatrick at the age of twenty-nine, died in 1872 and was buried in Ayer. Because James, Sr. and his wife Elizabeth are buried in Pepperell, maybe the Pepperell hearse was used. The cost for the hearse would have been in the neighborhood of six dollars.
If a town hearse was employed, plumes may have been used. Their color and number signified the importance of the deceased. If there were no plumes on the hearse, the deceased was poor. A hearse with three or four plumes meant the person was well to do and, five or six plumes indicated the deceased was well off. Unlike several of the Woods, all the Fitzpatricks with the exception of John B. who is buried in Pepperell have a head stone, and their deaths are recorded in town records.
In addition to recording the Fitzpatrick deaths, the cause of their deaths had to be given. This requirement began in 1844. Nicholas Fitzpatrick is the first person to die in the Mistress to have his cause of death recorded, which was dropsy. This generic term is for a death caused by the buildup of fluid around a vital organ such as the heart or lungs damaged by an extremely high fever during early childhood. James, Sr. died in 1895 at the age of seventy-eight from emphysema and his wife Elizabeth died in 1894 from pneumonia at the age of eighty.
The biggest difference with burials is with the Fitzpatricks. All of them may have been embalmed, but there's an outside chance Nicholas Fitzpatrick wasn't. A needle known as the trocar wasn't patented until 1878. It's the same year embalming fluid was first commercially compounded on a large scale.
Embalming was widely known due to all the publicity associated with the embalming of Abraham Lincoln's body in 1865 and when his son Willie died two years earlier in 1863. When James, Sr. and his wife Elizabeth died, the trocar was a standard piece of every undertaker's embalming equipment. James and Elizabeth would have been embalmed in the Mistress on the hearth in front of the main fireplace at a cost of five dollars apiece.
If the undertaker used all the known advances, arterial injection of embalming fluid would have been supplemented with cavity injections. To do this, the trocar needle had to be inserted into the umbilicus. When the embalming was completed, the body might have been shaved, washed, swabbed with embalming fluid, dressed, and then taken from the embalming table to the parlor where it was placed into a casket so that it could be viewed by visitors.
Besides the cost for embalming, other expenses might have included two dollars for candles, five dollars for a church service, fifty cents for tolling the church bell, and a two dollar cemetery charge. Other additional charges would be thirty dollars for a casket and five dollars for a grave site.