About the middle of the last century Ashford reached a condition of some prominence and activity. Many new settlers had gained a residence here. Ebenezer Byles, on becoming of age, settled on land which had been purchased by Josiah Byles in 1726, about a mile west of Ashford Green. William Knowlton purchased a farm of four hundred acres in the western part of Ashford. This was in after years divided between his sons Daniel and Thomas, who, after serving brilliantly in the French war, engaged with equal ardor in cultivating their land and discharging the ordinary civil and military duties of good citizens. Ephraim Lyon removed from Woodstock to the eastern part of the town, and was greatly esteemed as a man of shrewdness and sound judgment. Daniel Dow, of Voluntown, settled north of the “green,” with a rising family of great promise. David Bolles, of New London, established himself near the present Eastford village, with a license to exercise ” the art and mystery of tanning leather,” and great skill and experience in working up the same into serviceable shoes. Stephen Keyes, Theophilus Clark, and Amos Babcock were admitted freemen prior to 1760. Samuel Woodcock, of Dedham, succeeded to the farm once held by Jacob Parker, and Jedidiah Dana to that formerly of John Paine. The remaining part of the Stoddard tract fell to Martha, daughter of Anthony Stoddard, and wife of Captain John Stevens, of Boston, who, in 1757, laid it out and divided it into thirty-one lots or farms, which were sold to John Chapin, Abel Simmons, James Parker, Robert Snow- and others. A large and valuable farm, near the site of the present Phoenixville, known as the Beaver Dam farm, was retained and occupied by Captain and Mrs. Stevens, and brought under a high state of cultivation. President Stiles, journeying through Ashford in 1764, was very much interested in Captain Stevens’ agricultural operations. He reported him as holding six thousand acres of land in the town; having thirty acres of hemp growing, which required but one man to attend, but employed thirty men in pulling time; and expecting a harvest of twenty tons of hemp and two hundred bushels of seed. The people of the town testified to their respect for these distinguished residents by voting that Captain John Stevens and his family should have liberty to sit in the ministerial pew at church during the pleasure of the town. Captain Benjamin Sumner, Captain Elisha Wales, Elijah Whiton and Amos Babcock were prominent men in the town at that time. The tavern keepers licensed in 1762 were Benjamin Sumner, Joseph Palmer, Benjamin Clark, Jedidiah Fay, Ezra Smith, Samuel Eastman and Elijah Babcock. Solomon Mason had a grist mill, and Amos Babcock kept a store.
The town officers elected in 1760 were: Amos Babcock. Ebenezer Byles, Jedidiah Dana, Captain Benjamin Sumner, Ezra Smith, selectmen; Mr. Byles, town clerk and treasurer: Ezekiel Tiffany, constable and collector for the west end of the town; Samuel Holmes, constable and- collector for the middle of the town; Benjamin Russel, constable and collector for the east end of the town, and also collector for colony rates; Timothy Eastman, Josiah Spalding, Benjamin Carpenter, Amasa Watkins, Samuel Allen, Jedidiah Dana, Stephen Abbot, John Bicknell, Benjamin Walker, Jonathan Chaffee, job Tyler, Benjamin Clark, David Chaffee, William Preston, surveyors of highways; Jonathan Burnham, Josiah Eaton, fence viewers; Benjamin Clark, Josiah Holmes, Benjamin Russel, Jedidiah Blanchard, Asaph Smith, listers; Nehemiah Smith, Jonathan Burnham, grand jurors; Josiah Rogers, Stephen Snow, William Chub, tithingmen; Benjamin Russel, brander, pound keeper and collector of excise; Caleb Hende and Josiah Chaffee, branders and pound keepers; Samuel Snow, sealer of weights and measures; Asaph Smith, sealer of leather.
As a glimpse of some of the difficulties which beset the people of Ashford in those days the following memoranda, made by the town clerk in one of the books of record, are interesting:
“The 5th day of May, 1761, a very stormy day of snow, an awful sight, the trees green and the ground white; the 6th day, the trees in the blow and the fields covered with snow.
The 19th day of May, 1763, a bad storm of hail and rain, and very cold, following which froze ye ground and puddles of water.
” The 17th day of October, 1763, it snowed, and ye 18th in ye morning the trees and the ground were all covered with ice and snow, which made it look like ye dead of winter.”
One of the last general agitations with which the town of Ashford was disturbed, before the great upheaval of the revolution, was an outbreak of land controversy, with respect to the claims of James Corbin and his legal representatives. This broke out afresh about the year 1769. At that time the Corbin claims were represented by Benjamin and Ashael Marcy. An appeal was taken to the assembly, and all the actions of town and assembly since 1719 were reviewed at great length. The assembly decided that 910 acres were still due to Corbin under the settlement of 1719, and 375 acres more under the patent of 1725, which they interpreted as being an addition to the settlement of 1719, and the Macys were authorized to take up land to the amount of such deficiencies, from the commons of the town. But when they began to act under this authority the town prosecuted them in the superior court, and obtained a verdict against them. The Macys then appealed again to the assembly, and that body reversed the decision of the superior court, restoring the Macys to the possession of the land and reimbursement of costs. Thus the question rested until the events of the revolution gave the people questions of deeper import to absorb their attention.
As early as 1767, when the oppressive acts of parliament were being discussed as vital questions in the colonies, Ashford held a meeting December 14th, and appointed some of its trustworthy citizens, Elisha Wales, Benjamin Clark, Benjamin Russel, Elijah Whiton and Benjamin Sumner, “to be a committee to correspond with other committees in the county and elsewhere, to encourage and help forward manufactures and a spirit of industry in this government.” In regard to the non-importation agreement of 1769, and the violation of it by some, the people of this town, in response to a call for a convention of delegates at New Haven, in 1770, to consider the public welfare in regard to the matter, gave the following expression of their sentiments:
“Our utmost effort shall be put forth in vindication of the Non-importation Agreement, as a measure without which the safety and prosperity of the Colonies cannot be supported.
” That peddlers who, without law or license, go about the country selling wares, are a nuisance to the public, and, if in our power, shall be picked up and put to hard labor, and compelled to earn their bread in the house of correction.
” We highly resent every breach of the Non-importation Agreement, and are always ready to let our resentment fall upon those who are so hardy and abandoned as to violate the same.
” It is our earnest desire that every town in this Colony, and in every Colony in America, would explicitly and publicly disclose their sentiments relating to the \Ton-importation Agreement and the violations thereof.
“That the infamous conduct of the Yorkers in violating the patriotic engagements of the merchants, is a daring insult upon the spirit and understanding of the country, an open contempt of every benevolent and patriotic sentiment, and an instance of treachery and wickedness sufficient to excite astonishment in every witnessing mind, and. we doubt not but their actions will appear infamous till the ideas of virtue are obliterated in the human mind, and the advocates of liberty and patriotism are persecuted out of the world.
” That if the people of America properly attend to the concern of salvation, and (unitedly) resolve upon an unshaken perseverance in the affair of non-importation till there is a total repeal of the revenue acts and an ample redress of American grievances, we shall be a free and flourishing people.
“In consequence of the above resolutions we have chosen Captain Benjamin Clark to attend the general meeting of the mercantile and landed interests at New Haven-the sense of the town as above-and to use his utmost influence to establish in the most solid and durable form the Non-importation Agreement.”
At the same meeting a committee, consisting of Elisha Wales, Benjamin Clark and Samuel Snow, was appointed to see that no trade in imported goods was carried on in Ashford in violation of the non-importation agreement. Later on, when the war clouds began to thicken, in the summer of 1774, Ashford appointed as its committee of correspondence, to act with similar committees from other towns, for the general good, the following men: Jedidiah Fay, Captain Ichabod Ward, Captain Elisha Wales, Benjamin Sumner, Amos Babcock and Ingoldsby Work. Sympathy was expressed on behalf of the blockaded and oppressed Boston people by following the example of Windham in sending a fine flock of sheep for the relief of the distressed city. During the troublous years of the war Ashford suffered in common with other towns of the county, and contributed her share of men and means to carry forward the common cause. The sound sense of political economy with which her people were inspired is shown in the following instructions given October 3d, 1783, by Ashford town meeting, to Simeon Smith and Isaac Perkins, her representatives in the assembly
” 1. Oppose all encroachments of Congress upon the sovereignty and jurisdiction of separate States, and the assumption of power not expressly vested in them by Articles of Confederation.
“2. Inquire into the very . interesting question whether Congress was authorized by the Federal Constitution to grant halfpay for life, and five years full pay to officers—and if the measure be ill-founded, attempt every constitutional method for its removal.
“3. Promote a strict inquiry into public and private expenditures, and bring to a speedy account delinquents and defaulters.
” 4. Use your endeavors that vacant lands be appropriated for the general benefit of the United States.
” 5. Pay particular attention to the regulation and encouragement of commerce, agriculture, arts and manufactures.
” 6. We instruct you to use your influence for the suppression of placemen, pensioners and all unnecessary officers.
” 7. Also, to use your influence to promote the passing an act in the Assembly to enable Congress to lay an impost on the importation of -foreign articles.
” And, finally, we instruct you to move in the Assembly that the laws for the promotion of virtue and good manners and the suppression of vice, maybe attended to, and enforced, and any other means tending to promote a general reformation of manners.” The population of Ashford in 1775 was 2,228 whites and 13 negroes. The grand list at that time amounted to £17,273, 11d. 3d. Captain Benjamin Sumner was at that time a very prominent citizen of the town. Josias Byles succeeded Isaac Perkins as town clerk and treasurer, in 1780. The selectmen in 1783 were Esquire Perkins, Captain Reuben Marcy, Captain David Bolles, Lieutenant John Warren and Edward Sumner. Other officers then were: David Brown, Jedidiah Ward, Ebenezer Bosworth, Ebenezer Mason, constables and collectors; Ephraim Lyon, Joshua Kendall, Ephraim Spalding, AmaSa Watkins, Jacob Chapman, Thomas Ewing, Jonathan Chaffee, Timothy Babcock, Isaac Kendall, Captain Samuel Smith; Medina Preston, John Loomis, Ephraim Walker and Stephen Snow, highway surveyors; Medina Preston, Samuel Spring, Abel Simmons, Deacon Chapman and Josias Byles, grand jurors. At this time the selectmen were directed to provide a workhouse in which idle, lazy and impotent persons were to be taken care of and under the direction of the selectmen they were to be put to work. A committee was at the same time appointed to look after schools.
One of the memorable events in the history of Ashford was the visit of General Washington, while on his presidential tour in 1789. Leaving Uxbridge before sunrise, Saturday, November 7th, they breakfasted at a tavern kept by one Jacobs, in Thompson–the well-known half-way house between Boston and Hartford-and thence proceeded on the road to Pomfret. Major Jackson and Private Secretary Lear occupied the state carriage with the president, and four servants , followed on horseback. No one knew of the coming of such a distinguished party through the town, so the people were not prepared to see him, and only those who happened to be in the way were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of the nation’s chieftain.
At Grosvenor’s, in Pomfret, they paused for refreshment and rest, and to inquire for General Putnam, whom Washington had hoped to see here, and which indeed had been one of the objects in coming this road, but finding the distance to his residence too great to be covered without disarranging his plans, Washington abandoned the idea of seeing Putnam, and continued on the main road eight miles further, to Perkins’ tavern in Ashford, where he remained over the Sabbath. The diary of the president speaks of this tavern as ” not a good one,” a remark which he frequently found appropriate to the taverns he found on his way, and as he was not writing for publication he had no scruples against candidly noting it in his private memorandum. Tradition gives few details or incidents of this visit. Washington, it is said, attended church, and occupied the most honored seat in the house of worship, and Mr. Pond and the town officials doubtless paid their respects, but the Sabbath-keeping etiquette of the time did not permit any formal demonstration, and he was probably allowed to spend the day in peace and quiet after his own taste. His visit here is said to have aroused the jealous indignation of the people of Windham town. They declared in reference to the president that he had “gone back and stole away from ye people, going by a by-road through Ashford to avoid pomp and parade.”
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889Home » Windham County » Early Settlers of Ashford, Connecticut