The Misbehavior of Miles Greenwood (1736–1814) of Salem

    By Walter Muir Whitehill

    his great-great-great-grandson

    MY grandmother, Flora Greenwood, was born in Presque Isle, Maine, on 28 November 1851. In her late teens she worked in the local printing office, learning to set type. With this trade, she was able to escape from the potato fields and cold winters of Aroostook County. In her twenties she went to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, or the adjoining town of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, where she had friends, and found work in the Chronicle printing office. There she met an itinerant printer, John Thomas Williams (born in Covington, Indiana, on 14 August 1848), who was wandering through the east following the death of his wife, and who had, for the moment, become foreman of the Chronicle shop. He had enlisted in Company F, 2nd Illinois Cavalry on 3 January 1864 at the age of sixteen. My daughter, Diana Laing, edited his rather moving diary for the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, which published it in its Civil War Centennial Issue, LVI, 2 (1963), pp. 372–390. He had married in 1871 Ella Hancock of Scott County, Indiana, and had one daughter, Elsie. His wife became insane in 1876 and died the following year. Thereafter, he went east, moving about from place to place, supporting himself as itinerant printers customarily did, and writing reports of his travels for the Tuscola (Illinois) Journal, on which he had earlier worked.

    Flora Greenwood and Tom Williams were married in Lincoln, Rhode Island, on 13 May 1879. Almost immediately they returned to Tuscola, where through the retirement of the owner of the Journal, he had an opportunity to buy that newspaper. They had one child of their own (my mother), Florence Marion Williams, born in Tuscola on 30 May 1880, as well as Elsie Williams, the daughter of his first wife.

    Tom Williams died suddenly of cholera morbus on 29 July 1881. My grandmother, widowed at twenty-nine, alone in a small Illinois railway junction, decided to go back east. She left her stepdaughter, Elsie, with her mother’s people, on the reasonable theory that a child with an insane mother might come to grief. If that occurred in New England, Illinois relatives would clearly attribute it to a cruel stepmother. This worry was needless, for Elsie Williams grew up normally and became the librarian of the Tuscola Public Library. I sought her out in 1962, and found her a lively and literate octogenarian.

    My grandmother returned to North Attleboro late in 1881, built herself an angular house at 28 Orne Street, and somehow lived, and brought up her daughter, for the next quarter of a century on the proceeds of the sale of the Tuscola Journal, supplemented by work in printing offices or the offices of local jewelry factories. In the North Attleboro High School my mother met my father, Walter Muir Whitehill, son of the Reverend John Whitehill, minister of a Congregational church in Oldtown, actually the First Church of Attleboro, but located in a deserted village, straddled by railroad lines, which had led to the growth of Attleboro and North Attleboro and the abandonment of the early settlement. John Whitehill was a Scot, born in Paisley on 11 August 1833, whose weaver father, James Whitehill (1800–1865) had emigrated to Massachusetts in 1842 during a depression that put him out of work in Scotland. John Whitehill, coming to New England as a child, somehow got to Amherst College and the Andover Theological Seminary. Going to Oldtown in 1868, he remained there for fifty-three years, maintaining as close an approximation of a Presbyterian manse as could be found outside of Scotland, dying (characteristically) in his eighty-eighth year during his vacation, so that even his final illness did not cause him to miss a Sunday in the pulpit. Although he was never paid more than six hundred dollars a year, plus parsonage, five of his eight children somehow got themselves to college. My father entered Harvard in 1899, worked his way through as an agent for the Waltham Laundry Company, was graduated in 1903, and on 6 July 1904 married my mother.

    When they settled in a small apartment at 55 Sacramento Street, Cambridge, my grandmother sold her house in North Attleboro, and moved in with them. All three seemed to take this as a matter of course. Thus from my birth on 28 September 1905, my grandmother was an accepted part of the household, and so she remained—through moves to Waverly, Allston, Wellesley, Boston, Cambridge, and Manville, Rhode Island—until her death in St. Andrews’ Rectory, Hanover, Massachusetts, on 6 January 1930.

    My grandmother made herself useful in a variety of ways. As I look back on it, she was a built-in babysitter, although as my parents seldom went out, her services in that capacity were not often required. She occasionally fried doughnuts and had a green thumb with house plants. Now and then she would persuade my mother to drive her in a model-T Ford to Concord or Sudbury, where, armed with a fireplace shovel and a flour bag, she would invade a pasture to collect cow manure for the plants. I was deeply mortified to have a grandmother who stole cow manure, but the plants thrived, and now, half a century later, I entirely understand her motives. Like many people who had grown up in Maine, my grandmother had a lofty disregard for the accidents of urban life. Proximity was to her no excuse for friendship, or even civility. She had no tolerance for the people who were her neighbors, measuring them by some personal standard of her Maine youth, and finding them wanting. So like many displaced Americans, she turned to the past for consolation.

    About 1915, being seized with a desire to join the d.a.r., she began to frequent the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Boston Public Library, with the hope of filling out the necessary pedigree blanks for that purpose. Obviously, she started with her own Greenwoods, and began to work back. Her father, Harrison Gray Otis Greenwood, born in Moscow, Maine, on 6 April 1813, had married on 18 December 1840 Caroline Whitcomb1 of Norridgewock, and moved in the late forties to Presque Isle where he spent the rest of his life farming.2 Born during the War of 1812, when Maine was still a part of Massachusetts, his name shows his parents’ adherence to the Federalist principles of Boston, just as the Woodrow Wilson Jones of a century later represented devotion to the opposite party. Although my grandmother had left Presque Isle as a young girl, she kept in touch with her parents and numerous brothers and sisters, and, during my mother’s childhood, would now and then take her there to summer in her father’s stark, gabled Aroostook farmhouse, standing in the midst of potato fields. Harrison Gray Otis Greenwood died 4 September 1898; his widow on 16 February 1904, both being buried at Presque Isle which they had helped settle more than fifty years before. The farm passed to my grandmother’s brother, Sanford Greenwood, but when the house burned about 1909 he sold the land to the state for an agricultural experiment station and retired from farming.

    My grandmother never knew her grandmother, Betsey Russell Greenwood,3 who died on 21 October 1844, and I doubt if she saw much of her grandfather, Gilbert Greenwood,4 for, although he only died on 24 August 1873, he had remained on a Moscow farm, rather than following his son to Presque Isle in search of new and better land. Both these grandparents were buried in Moscow, with stones that indicated his birth on 20 April 1787 and hers on 25 September 1788, without indication of where they were born. Also in the Moscow cemetery was the headstone of Gilbert’s mother: “Betsey, wife of Miles Greenwood, died December 3, 1845, aged 94 years.” The family tradition was that Betsey, whose maiden name was Rhodes, was the widow of a Salem merchant and shipowner of the Revolutionary period, who had died a good thirty years earlier. Moreover, Gilbert Greenwood had had a slightly older half sister, Nancy Wyatt—subsequently married to Daniel Towne of Topsfield, Massachusetts—who was thought to have come from Salem with her mother by way of Wiscasset.

    The search therefore led to Salem, where there were indeed numerous traces of Miles Greenwood. He had been born in Boston 31 December 1736, but had lived in Salem, at one time in a house whose handsome staircase is now preserved in the Essex Institute. He had owned merchant ships before and during the Revolution, as well as a share in the privateer sloop Revenge. In August 1778 he had been lieutenant of the company of 81 Salemites who had volunteered for the Rhode Island expedition; in 1781 captain of one of the four foot companies of Salem. He was a Representative from Salem in the first and second General Courts held under the new Massachusetts Constitution in 1781–1782. But his fortunes had not survived the Revolution, for several of his vessels were captured. While a few families, like the Derbys in Salem and the Browns in Providence, successfully weathered the Revolution, prospering before, during and after, most pre-Revolutionary maritime fortunes were made by new men, who had found and seized their opportunities—like Captain Joseph Peabody—during the war. Miles Greenwood having then, like many of his kind, gone broke, he went to work for the Massachusetts Bank in Boston, incorporated in 1784 as the first in the town. There he remained until his death on 8 November 1814, which inspired one of his colleagues in the bank to write the punning epitaph:

    He lies interred our discount clerk,

    Once sound Greenwood, now dry as bark.

    He was buried in the Willens tomb in the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston.

    So far, so good. Miles Greenwood was of the right age and the right occupation. Not only had he served in the Revolution, but his origins were neatly carried back to Elizabethan England in Frederick Greenwood’s Greenwood Genealogies, 1154—1914, and other sources. Miles was, it seemed, the youngest of the seven children of Nathaniel Greenwood (c. 1695–1779) shipwright and mastmaker, of Boston by his wife Elizabeth Ventiman. Nathaniel’s father, Samuel Greenwood (1646–1711), born in England, came to Boston about 1665. He married Mary Thornton, was a shipwright, died on 19 August 1711, and was buried in Copps Hill Burying Ground, where his great-nephew, Samuel Greenwood (1690–1742) built in 1722 a family tomb (no. 57), which was decorated with a Greenwood coat of arms, described as “Argent a fesse, sable between three spurrowels in chief and three ducks in base, all of the second.” These arms appeared to have belonged to Samuel’s father, Miles Greenwood (1600–1658), who was a worsted weaver of Norwich. This Miles was in turn the son of another Miles (c. 1578–1663), a baker (born in the parish of St. Peters of Mancroft, Norwich, married there on 21 October 1599 to Anne Scath of Barnham Broome, Norfolk), who lived for a time at Sudbury in Suffolk, eventually returning to Norwich.

    All that was needed was to find a marriage record that would tie the “Betsey, wife of Miles Greenwood” of the Moscow burying ground to this Miles. Yet on looking in the vital records, my grandmother found Miles marrying the wrong wives. The Boston records showed that on 16 June 1767 he married there Sarah Hall of Medford, and on 1 January 1772 Elizabeth Elkins of Salem. Those of Salem indicate his intention to marry Elizabeth Elkins, widow, who had previously, as Elizabeth White, married Thomas Elkins on 7 November 1758. The only reference to Elizabeth Rhodes is her intention to marry William Wyatt, Jr., recorded on 17 April 1784. There is also noted in the Salem records the death of Captain William Wyatt on 10 December 1796, aged 67 years.

    Here was thorough confusion. Greenwood Genealogies, 1154–1914, noted the marriage of Miles Greenwood to Betsey Rhodes, without date or place, and included their Maine descendants in considerable detail. Frederick Greenwood, their compiler—a manufacturer of pine, ash, and oak furniture in Templeton, Massachusetts—when appealed to by my grandmother for further details, explained, in a letter of 22 March 1915 that he was chiefly concerned with descendants of Thomas Greenwood of Newton, had “given only a broken record of the families of Samuel and Nathaniel Greenwood of Boston,” and hoped she would take up that in vestigation against the publication of a second edition. Although he amiably promised to look in “two barrels full of scraps of paper containing Greenwood notes” that remained from his compilation, no further light came from that source.5

    For years my grandmother beat the bushes, looking for a third marriage of Miles Greenwood to Elizabeth Rhodes, always without success. And the Wyatt references, coupled with the existence of Elizabeth Rhodes’s daughter, Nancy Wyatt, only confused the issue, for Gilbert Greenwood, her son by Miles, was, according to his gravestone, born on 20 April 1787. My grandmother searched vital records, corresponded with cousins, seeking to tie the nonagenarian who was described on her Moscow, Maine, gravestone in 1845 as “wife of Miles Greenwood” with the Salem merchant who had died in Boston in 1814.

    On 28 January 1915 my grandmother’s cousin, Elmer E. Greenwood, of Skowhegan, who described himself on his letterhead as “Civil Engineer—Bridge Engineering a Specialty,” wrote her:

    About our great grandmother, wife of Miles Greenwood. She is buried in Moscow and I got this from her headstone last summer. “Betsey, wife of Miles Greenwood, died Dec. 3, 1845, aged 94 years.” We have always understood that her maiden name was Elizabeth Rhodes. Mother told me once that the story was that she was never married to Miles Greenwood and that our Grandfather Greenwood was an illegitimate child. This however is perhaps only a rumor that might easily have been started, especially if she was a somewhat disagreeable person to live with as we have some reason to believe from other accounts.

    My grandmother nevertheless persistently continued to look for a marriage record, always without success. Eleven years later, her cousin Elmer, who had also been hard at it, wrote:

    What I would most like to learn is something about Elizabeth Rhodes, our great grandmother, who died at Moscow in 1845. She seems to be the stumbling block thus far.

    So she continued to be until a day twenty-five years after my grandmother’s death when, idly reading the diary of the Reverend William Bentley, minister of the East Church of Salem, for a totally different purpose, I chanced to note that on 21 June 1793 he entered:

    A certificate given of a marriage between Miles Greenwood and Elizabeth Elkins to obtain a divorce.

    As Gilbert Greenwood, Miles’s son by a supposed third marriage, was six years old at a time when Miles and his second wife were thinking of divorce, here was something worth investigation. So in the Court Files Suffolk, vol. 847, docket 134458, I turned up the following:

    Essex SS. To the honorable Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court to be holden at Ipswich within the County of Essex on the third Tuesday of June in the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and ninety three.

    Elizabeth Greenwood, Wife of Miles Greenwood of Beverly in said County of Essex Merchant but late of Salem in said County of Essex, doth libel complain and alledge that on the twelfth day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy two, the said Elizabeth Elkins of Salem aforesaid Widow, was at said Salem duly and lawfully married to the said Miles Greenwood by the Reverend James Diman of said Salem Clerk and thereby became husband and wife. According to all the Covenants and Laws appertaining to the state and relation of Man and Wife and that thereupon the said Miles Greenwood became the lawful Husband of said Elizabeth, who thereupon took upon herself the name of Greenwood and the said Miles by the Marriage Covenant and by Law became obliged to be true and faithful to the bed of said Elizabeth and not to commit the crime of Adultery; Yet the said Miles Greenwood regardless of his said Duty as by law established, did on the last day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty five and on divers days and times before that time at Salem aforesaid, unlawfully and lasciviously commit the crime of Adultery with one Betty Rhodes and that the said Miles Greenwood hath thereby broken his said marriage covenant and destroyed the peace and happiness of the said Elizabeth and that thereupon by the Law of this Commonwealth a right accrues to the said Elizabeth to be loosed from the Bonds of Matrimony with the said Miles Greenwood, Wherefore the said Elizabeth prayeth the said honorable Court, that she may be divorced from the said Bond of Matrimony with the said Miles Greenwood and that the same may be decreed null and void.

    Elizabeth Greenwood

    In due course, it was. Miles Greenwood was summoned to answer the libel on 3 June 1793, but the 1792–1793 Minute Book of the Supreme Judicial Court notes that “the Respondent being three times solemnly called does not appear but makes default” and the “material facts alledged in support of the charge of Adultery are satisfactorily proved,” Elizabeth Elkins Greenwood got her divorce.

    None of this suggests the rapture of careless youth. When Gilbert Greenwood was born in 1787, his father was 51 and his mother 36. Elizabeth Rhodes was 33 when her intention to marry William Wyatt was filed on 17 April 1784. Whether she married him or not, I have not discovered, but years later, in Moscow, Maine, Gilbert Greenwood had a slightly older half-sister called Nancy Wyatt. According to Mrs. Greenwood’s complaint, her husband was sleeping with Betty Rhodes, not Betty Wyatt, on 31 October 1785 “and on divers days and times before that time,” which confuses the origins of Nancy still further. But they may have been tolerably discreet about it, for the petition as originally written alleged adultery with “some woman to the said Libellant unknown,” which words were subsequently crossed out and replaced with the insertion “one Betty Rhodes.”

    Then the details stop, but at some point Elizabeth Rhodes gathered up her children Nancy Wyatt and Gilbert Greenwood and headed to the eastward—a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. They were certainly in Maine by the time of Gilbert’s marriage in 1809 to Betsey Russell, for her father, Calvin Russell, a Revolutionary soldier from Lexington, had settled in Canaan, Maine, soon after the Revolution. My grandmother spent a great deal of time fruitlessly searching for a record of Miles Greenwood’s third marriage to Elizabeth Rhodes, for she surely found unacceptable the suggestion of her aunt—reported by her cousin Elmer—that the lady never was married to Miles. Had she realized that her grandfather, Gilbert Greenwood, was six years old when his father was divorced from his second wife, even she would have had to concede that Gilbert was illegitimate. Thus this fairly numerous tribe of Maine Greenwoods are tied to the Salem and Boston tribe, but from the wrong side of the blanket.