Ashford, Windham County, Connecticut History

In the early period of settlement the territory of Ashford, which originally included also the present town of Eastford, was a part of the Wabbaquasset country which was conveyed to Major Fitch by Owaneco in 1684. It was a wild forest region, remote from civilization, but known and traversed from the early settlement of New England, lying directly in the route from Boston to Connecticut. The first company of Connecticut colonists encamped, it is said, on the bill north of the present. village of Ashford, and the old Connecticut Path crossed what is now Ashford Common. Thus the land here was exposed to the view of passing adventurers for three-quarters of a century before any attempt was made at settlement in this vicinity. The first land laid out within this territory was a tract four miles square, now in the south part of Eastford, which was made over to Simeon Stoddard of Boston, in 1695, in satisfaction of a judgment of court. Major Fitch was at the time greatly embarrassed in business affairs, and his title to the Wabbaquasset country was questioned. Mr. Stoddard was a resident of another colony, and so neither was disposed to undertake the settlement of this region.

At this time representations had been made to the general court of Connecticut upon which that body on the 9th of May, 1706, granted to ” such good people as shall be willing to settle thereon,” a township eight miles square, and appointed a committee of its own members to lay out the township by actual survey, also to lay out home lots and other divisions of land, to order and manage the affairs of the town and to admit and settle all such inhabitants as should be approved, and who should pay their proportionate share of the expense of surveying and settling the same. This action of the court aroused Major Fitch to action, and he at once began to push the sale of lands which he claimed. In 1707, a tract five miles in length and three in width was purchased for £110, by John Cushing, Samuel Clap and David Jacob, of Scituate, and laid out on the west of the Stoddard tract, and was called the New Scituate Plantation. Captain John Chandler soon purchased a large part of this tract and a strip of land adjacent, and became the chief proprietor of New Scituate. The whole remaining territory of original Ashford, comprising 21,400 acres, was sold by Major Fitch to James Corbin, of Woodstock, in 1708, and he conveyed the same to David Jacob, Job Randall and twelve others, residents of Scituate. Hingham and Andover, Mr. Corbin retaining an equal share in the land and managing the affairs of the company. These tracts were laid out as rapidly as possible, and efforts made to initiate a settlement in advance of the government. The proprietors had but partial confidence in the validity of their titles. The first actual settlement upon this land appears to have been by John Mixer, of Canterbury, who for four pounds purchased a tract of one hundred acres, the deed to which containing the .stipulation that if the proprietors’ right should be proven invalid the four pounds should be returned to the purchaser. His land lay on the river at a place called Mount Hope, where the present village of Warrenville is situated. This was in January, 1710. A few months later, in April, John Perry, of Marlborough, bought three hundred and fifty acres near the present site of Eastford village, and settled upon it.

The general court, whose committee had done nothing toward laying out a town here, now reappointed a committee with more practical instructions to proceed at once with the project of establishing a town here. The committee now took possession of .the township and undertook to lay it out in the name of the colony. The name Ashford was suggested by the great number of ash trees which grew in the primitive forests. The region was rough, rocky and unattractive, a great portion of it being covered with dense forests which abounded in wolves, bears and various species of game. This was a favorite hunting ground of the remaining Wabbaquassets, who secured large quantities of furs here, which they furnished in trade to Mr. Corbin, who derived therefrom a considerable revenue. Only two families of white inhabitants, and they living five miles apart, were now upon the tract. The impending contest between the individual proprietors already mentioned and the government of Connecticut was a serious obstacle in the way of settlement. Both parties appealed to the general court; the representatives of the Fitch title for confirmation of their title and liberty to settle, and the committee to show their inability to carry out their instructions under existing circumstances. While the court was undecided as to what course to take, the claimants under Fitch pushed forward the work of settlement. Philip Eastman, of Woodstock, and John Pitts, Benjamin Allen, Benjamin Russel and William Ward, of Marlborough, bought farms of James Corbin and settled on them, north of the Stoddard tract, on Still river, in the summer of 1711. Houses were built, lands broken up, and a highway was laid out by these settlers. In the following year William Price, senior and junior, David Bishop, Nathaniel Walker, John Chubb and John Ross bought land of Corbin and joined the eastern settlement. Daniel James and Nathaniel Fuller, of Windham, Josiah Bugbee, of Woodstock, and Samuel Rice and Philip Squier, of Concord, purchased farms of Captain Chandler in New Scituate. The court’s committee also sold some land. Homesteads were purchased of them by Isaac Kendall, William Chapman, Isaac Farrar and Simon Burton.

In answer to a petition of the settlers, in October, 1714, the general court granted town privileges, which included the right to elect officers for carrying on the prudential affairs of the place, building a meeting house and settling and maintaining a minister. The inhabitants were also instructed to employ the surveyor of Hartford county to lay out the town eight miles square, and each claimant of land within its limits should within one year enter the deed or other record or instrument by which be claimed title in a book to be provided by the town clerk for the purpose. At the same date a quit-claim to 10,240 acres of land in Ashford on the Pomfret line was granted by the general court to Simeon Stoddard and heirs, of Boston. Other non-resident claimants complied as soon as possible with the requirements of the court respecting the recording of land evidences.

Under the grant of town privileges the first town meeting was held early in 1715. William Ward acted as moderator; John Mixer was chosen town clerk and treasurer; John Perry, constable; William Ward and John Perry, selectmen; William Ward and John Chapman, grand jurors, and William Ward, Philip Eastman, Nathaniel Fuller, John Pitt, Benjamin Russel, James Corbin and Isaac Kendall were chosen to lay out highways. The town now determined, if possible, to secure possession of the large tracts of wild and unoccupied land which lay within its limits and were claimed under the Fitch title by nonresidents who were holding it, though by a very precarious tenure of ownership, for purposes of speculation, without any expense for highways or improvements upon it. Though the town was divided upon this subject, the majority prevailed, and after considerable conflicting proceedings, the people became nearly unanimous in agreement to proceed in exercising jurisdiction and ownership of the lands claimed by non-residents before mentioned. As several of –the inhabitants opposed these proceedings of the town lest it should invalidate their titles obtained from Corbin or Chandler and compel them to pay twice for their homesteads, it was granted by the town that all such as had lands purchased in that way should be allowed to hold them free, and should have an equal share in the undivided lands in addition thereto.

The town now set about the work of confirming their individual titles. January 11th, 1718, it was voted, ” That the town doth grant all those lands that have been already granted to be free and clear according to the most free tenure of East Greenwich, in county of Kings in the Realm of England-provided these persons give sufficient bonds, with sureties, to John Perry and Philip Eastman, who are appointed to furnish the committee with money to build the meeting house.” Under the new system the first general distribution of undivided lands was ordered by vote of the town, March 5th, 1718. This was a division of two hundred acres to each proprietor. Each farm was to be laid out in regular form, to begin at the west end of the town and extend east to a common line, so placed as to allow two hundred acre plots of uniform size and shape. These were allotted to the proprietors by drawing. The following are the names of the forty-five persons who, having given bonds, drew lots in this division, and were thus admitted to be proprietors of Ashford: John Follet, Caleb Jackson, James Fuller, Joshua Kendall, Nathaniel Abbot, Joshua Beckman, Isaac Farrar, Nathaniel Gary, Thomas Corbin, Peter Aldrich, William Ward, Sr., Thomas Tiffany, William Ward, Jr., Joseph Ross, John Perry, Nathaniel Walker, John Mixer, Isaac Magoon, Nehemiah Watkins, Philip Squier, E. Orcutt, Nathaniel Fuller, Jacob Parker, William Price, Obadiah Abbe, Josiah Bugbee, Benjamin Miller, William Fisk, John Pitts, William Price, 2d, John Chapman, John Follet, 2d, Philip Eastman, Jacob Ward, Daniel Fuller, Widow Dimick, Jeremiah Allen, William Farnum, William Watkins, Thomas Tiffany, 2d, James Tiffany, Joseph Cook, Matthew Fuller, Isaac Kendall, Antony Goffe. A few of these proprietors were residents of Windham and Pomfret, but the most of them were already residents of Ashford. In this assumption and division of territory the town, though acting solely in its own name and authority, undoubtedly had received the sanction and advice of the committee which the general court had appointed for that purpose.

Messrs. Chandler and Cushing, in behalf of themselves and others, as claimants under the Fitch title, appealed to the general court May 8th, 1718, for a confirmation of their title. That body also, about a year later, heard the representation of the Ashford proprietors in defense of their action, they also asking for confirmation. The general court then appointed a committee, composed of James Wadsworth, John Hooker, Captain John Hall and Hezekiah Brainard to investigate the matter. They met for that purpose at Ashford, September 9th, 1719. The question of the rights of the adjoining towns of Windham and Mansfield, which were claimed to have been encroached upon by the survey of Ashford, was also involved in the investigation, but to the committee there appeared in that claim no cause of action. The investigation resulted in a settlement of the controversy as follows: As to the New Scituate claimants, Chandler, Cushing, Clapp and others, all persons holding as inhabitants on lands claimed by them, should within one year pay three pounds per hundred acres for what they held, except those persons who had purchased lands directly of them, previous to the assumption of the town inhabitants or proprietors; the Reverend James Hale was to have free the two hundred acres upon which he had built; sixty acres near the meeting house were to be sequestered for the support of the ministry forever; and ten acres where the meeting house then stood were to be set apart for a green or common; all of which should be free of any claim on the part of the previous claimants, who in turn were to hold the remaining lands in their claim without taxation. As to the claim of James Corbin and others a considerable part of their land was already sold to and occupied by about twenty inhabitants, amounting to 10.770 acres; it was accordingly agreed that such sales should stand, and of the 6,000 acres still unappropriated in that tract 2,5C0 acres should be confirmed to Corbin and company, and the remainder was to be sequestered to the common use of the inhabitants. Of the New Scituate tract, which contained 9,600 acres, 5.726 acres had already been appropriated by the inhabitants, and after deducting the reserves for ministers, ministry and common, there remained 3,374 acres to be occupied or disposed of by the claimants.

The report of the committee was presented to the general court, October 20th, 1719, and by that body accepted and confirmed. The Stoddard-tract was undisturbed by these controversies. The assembly had already confirmed this land to DIr. Stoddard, and the town recognized his claim, while he in turn recognized the .jurisdiction of the town by paying his taxes ash/ other proprietors of lands did. fn 1716 l’ r, Anthony Stoddard conveyed this tract to his. sons, Anthony, David and William. The first settler upon it was John Chapman, who took what was delicately termed “irregular possession,” in 1714, but was numbered among the regular inhabitants of the town. William Chapman, Benjamin Wilson and John Perry bought land in this tract in 1718. Captain John Chandler bought the strip lying west of the Natchaug and sold it out to settlers. The remainder -of this land was long left vacant and unimproved, its owners paying their rates duly and manifesting an interest in the affairs ,of the town.

An unusual instance of disorder and the subverting of the ends of government appears in the annals of this town, about the years 1721 and 1722. By the act of 1714 an unusual liberty was allowed in the qualification of voters. This was on account ,of the few inhabitants then in the town. As long as everything was harmonious this liberality in suffrage qualifications gave rise to no difficulty, but at the time spoken of a faction of ignorant and irresponsible men arose with such power that one Arthur Humphrey, their leader, was elected a selectman, whereupon the other members of that body refused to act, and for a time the affairs of the town were at the mercy of this faction, which opposed all schools, broke up one that had already been established, warned the schoolmaster out of town, prosecuted the refractory selectmen to their great cost and trouble, made a scandalously unjust and imperfect rate list, and by other outrageous acts kept the town in a ferment of agitation. The matter was at length appealed to the assembly, who confirmed the elections thus far had, but ordered that after that time the usual qualifications required of voters in other towns should be required here.

A full military company was formed in Ashford in 1722, with John Perry for captain, Benjamin Russel for lieutenant and Joshua Kendall for ensign. During these years the people suffered much from Indian alarms, and constant fears stimulated watchfulness to be ready for any outbreak of savage hostility which might appear. Captain Perry proved himself an efficient and courageous officer, and several times furnished the government important information. To prevent as much as possible their approaches under false pretenses Indians were forbidden to hunt in the woods north of the road from Hartford, through Coventry and Ashford, to New Roxbury.. A military watch was ordered to be held in Ashford and a scout maintained in the northern part of the town. By these precautions the settlers were protected in a measure, and no disastrous attack of the Indians was experienced.

The population of the town now steadily increased. Joseph Bosworth bought land of Corbin in the eastern part of the town in 1718, and Elias Keyes followed in 1722. In the latter year Edward Sumner of Roxbury, a brother of Samuel Sumner of Pomfret, with two associates bought a thousand acres of land of James Corbin in the eastern part of Ashford. As an inducement to them to settle upon this wild tract of land Mr. Corbin further offered to cover and finish a building, the frame of which already stood upon the land, using boards and shingles, erect a stack of chimneys and finish four rooms within the house and then to deliver annually to them four barrels of good cider for four years, they to find barrels and send them to his house in Woodstock. Thomas Eaton of Woodstock, a brother of Jonathan Eaton of Killingly, settled in Ashford in 1723. In 1725 Robert Knowlton of Sutton purchased a large tract of land in the southwest part of Ashford, now included in the Knowlton neighborhood, and at once settled upon it, laying out a road on the east side of his farm and freely giving it to the town.

In May, 1725, James Corbin petitioned the general assembly for a patent of confirmation for certain lands in Ashford in place of lands which had been taken from him by the annexation of a strip of Ashford land to the town of Willington. The annexation of that strip to that town had prevented his taking up the twenty-five hundred acres assigned him in the settlement of his claim with Ashford. On the other hand the New Scituate tract, which was now held by Colonel John Chandler, contained 2,476 acres more than the deed called for. Corbin now petitioned that this surplus might be granted to him. A committee appointed by the general court found that the New Scituate land was over measured, and that body on hearing the case decided that the petition of Corbin should be granted, with the proviso, that all the claimers that have regulated themselves according to the order of the committee in 1719 shall not be prejudiced thereby.”

With the commotions created by contests and litigations over the possession of lands and the blighting effects of drouth and other unfavorable conditions, which discouraged the progress of improvement, the town made slow headway with the elements of a growing community. But the completion of the minister’s house and the meeting house was persevered in. The assembly had granted the town repeated exemption for many years from paying colony taxes. But whatever financial discouragement assailed them, the people were firm in their determination to maintain the standard of public morals, as far as providing laws and punishments could effect this. A set of ” stocks ” was erected on the green, in front of the meeting house door, and the town was prompt in prosecuting individuals who neglected their families and thus threatened to bring charges upon the town. Benjamin Russel and others were allowed to build a pound on the meeting house green at their own cost and charge. As foreign cattle continued to trespass upon the commons the town appointed men to drive them out, and in 1734 it was voted, ” That any inhabitant of Ashford that shall take into possession, care or oversight, any neat cattle that don’t belong to an inhabitant of Ashford, other than his own proper estate, from the first of April to August, shall forfeit ten shillings to the town for each and every head of neat kine so taken.” A cemetery was laid out in 1734. At that time James Beekman, Joseph Whiton and Robert Knowlton were appointed a committee “to lay out a quarter acre of land for a burying place at ye west end of y e town, where people have beep buried.” A burial place was also ordered in the east of the town. In 1732 the town began to pay colony charges. The rate list of estates for that year amounted to £4,609, 9s. Captain John Perry and Philip Eastman were now chosen to represent the town in the general assembly, and they were continued in that capacity for several years. Up to about this time for many years the town had been in the habit of paying a bounty of twenty shillings a head for every wolf killed. It appears that by the year 1735 the country was so completely rid of these wild animals that the last bounty of this kind was paid in that year.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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