Business and Finance in Early Thompson, Connecticut

After the death of Samuel Morris, the valuable farm upon the Quinebaug was sold by his son. to Benjamin Wilkinson, of Rhode Island, a man of great energy, but of restless and roving spirit. The capacious ” Morris– House ” was now opened as a tavern. A shabby old traveler passing the night there, asked Mr. Wilkinson casually what he would take for the whole establishment. He named a large sum and thought no more of it till within a few weeks the old man appeared with a bag full of gold and silver, ready to close the bargain and pay hard cash for it. Amazed at his promptness and ever ready for trade and change, Wilkinson yielded the Morris purchase to the wily old man (Mr. John Holbrook, of Woodstock), and himself removed to Thompson hill, purchasing the “old Red Tavern” and Sabin farm, then thrown into market by the death of Lieutenant Sabin and the removal of his sons. The restless energies of Mr. Wilkinson found ample scope in this new field. As yet tavern and meeting house stood alone on the bare, broken hill-top. The minister’s house, built by John Corbin, occupied the present site of Mr. Chandler’s residence, southward. The small house built by Samuel Watson was north of the hill, and so encompassed by underbrush that it was said Mrs. Watson lost her way when trying to go to meeting. Mr. Wilkinson cut down the brush, routed off stones and ousted the aboriginal tree-stumps, transforming the rough field into a comfortable common for ” trainings.” He ” rectified ” the pound and set out an extensive peach orchard east of the meeting house.

It was his benevolent practice to plant a peach stone by every rock on the road side, that boys, travelers and church attendants might have a free supply. He also served as the committee for enlarging the meeting house, which was done by cutting the same in two and inserting a strip fourteen feet wide between the bisections. This feat being accomplished, the society proceeded ” to culler our meeting house,” voting ” That the cullering of the body of our meeting house should be like Pomfret and the Roff should be cullered Read;” Mr. Wilkinson’s artistic instincts thus anticipating modern fashions. The inserted strip was laid out into pew spots and sold to such parishioners as were able to build upon them. Other spots were obtained by taking seats from the ancient “body,” and little twenty inch alleys were promiscuously devised ” for the people to go into their seats.” Three choristers were needed to lead the singing in the enlarged meeting house, together with Joel Converse and Thaddeus Larned, to assist the above ” in tuning the psalm.” Jacob Dresser, Lusher Gay and Simon Larned now served as deacons.

Mr. Wilkinson’s tavern might have been considered as an adjunct to the meeting house, so much was it resorted to before service and at intermission. As a native Rhode Islander he was less strict in his views of Sabbath keeping than his Connecticut neighbors, but only on one occasion incurred official censure, after the whole congregation had been disturbed one hot summer day by what seemed the lugubrious creaking of a very rusty grindstone upon his premises, and after service he was waited upon with formal remonstrance. But to the great astonishment of the committee Mr. Wilkinson had the effrontery to deny the charge, even against the present evidence of their own ears. ” Why, there it is grinding now louder than ever,” they rejoined.. ” Come into the orchard and see for yourselves,” replied the smiling landlord, and then formally introduced them to a pair of Guinea liens, a novel importation, whose doubtful cries, aggravated by homesickness, had subjected the rash experimenter to such official visitation. The ” Red Tavern,” under Mr. Wilkinson’s administration, increased greatly in popularity, and was the scene of many a dance and merry-making. Taverns were also kept by Edward Converse, James Dike and John Jacobs-the latter tavern becoming in time very famous as the halfway house between Boston and Hartford.

Although money was very scarce in those early days and the resources of the people very limited, Thompson, in some unaccountable way, seemed more favored than its neighbors, its tax list considerably exceeding that of Killingly’s first society. Its main industry was farming; its most convenient market the town of Providence, over the cart road constructed by Nathaniel Sessions of Pomfret. The first reported trader was Mr. Samuel florris, who improved his eligible position on the old road to Boston by taking in his neighbors’ produce and forwarding it to market. Business was carried on in other parts of the parish through the agency of a peculiar institution known as ” the Butter cart ” which picked up butter, eggs and all sorts of domestic products, to be exchanged for ” store goods ” in Boston and Providence. This institution was peculiarly valued by the wives and daughters, supplying them with pins, needles, beads, ribbons and little articles of finery dear to the feminine heart, and the return of the freighted vehicle was hailed like a ship from the Indies.

A very flourishing business was started in the South Neighborhood by Mr. Daniel Larned about the year 1770. A great revival of trade had followed the return of peace, especially between Providence and the West Indies, exchanging all kinds of colonial produce for those vital necessities, rum, sugar and molasses. Beginning in a small way by taking in the surplus products of his own neighborhood, Mr. Larned gradually extended business operations over a large section of country, sending carts and agents far up into the new settlements of Vermont and New Hampshire, buying up beef, pork, grain and ashes for Providence market. Taking for a partner Mr. John Mason, of Swanzey, the business increased in magnitude. Larned’s store became a great place of resort for all the surrounding country. Rum, molasses, spices and even tea came into common use. It is said that the arrival of the first whole hogshead of molasses at this store was made a matter of public celebration, the children being allowed to indulge without stint in their favorite dainty roasted potatoes and molasses, crammed down their throats sizzling and dripping. The ideal of supreme felicity, as expressed by a youth of that generation, was to sit “in the great room,” with his especial adorable, and eat fried potatoes and molasses. Larned’s store and residence were under the famous Revolutionary Elm,” of the South Neighborhood. Mason built the house now occupied by Mr. William Converse, of Putnam.

Their business, though much impeded by public disturbances, was kept up throughout the war period, and greatly revived after its close. New roads were laid out to accommodate “Larned and Mason.” A nail shop was set up for the manufacture of iron utensils; potash and pearl ash made in large quantities; pork and beef packing carried on; great supplies of grain and produce taken in. Finding the maritime transfer of so much merchandise costly and inconvenient, Larned and Mason decided to build a special carrying-ship for themselves. A body of stalwarts was dispatched to cut and hew timber in’ the Thompson woods, and Green’s saw mill engaged for the season. Captain Jonathan Nichols, a newly arrived citizen of much mechanical ingenuity, had charge of the work, and in a few months a neat little sloop was constructed and on exhibition at Quadic shipyard, a truly remarkable specimen of inland enterprise and architecture. Transported by sections to Providence, it was there carefully put together, and successfully launched as the sloop “Harmony,” and brought its plucky owners both profit and glory. Under the stimulus and increased population of this flourishing business, the South Neighborhood was considered as quite the head of the new town which took the place of the old parish” District No. One,” as it was named in a revision of school districts.

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

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