Building Peace after the Revolution: William Spratts and Old Gate Mansion

Author: Teresa Lewis

 

Figure 1 Cowles House, built 1780-1782. Picture taken 1942, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

Today, many historians are attempting to revise Connecticut’s revolutionary history by presenting a more complete historical picture, including the plight of loyalists and prisoners of war in New England both during and after the conflict. During the war, many loyal Tories were imprisoned in jails located in central Connecticut, including one at Farmington (Gilbert, 287). One such prisoner was William Spratts. Unlike many other loyalists and British soldiers, however, Spratts stayed in the United States following the end of the Revolution. As an architect, he created many of the historic homes in Connecticut still in existence today. His story and architectural contributions reveal what happened to those left in the United States who were not a part of the patriot victory.

William Spratts was a Scottish soldier in the British Royal Artillery.[1]  Serving in General Burgoyne’s army during the Battle of Saratoga, Spratts was imprisoned in Hartford and Farmington after the artillery’s defeat. Following his release in September of 1780, William was contracted to complete the Barnabas Deane House in Hartford. Spratts was commissioned afterward to build an addition on a home on Main Street in Farmington in 1782. The first home on this site was originally built in 1690 by William Hooker, but the origins of the renovations that were finalized in 1782 were disputably commissioned by either Isaac Bidwell or by Solomon Cowles for his son Zenas (“Old Gate,” 8). Either way, Spratt’s architecture was known for its Georgian style, including a “seven bay façade” that is “decorated with an elaborate entry made up of four Ionic columns.” (“Old Gate,” 2). The house features a pedimented pavilion and ornate details, features that had not been widely used prior to this period (Elliot, 39).

Figure 2 The Gate at Old Gate Mansion, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

One significant aspect of Spratts’ work in Farmington is the gate that provided the namesake. On the gate, there is a Buddhist symbol for peace called a Manji, often mistaken as the Nazi swastika symbol. The choice of using the symbol reflects a growing popularity of Asian designs in architecture in the early 19th century. There are no records regarding the choice to add the symbol to the gate. Whether it was the decision of the homeowner or of Spratts himself, the symbol can be interpreted to represent the desire for stability and peace following the Revolutionary War, both between the loyalists and patriots, but also between British soldiers living in the colonies.Connecticut’s traditional revolutionary history highlights the heroic deeds that supported the patriot cause.

In addition to creating one of the best known houses in Farmington, Spratts is credited with having built the house of Julius Deming, a prominent merchant in Litchfield (“Julius Deming,” 1). Similar to Farmington’s Old Gate, “The Linden” features a post-revolutionary Georgian style that attempted to separate itself from the pre-Revolutionary simplistic and functional fashions.  Julius Deming was so impressed by Spratts’ work that his cousin Gen. Epaphroditus Champion hired him to copy Deming’s house in 1794.

In his personal life, William was married in 1782 to Elizabeth Seelye, daughter of Justuce Seelye, and had seven children (Elliot, 40). The architect went on to build several additional houses and public buildings in the years before his death including the Champion house in Colchester, the Litchfield courthouse which burned in 1886, and finally the Town Meeting house of Georgia, Vermont. Spratts subsequently married three times, had thirteen children and moved to Vermont, spending his final days there until he passed in 1810 (Georgia Town History, 260).

Spratts represents an overlooked perspective by contemporary historians. While most loyalists and British soldiers returned to England and other territories, Spratts stayed to create a new life for himself, becoming a successful architect and raising a family following the war. His imprint on American architecture is still present today throughout Connecticut. His story provides a glimpse into the details of what happened to those who did not win the Revolution.

For further reading, see:

“Prisoners in Farmington,” The Farmington Historical Society. Accessed November 12, 2017.
http://fhs-ct.org/1777/03/10/prisoners-in-farmington/.

Brandgee, Arthur L. and Eddy N. Smith. Farmington, Connecticut, The Village of Beautiful Homes. Charlottesville: Library of the University of Virginia, 1906.

Georgia Town History, Volumes 8-11. Town History Committee. Madison: University of
Wisconsin, 1974.

Gilbert, G. A. “The Connecticut Loyalists.” The American Historical Review 4, no. 2 (1899):
273-91.

Warren, William. William Sprates and his Civil and Ecclesiastical Architecture in New England. New York: Columbia University, 1954.

Elliott, Tom. “Master Builders/Planemakers of the Federalist Period Part 1: William Spratts.” The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc. 63, no. 1 (03, 2010): 39-41. https://ccsu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest.com.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/docview/203681319?accountid=9970.

[1] Spratts’ name has been disputed by several scholars. The spelling used in this blog is based on the spelling from Joseph Loring’s letter to Governor Trumbull, where he is mentioned as “William Spratts of the Royal Artillery.”

A Glimpse into Farmington’s Past: The Charlotte Cowles Letters

Author: Garrett Coady

Farmington, Connecticut had been a New England hub for evangelical abolition during the decade of 1835 and 1845. Farmington had established an anti-slavery society in 1836 that was initiated around abolitionist reform and evangelical revival. One of the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society’s founding members had been Horace Cowles. Horace and his wife, Mary Anne Steele Smith Cowles had a large family. Among their ten children was their daughter Charlotte Cowles.

During the heart of the Farmington abolitionist movement, Charlotte Cowles had written her brother Samuel Cowles a large volume of letters that highlighted the unique and volatile Farmington environment between 1835 and 1845.  Charlotte’s letters expound upon past on goings in Farmington, Connecticut and often on the inner workings of the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society.

Much of what Charlotte had written to her brother Samuel was about Farmington’s staunch evangelical abolitionist following, but Charlotte’s letters also help shape her personal persona. Charlotte comes across as an intelligent, caring, thought-provoking, and loyal abolitionist who saw the anti-slavery movement as a means to improving humanity through Christianity. The Charlotte Cowles Letters are treasure-troves of nineteenth century Farmington history. These letters are archived and available for public viewing at The Connecticut Historical Society. What follows is just a small snippet of the invaluable information that Charlotte Cowles scribed.

The Cowles family was one of Farmington’s prominent families of the nineteenth century. Charlotte may have been influenced by the temporal, benevolent and abolitionist work of her father Horace who was energetic throughout Connecticut as a member of multiple Christian reform programs.

From a young age Charlotte’s letters highlight her as an active member of the local abolitionist community in Farmington. Charlotte had written her brother Samuel often of her displeasure with anyone who did not believe abolition was for the betterment of humanity. Some of Charlotte’s earliest letters to her brother feature the daily proceedings of local anti-slavery meetings, like the selling of anti-slavery handkerchiefs to raise money for the movement in Farmington.
Outside of her activity within the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society, Charlotte may have been a teacher at Ms. Sarah Porter’s Farmington Female Seminary.  In a letter dated in February 1840, Charlotte had written Samuel detailing that she had received an application from Miss Sarah Porter to teach immediately at her school, which would have paid her $150 for the ten months of service. In the same letter Charlotte had written that she felt “Latin is sadly neglected in schools.” The statement was missing additional context, but it begs the question whether or not Charlotte was trained in the classical language. In her letters to Samuel, Charlotte comes across as an intuitive woman, so it seems reasonable to think that she may have known how to speak and read foreign languages.

Charlotte conquered with the sentiments of Mr. Phelps that “the architects and inhabitants of this town are in the form of abolitionists.” Charlotte stressed almost all people of nobility and high standing joined the anti-slavery movement. If Charlotte had viewed Farmington Anti-Slavery Society members as people of the highest order, presumably Charlotte would have regarded ones acceptance of colonization as the polar opposite. Charlotte had questioned this anti-slavery practice many times in her writings to Samuel and could not understand the allure.  Charlotte had attended an anti-slavery lecture with the agenda dealing with colonization, writing that, “when I returned from the lecture, I was able to see the absurdities of colonization more clearly and read it…with more clarity than ever before!”

One of Charlotte’s more fascinating letters was dated March 24, 1841, recounting the stay of the Amistad “Mendi” Africans in Farmington after their release from prison.  This letter not only presented Charlotte’s tolerance of the Mendi, but also showed her as a compassionate young woman. Charlotte stated that a young Mendi girl named Kan-ne had been staying with her family, Dr. Noah Porter housed Ta-ne, and the last Mendi child was at Timothy’s.  Charlotte was astounded by how smart Kan-ne had been, the “cheerful spirit” the little girl possessed, and was stunned with the writing skills of the Mendi.

In her letter’s, Charlotte features a substantial group of mindful and forthright abolitionists in Farmington, Connecticut during the decade of 1835 to 1845. Not all of Farmington saw abolition as a means to eradicating slavery, but a strong portion of town shared an anti-slavery mindset like Charlotte Cowles. The Charlotte Cowles Letters are a peak into an evangelical belief system, which felt the institution of slavery could be abolished peacefully through Christianizing the world. Charlotte had written her brother Samuel a great deal more than what has been presented here. A visit to the Connecticut Historical Society to read more of Charlotte’s riveting letters on Farmington’s local history is strongly recommended!

 

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.

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.

The Derrin Farmhouses of Avon, Connecticut

 

Author: Janet M. Conner, Avon Historical Society

The Avon Historical Society has leased the Derrin farmhouse, located at 249 West Avon Road, and one acre of land on which it is situated from the State since 1996. It is open for tours during the summer months at no charge.

A history of the house is detailed in a 2014 Historic Resources Inventory. A deed for the house, dated September 24, 1766, conveying the property to Lucy Page, says that “39 acres of land in the Town of Farmington together with 1/3 part of the house and barn thereon standing….part of a farm of land containing 103 acres owned by me [John Page of Branford] and the said Stephen Darin [husband of Lucy Page, John Page’s father] and is undivided and lies on the West side of the River, against Nod.” The earliest section of the Derrin farmhouse predates 1766. Experts were consulted to examine the construction of the house, including support beams in the basement and the foundation, and have dated the additions to the house as c. 1810.

According to the Town of Avon 1997 Architectural Survey, “…the house appears to date from the period 1830-1860, when the gable-end-to-the-road orientation and Greek Revival detailing were prevalent. If the date refers to the present house in whole or in part, an earlier house must have been substantially remodeled or else incorporated into a later 19th century dwelling…” The house remained in the Derrin family throughout the nineteenth century.Slide1The house is also listed in the Historic Buildings of Connecticut.  “The house is located in Horse Guard State Park and is owned by the State of Connecticut Military Department for the First Company Governor’s Horse Guard, which is based across the street. The house is currently being restored by the Avon Historical Society.”

The Derrin family is an old one in Connecticut. According to the The New England Historical and Genealogical Register: “Ephraim Darwin was admitted a planter at Guilford, Dec. 11, 1672 and had his portion of land out of the third division, according to his list of estate. The rocks at the head of Fair Street, Guilford, were long called Ephraim’s Rocks, after him.” [Ephraim’s son Daniel Darwin was the father of the Stephen Darwin (Darin) who married Lucy Page in the 1766 deed mentioned above.]

The Derrin family history illustrates well the varied occupations of Connecticut residents and their connections to other places. In a letter to their parents written in 1841, Dan Derrin and Ammi Derrin detail their adventures to Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. They were selling clocks and surviving by their wits. But they also looked forward to returning home to Avon and building or adding on to houses. “We have been thinking if you see cause to make some addition to the old house or build a new one, we will help you along with it when we get home. The reason why we write is that if you should all be well, you can be making some arrangements for the same as it takes time to build to advantage such as getting timber for joists, studs &c. & for the frame. There is nothing like having everything ready when a job is to be completed. When commencing the plan, you can adopt as you please for your own convenience. Brother Ammi has drawn a plan up. He puts it in [the letter so you] can see what his views is. But I think some other plan would be as convenient & less expensive – or at least not as long as he has drew the plan.” Trading in horse flesh and eating squirrels and wild turkeys had perhaps run its course.

The widow of Ammi G. Derrin, Sarah (nee Woodford) (d. 1872) lived in the house up to her death. It is unclear if ownership passed on to one of their sons, but no one occupied it thereafter. In the mid-1950s, the farmhouse and property were owned by the Governor’s Horse Guard and it became the caretaker’s house.

The Avon Historical Society, by securing grant money and with the use of volunteer labor, has worked these many years to refurbish the old farmhouse including a new roof, partial electrical, and heating system. The house is furnished sparsely to represent the early farming days in the town’s history.

Recently, a 30 foot deep stone well was found under the oldest section of the house. This may yield some interesting information to add to our knowledge base. Also, in 1995 the State Archaeologist at the time, Nicholas Bellantoni, conducted a one day dig around the foundation of the house and recovered 635 artifacts. Some of these are actually items once owned by the Derrins over many generations. It was the opinion of the archaeologist, based on the finding of quartz and flint, that Native Americans may have lived on the property thousands of years ago.

Former Derrin House located at 289 West Avon Road, Avon, Connecticut

The current owners of the home at 289 West Avon Road, John and Chrissie D’Esopo, who began its restoration in 1985, believe that the oldest section of their home dates to c. 1760. This section, which still has its original hearth for cooking and heating, is located in the center of the dwelling. In the historic records from the Marian M. Hunter History Room at the Avon Free Public Library [credit: Betty Morton and Herbert Buttles, Nov. 1978, Land Records III] the owner at that time Mr. Laird (1978) “….understands that the ell of the house was moved from an academy and attached to this house. [This is believed to have been the Avon Academy located on the corner of Country Club and West Avon Roads today].

Slide1

According to the Town of Avon 1997 Architectural Survey: “This house is one of the best-preserved examples of Greek revival architecture in Avon, highly unusual for completely retaining appropriate sash, exterior siding, brick chimney, and all its characteristic Greek Revival features.” “…[The features] are all typical of the way that rural house carpenters sought to make a farmhouse convey the sense of an ancient Greek temple.”

“According to the old maps [1855, 1869], the house was the home of Daniel Derrin, a farmer and one-time Whig representative to the State legislature. Derrin reported owning 149 acres in the 1880s.” During his time in the legislature Daniel Derrin was interested in educational policy, a priority of the Whig Party in the state.

Genealogy: Daniel D. Derrin was the brother of Ammi G. Derrin (249 West Avon Road farmhouse) and was born about 1816. They were the sons of Timothy and Polly Goodrich Derrin. Daniel married Mary L. Jacobs and they had two children: Lizzie C. born 1861, and Winfield Scott, born 1863. Winfield was the last Derrin owner listed in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Like his father, Winfield was interested in education, and he served on the Board of Education for the State of Connecticut.

 299 West Avon Road, Derrin farmhouse (no longer extant)

The file record at the Marian M. Hunter History Room at the Avon Free Public Library [credit: Betty Morton, The Avon Story, Land Records Group III] contains two old maps, an 1855 map marked Wd. Derrin [Winfield Scott Derrin] and an 1869 map marked J. H. Derrin (Jairus). This house was reputed to have burned down and was located South of today’s 299 West Avon Rd.

According to the federal census of 1850, Jairus H. Derrin, the son of Stephen (1759) and Mabel Dorman, was born in 1813.  He died on December 5, 1872 at the age of 59. He is buried West Avon Cemetery, Avon, CT in a separate grave from the Derrin obelisk.

Further reading:

Bickford, Christopher. Farmington in Connecticut. Phoenix Publishing, 1982.

Howard, Nora Oakes. Catch’d on Fire: The Journals of Rufus Hawley, Avon, Connecticut. The History Press, 2011 (from the journals of a prominent minister who lived in the early nineteenth century).

MacKie, Mary Frances. Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story. Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

‘Spared and Shared’ – Old Letters Spared from Obscurity: https://sparedandshared.wordpress.com/

*Pen and Ink rendition of the Derrin Farmhouse credit: Deb Key Imagery

 

 

Joseph Johnson and the Farmington Indian School (ca. 1772/3)

Author: Katherine Cotuc

It was a usual busy day on January 22, 1776 for Joseph Johnson. Back in Mohegan, Johnson was living on a farm and spending most of his time completing everyday chores. He looked over his horses, worked on construction around the house, cut wood, and questioned the state of his immortal soul.

Mohegan meetinghouse, 1831

Mohegan meetinghouse, 1831

Johnson was born and raised in Mohegan, Connecticut as a Christian Indian. He was baptized in a Christian church and sent to Eleazar Wheelock’s Charity School in Lebanon, Connecticut, commonly known as Moor’s Charity School (named for the donor of the land). During the eighteenth century many colonists were investing their time and money in creating Indian schools where they could assimilate Native Americans into European culture. While at Moor’s Charity School, Johnson learned English, Greek, and Latin, and studied the Bible. Johnson also participated in chores around the school and worked in the fields or washed dishes. His time at the Charity School was rough. He constantly found himself feeling alone and confused about the kind of person he was. His teacher, Eleazar Wheelock, constantly made him feel inferior because of his Native American roots. In many of Johnson’s letters to Wheelock he closes them by referring to himself as his “poor good for nothing Black Indian.” With doubt filling his mind, Johnson constantly wondered what his purpose in life was. He questioned his faith and whether he would ever be able to amount to anything, like his teacher Wheelock.

During 1769, Johnson began his travels throughout the colonies. Stepping into different towns and encountering new tribes, Johnson realized how distant he felt from his Native American roots. Finished with collecting money for the Charity school, Johnson wanted to do something for himself. Later in the year he signed onto a whaling ship as a sailor and was able to travel without the expectations to preach or teach. With the sea and whole world at his feet, Johnson could not stop thinking about God. He constantly found himself questioning whether God would be able to forgive him for his sins and whether he would be able to fully accept God and His plan. Late in 1771, after his personal battles, Johnson decided to return back to Mohegan where he had an epiphany about his true identity.

In Mohegan, Johnson kept various diaries describing his every day activities and thoughts. Even though he grew up in Mohegan and viewed himself as an Indian, it was tough to identify with the community. Wheelock’s teachings about Native Americans instilled in his mind that the traditional Native American lifestyle was demonic. Wheelock’s teaching made Johnson believe he was a savage. Even with his internal doubts, he kept attending church and practiced Wheelock’s teachings. He had always managed to keep his faith in God even though he knew that he rebelled against Him many times. Throughout his writings he constantly called for God to give him an answer on how he could be saved.

On May 24, 1772, Johnson declared his dedication to God. Throughout his whole life Johnson had wondered whether he would ever be worthy to accept God. He questioned if he was ready to take on the responsibility of preaching and truly place his life in God’s hand. Knowing that he is not perfect and will never reach perfection, he believed that with constant help from God one day he will be able to go to heaven and live in peace. This epiphany made him realize that it is not about being perfect or a certain race, it was about being ready to change into a holy person. Johnson was ready to embark on a whole new phase in his life, and he did so in Farmington, Connecticut.

The Tunxis Indians, who were indigenous to the Farmington area, sold their land in 1640 to the governor of the Connecticut Colony. The Tunxis’ relationship with the English settlers was uneasy. They found it difficult to keep their identity and customs as they constantly found themselves in disputes with neighboring tribes. Local farmers eventually bought the land they owned in Indian Neck and they lost their livelihood. Since conversion was a goal for many settlers, in 1706 the General Assembly of Connecticut prepared a plan to assimilate the Tunxis Indians. In 1727 it was ordered that all Tunxis Indians parents had to teach their children how to read in English and catechize them.

Throughout the years the relationship between the Tunxis and the settlers of Farmington did get better. With the help of assimilation they were able to communicate and work out their differences. The settlers stated, “…the greater part of Indians, descendants of s[ai]d tribe that now continue in said Farmington are persons duly taught the use of letters and are well instructed in economy and are well able to bargain and contract for themselves.” Joseph Johnson visited Farmington in 1772 and was accepted by both the white population and Native Americans. After Johnson gave a sermon, written by Christian Indian Samson Occom, on the execution of Moses Paul, a Native American who was tried for murder, he was offered a teaching position in the local Indian school. The entire town was inspired by the sermon’s explanation of sin eventually led to death. Johnson was given work at a school in Farmington and kept a diary about his experiences both in the school and his time in Farmington.

As the colonists began to create Indian schools, they each had a specific goal in mind. Depending on where the schools were located, the goals were different. For example in New England many of the Indian schools focused on spreading Christianity because of the Puritan population. In the south they were more focused on teaching Native Americans about trade and business. Margaret Szasz, a historian of Native American education, found three common major criteria to the success in most Indian schools. First, each organization focused on, “the need to Christianize and civilize the natives.” Second, a colonist advertised the importance of Indian schools and willing to visit different Native American tribes to retrieve students. Finally, the most important aspect of success for an Indian school was the support and involvement of a Native American student. Having a Native American who had extensive knowledge in European culture, language, literature, and Christianity was vital. It created a middle ground between the colonists and Native Americans. Being able to relate to an instructor created a safer environment where students showed willingness to participate and learn. Joseph Johnson became a middleman between the two cultures and showed the benefits of assimilating into European culture.

During Johnson’s time at Farmington he taught at the Indian school in the west end, near a bend in the Farmington River, in a classroom that started off with nine students.

Currently a public school district, this area was once home to Joseph Johnson's Indian School.

Currently a public school district, this area was once home to Joseph Johnson’s Indian School.

Johnson opened and closed the school day with prayer, making Christianity the core of all lessons. He also prepared songbooks for his students because enjoyed music. He held practices where his students prepared for upcoming performances. His students performed for several people around Farmington and by the end of ten weeks he had sixteen students in total. Johnson’s experience at the Farmington school set forth his final mission.

Johnson noticed that Native Americans had the chance to advance in the changing world around them. He began to communicate with Samson Occom about opportunities for Christianized Indians. He believed that a new settlement composed of Christianized Indian could succeed using European laws and regulations. Occom did not see a place for Christianized Indians in European settlements. He believed that even though they successfully acquired knowledge from their teachers and were fluent in English and dedicated Christians, the settlers still viewed them in a negative light because of their heritage. Occom believed that Christianized Indians were capable of doing more than farming or taking orders from settlers. Both Johnson and Occom decided to use their relationship with the Native Americans from Oneida to acquire land and start the new settlement of Brothertown in New York. In 1797, 14,662 acres were bought for Brothertown.

Current Oneida Indian Reservation was the eastern border of Brothertown; the Falls were the western border.

Current Oneida Indian Reservation was the eastern border of Brothertown; the Falls were the western border.

Almost all of the Tunxis Indians followed Johnson in his new mission and moved to Brothertown. Brothertown’s government closely mirrored the Connecticut Colony. Brothertown was not successful in their attempts of creating a new settlement and Johnson died in 1776 before being able to name the settlement. Yet he inspired several Native Americans, not only with Brothertown but also with teaching and preaching. At Occom’s funeral, over 300 Native Americans from different tribes attended. Even with the failed mission, it motivated other Christianized Indians to find a voice of their own.

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.

Johnson, Joseph. “Joseph Johnson’s Diary: Manuscripts Related to Samson Occom and Eleazar Wheelock’s Early Indian Students.” October 9, 1771. http://libarchive.dartmouth.edu/cdm/ref/collection/occom/id/3271.

Samson Occom, “Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian.” Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800, http://0-docs.newsbank.com.www.consuls.org/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:EAIX
&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=0F2FD3921A869A88&svc_dat=Evans:eaidoc&req_dat=C540BE2B4CF341FCAA4733EAEC27E0C6.

Ava Chamberlain, “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut,” New England Quarterly 77, no. 3 (2004): 414.

Julius Gay, Farmington Papers. Salem, Massachusetts: Lockwood and Brainard Co., 1997.

Lopenzina, Drew. “‘The Whole Wilderness Shall Blossom as the Rose:’ Samson Occom, Joseph Johnson, and the Question of Native Settlement on Cooper’s Frontier.” American Quarterly 58, no. 4 (2006): 1119-1145.

For more information about Native American literacy:

“On the Education of Indian Youth,” The Theological Magazine, or, Synopsis of Modern Religious Sentiment. American Periodicals, http://0-search.proquest.com.www.consuls.org/docview/88878433?accountid=9970

Wyss, Hilary E. “Mary Occom and Sarah Simon: Gender and Native Literacy in Colonial New England.” New England Quarterly 79, no. 3 (2006): 387-412.

Wyss, Hilary E. English Letters and Indian Literacies: Reading, Writing, and New England Missionary Schools, 1750-1830. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Taverns of Colonial Farmington

Author: Alex Tremblay

There was no place more necessary to early American life than the tavern. For travelers it was a much needed place for rest and food, and for locals, a place of fun and respite from daily life. Yet taverns were a constant thorn in the side of those trying to keep civil order or lead a religiously upright life.

In a meeting of the General Court of Connecticut on June 3, 1644, representatives passed a law requiring all towns in the colony to have at least one ordinary with the abilities to house, feed, and entertain any traveler. These laws were revised periodically in an effort to control what happened in them. Ordinary was the term that was originally given to all public houses such as inns, taverns, and alehouses. Even moreso than in England, taverns served as meeting places, libraries, and post offices, in addition to being places of recreation and drinking. Especially during the winter, church services were sometimes held in them.

One situation unique to the New World was whether taverns ought to entertain Indians. In Connecticut, Indians could and did legally visit taverns. Yet there were laws banning the sale of alcohol to Indians. In a letter to the editor printed in the Boston Evening-Post, the writer discussed how, even with the ban in place, people were still giving and selling alcohol to Indians, knowing full well that they became violent when intoxicated. The writer was saddened by the practice, because he saw it as corrupting an otherwise good and peaceful people, breaking both their bodies and souls. Despite the strong feelings of fear and concern about giving Indians alcohol, there was a popular belief that it was more wrong to “deprive the Indians of any lawful comfort which God alloweth to all men.” Connecticut lawmakers struggled over the dilemma.

Taverns were located along main routes of travel to make it easier for travelers to find them, though the travelers never fully knew what to expect upon arriving at one. The requirements were to be able to house any horses safely, have food for the travelers, and put them in a bed during their stay. Lodgings could range from a room not unlike the shed where the horses were tied up for the night with bread and water for a meal and some mats to sleep on, to a room and services that were more like the equivalent of a modern bed and breakfast.

Between 1741 and 1789 Farmington had at least 39 new registered taverns and inns open their doors. To register a tavern or inn, a person had to be chosen by the people of the town and then approved by two magistrates from the state (later from the county). That did not keep others from opening up unlicensed establishments. The main reason for the licensing of a tavern or inn was to regulate the sale of alcohol, required to be in standard measures so the excise (tax) man could collect his due.

The Elm Tree Inn, 785 Farmington Avenue

The Elm Tree Inn, 785 Farmington Avenue

Both the Elm Tree Inn (ca. 1760-1800), run by Capt. Phineas Lewis as a tavern in Farmington, and the Fuller Tavern (1769-1846), now in a part of Farmington known as Berlin, were well-known stops along a travel route from New York to Springfield, Boston, or Providence. They are also noted as having the distinction of entertaining General George Washington on two separate occasions when he was traveling through Connecticut. Rochambeau’s map of his camp in Farmington prominently shows the location of a tavern.

Barnes' Tavern. Rochambeau's Farmington camp, 1782.

Barnes’ Tavern. Rochambeau’s Farmington camp, 1782.

Established taverns on well traveled routes had staying power. Cook’s Tavern started operation as a tavern in 1769 in a part of Farmington that is now Plainville. This tavern has the rare distinction of never fully ending its business, just transforming itself into a restaurant in 1934. The ownership changed hands from the Cooks to its current owners, who now run it as the restaurant J. Timothy’s Taverne.

Sources:

“Historic Buildings of Connecticut » Blog Archive » Elm Tree Inn (1655).” Accessed May 11, 2015. http://historicbuildingsct.com/?p=1938.

“Historic Buildings of Connecticut » Blog Archive » Fuller’s Tavern (1769).” Accessed May 11, 2015. http://historicbuildingsct.com/?p=15141.

“History.” J Timothy’s Taverne. Accessed May 11, 2015. http://www.jtimothys.com/our-story/history/.

Hammond (James Hammond) Trumbull, ed. The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, April 1636 – April 1665. Vol. 1. Hartford, Ct: Brown & Parsons, 1850.

Lanning, Anne Digan. “Women Tavern-Keepers in the Connecticut River Valley, 1750-1810.” New England Celebrates: Spectacle, Commemoration, and Festivity, The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 2000, 25 (2000): 202–14.

Lathrop, Elise. Early American Inns and Taverns. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1935.

“Ordinary, N.” OED Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed May 6, 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/132360.

Sismondo, Christine. America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011.

Recommended Reading:

Brennan, Thomas E., David Hancock, and Michelle McDonald, eds. Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices From the Tavern, 1500-1800. Vol. 4. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011.

Conroy, David W. “Puritans in Taverns: Law and Popular Culture in Colonial Massachusetts.” In Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History, edited by Susanna Barrows and Robin Room. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1991.

Daniels, Bruce C. Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995.

 

Sickness and Disease in Colonial Farmington

Author: Samantha Kissko

Various diseases and illnesses have plagued people for centuries, and Farmington, Connecticut, was not without its fair share. Disease often spread quickly in colonial Farmington. If one household became ill, chances were that several more would fall ill before anyone even had the chance to stop the disease from spreading. One of the diseases that spread the most rapidly during this time period was smallpox. Smallpox, named “The King of Terrors” by the United States’ second president John Adams, was a highly contagious disease, and lasted for several weeks. While many people died from the disease, the ones who lived were not entirely lucky. They were often left deformed, scarred, and occasionally blind. Because smallpox spread from person to person so quickly, an epidemic outbreak was extremely possible. One such epidemic occurred in 1771 and took many lives, including the life of Farmington resident Abigail Hart, who left behind her husband Stephen Hart. Abigail Hart was just one of the several victims of the epidemic of 1771 that was sweeping through New England.

Tombstones were found near Colombia Lake in 1913. The stones were buried farther from town and all the people had died around the same time. This led people to believe that these stones were those of other people who died from smallpox in 1771.

While smallpox spread quickly and often left behind lifelong effects, there was a way to prevent the illness, inoculation. People who were inoculated were given the illness in a small dose and taken care of until they healed. After they recovered the inoculation made them immune and they were no longer able to contract or spread the illness.

Smallpox

Fig.2: New-England Weekly Journal, Jan. 5, 1730

While inoculations could help prevent people from getting the illness again, it was still a painful process, and there was no guarantee that the illness would not spread from the inoculation house, such as Hospital Rock in Farmington, to the general public in town. For this reason inoculation was the occasion of great debate. In addition to debating inoculations’ safety there was also the cost of inoculating people. Only the rich with strong family roots could afford the treatment. Thaddeus Betts, a physician in Norwalk, offered inoculations around the colony. Betts’ advertisement from 1771 lists the price of the inoculation as “three pounds lawful money,” which might be a month’s earning for an ordinary family. Rev. Timothy Pitkin was able to inoculate his daughter, Mary, because of his income as minister of the Farmington Congregational church. His doing so encouraged others with the means to follow suit.

While smallpox was a major disease of the time, there were many other illnesses that spread quickly and killed many people. These illnesses helped the people of Farmington to solidify their faith in God, sometimes increasing church membership. One example of this was Polly Cowles, whose story is told through her sister Julia Cowles’ memoir. Polly Cowles was sick with consumption (tuberculosis) and had seen many of her friends die from the same illness. Her illness strengthened her belief in God, as she prayed to get well. Polly Cowles later died of her illness at age 17.

Diseases in colonial Farmington were a major part of people’s lives; many died, lost loved ones or were scarred from illness. Despite the diseases that spread throughout Farmington the people remained strong through their faith and belief in God.

Sources

“Article 7 — no Title.” The Connecticut Courant (1764-1774), Jan 08, 1771. http://0-search.proquest.com.www.consuls.org/docview/552516289?accountid=9970.

Betts, Thaddeus. Connecticut Journal, January 30, 1771.

Charles Leach, “Hospital Rock,” Hog River Journal 2, no. 2 (Spring, 2004): http://www.hogriver.org/issues/v02n02/hospital.htm

Special to The Courant. “Epitaphs About The Smallpox.” The Hartford Courant (1887-1922), Jan 11, 1913. http://0-search.proquest.com.www.consuls.org/docview/555963561?accountid=9970.

“Memoir of Julia Cowles.” The Connecticut Evangelical Magazine 4 (July, 1803-June, 1804): 146-156. https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=eq9_N_hHkBQC&rdid=book-eq9_N_hHkBQC&rdot=1 (also published by Yale Univ. Press, 1931, http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001262388).

Recommended Reading:

Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.