Chaplin, one of the smallest towns of Windham county, lies in the southwestern part, on the western border and next north of the town of Windham. It is bounded on the north by Ashford and Eastford, on the east by Hampton, on the south by Scotland (for a short distance) and Windham, and on the west by Mansfield, in Tolland county. The surface is considerably hilly, and much of it is covered with forest growth which affords timber for building and other purposes. Much of the soil, however, is good, and agriculture may be successfully carried on. The New York & New England railroad runs across the southeast corner of the town, and affords communication at Goshen Station in the town of Hampton and about three miles from the village of Chaplin. The township has an area of about twenty square miles, being six miles long from north to south and a little more than three miles wide. The Natchaug river runs through the town, entering at the northeast corner and leaving at the southwest corner, receiving on its way Ames’ brook from the east and Stone House brook from the west. The village is one of those quiet, homelike, mature villages, characteristic of the rural and agricultural sections of New England. A social and homogeneous character marks the inhabitants to a remarkable degree. The high moral tone pervading the people, and the peacefulness of the community and the long life of individuals, which are open facts here, afford valuable suggestions to those who would study the social elevation of humanity.
The northwest part of Hampton was for many years held mostly by non-residents. But few attempts were made at settlement in that section. The first permanent settler of whom we have any knowledge was Benjamin Chaplin, whose father, a deacon by the same name., lived in the southwest part of Pomfret. On arriving at his majority, he went into the wilderness, and for a while lived a solitary life here, in a clearing which he had made on the banks of the Natchaug. Here he engaged in making baskets and wooden trays. In 1747 he married Mary Ross, a widow, the daughter of Seth Paine, of Brooklyn. Not long after, he built a large and handsome mansion, still known as the old Chaplin house, where he reared a numerous family. Mrs. Chaplin equalled her husband in thrift and economy, and they soon accumulated property. Like his father-in-law, Mr. Chaplin was a. skillful surveyor, and became very familiar with all the land in his vicinity, and often was able to buy large tracts at a small price. In 1756 Mr. Chaplin purchased of William and Martha Brattle, of Cambridge, for 11,647, seventeen hundred and sixty-five acres of land, mostly east of the Natchaug and crossing it in nine places, which, with other acquisitions, gave him a princely domain. Some eligible sites were sold to settlers from Windham and adjoining towns, but the greater part was retained in his own possession. He laid out plans, built houses and barns, and otherwise exercised his ownership and disposition to improve his estate. He was a man of strongly marked character, shrewd and far-seeing, a friend of mankind, the church and the state, and was highly respected throughout the range of his acquaintance. He was of a decidedly religious turn, and read much on subjects in that line. He attended church in South Mansfield, riding six miles on horseback over the rough path, with bread and cheese in his saddlebags for luncheon and a daughter on the pillion behind him to jump down and open the bars and gates on the way. In 1.765 he united with the First church of Mansfield, and ten years afterward was chosen one of its deacons. Though his residence was in Mansfield, he owned much land in Hampton, and was actively interested in its affairs. His daughter Sarah married James Howard; Eunice was the wife of Zebediah Tracy, Esq., of Scotland Parish; Tamasin, the wife of Isaac Perkins, Esq., of Ashford; and Hannah, the wife of Reverend David Avery. His only son, Benjamin, a young man of much promise, died in 1789. He had been married to a granddaughter of President Edwards, and left three sons, Benjamin, Timothy and Jonathan Edwards. Deacon Chaplin died March 25th, 1795, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, leaving an estate valued at nearly £8,500, including over two thousand acres of land, four houses and eight barns. In his will he gave three hundred pounds as a permanent fund for the encouragement of Gospel preaching in the neighborhood of his homestead.
Chaplin was incorporated as an ecclesiastical society in October, 1809. It included residents of the western part of Hampton .with some of Mansfield and Windham so situated that their convenience was enhanced by joining this society. William Perkins, of Ashford, was appointed to-enroll the names of all within prescribed limits who should elect to become members of the new society and to act as its moderator at its first meeting, which was held December 4th, at the dwelling house of the late Benjamin Chaplin. The first members of the society thus enrolled were Israel, John, Thomas and Francis Clark, James Clark, senior and junior, Ebenezer Cary, Jared and Joseph Huntington, Joseph and Elisha Martin, Roswell Bill, Chester Storrs, Matthew Smith, Daniel, Nathaniel and Joseph Moseley, Rufus Butler, John Rindge, William Moulton, Elkanah Barton and Nathaniel Cutler. At its second meeting this society took a step in advance of the age in voting to admit a woman as a member of the body. This woman was Mrs. Lois Robbins, a widow who was training up a large family and successfully administering an encumbered estate. Further particulars of the history of this society and its management of church affairs will be given in connection with the church history of this town.
The need of a more distinctly civil organization was soon felt, and in May, 1,922, the assembly granted town. privileges to Chaplin. The bounds of the ecclesiastical and school societies were soon after made identical with those of the town. The first meeting of the town convened July 4th, 1822. Erastus Hovey was made moderator. Orin Witter was chosen town clerk and treasurer; John Ross, William Martin, Origen Bennett, Luther Ashley and Nehemiah Holt, selectmen; Abel Ross and James Utley, constables; James Moseley, Jr., Elisha Bill and Judson Metcalf, grand jurors; Enoch Pond, Darius Knight, Heman Clark and Isaiah Geer, tithingmen; Jonathan H. Ashley, sealer of weights and measures; Erastus Hough, Matthew Smith and John Clark, fence-viewers. The population of Chaplin at that time was about eight hundred. The development of business enterprises was quickened by the town organization. Peter Lyon set up a paper mill in the south part of the town. Major Edward Eaton engaged in lumber operations and built new houses in Chaplin village. Boot making was carried on to a large extent. A tannery was actively maintained, and attempts were made to establish an iron. foundry. The culture of silk received considerable attention, and palm leaf hats were successfully manufactured. The Natchaug affords considerable power for manufacturing purposes, but the remoteness from railroad was an obstacle against the development of manufacturing enterprises at a time when other localities were making rapid strides in that direction. Thus the manufacturing industry scarcely increased for half a century. A paper mill has been kept at work for many years. The manufacture of spindles and plow handles was established some years ago. Agriculture, “however, is the leading pursuit, and silk culture has received some attention.
The paper mill in the south part of Chaplin was built by Peter Lyon, Esq. His father was one of the solid men of eastern Massachusetts. He afterward became a paper manufacturer at Newton Falls. He made by hand the paper used by the Daily Sentinel, Weekly Galaxy and the Daily Courier, when first printed. He was the foremost in establishing Meridian Lodge of Masons in Needham, of which he was for several years master. He died in Chaplin, November 18th, 1863, aged 87. He was buried in Milton, Mass., his native place. A few years before his death on the streets of Boston, he met Mr. Buckingham, publisher of the Galaxy, for whom he formerly made paper; they grasped each other by the hand, “What!” said Mr. Lyon, ” You alive?” ” Why,” said Mr. Buckingham, “Are you really alive? ” The meeting was such as old and generous hearted friends always have. About the year 1837 he purchased a tract of land of the late John Wells, in eastern _ Connecticut, making as his friends called it, a domestic paradise in the woods and erecting his mills on the Natchaug river in Chaplin. His sons for a time took charge of the paper mill, after which it came back into his hands. He afterward sold the mills to Mr. John Page, who carried on the business for a time, when they passed into the hands of Mr. John Dickey, then Green & Bathwick purchased and run the mills until they were burned to the ground. Afterward they were rebuilt by Morey & Fuller, who also built the large reservoir near the line in Ashford. Again the mills were burned, when the Case Brothers of Manchester, rebuilt the mills, and for several years Mr. William Hodge, an experienced paper maker from Poquonock, acted as their superintendent. When he left, Mr. Frederick Case purchased the mills of his brothers, removed to Chaplin and carried on quite a successful business until he made another exchange with his brothers Willard and Wells, who continued the business until they sold to the present owners, Samuel A. and William N. Smith. The main building is 40 by 70, two floors, and machine room, 40 by 100, one floor. They employ from 15 to 20 hands and- the annual product is about one thousand tons. The water power is excellent and usually sufficient, but when the water is low, they use also a steam engine of 90 horsepower.
About one quarter of a mile below the old paper mills, was the old Howard saw and grist mill. A few years since, this mill was rebuilt and modified as a pulp manufactory. The original company consisted of Nettleton, Moore & Thompson. They were accustomed to make from forty to fifty hundred pounds of pulp per day. The mills were sold to Mr. Meloney, who carried on the pulp business until the mill was much injured by a high freshet of the Natchaug river. The privilege was then purchased by the Case Brothers, rebuilt and enlarged, and changed into a paper mill. The upright part is 40 by 60, three floors, machine room 44 by 70, one floor, with projections for storage, etc. The water power is estimated at about one-hundred horsepower. About two tons of paper ‘per day is the product of this mill.
About half a mile below this mill are the Ross mills. The late Sherman Ross built this mill as a wheelbarrow manufacturer. There are also a shop for turning spools from white birch, and a saw and gristmill. These mills are now owned by- George Ross and his son Charles, who do quite a business in their saw ,and shingle mill, and in their grist mill. They buy grain by the car load and grind for the markets as well as for home customers. About three miles above the paper mills on the Natchaug river are the Griggs mills, formerly the Moseley mills. Here, for more than a hundred years, have been a saw and grist mill, generally doing a thriving business. The mill is located in the northeast corner of the, town. It was established first by Benjamin Chaplin. He sold it December 2d, 1771, to Nathaniel Moseley. It was an old mill then. The latter sold it in December, 1782, to Flavel Moseley and he to John Fuller, May 22d, 1823. After the death of the latter his administrators sold it to Royal Copeland, March 25th, 1829, and by him it was sold to Josiah C. Jackson, February 16th, 1830. He sold it to Jared Clark and Newel Allen, September 28th, 1833, and they sold it to David A. Griggs, the present owner, February 11th, 1837. For many years a good business in plough beam and plough handle making was carried on, and also the manufacture of wheelbarrows. In . n additional shop, the late Nathan Griggs made spindles for the factories, doing a successful business until he was fatally injured in the establishment, and after his death the business was no longer carried on. Only the saw and grist mills are now in operation.
On the Stone House brook as it is called, the old clothiers’ works of Kingsbury & Bingham were formerly located, and in the olden time, before woolen cloths were so largely manufactured in the woolen mills, a successful business was done at this place. When this business declined, Deacon Ephraim Kingsbury used the establishment for a box factory, and turning lathes, where he worked on both iron and wood. A saw mill here did a good business. Half a mile below was the Bennett saw mill, now owned by C. E. Griggs. The plough beam business has of late years been carried on at this mill. A mile above was the shingle mill of Mr. Jirah Backus, now unoccupied, and the mill-pond has been a fish-pond, of popular resort. Stone House brook,. as good fishing ground, has been known even in some of the cities of the state.
The schools of Chaplin, select and district, have been in good repute. C. Edwin Griggs and Clark Griggs, both graduates of Amherst; Julian Griggs, of the scientific department of Yale College; Clinton J. Backus, of Amherst College; Edward F. Williams, of Williams College; Reverend George Soule, of Amherst; Reverend Roswell Snow, of Yale; Edgar S. Lincoln and Charles H . Williams, of Eastman’s Business College, all went from Chaplin. Miss Catherine F. Griggs, Mary E. Williams, Edith A. Church, Nellie M. Griggs, Annie M. Griggs, Jennie E. Griggs, Hattie A. Griggs, Lena R. Church, Isadore P. Church, Delia M. Eaton Par d Lydia Ashley were all natives of this town and members of Mt. Holyoke Seminary at South Hadley, Mass., all but one fitted to enter that institution at Chaplin Center school. Mr. Clark H. Griggs was in the army and rose to be head clerk in the patent office at Washington. Julian Griggs now occupies a good position as civil engineer, and Clinton J. Backus is principal of one of the schools of St. Paul, Minn. Among those natives of Chaplin who have reached distinction, may be mentioned Hon. Edwin Jones, a wealthy lawyer in Minneapolis, one of the directors of the American Board of Foreign Missions, and said to be the largest giver to benevolent objects of any member of the Congregational church in the country; Mr. George Griggs, a merchant in New York, and during the last years of his life connected with one of the largest insurance companies in the country; Mr. Wales Eaton, a large silk dealer, having an office in New York; and Mr. Charles Backus, a successful banker in Illinois. The late Major Edwin Eaton attained large wealth as a carpenter and dealer in timber. It is said that he built more than half the houses in Chaplin Center, several meeting houses in other towns, and for a time contracted for timber, for the Spragues in building up their manufacturing villages.
The population of Chaplin, at the incorporation of the town, was about 900; the present population is 627. Chaplin furnished a good number of soldiers in the war of the rebellion and was ahead of her quota when the war closed, and the war debt is paid. In one battle three of her soldiers were killed; in fact, she lost heavily during the war. One of her selectmen at the time of enlistment died a prisoner.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889