Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Alexander "Sandy" Wood: Friend to the Famous

When Alexander, (“Sandy”) Wood died, his funeral was attended by former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, just one of the well known figures who were his buddies and fishing companions during his lifetime and who at his death came to pay tribute in Boston to the memory of this immigrant Scots whiskey man.

Wood, shown here in an undated photograph, was the son of Peter Wood and Janet (Jessie) Cleghorn and born in Kelso, Scotland,  in 1835.  At some point, with family members believed to include his mother and brother, he emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada, and settled in York County.   Alexander first appeared in public documents there in 1858 when he purchased some land in Manners Sutton Parish.

At the age of 32 in 1867 Wood moved to Boston.  Two years later he married Frances J. Sealy, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Sealy of Boston.  His wife,  nine years his junior, had emigrated with her parents from England.  The Woods would have four children.  During this period,  Alexander established a partnership with Marshall S. Pollard, a local businessman.  According to an 1872 Boston business directory,  under the name Wood, Pollard & Company, the two opened a cigar and grocery business at 204 Washington Street and a liquor distribution company at 100 & 102 Broadway. With the success of the latter,  the company moved to a larger building shown here at the corner of Friend and Causeway.

As did many grocers, Wood and Pollard featured their own brands, including coffees. On the liquor side, they were rectifiers,  that is, mixing up house blends of whisky from stocks furnished from Kentucky and other distilleries. For example, their firm is among those in an 1892 listing of companies being supplied by the Mayfield Distillery,  registered as #229 in the 5th District of Kentucky.  Wood, Pollard brand names included: "Cordova V. O. Rye,” "Elmwood,” "Kit Carson,” “A Rye,” "Nectar Gin,” "New Life Malt,” "Old Haynor,” "Oxford Rye,” "Snowdrop Gin,” "The Oxford, ", "Very Old Cabinet 1873, "W. P. & Co. Special Reserve Rye,” and "White Wheat Whiskey.” 

Drawing on the Yankee legacy,  the partners named their flagship brand “Lexington,”  specifically Lexington A.A.A. Rye, as shown here on a ceramic closure and on a labeled amber quart.  They also sold their whiskey in pint flasks and in clear “lady’s leg” bottles with a strong embossed name laterally across the surface.  They also imported a schnapps-like product from Schiedam, Netherlands,  and slapped their personalize label on it.  Like other Boston liquor dealers,  Wood believed in providing advertising giveaways to saloons and other favored customers.   For the former there were shot glasses;  for the latter a ceramic purple “nip” in the shape of a cabin.

Amid this growing success,  Alexander met with tragedy.  Within a decade of his marriage to Frances who bore him three children, she died.  The 1880 U.S. Census found him, a widower,  living in Boston with his widowed mother, age 75, and three minor children,  Frank 10;  Ada , 7, and Jessie, 5.   Perhaps seeking a mother for his kids Wood married again two years later.  His second wife was Antoinette C. Urann.  This union would produce three more children, Fanny A., Antoinette S. J., and Alexander H.

Throughout this time Wood was returning regularly to New Brunswick during summers to fish.   In 1873 he and friends had purchased from a Canadian land company salmon fishing waters on the Southwest Miramichi River in Stanley Parish.   A man with an engaging and outgoing personality,  Sandy became acquainted with some of the leading figures of the Boston and beyond and would bring them fishing on his salmon-teeming river in Canada.  Among them were the the famous actor, Joseph Jefferson,  the governor of Massachusetts, William E. Russell, and most important, a President of the United States, Grover Cleveland.   Joining up in Boston the distinguished group of anglers would take a train through New England and into Canada.

Tragedy was to strike Sandy Wood a second time.  In 1891 his wife, Antoinette, after giving birth to her third child, died suddenly.  The Boston Globe of Nov. 8 provided these insights:   “ Mrs. Wood was a young woman of remarkable strength and grace of character, and her untimely death takes from her husband and children a most devoted wife and mother. She leaves three children, one a baby born shortly before her own death, and three stepchildren, to whom she had greatly endeared herself, and by whom she will always be remembered with affectionate tenderness.”   Her memorial service was held in the family home in the Savin Hill district.  Alexander, even though once more left with minor children,  did not marry again.

For the next few years Wood continued to manage the prosperous enterprises that he had founded decades before, to look after his children, and to continue his fishing parties to New Brunswick.  In June 1899 he himself died.  His memorial service, once again held  at the family’s Savin Hill home, drew a celebrity crowd.  Among them were former President Cleveland,  Joseph Jefferson, and four members of the Jefferson family.   They saw their friend’s body, according to the Boston Globe, “encased in a handsome casket, rested in one of the parlors, surrounded by numerous beautiful floral pieces.”   One pillow of pinks was from his partner, Marshall Pollard.  A simple service was said by the Rev. Christopher R. Eliot and then this Scots whiskey man was laid to rest in Boston’s Forest Hills Cemetery.

Wood’s last will and testament provided some insights into his wealth and character.  He left to his son, Frederick,  the house this heir was living in. He willed $5,000 cash to each of his children and then stipulated a that everything else among his possessions be divided equally.  These included “pictures, jewelry, silver, books, wearing apparel, household furniture, horses, carriages, and provisions.”  For the younger children, Wood appointed guardians and trustees.  Interestedly,  Wood said nothing about the disposition of the firm.  The absence suggests that the business was destined to be Pollard’s.

The fate of the company is shrouded in time.  When Marshall Pollard died thirteen years later in July  at Marblehead, Massachusetts, age 70, he was credited by the New York Times as still managing Wood, Pollard & Co., “wholesale and retail grocers of Boston.”  After Pollard death the company reincorporated in 1913.   A 1916 Boston Chamber of Commerce listing indicated that members of the Pollard family were running the company.  At the time of Nation Prohibition in 1919, the firm was forced to terminate its liquor business.

Notes:  Some of the images and information here was derived from a website maintained by and for the descendants of Peter and Jessie Wood, a site that includes considerable material on Alexander Wood.  Census data and Boston Globe obituaries also were helpful in filling out the picture of this enterprising Scots immigrant and his family.

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