Early Residents of Pomfret Connecticut

These new inhabitants of Pomfret were mostly men of character and property, and at once identified themselves with the growth of the town. Jehoshaphat Holmes was soon chosen town clerk, Samuel, Gridley served as clerk both for town and proprietors, Abiel heney was licensed as tavern keeper, Sharpe, Holbrook and other new inhabitants were appointed to various public services, and “Father Coy ” opened his house for public meetings. Efforts had long been made to secure better traveling communication with Providence, the most accessible market town for this section. The existing bridle path could not accommodate teams or vehicles. The movement was initiated in 1708, and the road completed and opened in 1721, under the supervision of Nathaniel Sessions, who himself brought over it the first load of West India goods to Pomfret. The road, like the path preceding it, crossed the Quinebaug just below the falls at the old fording place first opened by Peter Aspinwall, who soon after 1700, begged the privilege of building a bridge there. Captain John Sabin, with the aid of his son, constructed a substantial bridge “over the Quinebaug at ye falls near Pomfret, in 1722.” Joshua Ripley and Timothy Pierce were appointed by the general court to view the bridge, and reported it “built in a suitable place, out of danger of being carried away by floods or ice, the highth of the bridge being above any flood yet known to any man living there, and think it will be very serviceable to a great part of the government in traveling to Boston, being at least ten miles the nearest way according to their judgment.” The cost of this bridge was £120, for which three hundred acres of land in the common lands, on the east side of Connecticut river, were allowed to Captain Sabin, “on condition he keep the same in repair fourteen years next coming.” Various minor matters were considered and settled. A rate of three pounds was allowed for procuring weights and measures and a black staff. A penny a head was allowed for destroying blackbirds, twopence for squirrels, woodpeckers and blue jays, and twopence a tail for rattlesnakes.

Pomfret, for a time, was so remarkably healthy that, in five years, the only deaths occurring were those of three infants, so that the burial ground by the meeting house was scarcely made use of. In 1719, the town voted “That the burying place be removed to a more convenient place,” and accepted the gift of two acres of land for this use and service, bounded north by Wappaquians brook and east by the highway, from Deacon Philemon Chandler. The first person interred in the new ground is believed to have been Joseph Griffin, one of the original Mashamoquet proprietors, in 1723. He was followed, in 1725, by Deacon Benjamin Sabin, an early Woodstock pioneer, and one of the most useful and respected citizens of Pomfret.

Mortlake, during this period, made little progress. Houses were built within the manors, and part of the land brought under cultivation. Wiltshire was rented to Henry Earle. Five hundred acres in Kingswood were leased by Mr. Belcher to Isaiah and Thompson Wood, of Canterbury. That Belcher even made a summer residence of his farms, is extremely doubtful. William Williams purchased of Belcher a farm west of Wiltshire, in 1719, and took immediate possession of it. His family, with those of Belcher’s tenants, were probably for many years the only white inhabitants of Mortlake.

The listed inhabitants and proprietors of Pomfret in 1731 numbered over one hundred. Omitting those who lived in the south part, afterward Brooklyn, and the non-residents, the list included the following: On the purchase; Major John Sabin, Mrs. Elizabeth Grosvenor, Leicester Grosvenor. Edward Payson, Joseph Griffin, William Sharpe, Zachariah Waldo, Thomas Goodell, John Weld, Abiel Lyon, John Sharpe, Benjamin Griffin, Deacon Philemon Chandler, John Parkhurst, Ebenezer Sabin, Jeremiah Sabin, Deacon Benjamin Sabin, Captain Joseph Chandler, Joseph Grosvenor, Edward “McCoy, Nehemiah Sabin, Ebenezer Truesdell, Timothy Sabin, Joseph Tucker, Samuel Sumner, John Shaw, Philemon Chandler, Jr., Joseph Sabin, Josiah Sabin, Benjamin Sabin, Peter Sabin, William Sabin, Isaac Dana, Jacob Dana, Thomas Goodell, Solomon Sharpe, Nathaniel Sessions, Joseph Dana, Humphrey Goodell, Zachariah Goodell; residents and proprietors east of purchase: Major Sabin, Noah Sabin, Samuel Paine. Seth Paine. Jonathan Dresser, Samuel Perrin, James Taylor, William Gary, David Howe, Nathaniel Johnson, James Sawyer, Jonathan Lyon, Benjamin Sanger, Samuel Gary, Samuel Carpenter, Henry Taylor, Thomas Mighill, William Short, Stephen Paine, Penuel Deming, Isaac Bacon, Daniel Bacon, Matthew Davis, Noah Upham; residents west of purchase were: David Stowell, John Ingalls, Benjamin Chaplin, Thomas Durkee, Nathaniel Stowell, Samuel Kimball, Daniel Allen, Samuel Allen, Thomas Grow, Caleb Abbot, Benjamin Alien, Jonathan Stowell.

Population had now diffused itself throughout the township. Thomas Grow’s settlement was near the Windham line, now included in the town of Hampton. A large tract of the land west of the purchase was owned and occupied by John Stowell. A farm in this vicinity was purchased by Joseph Bowman, of Dorchester, in 1731. His stepson, Daniel Trowbridge, bought of Abiel in 1734, a farm of a hundred acres bordering on Mashamoquet. Major John Sabin, the first settler of Pomfret, and long its most prominent citizen, died in 1743, leaving three sons, John, Hezekiah and Noah, and a daughter, Judith, wife of Joseph Leavens. The farm north of the meeting house, owned by Jonathan Waldo, passed into the hands of one of his heirs, Zachariah Waldo, of Windham, in 1733, who soon took personal possession.

The peace and prosperity of Pomfret during this period were only marred by its relations with Mortlake, which were in every way uncomfortable and unsatisfactory. The intrusion of a distinct, independent. township within its borders was a great detriment and inconvenience, especially as the intruder was wholly without organization and proper government. Residents without rights or responsibilities were not always manageable or agreeable. Mortlake had no town government. The position of this anomalous township was becoming more and more uncomfortable; a manor without a lord; a town without organization or officers; its inhabitants regarded as aliens and intruders, with no rights in Pomfret and no privileges in Mortlake, and not even in capacity for lawful country-rate paying, an entire change in status and administration was imperatively demanded. The. inhabitants of the section had never forgotten the town privileges accorded to Sir John Blackwell by the general court, and now again attempted to secure their confirmation. Pomfret, on the other hand, sought its annexation to her territory. Pomfret was at this time involved in sectional commotion, her western inhabitants seeking for society, her southern for town privileges, and said she would listen to neither. The assembly decided to erect the parish of Abington in 1748, and was unwilling to subject Pomfret to further curtailment. The petition for a township was positively rejected and the north half of Mortlake annexed to Pomfret’s first society a result that pleased no one but the inhabitants of that section, who preferred even this connection to total isolation. The grievances of the complex society were not in the least abated, while Pomfret was as much dissatisfied with her gain as with her losses, and vainly petitioned to have the north half of Mortlake removed from being part of her First society. In 1737 excessive rain, with boisterous winds, raised the streams higher than ever known, carried off bridges and greatly damaged Howe’s grist mill. A barn filled with hay and stacks of grain, was struck by lightning and consumed in 1742. The following summer a violent hail storm did much damage in Pomfret and adjoining towns, breaking glass, blowing over a house and barns-” a melancholy time with many.” At about the same time a mischievous old wolf was devastating farm-yards and sheep-folds. With these exceptions Pomfret enjoyed remarkable prosperity.

The grievances of Pomfret were somewhat relieved in 1739 by the transfer of Mortlake into the hands of new proprietors. The south part of Wiltshire was sold by Governor Belcher to Israel Putnam and John Pope, both of Salem. In the course of the year Putnam purchased Pope’s share and took personal possession of Wiltshire manor. In the following year all that remained of Belcher’s land purchase, viz., the north part of Wiltshire, the whole of Kingswood, and twelve hundred acres in forest and meadow, were sold by him for $10,500 to Godfrey Malbone, a prominent merchant of Newport. Malbone purchased much other land in the vicinity of Williams, Cobb and others, but made no immediate attempt at settlement. The manorial status of Mortlake was unchanged by this transfer of ownership, but its owners were accessible and its land more open for improvement.

In 1742 it was voted by the society, “That the burial place shall be fenced with a stone wall, at the direction and discretion of the standing committee.” Tavern licenses were now granted to Joseph Dana, Zachariah Waldo, Alexander Sessions and Benjamin Hubbard-Waldo living near the meeting house, the others in the east, west and south parts of the town. Samuel Nightingale was chosen town and society clerk in 1745, upon the death of Jehoshaphat Holmes, who had long faithfully discharged those offices.

Twenty years later we find Pomfret a very thriving and prosperous township, with three well-established, self-supporting religious societies, and the once lawless and irregular Mortlake peacefully incorporated within her borders and made amenable to lawful rate-paying and road-making. The inhabitants of the three parishes united harmoniously in promoting the general interests of the town, and bore proportionate share of public charges and services.

Much of the land was still held by descendants of the original proprietors. Nine hundred acres originally laid out to Thomas Mowry descended to Miss Elizabeth Pierpont, of Boston, who took personal possession after her marriage with Captain Peter Cunningham, building a substantial dwelling house near the Mashamoquet. Part of this land was already laid out in farms and occupied by Benjamin Craft and other tenants. Land in the south part of the society, afterward known as Jericho, was occupied prior to 1760 by descendants of William Sharpe. The venerable Nathaniel Sessions, long the last survivor of the first settlers of Pomfret, died in 1771.

The heavy burden borne by Windham county through the wearisome French and Indian wars was not without its compensations. Stringent compulsory demands called out the energies of the towns and developed their resources. Wider experiences and the stimulating discipline of camp and battle made stronger men of those engaged in warfare, and fitted them for greater usefulness at home. No town was more favored in this respect than Pomfret. Her sons greatly distinguished themselves in the war, and returned to engage, with zeal and fidelity, in the service of town and county. At the annual meeting of the town. December 1st, 1760, many of these returned soldiers were elected to town offices.

About the revolutionary period and after, society in Pomfret was very brilliant, but had the reputation of exclusiveness. Some of the new families affected a superior style of living. The old established families had also fine houses and furniture, and were thought by their plainer neighbors to live in great magnificence. Many distinguished visitors from abroad were entertained at these fine mansion houses. Fashionable belles and beaux came up from Providence and Newport. John Hancock improved his purchase for a summer country- seat, and brought thither many distinguished strangers from Boston. Visits were exchanged between these notabilities; balls and dancing parties were given. Pomfret assemblies became very famous and fashionable, and drew together all the elite of the vicinity. The airs and graces of the assembled gentry, and the aristocratic assumption of some families, excited the ridicule of the country people, and led some local wit to affix to the fashionable quarter the derisive sobriquet of “Pucker Street,” by which it was long distinguished. Several fine houses had been built upon this beautiful street, and the elm trees set out by Oliver Grosvenor and the banished Frink, were already its pride and ornament. The present ” Eldredge house ” was completed by Colonel Thomas Grosvenor in 1792. Its raising was accompanied by great mirth and festivity-a young Indian delighting the crowd by dancing upon its ridgepole.

The poor were carefully maintained. Bidding them off at a vendue was little practiced in Pomfret. In 1788 a house was hired for their accommodation, and Doctor Jared Warner appointed their physician in all cases, his services to offset his taxes of every kind. The selectmen were ordered the following year to make the best disposition of the poor for their comfort and the least expense to the town, by putting them to one man or otherwise, as they should think proper, and to he vigilant in putting out all vagrants and idle persons that were found residing in the town and not legal inhabitants. In 1794 it was voted to build a house for the poor, and Deacon Robert Baxter and Mr. Joseph Chandler were chosen to superintend the care of the poor. The house was not erected for two years, when it was further ordered to be built on land belonging to the town, to be sixty feet long and fourteen wide, one story high with two stacks of chimneys, two cellars and four rooms. Selectmen were required to take care of the poor after their removal to the town house. “The house of Col. Calvin Day ” was made a work house in 1824. Elisha B. Perkins, Darius Mathewson and Lemuel Ingalls were directed to consider the condition of the poor, and consult with other towns.

Pomfret suffered serious declension after the loss of her factory, but revived with the opening of the New York & New England railroad, which accommodates her with three stations and a great influx of company. The pleasant scenery and fine old trees and farm houses of this picturesque town are more and more appreciated, and it is becoming a favorite and fashionable resort. Families from many cities enjoy the coolness and comforts of these airy homes. This summary demand has greatly quickened agricultural enterprise. A flourishing Farmers’ Club has been instituted, which discusses improved methods of farming, and puts them in practice. Intelligent and capable men give their time, energies and thoughts to farm work, which has resulted in increased products and profits, and a higher standard of agricultural attainment throughout the town. Pomfret dairies have gained a higher repute, and her ” model farms ” excite wonder and imitation. Pomfret is also gaining permanent residents. Children of her old families come back to the old haunts and hearthstones, and strangers after a summer’s sojourn, return perhaps to build villas and mansions of their own. Elegant residences going up on sightly hill and shady nook attest the increasing popularity of the town. The tasteful ” Pomfret Hall,” recently erected, manifests the public spirit of its citizens, and their efforts to provide suitable entertainment for guests and stranger sojourners, while its book clubs and library associations show that they have not outgrown their literary proclivities.

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

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