Monday, September 21, 2009

Buried at a Mall?

The sign behind the liquor store,
leading to the Wilson Family Burial Plot in Danvers, Massachusetts

Robert Wilson, died June 4, 1797 in Danvers (now Peabody)
Buried at a Mall?

Robert Wilson, 3rd died in 1797 in what was then part of Danvers, Massachusetts, at a farm which no longer exists, and the family plot is now located in Peabody, behind the Kappy’s Liquor Store. The Wilson family wouldn’t recognize this land. Where the farm stood is now the cloverleaf intersection of routes 114 and 128, and the North Shore Mall.

Robert Wilson served in the Revolutionary War as a private in Captain Samuel Epe’s Company, under Colonel Pickering’s regiment of Danvers. He marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775 to Lexington for a service of two days. He was a potter of some renown, being from a family of potters who produced an unusual black glaze. He died fairly young (aged 50), and his wife, Sarah (Felton) Wilson, isn’t buried with him, but across the street at the Felton Family plot. She died in 1836, surviving him by about forty years, but never remarrying.

The attempt to find the Wilson Family Cemetery was not easy. I was told to park at Kappy’s Liquor Store to find it, but I didn’t know that I would have to park BEHIND the story, near the dumptsters, where there was a very steep drop covered with weeds. The Peabody Historical Society has placed a very nice sign here, but it isn’t visible from the road. Neither is the cemetery visible from the road. Only after climbing down the steep embankment can you see the stone wall and the gravestones. Down there, in the deep chasm behind Kappy’s and the embankments of Rt. 128, you can see nothing but trees and gravestones. It is how it must have appeared before modern times, and before backhoes changed the landscape.

The Wilson Homestead stood near 141 Andover Street (Rt. 114), and it no longer exists. Actually, the street is just a conglomeration of strip malls, chain restaurants, stores and parking lots. Nothing older than about 1950 seems to exist.

The first potting Wilsons were Robert, Jr. and his brother Joseph, who went to Dedham (also famous for its pottery) and to Providence, Rhode Island. Robert Wilson 3rd and his brother Job were potters, too. Robert 3rd served as administrator to his father’s will in 1793, when two- thirds of the Wilson land and the potting business was sold to Isaac Wilson 3rd, another brother. The three Wilsons ran the business together, but both Robert and Job died before 1800. Isaac died in 1809 and the Wilson black glazed pottery business ended.

I imagine that the black glazed pottery must have contained lead or some other poison, to kill all the Wilsons so early, but the death records at the time do not list a cause. I’m descended of Robert’s son, another Robert Wilson, who died in 1803 at the very young age of 27! Again, the records, and the gravestones give no cause of death, so I’m free to let my imagination run wild.

In the next generation, Mercy Wilson, born in 1803 just a few months before her father’s death, lived to the ripe age of 80, dying in 1883. Phew! It couldn’t have been something genetic killing the Wilsons, it must have been the pottery! At least that is my theory… and I’m sticking to it!

And so, I photographed all the Wilsons in the quiet little cemetery in the gully in Peabody. Quiet because the trees, embankments and steep inclines muffled the traffic of routes 114 and 128, even though a large cloverleaf interchange was located just yards away. All those generations of Robert Wilsons were found, recorded and digitally saved.

However, one more Wilson mystery remains. Across the street, behind the North Shore Mall, lies the grave of Jonathan Wilson, undisturbed by the back door of Macy’s. He has another historical marker located near his grave, and the flag carefully placed there by the local DAR chapter, because this Jonathan Wilson was also a veteran of the Revolution. I haven’t been able to place him among the branches of the Wilson Family Tree, but I’m working on it!

The Wilson Family Tree
Gen. 1. Robert Wilson b. about 1630 in England, died 18 sep 1675 in Deerfield, Massachusetts at the Bloody Brook Massacre, m. 1. Deborah Buffum 12 Aug 1658 in Marblehead, Massachusetts and m. 2. Anna Trask about 1674.
Gen. 2. Robert Wilson b. about 1663 in Salem, d. before 17 Jan 1716/7 in Salem, m. Elizabeth Cook about 1685.
Gen. 3. Isaac Wilson b. about 1691 in Salem m. Mary Stone on 9 Jan. 1717/8 in Salem
Gen. 4. Robert Wilson b. about 1724 in Salem, d. before 10 July 1782 in Danvers, m. Elizabeth Southwick on 26 May 1744, in Salem. This Robert Wilson was a farmer.
Gen. 5. Robert Wilson, b. about 1746, d. 4 Jun 1797 in Danvers, m. Sarah Felton on 23 Mar. 1775 in Danvers. This Robert Wilson was a potter.
Gen. 6. Robert Wilson, b. 5 Sep. 1776 in Danvers, d. 9 Nov. 1803 in Danvers, m. Mary Southwick on 8 May 1800 in Danvers.
Gen. 7. Mercy F. Wilson b. 17 Jun 1803 in Peabody, d. 9 Oct 1883 in Peabody, m. Aaron Wilkinson on 23 Jun 1829 in Danvers. This is the end of my Wilson line. Phew! Too many Robert Wilsons! Mercy (Wilson) and Aaron Wilkinson were my 3x great grandparents.  I descend for their son named (what else!) Robert Wilson Wilkinson!

UPDATE -  After recent renovations and additions to the North Shore mall, the Wilson graves near the Macy's entrance were relocated to a nearby Revolutionary War monument on the corner of Washington and Sewall Streets.

To cite/link to this blog post:  Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Buried at a Mall?", Nutfield Genealogy, posted September 21, 2009, ( accessed [access date]). 

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