Joseph Underwood Life Sketch

(1681 - 1761)

Joseph Underwood was born May 28, 1681 in Watertown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, British Colonial America. Joseph married Susannah Parker on May 27, 1707 in Reading, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Joseph died January 29, 1761 in Westford, Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Joseph Underwood was born May 28, 1681 in Watertown located on the Charles River west of Boston, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, British Colonial America. He was the 6th of 10 known children of Joseph Underwood and his wife Elizabeth.

In 1691, when Joseph was 9 years of age, his father died. Joseph’s father devised his estate in Watertown to be equally divided between Joseph and his older brother John when they came of age. The estate consisted of a dwelling house with a barn, uplands, meadows and orchards as well as 28 acres of woodland and 7 acres of meadowland. Within 2 years, Joseph’s mother married again, William Bull. William Bull and Elizabeth along with Joseph’s younger siblings moved to Sherburn, west and slightly south of Boston. Joseph was sent to live with a relative, Thomas Hodgman and his wife Mary, in Reading Massachusetts. Since his sister Elizabeth married in Reading, likely she was also sent to Reading, possibly to live with oldest sister Mary, who was married and lived in Reading with her husband John Phipps.

While in Reading, Joseph learned the trade of weaving. He also helped Thomas Hodgeman with Thomas’ estate. Thomas and his wife were childless, although they did adopt a son Josiah Webber who took the Hodgman surname. When Joseph reached the age of majority in 1702, he did not return to Watertown to his half of his father’s estate. It appears his brother John, who was recently married, likely purchased Joseph’s share. In 1703 Thomas Hodgman, “Yeoman”, gifted Joseph Underwood, “Weaver”, 27 acres of land “in consideration of the love and good will I bare unto my cousin Joseph Underwood who hath lived with me and wrought faithfully for me many years … I be willing to bestow on him a good living in Land”. While the familial relationship between Thomas and Joseph is still unknown, the use of the word “cousin” during this period of time usually means nephew or nephew-in-law. The gifted land was located in Charlestown, a section known as Charlestown End, near Doleful Pond, today in Stoneham, Massachusetts.

In 1707, a month prior to his marriage, Joseph purchased an additional 7 acres of land adjoining his property and on Doleful Pond. On May 27, Joseph married Susanna Parker of Reading, daughter of Nathaniel Parker and Bethiah Polley.

  1. Joseph Underwood
  2. Thomas Underwood
  3. Mary Underwood Buckley
  4. Elizabeth Underwood
  5. Jonathan Underwood
  6. Anna Underwood
  7. Ruth Underwood
  8. Phinehas Underwood
  9. Timothy Underwood
  10. Susanna Underwood
  11. John Underwood
  12. Bethiah Underwood
  13. James Underwood

Joseph and Susannah’s first son, Joseph was born the following year in Charlestown, most likely on the property on Doleful Pond.

In July of 1709, Thomas Hodgman gifted Joseph another 10 acres of land, this time in Reading.

Between 1709 and 1714, Joseph and Susanna had 3 more children, Thomas, Mary and Elizabeth, and land records indicate the family lived in Charlestown. In 1712, Joseph’s brother John sold almost all their father’s estate and relocated near Joseph in Charlestown. Also in 1712, Joseph sold the 27 acre gift of land given to him by Thomas Hodgeman and purchased a larger property with a house, a barn and out housing. Two years later, Joseph sold 5 acres of the 10 acre gift of land in Reading. The

deeds in 1712 and 1714 indicated that Joseph’s socioeconomic class had risen since he was no longer a “Weaver” but was now a “Husbandman”. Also in 1714, Joseph’s brother John sold the remaining part of their father’s estate in Watertown and also his land in Charlestown, then relocated to Natick, Massachusetts.

The year 1714 was notable for another reason. Paper money had become scarce in the Massachusetts Bay Colony which hindered the ability of residents, the government and tradesmen to conduct business. To try to correct the situation, the General Assembly resolved to print and emit £50,000 in bills of credit and place them in the hands of individuals across the colony willing to provide a security, or mortgage. The terms were that the mortgagor had 5 years to repay the mortgage with interest or could repay the whole principal at any time. Joseph participated and mortgaged his Charlestown property. Joseph’s brothers, Joshua in Sherburn and John in Natick, also participated. The economic policy had unintended consequences and according to The Yale Law Review, by 1719 the economy had deflated and currency was scarce again. All three brothers profited as a result of their decision to participate.

During this same period of time, son Jonathan and daughters Anna and Ruth were born in Charlestown. Vital records appear to indicate all were born in Chelmsford, however land records show the family lived in Charlestown. A closer look at the vital records indicates that the births were entered into the church records of Chelmsford in 1722, not that the children were necessarily born there.

In 1719, Joseph sold meadow land to Thomas Hodgman’s adopted son Josiah and also quitclaimed all rights to land given him by Thomas Hodgman. The deeds record Joseph’s socioeconomic status had risen again as he was now a “Yeoman”. Between 1719 and 1720, Joseph purchased an additional 97 acres in Charlestown.

In December of 1719, Joseph made his first purchase of land in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, northwest of both Charlestown and Reading, 70 acres including a house and a barn. Why Chelmsford? In 1719 Arthur Crouch, husband to Joseph’s aunt Elizabeth Underwood, died in Chelmsford. Arthur and Elizabeth Crouch were some of the early residents of Chelmsford and owned a beautiful property on Tadmuck Hill. However, they were apparently childless. In 1706, well before his death, Arthur deeded his 70 acre property to Joseph Herrick reserving a life estate to himself and after his death, a one-third dower for Elizabeth. Joseph Herrick died in 1717 and devised the property to his two sons Joseph and John with the stipulation that they “take care of it and Arthur Crouch and his wife do not suffer for want during their lives.” When Arthur Crouch died in 1719, Joseph Underwood along with his aunt Elizabeth administered the estate. Joseph purchased the 70 acres from Joseph and John Herrick for £166.

Joseph, Susanna and the family may have moved to Chelmsford in 1719 at the time of the purchase and provided housing and help for Joseph’s aunt. Or they may have moved to the property following the death of Joseph’s aunt in 1722. Since son Phinehas was born in 1721 it is not certain whether he was born in Charlestown End or in Chelmsford.

In 1721, Joseph was assigned land from the town of Chelmsford, all which had been laid out “on the right of Arthur Crouch”.

In February of 1722, Joseph notified his church that the family had moved to Chelmsford and he began to sell his land in Charlestown.

Joseph became an influential member of the Chelmsford community. He appeared in the town records as early as 1724 when he was a petitioner from the “new parish” seeking a schoolmaster who could also preach. Also in 1724, the part of Chelmsford in which the Underwoods lived became the West Precinct of Chelmsford and the construction of a meeting house was begun on Tadmuck Hill, near the Underwood’s house. The residents of the West Precinct however, wanted their own town. Joseph served on a committee to petition the General Court to grant the precinct the full privileges of a town. In December of 1728, the treasurer of the West Precinct was ordered to pay Joseph Underwood the sum of 2 pounds for “going to the General Court to procure us a township”. In September of the following year their efforts were rewarded when the West Precinct of Chelmsford became the town of Westford.

During these 4 years the family grew to 12 children. Timothy, Susanna, John and Bethiah were all born in Chelmsford/Westford. Sadly, daughter Susanna died at the end of 1729. In 1731, son James was born.

Between 1729 and 1739, Joseph continued to purchase and sell land from his estate.

In April of 1732 the town of Westford, in order to maintain the roads, agreed “to divide the highways and private or particular easy to each surveyor their part of easy to keep in repair and men to do the services. William Barrett should repair the ways from Benjamin Robinses to the meeting house and the way from Joshua Fletcher’s by Boynton’s to the bridge by the Widow Blodgett’s; and all the ways over Tadmuck swamp to Littleton line, and all the ways with the said limits; and all the men who

dwell in the said limits, and Mr Joseph Underwood’s family are appointed to assist in said work”. In 1732, Joseph would have been 51, and his son’s Joseph, Thomas and Jonathan would have been 24, 22 and 16 respectively. Unfortunately in the fall of 1732, son Thomas died.

Beginning in 1735 Joseph and Susannah’s daughters began to marry. Elizabeth wed Joseph Fletcher in 1735, Anne wed James Spaulding in 1736, and Ruth married Joseph Read in 1737.

Oldest son Joseph attended Harvard where he graduated in 1735. At the time, Harvard trained theologians and teachers. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, these professions were highly esteemed. In 1737 Joseph gifted 50 acres of land in Chelmsford to his son Joseph, probably with great pride when the deed was conveyed from Joseph Underwood, “Yeoman”, to my son Joseph Underwood, “Gentleman”. The deed was witnessed by Joseph’s two sons, Jonathan and Phinehas, and by his daughter Ruth Read.

In 1739, sons Joseph and Jonathan married. Joseph married the widow Ruth Parker Bancroft in March and Jonathan married Hannah Richardson in June.

In 1740 Joseph gave son Jonathan several tracts of land “in consideration of the love and good will and affection that I bear to my dutiful and well beloved son Jonathan Underwood”. Jonathan received 5 acres of land in Westford including a dwelling house and barn near the Meeting House, a 6 acre and a 10 acre tract, and a 9 acre tract of pineland. The deed was witnessed by Jonathan’s two brothers, John and James, and by his sister Bethiah.

Around this time, son Phinehas departed Westford for Dunstable, New Hampshire, where Phinehas’ first child was born in 1741. From the birth record and subsequent birth records, it is known that Phinehas married “Mary”, maiden name unknown. It is not known whether the marriage occurred before or after Phinehas moved. The section of Dunstable where Phinehas lived would become Merrimack in 1746, Phinehas the town’s first clerk and also an innkeeper.

At the Westford town meeting on May 21, 1744, the town appointed a committee to meet with Joseph about buying a piece of his property for a military training field. In 1748 the town approved the payment of £5 to Joseph for the purchase of the land. The land eventually became Westford’s Town Common.

In 1745, Joseph’s oldest son Joseph died leaving behind a widow and a 5 year old son, also named Joseph.

In 1747, Joseph’s mother Elizabeth died, her death recorded in the church records in Westford. Elizabeth’s second husband William Bull died In 1731 in Sherburn. More than 10 years prior to William’s death, William and Elizabeth entered into an agreement with John Phipps, Jr., Joseph's nephew by his sister Mary. In exchange for living with the Bulls as a child and caring for them as they aged, John would receive William and Elizabeth’s estate. The agreement and deed were recorded in 1733.

Likely, Elizabeth left her home around the time the deed was recorded and lived with her surviving sons and daughters, dying in Joseph’s home in Westford in 1747.

Also around 1747, son Timothy married Rachel Russell and in June 1749, daughter Bethiah married Oliver Prescott followed a few weeks later by the marriage of son John to Hannah Wright.

Sometime after 1750, son James joined his brother Phinehas in New Hampshire and between 1752 and 1753, married Mary Lund. James and Phinehas were back in Westford in June of 1753, when they witnessed the deed from their father Joseph to their brother John, 50 acres in Westford “it being part of my homestead” as well as another tract of land with buildings. Five days earlier, James’ first child was born in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

In December of 1755, while serving the Colonial Army in Nova Scotia, son John drowned leaving behind a widow and 3 young children.

In 1756 Joseph deeded part of his estate to son James, who was now living in Litchfield, New Hampshire. The deed was witnessed by Joseph’s son Timothy.

The death of another son, Phinehas, occurred in 1757, Phinehas leaving a wife and two children in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

On July 28, 1759, Joseph wrote his Will, noting that he had already given most of his estate away. To his wife Susannah he devised a ⅓ part of his homestead and half of all the buildings as well as a yearly allowance. Upon Susannah’s death, this bequest was to descend to son John’s widow and family. Son Jonathan was devised 10 shillings. Sons Timothy and James were devised all the estate not devised specifically to others to be equally divided. Daughter’s Mary, Elizabeth, and Bethiah were devised 26 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence each, while daughter Anna was devised 13 shillings 4 pence and a tract of land and daughter Ruth 10 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence and a tract of meadow and upland. Joseph also left bequests to his grandchildren. Phinehas heirs were to receive 10 shillings each, John’s heirs were to receive 5 shillings each, and Joseph’s heir, Joseph Underwood, was to receive 40 pounds.

Several months after writing his will, Joseph deeded 50 acres of land in Westford to his son Timothy and another 15 acres in Westford to his son James.

Also in 1759, Joseph began a court case against John’s widow, Hannah, who was the administratrix of John’s estate. Hannah had remarried and she, and her husband Samuel Read, were in possession of John’s estate, specifically at issue was a 29 acre tract with buildings. Joseph won judgments against them in August 1759 and again in November when Hannah failed to appear in court. Hannah countered in 1760 stating that she had no allowance or provision to support herself or her children since she could not improve her deceased husband’s real estate since her ex-father-in-law was still living. The judge awarded Hannah an allowance for herself and her children, however the initial judgment against Hannah still stood. If Joseph harbored any ill will towards Hannah, they were evidently not strong enough to motivate him to change his will.

Joseph died on January 29, 1761, at the age of 79. At the time of his death he possessed 80 acres with a dwelling house and a barn, a pasture, orchard, plowland and woodland and also another 6 acres of plowland, orchard and woodland. Sons Timothy and James were named co-executors in Joseph’s Will, however Timothy was the person who executed the estate. In 1762, Hannah and Samuel Read finally paid the judgment against them to the estate of Joseph Underwood. In turn, Timothy gave the deed to

the 29 acre tract of land to Hannah and Samuel Read specifically for the heirs of John Underwood.

Joseph Underwood was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Westford, Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Genealogical Research and Life Sketch completed: 29 June 2021


Sources:

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Joseph Underwood life sketch 1781 genealogy research
Joseph Underwood Life Sketch genealogy research