Early Settlement of Woodstock, Connecticut

As the older men returned to Roxbury, and winter closed in around them, the little colony realized more fully its isolation and exposure. The nearest settlements on the north were Oxford and Worcester, and many miles of savage wilderness lay between them and the far-off towns, Providence, Norwich and Hartford. The future populous counties, Worcester and Windham, were as yet unsurveyed and almost unbroken, inhabited by wild beasts and more ferocious savages. Alone in this vast tract of wintry desolation, they took counsel together around the scattered hearthstones and laid plans for coming years. Scouts were kept up patrolling the settlements, to guard from Indian alarm, and houses fortified to serve as places of refuge.

As early as possible spring work was begun. April 29th, 1687, Edward Morris, Nathaniel Johnson and Joseph White were commissioned by the planters to treat and agree for the building of a corn mill, on as reasonable terms as they could. William Bartholomew, of Branford, a former resident of Roxbury, was the person selected and secured, with urgent persuasion, “For building a corn mill on the falls below Muddy Brook pond (now Harrisville) and finding the town with grinding good meal, clear of grit.” He received a place at the falls to set a mill, a fifteen acre home lot with rights, a hundred acres of upland, and afterward an additional twenty acre home lot, ” provided he bring his wife and settle upon it.” July 2d, John Chandler, Sr., Nathaniel Johnson, Joseph Bugbee, James White and Joseph Peake were chosen to order the prudential affairs of the place as selectmen for the year ensuing. John Holmes assumed the charge of running the sawmill, receiving the land on which the mill stood, three or four acres, bounded east and north by Saw Mill brook, laid out for the town’s use, provided he leave convenient way to carry timber to mill.

March 12th, 1688, the planters appointed seven men, viz., Edward Morris, John Chandler, Sr., Benjamin Sabin, Joseph Bugbee, William Bartholomew, Samuel Rice, John Bugbee, to state and settle highways and make return in writing. These seven men were empowered to end the controversy between Samuel Rice and John Marcy about their home lots; also to allow Joseph Bacon to take up the remainder of his brother Thomas’s lot, provided he come and settle here by the 12th of April next, and to rectify various under and over allotments. Attending to this work ” with all expedition,” on March 18th the committee reported seventeen highways necessary for the good of the town. A number of these were two rods wide, accommodating the settlers with ways to the mills or Planting hill in the tract. The most important was a road eight rods wide running from the brook at the northward end of the eastward vale to go and be by the pond through the plaine to Muddy brook, from thence up to the Plaine Hill,” and also one going out from this highway ” to lead to the road called Connecticut Road,” extending through the intervale west side Muddy brook. Little else was accomplished during the year; a bridge was built near John Chandler’s; orchards were set out with famous russets and other slips brought from Roxbury, but there was small encouragement to effort.

His Excellency, Sir Edmond Andros, gov.-general of his majesty’s territories and dominions of New England,” had not yet granted a patent of confirmation. Again and again the matter was earnestly discussed by the fathers of the settlement, a majority pledging themselves to pay all charges necessary for securing it, according to their proportion. Most humble petitions, both from old Roxbury and the new plantation, were laid before this despotic ruler, praying that their land might be confirmed to them `° on such moderate quit rent as may be agreeable to your Excellency’s wisdom, and the great distance and poverty of place and inhabitants will allow.” No notice was taken of these requests. Loftier prey was sought by the rapacious governor. Their very poverty and distance gave them security. Roxbury suffered with other prosperous towns from his exactions, and was unable to advance the money promised to her “Go-ers.” Meeting house, schools, all public improvements were thus left in abeyance, and the New Roxbury settlers could only bide their time and improve their own home lots. A few new residents came during this interval. Sons of the first comers became of age and received allotments, The first death was that of Joseph Peake, Sr., whose place on the committee was filled by Samuel Scarborough, March 1st, 1688. The first birth reported was that of Nathaniel Gary, November 6th, 1686. Samuel Rice, Stephen Sabin, John Marcy, John Hubbard, Hannah Gary and Rebekah Bacon were also reported before 1690. John Holmes and Hannah Newell were married April 9th, 1690.

The breaking out of King William’s war in 1689 aroused fresh apprehension of Indian assault. ” In the sense of our great hazard and danger, and our incapacity to defend ourselves,” the inhabitants of New Roxbury met together and organized as a military company, making choice of Edward Morris for lieutenant and William Bartholomew, Jr., ensign. A paper attesting this choice ” as the act and desire of the soldiers,” was laid before the government by John Chandler, Joseph Bugbee and Benjamin Sabin. This nomination was allowed and confirmed by the representatives, and consented to by the governor, July 13th, 1689.

The revolution of 1688, deposing King James II. and his governors, and establishing King William upon the throne of Britain, brought new life and hope to the New Roxbury colony. Both town and colony hastened before the court with a petition for confirmation, name and further privileges. Its failure to procure the settlement of an orthodox minister was generously overlooked in consideration of the “great over-turns” that had been, and in March, 1690 ” the petition was granted by the deputies and honorable magistrates consenting.” March 15th, it was further voted, ” That the name of the plantation granted to Roxbury be Woodstock,” a name selected by Captain Samuel Sewall, afterward chief justice, with veritable prophetic instinct, “because of its nearness to Oxford, for the sake of Queen Elizabeth, and the notable meetings that have been held at the place bearing the name in England.” With joy and gratitude the inhabitants received the tidings, and formerly inscribed upon their records-” Woodstock, March 31, 1690.-We the selectmen of Woodstock, formerly called New Roxbury, being met together, have made a rate for levying the whole charge of said place on each inhabitant according to a vote of the town, the sum of which amounts unto £124,10s. in pay the other part amounts unto 1.31,7s. 44d., in money, which whole rate is delivered to Constable John Holmes, to gather forthwith for the town’s use as the selectmen shall order.”

The important question of providing for divine worship was now brought under consideration. Mr. Josiah Dwight, of Dedham, a youth of twenty, who had already graduated from Harvard College and pursued ministerial studies, was even then preaching to the people. The selectmen were empowered to treat with him about settling in the work of the ministry, and soon made satisfactory agreement, offering the twenty acre home lot with town rights and. divisions, and to build and finish a house for him, with a salary of thirty pounds, increasing ten pounds annually till it became sixty pounds. October 27th, William Bartholomew, Sr., Nathaniel Johnson and Benjamin Sabin were appointed a committee ” to manage the building a minister’s house 40 x 19, 14 feet stud, a cellar seventeen feet square, a stack of four chimneys and two gables.” A committee was also chosen to assist the selectmen in writing to Roxbury to demand the money “due to us by their agreement.” At this same meeting John Chandler, Sr., was chosen first selectman in place of that most worthy and prominent citizen, Lieutenant Edward Morris, deceased.

The annual town meeting was held November 27th. John Chandler, Jr., was chosen town clerk; John Chandler, Sr., William Bartholomew, Benjamin Sabin, John Leavens and Joseph Bugbee, selectmen, in whose hands was placed ” the whole power of the town, excepting granting lands and admitting inhabitants; ” Jonathan Peake, Matthew Davis, Samuel Rice, surveyors. It was voted that the meadows be divided in two divisions, good and bad, each by itself, John Butcher, surveyor. Also, that the town be at the charge of digging clay, tempering of it, making a yard, cutting wood and carting it for bricks for the minister’s chimneys. As cattle had free range and often lost themselves, a substantial pound was ordered, “to stand nigh to Matthew Davis’s fence in the front of his lot near the highway.” The houses of Benjamin Sabin and Nathaniel Johnson in the south and east extremities of the settlements, were designated as watch houses, to be securely fortified, and a later vote required that every man should get a ladder for his house, Jonathan Peake having the oversight thereof, and forfeiting five shillings for every man found lacking. Every man was also ordered to bring in the -ear-mark of his creatures to be recorded by the town clerk. As no arrangements for schools were yet practicable, it was requested and procured that John Chandler, Jr., teach and instruct children and youth how to write and cypher.” In regard to the various `1 quarrels ” that were pending the town did oblige itself “to stand to the determination of the General Court’s Committee.”

In 1691 bridges received much attention. Peter Aspinwall mended the bridge by John Chandler’s; Samuel Rice was ordered ” to mend the ways about West hill, and especially care for the bridges beyond Wabbaquasset hill on Connecticut road.” Jonathan Peake and Matthew Davis were enjoined to mend the ways about town, and make two bridges between Lieutenant Bartholomew’s and Benjamin Sabin’s, in the most suitable places, and to repair the bridge by Joseph Frizzell’s. The town also agreed to be at the charge of a road to Providence, by making a way unto the cedar swamp, on the other side of Quinebaug river; ” Benjamin Sabin to oversee the work and take account of the same;” Peter Aspinwall, substitute. Work on the minister’s house went leisurely forward, and measures were initiated for building a meeting house. John Leavens, Edward Morris, Jonathan Peake, John Chandler, Sr., were appointed building committee, with power to let out the whole of the work, and make a rate proportionately on each inhabitant, and oblige themselves to pay the same and in such specie as they shall promise to the workmen. John Holmes was apparently the man selected, and a time limited for the completion of the house. A man was to be allowed two shillings a day for working, or two and threepence, he finding himself diet; five shillings if with a team of four cattle. During the following year work dragged slowly. Roxbury deferred the payment of the promised money, and Indians gave serious annoyance. Ancient Wabbaquassets had returned to their old home drunken and refractory, averse to Massachusetts’ dominion. Their chief, Tokekamowootchaug, was as barbarous as his name, and better disposed Indians were brought to death’s door by his unruly followers. A petition from Woodstock’s selectmen, February, 1692, reported many outrages, but it was found very difficult to restrain or punish the offenders.

Relations with Roxbury continued inharmonious. In the course of 1693 the minister’s house was sufficiently completed to serve for public meetings. The selectmen and town clerk were directed to consider of and compile such by-laws and orders as might be for the benefit of the town. A clerk of the market was added to town officers. During this year Woodstock attained “the conveniency of a shop,” twelve square rods adjoining Clement Corbin’s lot being granted to his son, Jabez, for that purpose. The spot assigned was near the site of the present post -office on Woodstock hill. The three Corbins were settled at the north end of Plaine hill, and this shop became a noted institution. The brothers, James and Jabez, were energetic traders, taking in furs, turpentine and any marketable product to exchange for goods in Boston. Their heavily laden cart toiled back and forth over the rough highway. James Corbin also traded or speculated extensively in land, and was a very prominent personage. John Chandler, Jr., was becoming very widely known as a land surveyor, much employed by Connecticut land operators. Marrying Mary Raymond, of New London, he spent much time in that town, surveying land for Major James Fitch. agent for the Mohegans, and practically master of all their territory. Captain Chandler was also town and proprietor’s clerk at home, and detailed on other public service.

After much disagreement and discussion upon relations with Roxbury, it was voted, September 6th, ” That the town do forthwith make choice of one man, who shall join with Captain Chapin, of Mendon, to go to Roxbury and agree and determine all matters supposed to be in difference, particularly the hundred pounds and the remaining part of land, and what they agree to shall be stood to by the town “-passed by a very clear vote, with some dissenters. John Butcher was the man chosen, and all difficulties were happily surmounted. November 3d the town was made acquainted with proceedings of Roxbury, agreement of committee and Captain Chapin’s account of service done, and “generally manifested their desire of thanks to be given for his service.” Part of the money received was appropriated toward finishing the minister’s house, and ten pounds allowed for nails and irons for the meeting house; the remainder delivered to Mr. Dwight, to be kept till the town should call for it. In March, 1694, the committee empowered to build a house for the minister was commanded to deliver the same and also the lot, with all its appurtenances, to Mr. Dwight, our minister. In November of the same year the meeting house was ready for occupation, and the old hall, or White House, appraised by indifferent men and sold for town charges.

In the following year the church was organized, by a council of Massachusetts churches, and Reverend Josiah Dwight ordained and installed as its pastor. Unfortunately, all record of its formation is lacking, but undoubtedly its members were mostly dismissed from the mother church of Roxbury, with which they had maintained connection. John Chandler, Sr., and Benjamin Sabin were elected deacons. During this year a second land division was effected-forty acres to each twenty-acre home lot, and to all proprietors in that proportion-extending from the east line, east side the pond, to four miles westward. William Bartholomew, Benjamin Sabin, Benjamin Griggs, with the surveyor, John Butcher, were commissioned to perform the work under specific directions. Fifty-one lots were laid out and distributed. Samuel Perrin, John Carpenter, Edmond Chamberlain, David Knight and other new settlers appeared, taking the place of first proprietors. Several pieces of land were reserved for public uses, viz., the site of the meeting house, a square piece of land in front of James Corbin’s, containing four or five acres, for training place and burial ground (part of the present Woodstock common), another strip between Jabez Corbin’s and the highway, and several pieces for the maintenance of schools. Land reserved for the support of the ministers was ordered to be fenced and planted with orchards. At the same time a division of the north half was in progress under Roxbury’s direction, John Butcher, surveyor. William Bartholomew and Benjamin Sabin joined with Roxbury’s committee “in stating and settling the dividend line between the inhabitants of Woodstock and Roxbury.” A highway four rods wide was laid out upon this line. Roxbury’s land was laid out in nine parallel ranges, running north from this highway with highways between. About a third of the north half was laid out and the lots made over to 142 proprietors. The remainder of the stipulated hundred pounds was then paid over to Woodstock, and all accounts harmoniously settled. This payment enabled Woodstock to settle her own accounts; pay Mr. Dwight his dues ” from the beginning of the world to flay 6, 1696;” square up all arrearages for meeting house and town charges, and indulge in a special wolf-rate ” to pay to those who kill the wolves.”

Stringent laws had then been passed for the maintenance of proper authority. Those neglecting to work upon the highway after suitable warning should forfeit three shillings. A fine of one and sixpence was ordered for neglecting town meetings; sixpence for not appearing at the hour appointed, and an additional sixpence for every following hour. March 2d, farther rules were enacted; Jonathan Peake was chosen constable; Nathaniel Johnson, to collect town rates and minister’s salary, receiving ten shillings, cash, and such rates as he does not gather he is to pay the same out of his own estate.” Selectmen were instructed: 1. To secure the town from all damages and penalties of the law sustained through their neglect. 2. In raising town charges, all male heads to be rated threepence per head from sixteen years old and upward; home lots, meadows, at a penny an acre; divisional addition, halfpenny an acre; horses, cattle and swine as they are valued in law. 3. That every person do bring an exact note of their estates August 1st; Samuel Perrin, Ebenezer Morris, surveyors; Nathaniel Aspinwall, David Knight, fence viewers. The same day Deacons Chandler and Sabin, Lieutenant Bartholomew, Nathaniel Johnson and John Leavens were appointed a committee to seat the meeting house, observing as rules, “what persons have paid and do pay, and to respect age.” John Carpenter and Peter Aspinwall were afterward added to the committee for managing the affair of finishing the meeting house, viz., John Chandler, Sr., and Edward Morris; and Samuel Taylor allowed twelve shillings a year for sweeping.

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

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