KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY: LAND CONTROL IN THE CASE FAMILY OF SIMSBURY

Author: Brianna Dunlap

When conjuring the image of a quintessential New England town, the mind’s eye visualizes an ancient town center with colonial homes surrounded by rolling hills and fields peppered with herds of cattle. The town Simsbury, which was developed during the first two hundred years of its existence by the simple necessities of colonial settlers, is the quintessential New England town. The town selectmen required regions for homes to be built, a common center district for shared use, and ample land for farming.

Founding men of colonial settlements wrote and held deeds that eventually created the spaces needed for homes and farmland. Land deeds, covenants and leases were crucial, because for them, “the life of a colonial community was…wrapped up in the ownership of land and where the fruit of the land and wealth of the forest and river and mine was necessary to the prosperity of their generations and their future generations.” The Simsbury forefathers’ mindset  drove them to establish land titles and boundaries that were reflective of their social and legal standards. John Case, among other fellow settlers to the region in 1669, made sure the deeds to his lands were secure and recorded by the General Court.

In the early days of the town’s history the Case family, the descendants of founder and constable John Case, held and purchased land in greater proportions than other families in the town. It is possible that the land covenants by the founders of Simsbury established a legacy of land obsession and therefore created a tradition of land ownership expansion in the Case name that followed descendants. The Case family of colonial Simsbury, and the later surrounding towns of West Simsbury and Canton, kept land in the family from the pre-Revolutionary era through the Jacksonian era by intermarrying and by acquiring more land at regular intervals.

The land purchases made in 1637 by settlers to the region.

The land purchases made in 1637 by settlers to the region.

Simsbury's landscape in 1730.

Simsbury’s landscape in 1730.

An interesting example of the seriousness with which the Case family undertook dealing with land began with an 1840 land lease from a son to his father and witnessed by Justin Case and Newtown Case. In 1842 attorney William Sally wrote a letter, enclosed with a lease, to Jeffery Phelps (Case) in the hope of nullifying a land deal from only a few years prior in which Jesse Case Jr. had deeded land to his father, Jesse Case and his lovely wife Lydia, for use for the rest of their lives. Yet, when Jesse Case passed away leaving behind his widow, the tables turned.

Dear Sir, Enclosed I forward a lease from Jesse G. (Jr.) Case to Jesse Case. You will perceive that the lease is to Jesse Case and not to his wife. She consequently cannot hold any more than his support. I also learn that the deed of Jesse G. to Jesse deters the widow from holding her thirds on the same if Jesse G. neglects his support of the property…”

The attorney explained that Jesse Jr. claimed that the lease was only to his father for the rest of his natural life but not for the widow. Although the widow previously had been described in the deed with glowing terms, she was being removed from the property by her step-son. The letter went on to call for discretion from one professional to another as they work out what action to take. The author even mentioned that attention should be given to the additional counter claim that the widow’s daughter, Fanny Church, should receive eighteen dollars to settle account books debts that her late step-father left. The discretion was needed since Mrs. Fanny had been visited by the local Commissioner who was pretending to want further information on the situation from her.

The dramatic ejection of the widow and her daughter was not settled in the letter, but it surely opened the subject of land control in the Case family. What was it that triggered the claim and counterclaim? Perhaps there were poor sentiments between Jesse Jr. and his father’s second wife. One possibility was that the family feared the widow or her daughter would marry outside the Case family and take the land with them. Jesse Case Senior was a Case with a bloodline of descent from Joseph Case and lived out his final years in West Simsbury, where the claim centered around, but Jesse Jr. had remained on the paternal homestead in the “Farms District” until his death. For over a century, Cases had married Cases, keeping land in the family.

Map of Connecticut 1797 showing the border with Simsbury.

Map of Connecticut 1797 showing the border with Simsbury.

The land spat between Jesse Case Jr. and his father’s widow may have been deeply personal, but it is realistic that hindering a woman’s power of control over land ownership was not uncommon in in the Case family. The nineteenth-century land dispute was not the first; since before the Revolution, Cases had been vigorous in fighting for their land.

Joel Case, who lived on Case farm from 1746 until his death in 1780, gave to his wife, Chloe, half of his entire land and homestead in his will. The stipulation for such land control was that she had to remain as Joel’s widow for the rest of her life and never remarry. Such a requirement varies from the complete removal of land from Lydia Case, but indicates land ownership was taken so seriously that measure were taken to keep the line of ownership directly in the Case family.

Legal means were certainly not the only way that the Case family held on to the founder’s concept of land and power. While the land deed records do not exist for Amos Case, who moved to West Simsbury in 1740, it is known that he lived on East Hill and the house he built belonged to a direct descendant of his, Myron Case, by 1856. The only two daughters of Amos Case went on to each marry two brothers, the sons of Richard Case. This mattered because Richard Case was a grandson of the family progenitor, the original John Case.

The legacy of land ownership stayed with the Case family because of the colonial founder’s legacy. By no means was the family working as one unit in all decisions to acquire or hoard property, but the various related branches certainly had similar goals of land acquisition. More likely, this was due to a tradition carried on based on a pattern of marriage and behavior handed down through two hundred years of collective memory and practice.

The districts of Simsbury in 1869 reflected the regions established during the settlement of the town.

The districts of Simsbury in 1869 reflected the regions established during the settlement of the town.

 

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To explore the Case family or the colonial era of Simsbury, Connecticut learn more here:

Genealogical history, with short sketches and family records, of the early settlers of West Simsbury, now Canton, Connecticut by Abiel Brown. https://archive.org/details/genealogicalhist00browiala

Simsbury; being a brief historical sketch of ancient and modern Simsbury, 1642-1935 by John Ellsworth. https://archive.org/details/simsburybeingbri00ells

And, certainly visit the Simsbury Historical Society’s archive where they have entire boxes set aside for the Case family documents. http://www.simsburyhistory.org/

Elijah Wampey: Christian Education in Farmington, Oneida, and West Stockbridge

Author: Anthony Vinci

In Farmington, Connecticut, the Wampey family was considered one of the most prominent families. Elijah Wampey, the father of eight children, played a crucial role in advancing Christianity beyond Connecticut and to both New York and Massachusetts. He became interested in advancing Native Americans’ knowledge of English law and individual land ownership, a common characteristic among Puritans. This increased confidence among the local Indians helped them to send letters to the Connecticut General Assembly, which assisted in their move to Oneida, New York and West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where they acquired individual land. While at Farmington, in Wampey’s house, Joseph Johnson was offered the schoolteacher job in 1772 and the residence was often used for Christian meetings. Wampey’s children, Wampey Jr. and Hannah Wampey also frequently came in contact with Johnson who was their schoolteacher, preacher, and community leader.

Along with Johnson, Wampey played a critical role in ensuring New England Natives received individual land in Oneida. On December 23, 1773, Johnson wrote a circular letter to the seven towns of New England, urging each one to send a representative to the Oneida conference. The letter was signed by some of the most prestigious Tunxis Tribe members that included: Solomon Mossuck, Daniel Mossuck, Andrew Corcomp, Solomon Adams, David Robin, and Elijah Wampey. As a result of Johnson’s request, four representatives on the first week of January 1774, set out to meet at Kanawarohare. Joseph Johnson represented Mohegan, Elijah Wampey for Farmington, Jacob Fowler went for Montauk and Groton, and Samuel Tobias for Charlestown, Rhode Island.

On May 25, 1774, Wampey wrote to the Connecticut General Assembly to receive an English law book. In this memorial, Wampey asked the General Assembly to help the Tunxis tribe become more proficient with English literature and the laws of Connecticut, by giving them a law book. This information would help the Natives uphold the regulations set forth by the officials of the Connecticut colony. Leaders of the Tunxis tribe, including Wampey, Mossuck, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Moses, made the disclaimer that the Christian Natives had been instructed in writing and reading English with the help of the Bible. A better understanding of colonial jurisdiction allowed Christian Natives to become more accustomed to English culture.

Elijah Wampey Letter To The Connecticut General Assembly

Elijah Wampey Letter To The Connecticut General Assembly

In 1775, Wampey temporarily lived in Oneida but retained ties to the land in Farmington. He received Native land on the west side of the Pequabuck River in Farmington in 1777. Initially, Wampey supported Johnson but broke off relations with him in 1776. He was a trustee at Brotherton until the residents became upset about the start of the Revolutionary War. He then moved from Oneida land to West Stockbridge.

One of Wampey’s most famous contributions came on October 13, 1780, when former Tunxis tribe members wrote from West Stockbridge, Massachusetts to the Connecticut Assembly in order to fund the spread of Christian education. Elijah Wampey, who once lived in Farmington, was a community leader in West Stockbridge, where he moved to seek a better life. Wampey and the West Stockbridge council asked Daniel Simon of the Narragansett tribe to donate to the continued education of Christian Natives. Samuel Kirkland, a community member in West Stockbridge, endorsed the charity of Christian education for Native tribes. George Wyllys, a Connecticut native, gave thirty pounds to the West Stockbridge public treasury that would be used by Kirkland to promote the spread of Christian education. State support helped fund the West Stockbridge School and indicated that Christian education was important to those from the Tunxis tribe. After Wampey’s time in West Stockbridge, he returned to Brotherton to endorse Native Americans renting land to American settlers. Until his death in 1802, Wampey lived on lot 117 in Brotherton.

Elijah Wampey Letter From West Stockbridge

Elijah Wampey Letter From West Stockbridge

Before Wampey broke ties with Joseph Johnson, his children often interacted with him through school related activities. On December 17, 1772, Johnson disciplined three scholars for acting out inappropriately; the three students were Luke Mossock, Lucy Mossock, and Elijah Wampey Jr. Initially, Johnson threatened the students, which made them behave temporarily. Afterwards, Johnson was informed that the students continued to act out and as a result he “made them a Sad Example of Disobeying the School Orders.” Johnson appeared distraught and hoped it would be the last occurrence of inappropriate student behavior while at Farmington. He expected more from the children of two of the most prominent families in Farmington, the Wampeys and Mossucks. Additionally, a couple of weeks after the school incident, Johnson could not attend the singing meetings he implemented twice per week, due to personal injuries. On December 29, 1772, Johnson hurt his leg and was later advised to go to Hannah Wampey’s house, who nursed him back to health.

Due to Wampey’s leadership qualities, nearly all of the Tunxis Natives respected him. Along with other leaders of the Farmington community, Wampey helped advance English customs like law and individual land ownership to help Christian Natives progress in English society. Wampey was a leader in the Christian Native American movement that Johnson and many Tunxis tribe members embraced. Throughout the move from Oneida to West Stockbridge, Wampey maintained ties in Connecticut and readily supported endeavors to advance Christian Native teachings. Due to Wampey’s status as a community leader at Farmington, his children often interacted with school teacher, Joseph Johnson. Wampey Jr. was a student of Johnson and Hannah helped nurse the schoolteacher back to health. The expectation level associated with the Wampey name, allowed Elijah Sr. to flourish as a community leader in Farmington, Oneida and West Stockbridge. In every community he lived, Wampey played a crucial role in advancing Native Americans awareness of English law, individual land, and Christian education.

Recommended Reading:

Johnson, Joseph. To Do Good to My Indian Brethren the Writings of Joseph Johnson. 1751-1776, ed., Laura J. Murray. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Love, W. Deloss. Samson Occom and The Christian Indians of New England, Syracuse. NY, Syracuse University Press, 2000.

Occom, Samson. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Literature and Leadership in Eighteenth-Century Native America. ed., Joanna Brooks. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Wampey, Elijah, “Memorial of Connecticut Indians at West Stockbridge.” Yale.edu, findit.library.yale.edu/yipp/catalog/digcoll:2664.

Wampey, Elijah, “Memorial of the Tunxis with regard to Obtaining a Law Book.” Yale.edu, findit.library.yale.edu/catalog/digcoll:2600.

Wampey, Elijah, “Wampey, Elijah, 1734-1802.” Yale.edu, http://yipp.yale.edu/bio/bibliography/wampey-elijah-1734-1802.

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”

 

Mary Barnes: Last Witch Hanged In Connecticut

Author: Sandra Whitney

On January 6, 1662, Mary Barnes was taken from her home in Farmington CT, more than likely by John Andrews, the local constable/sheriff, and taken to Hartford where she was indicted for witchcraft. She was approximately 32 years old at that time and had four children. There is not a lot written down about Mary Barnes in the historical records.  Who was Mary Barnes?  How did this Farmington goodwife became involved in the witch-hunt that was going on in Hartford in 1662?

Mary Barnes was born circa 1631 in England.  She married Thomas Barnes in 1648. There are no records of their marriage listed in the records. They moved from Hartford to become two of the original settlers of Farmington, CT. They had four children: Sarah, born circa 1649; Benjamin, born 1653; Joseph, born 1655; and Hannah, born 1657.  Hannah died a few months after her mother was hanged.

Farmington at that time was a model Puritan town dominated by the Congregational church.  Thomas Barnes was a member of the church and two of his children were baptized in the church.  Mary Barnes was not a member of the church.  Members of the town, whether or not they were church members, were expected to obey all of the strict moral and legal codes of the time.  Farmington was a small community of a few hundred residents, almost all of whom lived within a 3-square-mile area surrounding the village center.  There was much scrutiny of the colonists’ activities by their neighbors and not much chance of keeping anything secret.  There is much to speculate on Mary’s relationships with her neighbors.

Map of Farmington

Map of Farmington

The Barnes family were not unknown to the Particular Court at the time. Thomas Barnes made a complaint against James Tills, a servant of John Miggs, claiming that Tills stole his scythe and his ox. The outcome of that case was that Tills was severely whipped, put into stocks and forced to apologize publicly to Barnes.  The records of the Particular Court dated May 17th, 1694 state “as also that a like warrant shall be directed to the constable for apprending and bring upp to particular court Mary Barnes of their town.”    This refers to a mention of a previous charge of adultery brought up in a different case against someone else.  There are no records of any follow-up on this warrant and there is also nothing about what the charges might be.  In any case, charges were never filed.

Mary Barnes would have been familiar with the cases of witchcraft which were being prosecuted at that time.  She testified in 1655 in the case against Nicholas Bayley and his wife of Farmington.  She spoke of conversations she had with Mrs. Bayley and the fact that Mrs. Bayley had quarrels with Thomas Barnes concerning ducks and pork. Mr. and Mrs. Bayley fled to Rhode Island.  Mary Barnes would have known Rebecca Greensmith long before Mrs. Greensmith accused her of witchcraft in 1662. Mary’ own indictment, trial and execution occurred during a very short period of time.  Her indictment and trial were on January 3rd and she was hanged, along with Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith, on January 25, 1663.  According to the records on the Particular Court of Connecticut, her indictment reads, “Mary Barnes thou are here Indited by ye name of Mary Barnes for not haveing the fear of God before thyne eyes.  Thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan the great enemy of God and mankind and by his help has acted things in a preternaturally way beyond ye ordinary Course of nature for which according to ye Law of God and ye established Laws of this colony thou deserved to die.

“The Prisoner pleaded not guilty and referd her self for trial by ye Jury

“The Jury returned that they find ye Prisoners Guilty of ye Inditement.“

The magistrates involved were Matthew Allen, Daniel Clark, Richard Treat, Henry Wolcott, Samuel Wyllys and Lt. John Allyn. The jury was Samuel Boreman, John Coles, Lt. Walter Fyler, John Gilbert, Samuel Hale. Captain Samuel Marshal, Ensign John Olmstead, William Wadsworth, Robert Webster, Gregory Winterton and Nathaniel Willett. There is no record of Mary Barnes saying anything in her defense.  What was unusual about Mary Barnes’ indictment was that she was not identified as the wife of Thomas Barnes nor was Thomas Barnes indicted separately. There is no record of Thomas Barnes ever coming to the defense of his wife. It is not known if he even attended the trial.

The timing of Mary Barnes’ trial was unfortunate.  Governor John Winthrop, Jr. had sailed to England in 1661 on government business to deal with the issue of a royal charter.  Governor Winthrop had a deep interest in alchemy, a tolerance of religious matters and political acumen.  No one was hanged for witchcraft from the time he was elected in 1657.  The witch-hunt in Hartford did not begin until 1662. It is likely that he would have stopped the trials if he were not away in England during this time.

Rebecca Greensmith, Nathaniel Greensmith and Mary Barnes were taken by oxcart to a wooden scaffold set up at Gallows Hill near the cow pasture in Hartford.  Crowds gathered, because executions were public events and were treated both as a warning and as a time for merriment.  Mary’s children were  ages 16 through age 6. It is not recorded if they attended the hanging or who took care of them during this time.  It is also not recorded if Thomas Barnes attended the hanging.  What is recorded is that Thomas Barnes paid the jail keeper the fee of 21 shillings for keeping Mary in the jail for the three weeks between her trial and her execution.  According to tradition, the Greensmiths were executed first and then Mary Barnes was executed.  Mary Barnes thus is the last person hanged in Connecticut for witchcraft.

Thomas Barnes did not leave Farmington after his wife’s death, even though he did have the connections and the assets to do so.  On March 3, 1662, three months later, he signed a marriage contract with his neighbor John Andrews for the hand of his daughter Mary Andrews. As part of the marriage contract, Barnes agreed to “put out all of his children excepting his son Benjamin Barnes; however, if the aforesaid Barnes, together with the desire of his wife, shall see it comfortable for himself and his wife and child, he hath liberty to keep his daughter Sarah at home with him, to be serviceable to him unit she shall depart from her natural life or unit God shall dispose of her in marriage.” Mary Andrews was only 20 at the time and Thomas Barnes was 48.   Thomas Barnes wrote his will on June 9th, 1668.  In this will, he left his estate to Mary Andrews Barnes and their two sons. His children by his first wife are mentioned in the following manner “to my children which are already gone from me and disposed in marriage I have formerly given according to my Ability, and which I expect they shall aquiesse.”

It seems as if Mary Barnes was resigned to the inevitability of her fate.  However, the why of what happens is a mystery which may never be solved.  Her memory has not been lost in history.   Her name keeps appearing alongside the names of the other men and women who suffered similar fates during the colonial period.  There is a continued interest in the history of witches and witchcraft which exists up to the current day.  In 2013, the Stanley-Whitman House held a symposium on colonial New England history of witchcraft.  There was a witchcraft trial exhibit and various panel discussions.  Also included on that day was a performance of a play written by Virginia Wolf entitled “In a Preternatural Way: The Witchcraft Trial of Mary Barnes.” It is hoped, by various people, that the State of Connecticut will someday pass a law to exonerate the memory of Mary Barnes.

Map of colonial Hartford

Map of colonial Hartford

Recommended Reading:

Butler, Joanne.  Witches vs. Winthrops. October 2013. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://rebelpuritan.blogspot.com/2013/10/witches-vs-winthrop_31.html.

Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

Taylor, John M. The Witchcraft Delusion In Colonial Connecticut . New York: Grafton Press, 1908.

Telian, Bernice Mabel Grafton.  My Grandmother Mary was Hanged. Delhi, NY: Privately Published, 2013.

 

 

 

Selah Hart: Saint and Sinner

The Hart Quarter of Farmington.

The Hart Quarter of Farmington.

Author: Christopher Menapace

In 1777, Selah Hart was sitting in prison, captured by British forces in battle, while at the same time his slave Pharaoh was attacking General Howe’s British forces in Germantown, Pennsylvania. These two men were fighting for America’s freedom, yet only one of them was free.  Born in Farmington, Connecticut in 1732 to Nathaniel Hart and Abigail Hooker, Selah Hart was raised in a wealthy and prominent family.  The Harts were influential members of their community, so much so that early maps of Farmington show the southwestern end of town being labeled as the “Hart Quarter.”  Their family was one of the first settlers in 1635 purchasing land from the Tunxis Indians, and Steven Hart, who was the grandfather of Selah, was selected as the town’s first deacon.  In his own time, Selah became a leader of Farmington and was commonly referred to in later texts as a “Patron Saint of Connecticut.”  Selah even has a monument to him located in Farmington describing him as an officer of the Revolution.  That is what most information about Selah Hart will say, that he was a godly man who fought for freedom and liberty in the Revolution, and while his deeds in that fight cannot be denied, that is not all Selah Hart should be known for.  Despite fighting for the freedom of the colonies, Selah Hart kept freedom from others through slavery, and did not free his slaves until provided with economic compensation.

Tombstone to Selah Hart, no longer extant.

Tombstone to Selah Hart, no longer extant.

At the time of the Revolution, Selah Hart owned at least two slaves, they were named Jack and Pharoah Hart.  Yet the information on these two slave men is almost non-existent, especially when it comes to their early lives. It is unclear how Selah Hart obtained these two slaves, although it is possible that he purchased them, because his father’s Will has no mention of “slaves” or “servants” in the inventory.  Slave ownership was more common in Farmington than most people would think, and the Hart family was no different.  Members of Selah’s family like his Uncle John, Thomas, or on his mother’s side, Samuel Hooker, owned slaves.  Many elites in Farmington owned slaves at some point even during the time of the Revolution when these same people fought for freedom and liberty, just like Selah Hart.

Promotion of Selah Hart to Brigadier-General

Promotion of Selah Hart to Brigadier-General

Not only was Selah an elite citizen of Farmington, during his life, Selah was a magistrate, a constable, a deacon, a brigadier-general, a treasurer, and many other useful positions in town.  He owned a large farm that was quite profitable, using the labor of his two slaves to yield plentiful crops.  Selah continued to contribute to the wealth his family had created over the generations in Farmington, but it was the Revolution that propelled Selah into sainthood within the town.  Selah’s military career began before the Revolution, entering as ensign in 1762, he quickly shot up the ranks to lieutenant in 1763, and captain in 1764.  It was then in 1776 when Selah joined the Revolution’s cause, being appointed to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and shortly after to the rank of Colonel of the Fifteenth Regiment Militia of Connecticut.  His forces were sent to defend New York, and it was during a skirmish that Selah was cut off and captured by British forces on August 27th, 1776.  Selah was later freed in an officer’s exchange and in 1779 was appointed Brigadier-General of the Sixth Brigade of Militia for Connecticut.  After the war, Selah was sent as a delegate to the State Convention for the adoption of the Constitution in 1788, and continued to be an influential citizen in Connecticut.

Monument to Selah Hart in Farmington.

Monument to Selah Hart in Farmington.

During this time, Selah’s slave Pharoah was also fighting in the Revolution and was involved in the battles of Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1777, and Monmouth, New Jersey in 1778.  Selah was to grant Pharoah his freedom for three years’ service in the Continental Army, while Selah received a portion of Pharoah’s wages as compensation for the economic hardship that freeing Pharoah would cause Selah.  When Pharoah’s term was up, Selah demanded not just a portion of his wages, but the entirety of them.  Even though it put Pharoah in considerable economic hardship to do this, having put his life on the line for the freedom of others; a freedom he had never experiences, Pharoah had no choice but to give up all his wages to Selah.  The source of Selah’s insistence on obtaining the entirety of Pharoah’s wages most likely was because Selah’s imprisonment had put him into debt, for he did not receive his army wages while imprisoned by the British, on top of that, his slave Pharoah was no longer working the fields and making him money.

For a man claiming that he held these truths to be self-evident, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” why then did he keep these freedoms from Jack and Pharoah? Both eventually became free, and it is said that Jack did not have to pay for his freedom, but this was not the case for Pharoah.  Selah Hart believed in freedom and liberty for all men, and risked his life in pursuit of that goal, but that goal took a back seat to his own economic benefit.  Selah was one of many slave-owners in Farmington during the Revolution, and not all of these people freed their slaves, some fought tooth and nail to keep them.  It was not the purpose of this writing to decry Selah Hart as a monster, but merely to put him into context of the era he lived in, to provide a second side to Selah, for he was both a hero of the Revolution, and a slave-owner.

Recommended for further reading:

Bickford, Christopher. Farmington in Connecticut. Farmington: Phoenix Pub, 1982.

Camp, David N. History of New Britain with Sketches of Farmington and Berlin, Connecticut. New Britain, CT: Thomas & Company, 1889.

Gay, Julius. Farmington Papers. Hartford: The Case, Lockwood & Brainard co, 1929.

 

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.

 

 

 

In a Secret and Clandestine Manner: 18th-Century Thieves in Farmington

Author: Amanda Keenan

Colonial Farmington residents were not immune to crime. They faced property loss at the hands of their neighbors, visitors, and vagabonds. It is difficult to understand the frequency of burglary in the 1700s as individual towns kept separate court records and these documents have since been lost or archived in repositories spread across the state. Thankfully, Farmington’s Solomon Whitman’s papers still exist at the Connecticut State Library. Thus his judgments for twelve accused thieves during his tenure as Justice of the Peace in the town from 1763-1769 are accessible and provide a deeper look at life for colonists and their experiences with the lower courts.

Beginning in 1735, Connecticut legislature sought to further refine the prosecution and punishment revolving around stealing property. In this first legislation they laid out escalating reprimands for first, second, and third offenses. The law defined petty theft as fewer than 20 shillings with the first crime being punished by any combination of: fined three times cost of the theft, branding, whipped fifteen stripes, and to have the right ear cropped. With a second theft conviction a person could be whipped twenty five times and have the left ear cut off. Finally, the third time a court found a burglar guilty the punishment was death. Yet although these crimes could be violently punished judges in Connecticut did not choose to frequently brand, crop, or kill offenders.

Detail from the cover from A Brief Account of the Life and the Abominable Thefts of the Notorious Isaac Frasier

Detail from the cover from A Brief Account of the Life and the Abominable Thefts of the Notorious Isaac Frasier

Connecticut courts convicted several thieves three or more times, but only one faced the death penalty: Isaac Frasier. Frasier continually escaped authorities and burglarized his way across New England in the 1760s and Farmington hosted this infamous burglar during a brief respite from crime in the Spring in 1761. In his biography he stated that he “went to Farmington, in Connecticut, where I inlisted (sic) under Capt. King, but at the marching of the company being out of health (small pox), was left behind.” Frasier tried to work as a laborer in Newtown, but quickly returned to his wicked ways. He became a notorious burglar throughout Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts until his execution in Fairfield on September 7, 1768.

During this same time Connecticut colonists became part of the larger booming consumer market that flooded their homes with manufactured goods, providing easy fodder for burglars. Previously, the General Assembly of Connecticut heard cases from Farmington regarding theft involved livestock, food, or farming equipment. This changed after 1750 as the American colonial market for imported English goods rose 120 percent. By the end of the 1760s, burglars in Farmington commonly stole clothing, handkerchiefs, and other sundry house goods.

The home of Justice of the Peace Solomon Whitman is now a museum.

The home of Justice of the Peace Solomon Whitman is now a museum.

The horrific physical punishments inflicted on convicted thieves escalated as higher valued goods became easier to steal. In Solomon Whitman’s time he never disciplined a thief with branding or ear cropping and only sentenced two of them, Zophar Andrews and John Lewis, to be whipped. Other justices were not so lenient and took a harsher approach to criminal behavior. When authorities published information regarding the thief Isaac Frasier, they pointed to his many obvious markings as a repeatedly punished thief that he acquired after leaving Farmington. Newspapers printed that he had, “both his Ears cropt, and branded twice on his Forehead with the Capital Letter B.” Physical scars, brands, and cropped ears haunted criminals well after their crimes had been committed.

Punishment for theft had a monetary component, often charging thieves with fines, damages, and fees to repay their victims for what they stole. In 1767 a new law reaffirmed the previous punishments and that thieves who stole over forty shillings could be sold into servitude to repay their damages and fees. Solomon Whitman had already begun this practice in 1766, so perhaps it was a solution practiced by the lower courts that eventually became formalized into law. The total debt and length of time of their servitude illustrated how these communities valued gender, age, and race when concerning payment through labor terms. Whitman sentenced three thieves to varying indentured terms to reimburse their plaintiffs. Transient John Hackenbottom, who stole a Holland shirt, silk handkerchief, and other goods from Moses Hills was sentenced to four months service. Whitman assigned mixed race African transient Syntha Bells who stole household goods from both Daniel Newell and to work for them for a year. Zophar Andrews of Farmington also received a term of servitude to New Haven resident Theophilos Goodger for a year after stealing money from him.

Dividing their total debt by the months Whitman sentenced them; it reveals a clearer picture of the value the community placed on these individuals. Hackenbottom owed £2-17-0, which Whitman judged could be repaid with four months servitude, which amounted to fourteen shillings and three pence per month. Meanwhile, Bells owed £2-18-6 for her crimes and Andrews had fees amounting to £7-10-11. They were both sentenced to a year, making her monthly worth approximately four shillings and ten pence a month, while Andrews’ repaid his damages at twelve shillings and seventeen pence per month. Andrews and Hackenbottom’s monthly worth as white males were remarkably similar. Compared to these men, Bells, a transient African woman, had her labor valued at a third. Regardless of the fact that they were both vagrants with no communal attachments, Hackenbottom worked for four months to repay what took Bells a full year.

Isaac Bidwell’s gravestone at the Memento Mori Cemetery, Farmington. Syntha Bells stole household goods from Bidwell and Daniel Newell in October 1766.

Isaac Bidwell’s gravestone at the Memento Mori Cemetery, Farmington. Syntha Bells stole household goods from Bidwell and Daniel Newell in October 1766.

In the mid-18th century, Farmington residents brought more material wealth into their homes and saw theft in their community. Instead of inflicting physical harm on convicts, Whitman frequently chose to have them pay with money or labor for their damages. As a result of being unable to pay their fees this allowed three burglars to live in the communities where they had committed crimes and local officials like Whitman quantified the contributions these criminals could provide to their communities and judged how long it would take them to repay their victims.

 

Further Reading:

Daniels, Bruce C. The Connecticut Town: Growth and Development, 1635 – 1790. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1979.

Frasier, Isaac. A Brife (sic) Account of the Life and Abominable Thefts of the Notorious Isaac Frasier. (New Haven, CT: T.&S. Green, 1768. Early American Imprints. Series 1. Evans 41823.

Gaskins, Richard. “Changes in the Criminal Law in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut.” The American Journal of Legal History 25, no. 4 (1981): 309–42. doi:10.2307/845276.

Piersen, William Dillon. Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.