Having a love for local history, it seemed natural that Brewster resident Steven Mattson would spend about five years searching for the gravesite and headstone of a Brewster resident dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Though it took several years and plenty of persistence, Mattson’s “little obsession” became an incredible discovery. With Bob Palmer Day coming up on April 30 in the Town of Southeast, it’ll mark one year since Mattson with the help of family and friends discovered the gravestone of Jedediah Wood, who was born in 1766 and served in the militia as a captain. He was also a cabinet-maker and was so well known he had a street festival named after him.
“It slowly became this little obsession,” Mattson said. “It’s an excuse to get outside, it’s an excuse to do some research on local history.”
When Woods died in 1857, he made sure he was buried next to his wife Abigail. But where that gravestone and burial were located exactly was the question dogging Mattson.
The search for the unknown began in either 2011 or 2012 when Brewster resident Jack Duncan mentioned Wood to Mattson (both Duncan and Mattson are part of the Brewster VFW) after Duncan’s son had done research for his Boy Scouts troop. When Mattson heard that, his ears perked.
Mattson said his focus on the search would turn on and off during those several years. He stressed the effort to find Wood’s gravesite was a community effort. Jack Duncan originally told him about it and helped, local historians like Libby Baker fed Mattson information and other residents assisted in research. Mattson’s wife and three children even took part in the adventure, one day looking on a farm for hours in April 2012 for the gravesite.
Mattson, Duncan and others researched about Wood by reading old newspapers and speaking with local residents familiar with Southeast’s history like the late Denis Castelli. Mattson even spoke with an ancestor of Wood — his 4th great granddaughter.
While Mattson joked his three kids complained the whole time, he knows deep down they enjoyed it and had fun.
“My kids have been in cemeteries more than people who are 80-years-old at this point,” Mattson quipped. “Every time I drive past the cemetery now I always joke with my kids, ‘Oh, should we see Jedediah now?’”
While there were times when Mattson convinced himself he would never track down the lost gravestone, with every clue hope floated. But when that clue led to another dead end, the optimism began fleeting.
At the point when he finally found the stone last year, he wasn’t expecting to locate it.
When he finally did, the excitement was hard to hide. It was the morning of April 30, 2016 and he was with his family placing new American flags in Old Southeast Cemetery. With a map in hand, Mattson began looking again and noticed a stone that was flat and only two inches below grade with grass covering part of it. After looking at old photos of Jedediah Wood’s gravestone, he knew the coloring of it and that there was a crack on it.
After some digging, he lifted it up and low and behold he saw the letters W.O.O.D. as his adrenaline was pumping. There was Jedediah and Abigail Wood’s musty gravestone.
“We didn’t solve world hunger, or the plight of homeless veterans, or the national debt,” Mattson wrote eloquently on his website detailing the search. “In this day and age of short attention spans, sound bites and throw-away consumer culture, we took the time and hunted down a 2 foot by 4 foot piece of stone that was carved 159 years ago, then vandalized, repaired and moved 35 years ago, and then subsequently swallowed up by Mother Earth. And we found it.”
Although he found the gravestone, he’s still narrowing down the burial site.
While it was a memorable Bob Palmer Day for Mattson and his family, it was a small part of a massive effort taken every year by Brewster residents.
Bob Palmer Day started six years ago when Brewster resident and World War II veteran Bob Palmer turned 90. For many years, he would put America flags on the graves of deceased veterans in Southeast. On the last weekend of April, various community groups, young and old, show up and put flags on the roughly 1,300 grave plots in the town in 12 historic cemeteries prior to Memorial Day.
“It’s turned into a great community event,” he said. “It’s really about Bob Palmer and the community.”
The project has led Duncan to learn a wealth of local history, including veterans that fought in the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Even Palmer, who is almost 96, will participate if he’s up to it. Duncan joked, “he’ll still come out and say I’m doing it wrong and you have to do it this way.”
Mattson certainly plans to visit his old friend Jedediah Wood this Bob Palmer Day and hopes to one day raise the funds to repair and clean up his headstone and put it back in place. On Saturday, he’ll go to make sure it’s still where he left it.
“If I went there one time and it was gone, I would lose my mind,” Mattson said. “If I had to start the search all over again.”
For more about this discovery, go to Steven Mattson’s website at http://www. adventuresaroundputnam.com.