Early Settlers of Thompson, Connecticut

The first regular settler in the northwest of Thompson was a man of much character and influence, Samuel Morris, son of Edward Morris, of Woodstock, who purchased fifteen hundred acres of the Dudley land on the Quinebaug in 1714. The ” old Connecticut Path,” long, the chief thoroughfare of travel between Boston and southern colonies, ran past his dwelling house and through a mile of his estate. One of his first achievements was to bridge the turbulent and troublesome Quinebaug, then greatly addicted to freshets. He also built two smaller bridges over tributaries, expended time and labor in clearing out the channel of the river, and greatly improved the road and kept it in order. His energy and prowess gave him great influence over his Indian neighbors of Woodstock and the reservation northward, who honored him with the title of governor. Governor Morris was emphatically the great man of this section, and it was said that a blast from his conch-shell would bring a hundred Indians to his aid. Wild land south of the Morris farm, west of the Quinebaug, was owned and settled by Woodstock residents. The first to take possession were John Dwight, John Corbin and Penuel Child. Freak’s farm, on Quinnatisset hill, passed on to Josiah Wolcott, of Salem, and his wife, Mary, niece of the original proprietor. In 1716 Wolcott, for x’200, conveyed four hundred acres on the summit of this hill to Captain John Sabin, first settler of. Pomfret, agreeing ” to defend said Sabin in quiet and peaceable possession of the premises, so that he be not forcibly ejected.” With this guaranty, Captain Sabin’s son Hezekiah took possession of the present Thompson hill and soon put up a large frame house, known even within the present century as ” the old Red Tavern.” This tavern soon became a place of familiar resort, especially when a country road was laid over the hill, accommodating Plainfield and Killingly with more direct communication with Boston. Along the French or Little Quinebaug settlers had already gathered, viz., David Shapley, Samuel Davis, James Hosmer, Nathaniel Crosby, Henry Ellithorpe.

Land north of Quinnatisset hill was bought up by Governor Saltonstall and Sampson Howe and sold out to settlers. Among these permanent residents were Comfort Starr, of Dedham; Benjamin Bixby, of Topsfield, and his nephew Jacob; Israel Joslyn, of Salem; Nathaniel Wight, Abraham Burrill, John Wiley, Nathaniel Brown, Joseph Ellis, James Coats, Samuel Narramore. Ivory Upham, of Malden, and Nathaniel Jacobs, of Bristol, R. I.. were somewhat later in settlement. The first resident proprietor of land eastward in the vicinity of Quadic, was Henry Green, of Malden, with eight sons, in 1719. John Hascall, of Middleborough, Edward Munyan and William Moffatt, of Salem, also settled on the eastern line. Nathaniel Merrill purchased a farm near Quadic pond, now owned by Mr. Horace Bixby. His nearest neighbor on the west was Jonathan Clough, of Salisbury, whose old house is still standing, owned by Mr. Asa Ross.

The rapid increase of population in all parts of this tract was the more remarkable, considering its chaotic condition. The old boundary difficulty was slow in healing. Killingly regarded with great contempt the claims of its non-resident proprietors, and would gladly have ousted them from all possession, insisting that her town patent extended to the new boundary line of 1713, and rightfully covered the whole ground. In 1721 the selectmen of Killingly, without permission from government, proceeded to lay out portions of this ungranted land and make it over to previous residents and new comers, and exercised in many ways unlawful authority over these settlers. The original white proprietors of Quinnatisset and their representatives, Paul and William Dudley, Samuel Morris, the agent of Sir Joseph Thompson, and Josiah Wolcott, very strenuously opposed these efforts of Killingly, and insisted that she had no right beyond the Woodward and Saffery line, on which she was laid out, and that the land north of this line should be erected into a distinct and independent township. As early as 1714 these gentlemen petitioned the general assembly for a town, and secured a vote in their favor from the upper house, but were unable to carry the lower. The government was poor and embarrassed; Killingly was most persistent in her claim and conduct, and immediate decision was inexpedient. Delay only increased the difficulty of decision; both parties were too powerful to be offended, and so the matter drifted for many years. Killingly received permission to levy rates on the inhabitants for the support of her minister, but her petition to annex the land was flatly rejected, and she was positively forbidden to exercise any jurisdiction west of the Quinebaug. This strip of land bordering on Woodstock was long left ” a peculiar “-unstated to any town, subject only to New London county and the general government. Possibly this very lack of organization made settlement therein more desirable and attainable, especially as contrasted with neighboring towns, where land was held by strong corporations and new. comers subjected to very severe scrutiny, while Killingly opened heart and lands to all immigrants, and especially those who were willing to run the risk of ejection. Many sterling citizens received their original homesteads tinder. the irregular if not unlawful apportionment of 1721. In several cases settlers were obliged to give up their allotments, the government of Connecticut always confirming the claims of nonresident land owners when a suit. was brought to issue. It is very creditable to these early residents, that in spite of land disputes and the absence of local town officers, there is so little trace of disturbance. Practically they were left to shift for themselves; they had no schools, no suitable roads, no selectmen or constables, and only the privilege of attending church in Killingly’s far-off meeting house.

Scattered over a wide section, still mostly a savage wilderness, they broke up land and built their log houses, knowing so little of each other that three families settling on the eastern frontier in 1721 supposed themselves the only inhabitants north of Killingly. The ten-years old boy of one of these families, Joseph Munyan, delighted in old age to tell the story of their emigration and early experiences. Over the long, rough road from Salem to the purchased homestead, they brought their scanty household goods and stock-six cows, ten sheep, four hogs sleeping by night on their cart, and foraging as best they could. Oxen were hired to draw the cart from one settlement to another. Reaching their new home after a long and wearisome journey, they found but rocks and wilderness. The great oak under which they encamped was covered with wild turkeys in the morning. Game of all kinds was abundant; brooks swarmed with fish; wolves chased and terrified the cattle. Pine knots were burned through the night to keep off wild beasts and Indians. During the first summer they built a log house and broke up and planted some land, from which in the autumn the daughters harvested three aprons full of corn. During the hard summers of 1725 and 1726, when crops were everywhere cut off by drought and frost, the Munyans were obliged to travel to old Hadley, in Massachusetts, to buy corn, a journey almost equal to that of Joseph’s brethren into Egypt.

Henry Green and his numerous sons were very helpful in forwarding settlement at Pattaquatic. A saw mill was soon set up and in full motion, the dam built by the beavers furnishing sufficient water power. One of the most northerly settlers on the road to Boston was Benjamin Bixby, a little west of the present Brandy hill, whose house was also used as a tavern. Here occurred the only reported instance of Indian disturbance-the shooting of Mrs. Bixby in the thigh by a drunken Mohegan for refusing to give him more liquor, for which injury £17 was forwarded to Mr. Bixby by the Indians at New London. “The awful providence of heaven,” in further visiting the unfortunate Mrs. Bixby by lightning stroke in a terrific thunder shower, called out universal sympathy and compassion, even Governor Saltonstall expressing his “tender concern” at this series of misfortunes.

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top