Hidden History in the Great Swamp

Author: Robert Pawlowskichurch sign

There are sometimes problems taking history outside the classroom. You can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way. Let me explain. The easy way is that you go to a beautifully preserved colonial village like Farmington. You can amble comfortably along a Main Street lined with perfectly preserved eighteenth-century treasures. You have an informative brochure to show you the way.

Or you can head out to the Great Swamp Society’s 1712, now hidden, settlement in Berlin, and “build your own,” as they say. This is our version of “hidden history.” It’s history the hard way.

map

Here are some of the rules of thumb, axioms, methodologies and techniques you’ll need to be successful. First, “hidden history” comes in pieces. It’s not in one place, not on one path, or in one era. It makes you think hard. It always starts with a church and ends with a cemetery. There are always brooks or small rivers with dams in between that connect them. There are always old mill buildings converted to trendy condos along the way. There is usually a train station and generic retail nearby. Last, what you learned in history class always applies, but in ways you never imagined.

waterfall

     We’ve suggested a little reading and provided a simple map. Don’t gorge yourself on names and locations. They interfere with “hidden history.” Just bring your creativity, common sense, sangfroid, and good humor.

To whet your appetite though, you should know that the Great Swamp Society was a rare and incredible community. In 1712, its founders broke away the First Society of Farmington who established the First Church. Independent of their ancestors, they built a fort, a church and incredibly successful microeconomy. Between 1725 and the Revolutionary War they ran huge farms, built more that twenty mills, taverns and tanneries along the dozens of swamp streams, roads and rivers. They traded timber and horses for molasses, sugar and probably salves, with the West Indies. They distilled rum and drank lots of it. They had lots of children – 16 or 17 in some cases. Just about all of them, had slaves, too. And they did it all in the Great Swamp.

mill condo

Take the Christian Lane exit off Route 9, south. Head right over to the Second Church at 312 Percival Avenue. (If you’ve been alert enough to this point, you have a GPS and a tablet to get you there and some basics on the church). The most interesting thing about the church besides its classic Puritan architecture and impeccable wooden construction may be its message sign. The message reads: “Truce is Better Than Friction.” What hidden historical irony. If only they got it about three hundred years ago they could have resolved the bitter dispute that drove half of their congregation to build their own meeting house on the other side of town.

narrow river

The mill building itself is late 19th century vintage. And, like a lot of them that have survived, it has been turned into trendy condos. Before we ponder the why, how and who (hidden history) questions that may apply to it, lets get to the water. A relatively small river, the Mattabasset, cascades off a high dam that makes Paper Goods Pond behind it and flows between a deep embankment along the rear edge of the property. It’s clear from the height of the falls and the angle of the first sluiceway there, thats how the stream gets squeezed into a narrow channel, before it widens again, that there were at least two to three very early mills here. You notice that there are old concrete foundations here and there along the river. Pilgrims, as you know, didn’t do concrete. Think Samuel Brownson, saw mills, grist mills. Think hydropower turbines. Think paper cups.

old mill site

The trendy condo factory is asking us some tough questions. The main one is, of course, “How much do these trendy condos cost?” We can figure that out fast, using a “hidden history” version of prosopography called condography. We do it here by reading the parking lot. How many parking spaces are there? What kind of cars? Equals average income per unit estimate. Multiply by 2.5. You don’t need a spreadsheet. It’s basically common sense. You can also ask at the sales office. There are three similar, humble single-family houses looking at you from across the street. They are identical, but disguised. How? Who lived there originally? When were they built?

worker cottages

Next, stop at Fred’s Deli, a small old store, with a hand painted sign, with customers from the small houses around it. How much do Fred’s grinders cost? More or less than the average for the Berlin area? Well, they cost about the same, but are much bigger. A solid “rule of thumb” is that people in small houses eat bigger grinders. To test the thesis, get the Pastrami Bomb.

fred's deli

Ahead, our last look at the Mattabasset shows you how transportation systems, rivers, roads and rails often follow the same routes with villages and towns clustered nearby.

Then over to the Christian Lane Cemetery, a marvelous place. They are always connected by water at the opposite end of the path from the church. At the church water means life, baptism, youth, hope and sermons. In between the water offers power and fishing. They put cemeteries near worn out streams because they know it is peaceful. And, because the land around them is cheap. Why? Right. It’s swampy.

cemetery sign

     But what happened to the Great Swamp Society? No trace of it here but these glued and bandaged gravestones rotting in this forsaken lot. Mary Hart’s marker is knocked over, lying in a bed of freshly dug dirt. She was Gen. Selah Hart’s wife dead over 250 years ago. No distinguished Colonials or Puritan churches here to commemorate the Great Swamp Society’s incredible community. Why is Christian Lane lined with junk car lots, recycling plants, Budget Rental trucks, animal control operations and small manufacturers that spread out all over the beautiful flat land and defile the Mattabasset? Did the Society do something terribly wrong? And, where did Mary Hart go? Cemeteries are always a dead end. Usually.

mary hart

There is just one last question, maybe the most important one. The CT Paranormal Searchers, a group that has studied this cemetery, wonders: “Do the spirits of early settlers still remain at this place?” Do you think maybe that’s the answer?

For Further Reading:

Berlin Historical Society. “The History of Berlin” www.berlincthistorical.org

CT Paranormal Searchers. www.ctparanormalsearchers.weebly.com cy1171@messiah.edu.

North, Catharine M. History of Berlin, Connecticut. New Haven: The Tuttle Morehouse & Taylor Company, 1916.

Pawlowski, Robert E. “The Great Swamp Society, The Role of Land, Location and Slave Labor in the Evolution of a Mid-18th Century Farmington Microeconomy”

 

Hiking to Connecticut’s Historic Hermit Havens

Plaque on rocks near entrance of Will Warren's Den

 

Author: Jennifer Lawton Schloat

Connecticut is an ideal destination for day hikers.  There are many blazed trails through rocky areas on hills and mountains with many caves. These caves have sheltered people throughout history. Some Connecticut towns are home to hidden historic sites, deep in the woods, secluded locations. These were already off-the-beaten-path in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Several havens of early American hermits and outcasts have survived the centuries, untouched by the population expansion and modernization of the last two centuries. Farmington is no exception.

Sign for Will Warren's Den

A local legend dating back to the late eighteenth century reveals the location of a cave, the home of Will Warren the Hermit of Rattlesnake Mountain. Today hikers can park their cars in a small lot suited for about a dozen motor vehicles near Pinnacle Road at 159 U.S. 6 (Colt Highway) in Farmington. Connected to this lot is an entrance to a cleared, blazed trail which leads to a section of the Metacomet Trail, beautifully maintained by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. From there the hike is an uphill journey of approximately 1.2 miles. Will Warren’s cave entrance is marked with a brass plaque attached to the rock with the words “Will Warren’s Den. Given to the Town of Farmington by William Steele Wadsworth Lifetime Resident of Farmington June 1987.”

The curious hiker will want to know more about who lived in this beautiful locale so many years ago. The legend has been revamped and manipulated over the last two centuries.  Some versions claim that he was either an African American or a Native American or a combination of both.  The tale usually begins with Will Warren breaking the Sabbath by fishing in the Farmington River on a Sunday. For this offense, he was tied to the Farmington whipping post and scourged.  In retaliation, Warren set fire to a barn and then fled the scene headed towards New Britain. The men of Farmington pursued him, assisted by bloodhounds. As night fell, Will Warren became lost in the woods and ended-up running in circles.  With the rising of the sun, he found himself on a high hill, looking down on the village of Farmington. He saw the angry citizens gathered below. Next Will heard the howl of the dogs. As he fled the dogs and Congregationalists he met two “squaws”. He told these Indian women his story. “One of the squaws seized him in her arms and ran, and never stopped until she had deposited him in his cave.” Thus the bloodhounds came to a standstill where Warren’s scent was lost. The men gave-up their search and allowed Will Warren to live-out the remainder of his life on Rattlesnake Mountain as a hermit, possibly with a Native American wife. For years after Warren fled his hunters, the citizens of the town would say, “blame it on Will Warren,” whenever sheep were lost in Farmington. The reason for Warren’s presence in Farmington is still shrouded in mystery.

The hiker can proceed from Will Warren’s Den to another cave in neighboring city, Bristol.  This cave was the home of a legendary man named Jack. Like Will Warren, he has been described as both a cave-dwelling black man and as a Native American. Jack’s legend also includes an Indian woman, possibly a Tunxis person, who may have been Jack’s spouse.

Another colonial Connecticutian, who eschewed established Puritan society was Mary Barber or Barbour, born in 1714, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Wethersfield. Against her father’s wishes, she married (circa 1740) a vagabond Native American man, a Narragansett, named James Chaugham. James and Mary left Wethersfield, escaped into the Connecticut wilderness where they settled close to the Massachusetts border, on the side of Ragged Mountain near the Farmington River. James and Mary had eight children, six of whom remained in the forest, married and had children of their own. Some of the Chaugham children and grandchildren married the descendants of freed black slaves, others married Indians. Thus, Mary and James founded a village of mixed-race outcasts.

Traveling south to North Haven the hiker can visit the site of Connecticut hermit, Peter Brockett.  According to legend, Peter Brockett decided to live in seclusion, after suffering a crippling spinal cord injury during the Revolutionary War. The location selected by Brockett had been called “Indian Rock” during colonial times. Sometime around 1783, Peter Brockett assumed residence at the northern base of the mountain in a hut which he constructed for himself. The Brocketts were a prosperous family in the area. Thus it is difficult to imagine the circumstances that would lead to allowing Peter to live in such a reduced condition. Perhaps Peter was a black man, formerly enslaved by the Brocketts. All five of these people, William Warren, Jack of Bristol, Peter Brockett, Mary Barber and James Chaugham were self-exiles, people who made the deliberate decision to separate themselves physically from settled, white society in Connecticut.

Long before 1492, Europeans fairytales revealed a fascination with thrilling ideas about the deep, dark, wild forest as the hidden secretive domain of frightening, magical figures such as witches, monsters, hermits and ogres. After Europeans began settling in North America, these woodland tropes became associated with myths regarding Native Americans. As a result, when people of European ancestry decided to live apart from settled white society in New England they were often described as Native Americans.

Recommended Reading:

Barbara Donahue. Speaking for Ourselves: African American Life in Farmington, Connecticut.   Farmington: Farmington Historical Society, 1998.

Kai T Erikson. Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966.

Kenneth L. Feder, A Village of Outcasts: Historical Archeology and Documentary Research at the Lighthouse Site, Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.

 

 

 

Miss Sarah Porter: The Beginnings of Women’s Advanced Education in Farmington

Author: Marisa Ferretti

One day in 1843, as Mr. Noah Porter and his daughter pulled away in their carriage from their Farmington home, an idea he had for quite some time found its way into his daughter Sarah’s consideration. Taking on the responsibility of running her own school did not seem too outrageous, given her teaching experience. Their conversation on a casual afternoon was the beginning was what would become Miss Sarah Porter’s legacy.

Miss Sarah Porter was born and raised in Farmington, Connecticut. As the daughter of an affluent reverend, wealth brought her more opportunities than most other women of her time. Though she was primarily self-educated in pedagogy, she studied under Dr. E. A. Andrews of Yale College. Her prior teaching experience came from teaching positions in Springfield, Philadelphia and Buffalo. Despite these excellent opportunities, she always longed to be home in Farmington, with her family and all the things that brought her happiness. Soon enough, Sarah migrated home where she was to be presented with an opportunity that would define her future.

After her father introduced his idea to her, plans for the project were made up and set into action. The school got its start when Miss Porter and her family recruited children from Farmington as well as a few from outside the county to attend her daily classes. Those who lived too far to travel daily resided in Miss Porter’s house under her supervision. Sarah Porter taught her students in a rented upstairs room of the historic “stone store,” at 96 Main Street. She worked there alongside two other historic figures from Farmington: John Hooker, a lawyer, and Joseph Hawley who, so influenced by Hooker, began studying law, passed the bar and went on to serve as a Civil War General, as well as both Governor and Senator of the state of Connecticut.

In 1847, Miss Porter relocated to the schoolhouse that was built by the Farmington Female Seminary Association. Soon enough, the word of Miss Porter’s educational sessions spread throughout the county, and interest in the school grew. She purchased what used to be a hotel for those that were traveling up and down the Farmington River, and transformed it into the main house for her girls. The former hotel still stands today and has continued to be used by Miss Porter’s School. It sits at 60 Main Street, right down the road from the previously used, “stone store.”

Miss Porter's School

Miss Porter’s School

By 1854, the school was all the rage of the region. Families fought to get their girls into Miss Porter’s, as the openings were limited. This was partly due to the amount of housing they had for the girls. At this point girls were residing in the main building with Miss Porter. Though the number of applicants per year was growing rapidly, a second dormitory wouldn’t be acquired until some 40 years later. Her family’s influence throughout New England was what got the ball rolling however, the success of Miss Porter’s pupils were the true reason why her school took off. The curriculum she implemented was intensive, compelling the girls to go above and beyond.

Theodate Pope, Alice Hamilton, and a student believed to be Agnes Hamilton, 1888. Courtesy of Miss Porter’s School.

Theodate Pope, Alice Hamilton, and a student believed to be Agnes Hamilton, 1888. Courtesy of Miss Porter’s School.

The girls at Miss Porter’s School were given a special schedule per day. Each student was given an individual itinerary for classes however the school as a whole allotted time during the day to go on walks and eat lunch. Miss Porter was adamant that her students had a life outside of the classroom. She believed that activities such as athletics and theatre were was in which the girls could gain self-esteem and become more confident. Despite her efforts to get the girls out of the classroom, Miss Porter was still very strict when it came to their studies. Every day, the students were given time for study hall, in order to complete the work that they had received in class. Miss Porter monitored the girls closely at this time as she strived for them to perform to the best of their ability. Every night Miss Porter would lead the girls in prayer as well, as it was an important way to end their day.

As the number of girls at the school increased, so did the importance of learning womanly duties. Porter viewed her school as a stepping-stone toward the girl’s ultimate goal of becoming a wife, taking responsibility of a household including a husband and children. She taught the girls to be wives and mothers as that was their ultimate job in adulthood. Miss Porter’s school was a transition for these girls from their childhood home to running a home of their own.

Miss Porter’s work in Farmington is, to this day, unparalleled. She ran the school up until her death in 1900, when it was put under the supervision of her close family. Upon her passing, the students enrolled in Miss Porter’s School at the time worked to establish a memorial in her honor. The First Church of Christ gratefully allowed the construction of a building in the name of Miss Sarah Porter on their property, a way for the girls to show admiration for their beloved headmistress. The building now sits at 75 Main Street in Farmington, where it can be seen by all the traffic passing through town. Miss Sarah Porter’s legacy will live on in Farmington indefinitely.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Connecticut Historical Commission, Historic Resources Inventory Building and Structures: Site 202, Parsonage, Farmington, CT, 1875. Farmington, CT: State Doc. 1973. http://farmingtonlibraries.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/96-Main-Street.pdf

Howe, J. Olin. “Sarah Porter of Farmington.” Boston Evening Transcript, October 15, 1913. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2249&dat=19131015&id=-RonAAAAIBAJ&sjid=cgMGAAAAIBAJ&pg=5923,3065498&hl=en.

“Sarah Porter Memorial.” First Church 1652: First Church of Christ, Congregational. http://www.firstchurch1652.org/Porter-Memorial-Hall.

Sloane, William M. “Sarah Porter: Her Unique Educational Work.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906) LX, no. 3 (07, 1900): 344. http://0-search.proquest.com.www.consuls.org/docview/125508798?accountid=9970.

Stevenson, Louise L. “Sarah Porter Educates Useful Ladies, 1847-1900.” Winterthur Portfolio 18, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 39-59. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed October 28, 2015). http://0-search.ebscohost.com.www.consuls.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=37011224&site=ehost-live&scope=site

 

The Impressive Isabella Beecher Hooker

 

 

 

Author: Meghan Buchanan

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Farmington, CT is the quintessential picturesque New England town. Though many have not heard its name, this little town nestled in the Farmington Valley has a rich and fascinating history. But even more interestingly, this little town had Isabella Beecher Hooker.

Born in Litchfield in 1822, Isabella Beecher Hooker was a fascinating woman. The daughter of well-known preacher, Lyman Beecher, Isabella grew up in a family full of powerful and influential people. Her father, Lyman Beecher, was a distinguished minister who preached throughout country about the perils of intemperance. Her eldest sister, Catharine Beecher, pioneered early women’s education. And her older sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was an abolitionist and author of the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

beech2.jpg

Growing up the youngest daughter of such a profound family instilled within Isabella the desires for education, self-determination, and ultimately the desire for the right to vote. Isabella Beecher Hooker was a proud suffragette who campaigned for years for the right to vote. Her husband, John Hooker, played a major role in inspiring her in her pursuit of this goal. One night, John and Isabella stumbled upon a passage pertaining to a married woman’s status under the law. According to the law, a married woman and man were considered one person. Therefore, a woman had no legal rights separate from her husband. This both shocked and troubled Isabella greatly. It was at that moment she decided to dedicate her life to the suffrage movement.

After her marriage to John Hooker in 1841, Isabella resided in the Edward Hooker House, High Street in Farmington where she lived for over 10 years.

Hooker

Though she spent the majority of her time raising her three children, she became increasingly involved within the suffrage movement. Isabella was especially supportive of a bill that would allow women the right to vote on issues regarding the sale of liquor. She argued that the issue of temperance affected women more strongly than men and that because of that, women should have the right to vote on it. Isabella knew that women were dependent on their husbands for their livelihood. Therefore, if a woman’s husband squandered money on liquor, her own wellbeing—and that of her children’s— was at stake.

After moving to Nook Farm in Hartford in the early 1850s, Isabella sought to form a suffrage organization. In 1869 she succeeded and founded the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. After forming her association, she began to spend more of her time traveling, speaking at conventions, and addressing Congress. What brought Isabella to suffrage initially, the idea that a woman had no legal rights separate from her husband, is what spurred her in her first goal – to pass a bill that would allow women to own property. In 1877, after fighting to have it passed for seven years, Isabella was finally successful. With the help of her husband, who helped write it, a bill was passed by the state legislature that allowed married women the right to own property.

Mrs. Hooker became very well know for her work regarding suffrage not just throughout Connecticut, but throughout the country as well. During her lifetime, she worked with prominent women within the movement such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. In her own right, Isabella was just as influential as these prominent well-known women. She worked tirelessly in her efforts and never wavered in her belief that women deserved the right to vote.

 

Sources:

 

Anthony, Susan B., and Isabella Beecher Hooker and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Memorial of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Elizabeth L. Bladen, Olympia Brown, Susan B. Anthony, and Josephine L. Griffing, to the Congress of the United States, and the Arguments Thereon Before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate. Chronicle Publishing Company, 1872.

 

Campbell, Susan. Tempest Tossed, The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University press, 2014

Hooker, John. “WOMAN SUFFRAGE.” Hartford Daily Courant (1840-1887), Mar 06, 1879.

“The Senate And Woman Suffrage.” New York Times (1857-1922), Feb 23, 1878.

White, Barbara A. The Beecher Sisters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.