Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: Long-distance search for a secluded Lenox grave

Our Berkshires

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GREAT BARRINGTON— Robert A. Stoddard of San Diego prospected his family lineage in hopes of finding a few nuggets of gold. He struck a motherlode. And his quest isn't over.

The Stoddard tree sprouts from a London skinner named Anthony Stoddard who arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639 and opened a mercantile. In a parallel branch is Amos Stoddard (1762-1813), who grew up in Lanesborough and Lenox. Amos, it turns out, hand-wrote an autobiography that is in the archive of the Missouri Historical Museum in St. Louis.

A veteran of the American Revolution and War of 1812, Amos trained for service in 1779 with Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben at West Point; witnessed the execution of the spy John Andre; conversed with Daniel Shays; led an artillery company to St. Louis in advance of the Lewis and Clark expedition and more — to be discussed in a future column.

Robert Stoddard painstakingly transcribed the pages and they became a 272-page book: "The Autobiography Manuscript of Major Amos Stoddard" (2016). Background chapters and annotations take more space than the actual bio and are all fascinating.

LIFE OF A FARMER

But Stoddard was also curious about Amos Stoddard's father, another Anthony Stoddard, who led a commonplace life of a farmer. Born in Woodbury, Conn., Anthony brought his family to Lanesboro in 1765.

"Anthony Stoddard served in the Connecticut and Massachusetts militia when it was required," Robert Stoddard reported. "He served during the French and Indian Wars in 1758 and participated in the Battle of Bennington and was present at the surrender of British Major Gen. John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga in the fall of 1777. He was a Patriot."

Robert and his wife, Vera, planned a trip to Boston earlier this year and decided to detour to the Berkshires. The researcher got in touch with the Berkshire Family History Association based in Pittsfield, asked a few questions and was surprised by the results. Anthony, it turned out, had sold his place in Lanesboro in 1769 and moved a couple towns south.

"I set out to determine more about [Anthony Stoddard's] purchase of the farm in Lenox in 1773," he told me in a telephone conversation.

Robert then consulted Vickie Salvatore and Jan Chague of the Lenox Historical Society. They provided more unexpected information. Anthony's farmstead was on East Dugway Road. In fact, the present owners have preserved the c. 1765 Stoddard dwelling with its hand-hewn beams and stone fireplaces.

"According to `The East Street Book,'" Salvatore related in an email, Anthony Stoddard "was buried `over North on the Stocking farm near a big rock.'"

That book, compiled by Oliver W. Osborne (1823-1895) based on documents and interviews and published by the Lenox Historical Society in 1987, offered the only written mention of Anthony Stoddard and his grave, "near a large rock."

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"It is quite a story," Chague told me, "from when we first found out about his quest, the research with the Proprietor's map to pinpoint the possible area from the East Street book."

"This is the information that started me on my quest to find the burial site of Anthony Stoddard," Robert said. He later found two deeds that mention a "12 by 12" plot.

he California Stoddards met the home's owners, who gave them a tour. And with Chague, Salvatore, Deb Cote and Charlie Flint the Stoddards made a foray into the woods in quest of the burial site — a small graveyard shared with a neighbor, Thomas Tracy, a fellow Revolutionary War veteran, and an earlier victim of smallpox. Also interred there was an unidentified third man.

"You can learn so much about the area walking in the woods," veteran cellarhole searcher Chague said.

But the group had no luck.

"We plan to resume our search in the late fall when the leaves are off the trees," Salvatore said, "and the underbrush has died off. And maybe the ticks won't be so prevalent."

A CHAIN OF DEEDS

Armed now with a new research tool — the Berkshire Middle District's online deed archive — Robert Stoddard back home in the Golden State assembled a chain of deeds for each of Anthony Stoddard's heirs to the Lenox farmstead. A probate land allocation sketch for Anthony's estate — he died of smallpox in 1786 at age 51 — split his land among his widow Phebe (Reade) and nine children. Amos, the oldest child, received a double-share. Phebe's 11-acre parcel approximates the size of the home lot today.

The farm stretched nearly the length of East Dugway Road between Pittsfield Road (Route 20) and East Street. Amos sold his westernmost parcel in 1787. Using logic and measurements, deed analysis and further examination of maps, Robert Stoddard has a better idea where to look for the graves next time.

"My journey has brought me to find Amos's childhood home," he said. "Now I want to find his father's grave."

He explained further, "The reason for conducting this research, besides the value it can bring to other land researchers, is to attempt to find the location of the Thomas Tracy burial site [the neighbor] mentioned in the two deeds hoping that if this location can be found the burial site of Anthony Stoddard and the other unknown man may also be found."

As the intrepid researcher said, "For me the story never really ends."

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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