Early Settlers of Windham, Connecticut

Let us now turn for a moment to notice some of the individual members that were swelling. the body corporate. William and Joseph Hall, Joshua and John Allen, Nathaniel Bassett, Benjamin Armstrong, Samuel Gifford and Robert Smith were now settled at the Ponde; the Halls having come from Plymouth, Bassett from Yarmouth, and the others probably from Norwich. Joseph Dingley now occupied the allotment purchased by Captain Standish. William Backus exchanged his house and accommodations at the Hither-place for Ensign Crane’s grist mill. Crane sold the house and lot to Exercise Conant in 1695, and Conant conveyed it to John Abbe, of Wenham, July 3d, 1696, for £70 in silver. Samuel Abbe, probably a brother of John, purchased half an allotment and half a house at the Centre, of Benjamin Howard, in 1697. John Waldo, of Boston, a reported descendant of Peter Waldo, of Lyons, purchased an allotment laid out to Reverend James Fitch, and was admitted an inhabitant here in 1698. William Hide, William Moulton, Philip Paine, John Ashby, Josiah Kingsley, Samuel Storrs, Samuel Storrs, Jr., Robert and Joseph Hebard, Isaac Magoon, John Howard and Thomas Denham, were also admitted inhabitants in the year 1698, or before; Shubael Dimmock in 1699, and Abraham Mitchell in 1700. James Birchard sold his right to Philip Paine in 1696, and removed to the West Farms of Norwich. Samuel Abbe died a few months after his arrival here, his son Samuel succeeded to his estate at the Centre, and his widow married Abraham Mitchell. John Cates, the first Windham settler, died in the summer of 1697. He left a service of plate for the communion service of the church, two hundred acres of land in trust for the poor, and two hundred acres to be applied to schools.

The town officers elected for the year 1698 were: Joshua Ripley, town clerk; Joseph Dingley and Joseph Hall, collectors for minister; Thomas Huntington and Jonathan Ginnings, fence viewers for south-end of town; William More, surveyor of highways for south end; Samuel Lincoln, surveyor for north end; William Backus, pound keeper and hayward for the great field at the south end; Benjamin Millard, hayward for fields at Crotch of River; Lieutenant Fitch and Samuel Birchard, to lay out land. The value set upon allotments at this time was £35 each.

During this period one of the chief questions which agitated the corporate mind was the location and erection of a meeting house and the collection of taxes to pay the minister, these things being, according to the custom and sentiment of the time, legitimately under the care of the town in its capacity as a political organization. After much social commotion on the subject, a site was decided upon, and January 30th, 1700, the front part of William Backus’s home lot at the southeast quarter was purchased by Mr. Whiting and Ensign Crane, and made over by them to the town, for a “meeting-house plat or common.” This was the nucleus of Windham Green, on which the first meeting house was soon after erected. The thousand-acre right which had been reserved for the minister was soon afterward made over to Reverend Mr. Whiting, the first settled minister of this town church, a more detailed account of which will be given in its appropriate place.

The territory of this town was enlarged by the addition of two considerable tracts of adjacent land. The tract which lay between the former bounds of the town and the limit of Norwich, called the Mamosqueage lands, reserved by Joshua for the benefit of his children, was contested by Owaneco, and only after a long and troublesome controversy secured by Joshua’s son, Abimileck, who sold it to John Clark and Thomas Buckingham. This tract, embracing about ten thousand acres, lying west of Nipmuck path, was purchased in 1698 by Messrs. Crane and Huntington, in behalf of the proprietors of Windham, and in 1700 made over to Reverend Samuel Whiting and Jonathan Crane. who assumed the whole charge of it, laying it out in shares and selling it to settlers. Their right was challenged by Lieutenant Daniel Mason, who had received a deed of the land from Owaneco, and in spite of the decision adjudging it to Abimileck, Mason in 1701 openly proclaimed his right to the lands at Mamosqueage, and warned all people against cumbering the same. In September of that year, however, the general court confirmed the land to Messrs. Whiting and Crane and granted them a patent for it. The other tract referred to was the broad stretch of meadows west of the Willimantic river, which was not included in the former grant to Windham or to Lebanon. Residents of both these towns had purchased land in this section, and as settlers took possession the question arose as to which town they belonged. Upon application to the general court, a committee was sent to consider the situation and report. Upon their report it was decided that the tract in question should be attached to Windham, which decision appears to have been agreeable to all concerned. The boundary line between the two towns was satisfactorily and permanently settled by a commit. tee from each town, September 23d, 1701.

About the year 1700, settlement in the quarter now known as Scotland was begun by Isaac Magoon, who had been admitted as an inhabitant in 1698. A hundred-acre division of lands in the town was made in 1700, each proprietor being allowed considerable of latitude in his choice of location, with certain qualifications, one of which was that they were not for choose land within one mile of the meeting house.

With the increase of population came the establishment of various trades and enterprises for the benefit, real or imaginary, of the people. In 1700, Benjamin Millard was allowed to set up the trade of a tanner. Lieutenant Crane received permission from the court at Hartford ” to keep a public victualing house for the entertainment of strangers and travelers and the retailing of strong drink.” Sergeant Hide had license to keep an ordinary at the Ponde, and “retale his mathagiline so far as ye towne have power.” Liberty to build a saw mill on Goodman Hebard’s brook, and the privilege of the stream for damming or ” ponding,” was granted to several petitioners, or, ” if that would not answer, take any other stream.” It was decided that the miller should grind corn for the people every Monday and Tuesday, and if more was brought than he could grind in the specified days, he was to keep on grinding till all was finished. In December, 1702, the town for the first time made provision for a school, directing the selectmen to agree with a school master or mistrees, the ” scollars to pay what the rate fails short.”

Soon after this it began to appear to the people that the town was too large to be advantageously managed under one local government. Movements toward division which began in 1701 were consummated in May; 1703, by the division of the territory into two parts, called the northern and southern parts, though more properly they were the eastern and western. The western part of the town, comprising forty-one square miles, was erected into the township of Mansfield. Apart of its original territory is now included in Chaplin. A patent was granted by the general court to the new town of Mansfield, “Likewise a new patent to the town of Windham, thus reconstructed of one-half of the original Joshua’s tract and the Clark and Buckingham tract added to it.

The town thus reduced in size was able to give closer attention to the details of its own territory and organization. The boundary line on the east was for many years-a matter of disagreement and litigation with Canterbury. In 1703 the town also agreed to have but one “ordinary ” within it; that one to be kept by Lieutenant Crane. Lieutenant Fitch was chosen town clerk at this time, a position which he continued to hold for many years. When the Indian war broke out in 1704, the freeholders were all required to remain in the town under penalty of forfeiture of their estates; or a fine of ten pounds to be levied on any other male persons, not freeholders, over sixteen years of age, who should leave the place. Knapsacks, hatchets and snowshoes were provided by the selectmen, to be ready for emergencies, and ten pounds in silver were expended for a stock of ammunition. The militia was reorganized, Windham now having population sufficient to form a full train band. John Fitch was appointed captain, Jonathan Crane lieutenant, and Joseph Cary ensign. A watch was maintained along the frontiers, and houses were fortified according to law, but the threatened danger passed without giving the people any serious inconvenience. In 1705 an allotment of four hundred acres to the right was made, to be laid out west of the tract adjoining Canterbury which was in dispute with that town. The disputed tract was also laid out, Windham vigorously persisting in exercising possession of it. This disputed land was a gore piece lying between two lines which had been run as the eastern boundary of Windham. The west line was the line run by Bushnell according to the direction of Uncas, as the eastern boundary of Joshua’s tract, and it followed the Nipmuck path, running a little west of south. The east line was a due south line from Appaquage, which had been run in 1691 by a committee appointed to run out the east line of the town. At that time there was no settlement, claiming on the east of Windham, so the last mentioned line remained undisputed until 1700, when Plainfield, being laid out, claimed to the Nipmuck path. The settlement of what is now Scotland was at this time steadily increasing, and the value of land was rising. Saw mills and grist mills were ,erected on the powerful stream near Willimantic falls. But the settlement at the ” Crotch,” which had promised to become the center, ceased to hold its precedence, and with the removal of the gatherings for public worship to other parts of the town, fell into comparative obscurity. Two of its settlers, Broughton and Howard, removed to other parts of the town, and their homesteads passed to other permanent residents. Mr. Whiting still occupied the house built for him, but no village grew up around it. A twenty-acre land division was laid out here in 1707.

In 1706 a division of four hundred acres to the right, in the northeast part of the town, was laid out. In January, 1709, David Canada, William Shaw, Robert Moulton and Edward Colburn, all of Salem, purchased one hundred acres of land on both sides of Little river, of William More, for £23, and began the settlement of a remote section, which is now included in the township of Hampton. A road passing through ” the burnt cedar swamp,” led from Windham to this settlement, and thence to the old Connecticut Path. That part of the town known as Windham Green soon became the chief center of business and public affairs. Here were gathered together the principal official men of the town, the meeting house, school, shops, training field and Lieutenant Crane’s “ordinary,” as the tavern was called.

By a land distribution in 1712 the northeast section of the town was opened for settlement. This section gained steadily in population and importance, notwithstanding its remoteness and difficulty of access. Its soil was good and land was cheap, its situation pleasant and the outlook commanding. This section, then called Canada Parish, now known as Hampton, soon became so strong as to warrant the organization of its people into a distinct society. This was done under an act of the assembly in 1717. In 1718 this parish was also ‘granted liberty to organize and maintain a military company within its borders. The people of the parish were also empowered to levy an annual tax for the parish expenses, of ten shillings on every hundred acres of unimproved land lying within its borders. This was strongly objected to by the Windham proprietors living in other parts of the town-who owned land in this section. Their objections, however, were over-ruled by the assembly, but they nevertheless caused a great deal of trouble to the new society in collecting such taxes.

About the year 1725 the population of the Windham town was rapidly increasing. So great was the increase in Canada parish that a full military company was formed there, with Stephen Howard for captain, Nathaniel Kingsbury for lieutenant, and Samuel Gardner for ensign, and sixty privates between the ages of sixteen and sixty. Schools were also provided there and selectmen, surveyors and other officers were chosen for that section, so that the parish was every way well established and accommodated, and its inhabitants only needed to repair to Windham Green for town meetings. The society had been granted respite from paying taxes toward the general expenses of the colony for four years, in accordance with the usual custom of dealing with young organizations. But drought, short crops and other discouragements prompted the Canada people to ask the further favor of the assembly in this direction. In response that body granted ” one year and no more,” after which the society was expected to pay its share of the common expenses.

During the early half of the last century the town grew apace. Settlement at Scotland progressed as did also that at Windham Green. A court of probate was established here in October, 1719, for the towns of Windham, Lebanon, Coventry, Mansfield, Canterbury. Plainfield, Killingly, Pomfret and Ashford, and this added much to its business and importance. Captain John Fitch, already the honored town clerk of Windham, was appointed the first judge of probate, still retaining, however, his clerkship. In 1721 the town street was widened to eight rods from the southeast corner of Deacon Bingham’s house-lot to the northeast corner of Gentleman Mitchell’s house. A new pound was built near the meeting house The population of the town had now increased so that a second military company was organized, with Eleazer Carey for captain, Edward Waldo for lieutenant, and Nathaniel Rudd for ensign. Jeremiah Ripley was then lieutenant of the first company.

The sons of the first settlers were now active in public affairs. Jonathan Huntington, son of Joseph, was practicing medicine, the first regular physician of Windham town. His brother Joseph had married Elizabeth, daughter of Joshua Ripley. Joshua Ripley Jr., married a daughter of John Backus. John Backus, Jr., married a daughter of Mr. Whiting. Jonathan Crane’s son Isaac, married Ruth Waldo, of Scotland. Among the new inhabitants of Windham was Thomas Dyer, who removed hither in 1715, when twenty-one years of age, married Lydia, daughter of John Backus, was first a shoemaker and farmer, but soon engaged in public affairs and became one of the most prominent and wealthy citizens of the town. Eleazer Carey, nephew of Deacon Joseph Carey, removed to Windham in 1718. Deacon Joseph died in 1722.

John and Samuel Abbe were among the very early settlers of this town, and the name has been a prominent, influential and respected one in the subsequent history of the town. Through the male and female branches the blood has been widely disseminated, and is diffused through almost the entire range of Windham families. It is supposed that they came from Wenham, Mass., their ancestors having come from the county of Norfolk, England. John purchased of Lieutenant Exercise Conant the seventh home-lot at Windham Centre with a house on the west side of the town street and the thousand-acre right belonging to it, July 3d, 1696, all for seventy pounds in silver. He was admitted an inhabitant December 9th of the same year, and was one of the original members of the Windham church, organized in 1700. He died suddenly December 11th of the same year. Samuel Abbe, brother of the last mentioned, bought of Benjamin Howard of Windham, for X22, 10s., one half an allotment of land-a five hundred acre right-being number two at the Centre, with half the house, etc. He was admitted an inhabitant December 21st, 1697, and became the ancestor of the most numerous branch of the Windham Abbes, and all of the name now living in Windham or vicinity are descended from him. He died at Windham in March, 1698. One of his female descendants, Rachel Abbe in 1738-9 married General Samuel McClellan, and so became the great-grandmother of the late General George B. McClellan, of national renown. Paul and Phillip; Abbot came from Andover, Mass., and settled here, in the section of the town now Hampton, about 1722. Their descendants have been- largely involved in the history of this town. Joseph Allen, the ancestor of representatives of the same name still living in this town and Scotland, bought land in this town, now Scotland, January 13th, 1731. Samuel Ashley in April, 1717, purchased two hundred acres of John Fitch in the northeast part of Windham, on both sides of Little river. This homestead farm is in the North Bigelow district in Hampton, and has remained in the family ever since. Jonathan Babcock was probably the second permanent settler of that portion of Windham which is now included in the village of Willimantic. He was the common ancestor of most of the Coventry and Mansfield Babcocks. He bought the thousand-acre right which had been laid out by Captain John Mason and had passed through several hands previous to his purchase in 1709. The home farm, containing 1.54 acres, had been laid out on this right, April 17th, 1706. It lay just beyond the western limits of the borough of Willimantic, near the village cemetery, and the first house erected upon it was probably the second one built in Willimantic. Babcock was admitted as an inhabitant in 1711. William Backus settled in Windham as early as 1693. His ‘ father, Lieutenant William Backus, was one of the original Norwich legatees of Joshua, and had three of the thousand-acre shares, one of which he gave to his son William, of whom we are speaking. The home lot was number seven, at Windham Centre. It was in the center of the present village of Windham. One acre of it was purchased, January 30th, 1700, by -Reverend Samuel Whiting and Ensign Jonathan Crane, and presented by them to the town for a “Meeting Plot or Common.” This was the original ” Windham Green.” Many of the descendants of this settler still remain. Deacon John Baker, probably son of Samuel Baker of Hull and Barnstable, came to Windham with his sons Samuel and John (as is supposed), at some time before 1746, and located in that part of Windham now the south part of Scotland. When the descendants had become somewhat numerous the place where the families settled was called ” Baker Town.

In 1726 the courts of the new county of Windham were held in this town. Being thus made the shiretown its prosperity received a fresh impetus. The growth of the village at Windham Green was especially quickened. The court house and jail were soon erected, with stores, taverns and numerous private residences, and much business, private as well as public, centered here. A grammar school, authorized by the general court, was established after some delay. Improvements were also in’ progress throughout the town. Ichabod Warner, in 1727, was allowed to make a dam across Pigeon Swamp brook, and John Marcy and Seth Palmer to make one on Merrick’s brook. The first dam was built across the Willimantic the same year, near the site of the present stone dam of the Linen Company. The Iron Works bridge was also erected. The forge and the iron works were at that time in operation, but from the frequent change of owners we judge that they were not very successful. Badger soon sold his share to Ebenezer Hartshorn, son of Thomas, the first Willimantic mill owner. Hartshorn conveyed it to Joshua Ripley, and he to Thomas Dyer, together with the adjacent dwelling house, May 27th, 1731. Dyer retained it till 1735, and then sold out to Hathaway, one of the founders of the company. These Willimantic Iron Works were maintained many years, and employed a number of laborers, but were never very thriving. The privilege occupied so early by Thomas Hartshorn was made over by him to his son Ebenezer, of Charlestown, who in 1729 sold the grist mill, saw mill, water privilege and forty-acre lot to Joseph Martin of Lebanon, for £410. Thomas Hartshorn, the first settler of Willimantic, then purchased a house of Ebenezer Jennings, and removed to Windham Centre. An early settler in this vicinity, not previously recorded, was Stephen, son of the Captain John Brown, who received a thousand-acre right from Captain Samuel Mason in 1677. The home lot pertaining to this right was laid out in 1706, abutting southeast on Willimantic river, near the northern boundary of the town, and was improved and occupied prior to 1720, by Stephen Brown.

The Scotland settlement was rapidly, growing in strength, and with its growth developed the desire to become a distinct society. Ecclesiastical organization was the basis of civil organization, and the Scotland settlers as early as 1726 began to discuss the question of being independent of the other part of the town. In May, 1732, that part of the town was endowed with society privileges by act of the general court. Further particulars concerning it will be found in connection with the history of the town of Scotland.

The growth of the town required an enlargement of the number of town officers. In 1746 there were chosen a town clerk and treasurer, five selectmen, three collectors of town rates, four constables, six grand jurors, seven listers, four branders, three leather sealers, six fence viewers, eight tithing men and ten surveyors. Penalties at this time were extremely severe. Heavy fines, whippings and imprisonment were administered for slight offenses. Those unable to pay fines and lawful debts were often bound out as servants. In one case a year’s service satisfied a judgment of 03. In another case it took five and a half years to satisfy a debt of 50. Another was bound servant for eight years for a debt of £120.

An intimation of the progress of education in the town is furnished us in the records of 1750, which tell us that a good grammar school was ordered to be kept the whole of every year ” by a master able and sufficient for that purpose.” This school was moved about from one society to another, each of the three societies in the town being entitled to have the school kept within its bounds during a portion of the year,. corresponding to the proportion of money contributed by it to the support of the school, the basis of both being their lists of property valuation.

Jonathan Trumbull was judge of the probate district of Windham in 1746. John Ripley was chosen town treasurer in 1750. Samuel Gray succeeded Eliphalet Dyer as town clerk in 1755. A receiver of provisions for the-colony tax, an excise collector and a packer of tobacco were now added to the town officers. The deputies sent by Windham to the general court between 1746 and 1760 were Thomas Dyer, Eleazer Cary, Jabez Huntington, Eliphalet Dyer, Jonathan Huntington, Nathaniel Skiff, Jedediah Elderkin, Nathaniel Wales, Thomas Stedman, Jonathan Rudd, Joseph Kingsbury, Samuel Murdock and Samuel Gray.

Among the tavern keepers scattered over the town about the middle of the last century were James Brewster, David Ripley, John Backus, Eleazer Fitch, Isaac Warner, Benjamin Lathrop and Isaac Parish. The social life of the town was said to be at that time very hilarious and enjoyable. Nearly all the families in the town were connected by intermarriage, and the most friendly and open intercourse was maintained. A free and generous hospitality prevailed among all classes. Merry-makings of every description were frequent. The residents of Windham Green were especially noted for love of fun and frolic, bantering and jesting. Traditions of these golden days represent Windham with her two parishes like Judah and Israel in the days of Solomon” many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.”

During this period the growth and prosperity of Windham was marked. Even by contemporary judges it was estimated to surpass in prominence, and rapidity of growth and commercial activity, every other inland town in the colony. About 1760 it had four well trained military companies, four meeting houses, the county buildings, a number of stores and taverns, and many handsome private residences. The following list of town officers for the year 1760 will be of interest, both in showing the number of officers required by the town government and the men who were in active life at the time to fill these offices Doctor Joshua Elderkin, moderator; Samuel Gray, town clerk (chosen first in 1755 in place of Eliphalet Dyer, who had gone into the army, and retained in ‘office more than thirty years); Captain Samuel Murdock, George Martin, Captain Henry Silsby, Samuel Webb, Lieutenant Prince Tracy, selectmen; Hezekiah Manning, Paul Hebard, Abiel Abbott, constables and collectors of town rates; Joshua Reed, Hezekiah Huntington, Nathaniel Lord, John Manning, grand jurymen; William Warner,. Nathaniel Wales 2d, Nathaniel Warren, John Clark, Joseph Burnham, Nathan Luce. Joseph Manning, tithing-men ;Benjamin Lathrop, Jonathan Babcock, James Flint, Jonathan Burnap, Nathaniel Mosely, Andrew Burnham, Joseph Woodward, listers-; Edward Brown, Ebenezer Fitch, Ebenezer Bingham, John Bass, Isaac Andrus, Gideon Hebard, Thomas Tracy, Samuel Murdock, Nathaniel Huntington, Daniel Martin, Jeremiah Clark, Zebadiah Coburn, Stephen Park, Jeremiah Utley, William Holt, Josiah Hammond, Simon Wood, Joshua Farnham, John Manning, Joseph Woodward, Richard Kimball, Jonathan Luce, Joseph Ginning, highway surveyors; Samuel Webb, Edward Brown, William Durkee, Isaac Ringe, John Webb, David Ripley, fence viewers; Hezekiah Huntington, John Fuller, Elisha Palmer, Jr., Eleazer Palmer, branders and toilers; Edward Brown, Isaac Ringe, Reuben Robinson, leather sealers; Joseph Huntington, Joseph Sessions, Elisha Palmer, Jr., pound keepers; Joseph Huntington, Jeremiah Durkee, Joseph Manning, packers; Samuel Gray, town treasurer; Elijah Bingham and Thomas Tracy, to take care of the town bridge; James Flint, receiver of provision paid for discharge of colony tax; John Abbe, ‘ collector of excise; Hezekiah Manning and Shubael Palmer, surveyors and packers of tobacco.

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

3 thoughts on “Early Settlers of Windham, Connecticut”

  1. William King (1520-1594) died in Willimantic in 1594, but there seems to be little to no information going back that early. He was the father of Capt. William King, master of the “Diamond” (shipwrecked, 1609). Earliest records of that area only go back to 1690s.

  2. Hello,
    I am looking for information on Nathaniel Warren (b 1721, MA -d 1799, CT) and Althea (Ailthea) Bugbee’s (B 1726 MA, d 1794, CT) children. I have an ancestor, Azubah Warren, that married Timothy Paine (b 1747, CT, d 1822 NY). Married 17 Feb 1777 Tolland, CT. I am trying to figure out if Nathaniel and Alithea are Azubah parents.


    Rebekah Malone

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