History of the Civil Government of Brooklyn, Connecticut

The township of Brooklyn received a charter from the assembly in May, 1786, to organize as a town. The first town meeting was held in its much esteemed meeting house, June 26th, 1786. Colonel Israel Putnam was called to the chair. Seth Paine was chosen town clerk, treasurer and first selectman; Andrew Murdock, Asa Pike, Daniel Tyler, Jr., and Joseph Scarborough, selectmen; Peter Pike, constable; Ebenezer Scarborough, Abner Adams, Joshua Miles, Jedidiah Ashcraft, Jr., Salter Searls, Nathan Witter, Joseph Davison, Samuel Williams, Stephen Frost. James Dorrance, Elisha Brown, Reuben Harris, surveyors; John Jefferds, Ebenezer Gilbert, fence viewers; Abijah Goodell, Isaac Cushman, tithing men. The bounds of the town were at first identical with those of the previous society, but twenty-four hundred acres were soon released to Hampton. Seth Paine was appointed to agree with the agents of Canada parish on a straight line between Brooklyn and the new town, and consent that they may have as much land as prayed for if they will maintain the poor. The Quinebaug formed the eastern bound. North and south lines remained as previously settled. Pomfret was allowed to retain a projection on the southwest, now Jericho, on the supposition that it would never be able to pay its own expenses. It was voted that the town line should be also the society line, and the pound already built near Doctor Baker’s be a town pound. Highway districts were soon laid out, and labor paid for at three shillings a day for a man and team in the spring, and two-and-six-pence a day in the fall. A half-penny rate was voted for the support of the schools. A rate list made in 1788, shows the following names of taxpayers in the town, and the ratable estates amounted to £9,338,10 shillings, 2 pence.

Adams, Samuel, William, Asaph, Lewis, Ephraim, Philemon, Shubael, Abner, Noah, Willard, Peter, Ephraim, Jun.; Allyn, Jabez, John, Joseph; Allen, Parker; Ashcraft, Jedidiah, John, Jedidiah, Jun.; Alworth, James, William; Aborn, James; Baker, William, Doct. Joseph, Joel, Stephen, John, Erastus, Joseph, Jun.; Brindley, Nathaniel; Butt, Samuel; Brown, Shubael, Alpheus, Jedidiah, John; Bowman, Elisha, Walter; Barrett, William; Bacon, Joseph, Asa, Nehemiah; Benjamin, Barzillai; Cushman, William, William, Jun., Isaac; Clark, Moses, Daniel, Caleb; Cleveland, Davis, Joseph, Elijah, Phillips, Phinehas; Cady, Gideon, Ezra, Jonathan, Uriah, John, Phinehas, Ebenezer, Benjamin, Asahel, Nahum, Nathan, Daniel, Widow Lydia, Eliakim; Copeland, William, Asa, Joseph, Jonathan, James; Chaffee, Ebenezer; Coller, Jonathan, Asa; Cogswell, Nathaniel; Cloud, Norman; Chapman, Amaziah; Darbe, Ashael, William, Alpheus: Downing, Jedidiah, David, Ichabod, James; Denison, David; Davison, Joseph, Joseph, Jun., Peter; Dorrance, James; Davis, Samuel; Davidson, William; Eldredge, James, Gurdon; Eaton, Ezekiel; Fasset, Elijah, Josiah, Joab, John; Foster, Daniel: Fling, Lemuel: Frost, Stephen; Fuller, John, Josiah; Fillmore, William; Goodell, Abijah, Alvan; Gilbert, Rachel, Joseph, Eleazer, Benjamin, Jedidiah, John; Geer, John; Herrick, Benjamin, Rufus; Howard, Charles; Hubbard, Ebenezer, William, Benjamin, Jun.; Hutchins, Isaac; Hewitt, Stephen, Increase; Harris, Samuel, Reuben, Paul, Amos, Ebenezer; Hancock, John; Hide, Jabesh; Holmes, Nathaniel: Jefferds, John; Joslin, David; Ingalls, Samuel; Kendall, Peter, John, David; Litchfield, Eleazer, John, Israel, Uriah; Mumford, Thomas; Miles, Jesse, Joshua, Thomas; Murdock, Andrew; Malbone, John; Merrett, Charles, Thomas; Morgan, Roswell; Mason, Shubael; Medcalf, Hannah; More, Daniel; Putnam, Daniel, Peter Schuyler, Israel, Jun., Reuben; Pike, John, Joseph, Peter, Jonathan, Asa, Willard; Paine, Simeon, Seth, Jun.; Delano, Seth, Daniel, Benjamin; Prince, Timothy, Timothy, Jun., Abel; Pierce, Benjamin; Preston, Jacob; Palmer, Elihu, Thaddeus; Pettis, Joseph; Pellet, Jonathan; Pooles, Amasa; Rowe, Isaac; Smith, William, Thomas; Stanton, Thomas; Stevens, John; Storrs, Dinah: Scott, William; Searls, Daniel, Salter; Scarborough, Ebenezer, Jeremiah, Joseph, Samuel; Stowel, Calvin; Shepard, Josiah, Benjamin; Spalding, Abel, Ebenezer, Caleb, Rufus, Ebenezer, Jun.; Shumway, Ebenezer; Staples, Abel; Tracy, Zebediah; Tilley, James: Tyler, Asa, Daniel, Daniel, Jun., Oliver; Thayer, Elijah; Wheeler, Timothy, Job; White, Joseph; Weaver, Remington, John; Wilson, Samuel, Ignatius; Williams, Stephen, Samuel, Jun., Roger Wolcot, Asa, Martha, Marian, Job, Joseph, Samuel, Samuel, 2d; Witter, Nathan, Jun., Nathan, Josiah; Withy, _James, Hazael, Eunice; Weeks, Ebenezer, Anna; Wood, Benjamin; Woodward, Ward, Peter.

Among the business enterprises carried on in this town between the close of the revolution and the close of the century might be named a grist mill by William Baker, a saw mill by Stephen Baker, saw and grist mills by Daniel Clark, fashionable store by Frederic Stanley, general merchandise by Gallup & Clark and George Abbe & Co., hat manufacture by Eleazer Mather, clothiery business by Daniel Rowe, cooperage by Vine Robinson, a distillery of cider brandy by Doctor John Cleveland, succeeded by George Abbe. This was a period of growth, but it closed with decline, so that the census of 1800 showed a loss of over a hundred in the population.

With increasing business and influence, however, Brooklyn sought with the greater earnestness to gain those administrative prerogatives which she believed due to her central position in the county. A petition to form a new county of the northern towns, with Pomfret for its seat of government, had gained no favor when, in 1786, it was urged before the assembly. Believing that her claim would be recognized as the central town of the county, Brooklyn took the lead in 1794, in inviting all the towns interested in the movement to meet at Jefferd’s tavern for further discussion and renewed action. Delegates from all the invited towns were present and unanimously agreed ” that the northeast part of Windham county was greatly aggrieved at being obliged to go so far to attend courts and to obtain justice.” A forcible representation of the views and wishes of these delegates, presented to the assembly, produced such an impression that a large -majority of the lower house voted to consider the premises, but were overruled by a vote of the council. Brooklyn, however, did not give up the idea, but improved the opportunities that came to her, and a quarter of a century later had the satisfaction of seeing the courts of the county removed to her central village.

The people of Brooklyn appear to have been alert in the administration of their local government, and entertained a high standard of popular virtue. In her by-laws she expressly enjoined ” that only two neat cattle to a family should be allowed to run at large.” A health committee was instituted in 1810, which was instructed to procure the most skillful physician in case the spotted fever should appear. Perhaps, as a further preparation for this dreaded visitant, a hearse house and harness were procured; also a pall and a trunk to keep it in, and a committee appointed in each district to superintend at funerals, and form rules for promoting order and regularity on such occasions. The selectmen were required to ascertain, by personal investigation, “who are and who are not furnished with Bibles, as the law directs,” and if any families were found deficient and not able to procure them, to provide and distribute the same.

The brigade review, which was held here in September, 1812, was a very notable and brilliant affair. Five regiments of foot and one of horse participated in military exercise, the company altogether comprising ” at least 2,500 troops and four times as many spectators, presenting something of a warlike appearance.” It was considered the greatest gathering, in point of numbers and glittering array, ever witnessed in Windham county, and doubtless had its influence in stimulating the war spirit and encouraging enlistment for the war which was then opening with Great Britain. The village of Brooklyn at that time contained about twenty dwelling houses and two mercantile stores. Adams White, Jr., had charge of the first post office. Noted taverns were kept by Phinehas Searls, P. P. Tyler and Captain Eleazer Mather. Though so energetic and prosperous, Brooklyn continued to lose by emigration of her sons and citizens to other fields of enterprise and activity.

The removal of the county courts to this town marked a new era in its history. Prosperity again perched upon its banners for a time. In response to petitions from the northern towns of Windham county for the removal of the county seat to a more central and convenient point, a committee was appointed by the assembly to investigate the matter. On their report the assembly, May 27th, 1819, provided that if suitable buildings should be erected in Brooklyn within three years from that time, without expense to the county, and in location and general plans approved by a committee of the county and superior courts, the courts and jail should be held there thenceforward. Brooklyn now put forth earnest efforts to secure the erection of the necessary buildings. Six thousand dollars were required, and Brooklyn pledged $2,500 of it. The balance was raised in other towns and by voluntary subscriptions in this and other towns outside of amounts raised by tax. On the 26th of July, 1820, the court house and jail were approved and accepted by the proper committee, and at the same time a special court of common pleas was organized, Judge David Bolles presiding. The village now gained in importance rapidly; a newspaper, a bank and a fire insurance company were added to the institutions which soon gathered around the county seat.

The history of newspaper enterprises in Brooklyn is a thing of the past. Its chapter seems to have closed, and only the vicissitudes of the future may reveal whether it is closed forever or not. The opening of the chapter was suggested by the removal of the courts to this town. The Independent Observer and County Advertiser, a small paper with a big name, sent out its first issue from Brooklyn, Monday, July l st, 1820, by Henry Webb, printer and publisher. Samuel and Horatio Webb were also associated in this enterprise-the former having previously published newspapers in Norwich and Windham. The Observer surpassed the waning Herald in size and general appearance. The paper was fairer and the print clearer. It manifested a good degree of enterprise in securing public and local intelligence. Literary readers were regaled with a variety of original and selected poems, and one of Brockden Brown’s most harrowing complications administered as a serial. Samuel Webb acted as general agent. Its circulation was reported as ” pretty general in all parts of the county.” The Observer was superseded in 1826 by The Windham County Advertiser, published by John Gray, who gave place in a year to Mr. J. Holbrook. This paper attained the greatest age and most general circulation as a county organ of any published in Brooklyn. It was followed in 1835 by The Windham County Gazette, published by Messrs. Carter and Foster, which was maintained for several years. Public exigencies and rising reforms called, out several short-lived newspapers, viz.: The People’s Press devoted the advancement of anti-Masonry; the Unionist, an anti-slavery journal, edited by C. C. Burleigh and supported by Arthur Tappan; The Windham County Whig, The Harrisonian, a campaign paper, published by Edwin B. Carter in 1840, and one or two others, whose names have perished with them. Mr. Joel Davison, of Killingly, served as news carrier during the latter ‘days of these papers, taking them and other periodicals all over his route in baskets and bundles suspended from his stalwart shoulders.

The history of this town would be imperfect without reference to some of the prominent men who in early times belonged to it. Most conspicuous of such stands the name of General Israel Putnam. But it is not our privilege here to give any formal sketch of his life, since that is worthy of a much more full treatment than space would permit us to give, and, on the other hand, a mere outline of his life would be but a repetition of what is already before the world in publications almost without number. But the name of a character so conspicuous in the history of the nation cannot be ” hid under a bushel ” in the annals of the township in which he lived. His name frequently appears in the history of the action of this and other towns of the county about the revolutionary period. A native of Salem, Mass., he had in early life removed to a farm in Mortlake, and was there engaged in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture when the stirring events of war aroused him to action and gave the occasion to the latent powers within him to develop as the hero which lie proved himself to be. Born to be a leader, and endowed by nature with an intrepidity which was blind to danger, he could not long remain in obscurity. Among the exploits which have been immortalized with his name, the story of his adventure with the wolf, though the actual scene of it was in the adjoining town of Pomfret, seems entitled to preservation here. In general features it is as follows:

Wolves had abounded in every Windham county town at their first settlement, but had gradually disappeared with advancing civilization. Indians Tom and Jeremy had routed them in Plainfield and Killingly. Woodstock’s last reported wolf was shot by Pembascus in 1732; Ashford’s succumbed in 1735; leaving Pomfret’s in sole possession_ of the field. A craggy, precipitous hillrange, bristling with jagged rocks and tangled forests, south of the Mashamoquet, and between the Newichewanna and Blackwell’s brook, was her favorite place of residence, where she enjoyed the privilege of entire seclusion and easy access to the richest farms of Pomfret and Mortlake. For years this creature ranged the country. There was not a farm or door yard safe from her incursions. Innumerable sheep, lambs, kids and fowls had fallen into her clutches. Little children were scared by her out of sleep and senses; boys and girls feared to go to school or drive the cows home; and lonely women at night trembled for absent husbands and children. In summer she was wont to repair to wilder regions northward, returning in autumn with a young family. to her favorite haunt in Pomfret. These cubs were soon shot by watchful hunters, but the more wary mother resisted every effort. She evaded traps, outwitted dogs, and made herself, in the words of her biographer, ” an intolerable nuisance.” Israel Putnam’s farm was only separated by a deep, narrow valley from her favorite hillside. This young farmer had devoted himself to the cultivation of his land with much skill and energy, and within two or three years had erected a house and outbuildings, broken up for corn and grain, set out fruit trees, and collected many valuable cattle and sheep. This fine flock soon caught the fancy of his appreciative neighbor, and one morning some ” seventy sheep and goats were reported killed, besides many lambs and kids torn and wounded.” Putnam was greatly exasperated by this loss and butchery. He was not one to submit tamely to such inflictions. From his boyhood he had been distinguished for courage and reckless daring. He was a bold rider, a practiced and successful hunter. He had a bloodhound of superior strength and sagacity. His stock was very dear to him, and he resolved at once to rid Pomfret of this nuisance. With five of his neighbors he agreed to hunt the wolf continuously, by turns, till they had caught and killed her.

How long they watched and waited is not known. The final hunt is believed to have occurred in the winter of 1742-43. A light snowfall the night preceding enabled the watchful hunters to trace the wolf far westward over hill and valley, and thence back to her lair in Pomfret. The report of their success in tracking the enemy had preceded them, and men and boys, with dogs and guns, hurried-out to meet the returning hunters and join in the pursuit and capture. The track led onward into the heart of that savage fastness, never before penetrated by white man. John Sharpe, a lad of seventeen, grandson of the first William Sharpe, of Mashamoquet, ran, boy-like, in advance of the others, following the trail up the icy crag as it wound on between overhanging rocks, gnarled stumps and fallen tree trunks, to a small opening among the granite boulders of the hillside-the mouth, apparently, of a narrow cave or passage, tunneling far down into the depths of the earth. A joyful shout from the lad announced the discovery of the wolf’s hiding place. The news soon spread through the neighborhood, bringing new actors and spectators. Great was the interest and excitement. The wolf was trapped, but how could she betaken? The day was spent in fruitless efforts to force her from her position. Hounds were sent in, but came back cowed and wounded. Straw and brimstone were burned in the cavern’s mouth without effect. Secure in her rock-bound fortress, the enemy disdained to parley or surrender. In the perplexity of the hour, as darkness was -drawing on, some one suggested that the stalwart and courageous young Putnam be sent for. It was done, and with dog and gun he instantly obeyed the summons. Appearing on the scene, he declared that the wolf must be routed at all hazards, and that without delay. The dog was sent in, but he would not go. The negro was directed to go in, but he dared not do it. No one wanted to undertake the venture of bearding the lion in his den. But Putnam himself was ready for the onset. Remonstrance and representation of danger were unheeded. Divesting himself of coat and waistcoat, -with a rope fastened around his body and a blazing torch in his hand, he slowly crawled down the black, icy, narrow passage into the cavern where the wolf stood at bay, and there in the farthest extremity he beheld the glaring eyeballs of his terrified adversary. Drawn back by those without, he descended a second time with torch and weapon, and with one dexterous shot brought down the wolf as she prepared to take defense, ” and the people above, with no small exultation, dragged them both out together.”

Working on his farm until the events of the French war called him to action, he entered the service in 1755 as second lieutenant of a company; was captain of a company raised by him in 1756 and placed in guard service at Fort . Edward, and in 1758 was promoted to the rank of a major. Returning to his farm, he continued to take active interest in the drilling of the militia and making preparations for defense in case of war. Thus employed on his farm, he received the news of the collision of the British troops and the provincials at Boston while in the field plowing on the morning -of April 20th, 17 75, the day after the event. The country was rising to arms, and Putnam, leaving his son to unyoke the oxen from before the plow, hastened at once to take his place at the head of the militia, of whom he had already been made colonel. The story of Bunker Hill probably contains no more prominent figure than that of Putnam. For his distinguished services there he was promoted to the position of fourth major general of the American army. After serving throughout the war, he retired for a few years to his home in Brooklyn, where he closed his life.

Always a respecter of religion, long a member of the church, he was drawn with advancing years to a deeper appreciation of spiritual things. In the words of one with whom he had talked intimately, ” Death, whom he had so often braved on the field of battle, had no terrors to him on his dying bed, but he longed to depart and be with Christ.” He died May 19th, 1790, after two days’ illness. His funeral was the most imposing ceremonial that Windham county had ever witnessed. It was held at the Congregational meeting house, by the Reverend Doctor Whitney, and Doctor Waldo pronounced a eulogium in behalf of the Masons, who, with the military companies, took part in the obsequies. An inscription prepared by President Dwight of Yale College was engraved on a monumental slab which marked his resting place, and the same has been repeated upon the new monument which has been erected to his memory. The old slab had been so much disfigured by relic hunters that it was barely legible, and was indeed a disgraceful monument of a reprehensible custom. A bronze equestrian statue was erected by the state in the middle of the village of Brooklyn to the memory of Putnam. It was unveiled amid imposing military and civic procession and ceremonies on the 14th of June, 1888. At the ceremony, the great-grandson of the old hero, Mr. John D. Putnam, of Wisconsin, had the honor of withdrawing the veil from the statue. Upon the pedestal has been engraved the classic epitaph, which is as follows:

Sacred be this Monument
to the memory
senior Major General in the armies
the United States of America;
was born at Salem,
in the Province of Massachusetts,
on the 7th day of January,
A. D. 1718,
and died
on the 19th day of May,
A. D. 1790.

if thou art a Soldier,
drop a tear over the dust of a Hero,
ever attentive
to the lives and happiness of his men.
dared to lead
where any dared to follow;
if a Patriot,
remember the distinguished and gallant services
rendered thy country
be the Patriot who sleeps beneath this marble:
if thou art honest, generous and worthy,
render a cheerful tribute of respect
to a man,
whose generosity was singular,
whose honesty was proverbial:
raised himself to universal esteem,
and offices of eminent distinction,
by personal worth
and a
useful life.

Previous to the erection of the bronze statue, the bones of Putnam were removed from their previous resting place to a new grave beneath the pedestal. When the remains were taken up the large bones were found well preserved, especially the hip bones, by which the body was additionally identified by a relative. Apiece of the shroud was found. The coffin was much decayed. A large stone that had been cemented directly over the body is supposed to have kept off the surface water and assisted in preserving the bones. The remains, the bit of shroud and pieces of coffin were placed in a metallic casket five feet long and reinterred in the new grave. The large stone that had lain over them since 1790, was also replaced in a like position in the new location and cemented down. Then the grave was graded down ready for the statue pedestal.

Another conspicuous character of the revolutionary period was Godfrey Malbone, who owned a large estate here, and -who was particularly conspicuous because of history sentiments in the time of the war. These sentiments made him a terror in the north part of the county. It had been currently reported at one time, and believed, that he had privately drilled and equipped his negroes, and intended to take up arms for the king when the hour of conflict came. ” Malbone’s ni—rs ” for a time became a byword of terror in many a defenseless household in these neighboring towns. But this fear was probably without much foundation. Colonel Malbone throughout the war was allowed to pursue his way unmolested. Though open and outspoken in his attachment to the royal cause, he did nothing to promote it, and by his ready wit and cool assurance managed to evade demands and disarm opposition. At the close of the war he accepted the verdict of arms and change of government with becoming philosophy, and by his kindness and open generosity, his scorn for anything like pretension or hypocrisy, gained the respect and admiration of those most opposed in sentiment. From his tombstone we obtain the following summary of his life and character:

“Sacred be this marble to the memory of Godfrey Malbone, who was born at Newport, R. I., September 3, 1724, and died at his Seat in this town, November 12th, 1785. Uncommon natural Abilities, improved and embellished by an Education at the University of Oxford, a truly amiable disposition, an inflexible integrity of Heart, the most frank Sincerity in Conversation, a Disdain of every Species of Hypocrisy and Dissimulation, joined to manners perfectly easy and engaging, nobly marked his character and rendered him a real Blessing to all around him. That he was a friend of Religion this Church of which he was the Founder testifies; as do all indeed who knew him that he practiced every virtue requisite to adorn and dignify Human Life.”

In the matter of public road and bridge building this town has not been excessively burdened. Still the early settlers had some improvements of this kind to make, as the needs of the town developed. A new road through Plainfield to Providence, greatly accommodating the south part of the town, was accomplished about 1790. Samuel Butts, Ebenezer Scarborough and Daniel Putnam were-commissioned to confer with Plainfield gentlemen and construct a suitable bridge at Pierce’s fordway, where it crossed the Quinebaug. The projected turnpike from Norwich to Woodstock excited much discussion. Parish, Putnam and Joseph Scarborough were delegated “to meet the state committee sent to view said road, and show them the minds of said town respecting said business.” Public sentiment apparently favored the project. Ebenezer Scarborough, Captain Roger W. Williams and Captain Andrew Murdock assisted the committee to lay out Norwich turnpike in 1799. Highway districts were remodeled in 1803. Bridges over Blackwell’s brook, as well as the Quinebaug bridge, were maintained at the expense of the town. A more direct road to Hampton was laid out in 1825 through the lands of William Cundall, John Ashcraft, Galen Hicks, Havilah Taylor, Amasa Pooler, Richard Carder, Ebenezer Witter, Elijah Witter. In the following year the Brooklyn and Windham turnpike was constructed.

In manufacturing enterprises early Brooklyn had comparatively a greater interest than she has in later years. Grist and saw mills were among the first enterprises of this kind under taken. Looking back to a period. about one hundred years ago, we find Allyn’s grist mill was carried on successfully till the dam was carried off by a freshet, and public opposition delayed its rebuilding. Allen hill received its name from its vicinity to this much frequented grist mill. The oldest son of Peter Adams, whose name was Philemon, with younger brothers, engaged in various industries, running a linseed oil mill and manufacturing pottery and potash. One son acquired the art of working in silver, and fabricated family teaspoons. A daughter excelled in transforming rude homespun fabrics into articles of artistic beauty. With wooden stamps cut out by her brothers and dyes extracted from native plants, she produced a most successful imitation of the richly flowered brocades then in fashion, making dress patterns, vests and furniture coverings that were the admiration of all beholders. At the beginning of the war of 1812, the manufacturing interests of the town consisted of one carding machine, two tanneries, three grist mills and two saw mills. Agriculture was then, as it had previously. been, and has since been, the chief industry and support of the people. It was said at that time that no town of equal magnitude in the state made so much cheese and pork as Brooklyn. But later on the Tiffanys, of Killingly, built a large cotton manufactory in the eastern border of the town, on the Quinebaug. Edwin C. Newbury opened a shop as a silversmith, making spoons, spectacles and similar articles. This business later grew and developed into other lines, including the manufacture of spectacles, pens and watch cases.

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

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