History of Woodstock, Connecticut 1731-1755

In 1731 the new county movement carried the day, and Woodstock, with many northward towns, was incorporated into Wore tester county. This distant frontier town furnished the leading officers. Already colonel of the regiment, John Chandler, Sr., was now made judge of probate and chief justice of the court of common pleas. John Chandler, Jr., was appointed clerk of the court, and by especial request of the inhabitants removed his residence to Worcester. The first court in the new county was held in judge Chandler’s Woodstock mansion, wherein much legal and public business was transacted. A new road was now laid out from Worcester to Woodstock line, to accommodate business and travel. Woodstock ranked among the foremost towns of the county, its tax list only surpassed by some of the older townships. A well-patronized select school gave evidence of prosperity and progress. Some seventy pupils were reported by its master, Thaddeus Mason, including pupils from the best families in Pomfret and Killingly. An attempt was made to establish a permanent Grammar or high school-the town voting to build a school house for the accommodation of grown children, not hindering subordinate schools. This vote called out one of Woodstock’s characteristic controversies. Thirty out of sixty-nine voters dissented from this vote. A strong memorial was immediately prepared, signed by Colonel Chandler, Eliphalet Carpenter, John Holmes, Henry Bowen, and other ‘prominent men, showing that this matter had been laid over to this June 8th, 1730, “to be farther considered on,” but instead was not only considered “but transacted upon in a way very grievous to a great number of the inhabitants,” and for “preventing any contests, heats or disputes,” desired that another town meeting might be called. Though held in the busiest time of the year over a hundred voters were present at this meeting: The former vote was annulled, the new school house for ” grown children ” countermanded, and directions given for repairing the old Plaine hill school house.

In 1731 liberty was given to build a schoolhouse in the north half. The appointed committee affixed the site, east side the highway leading from the house of Ephraim Child to Maturin Allard’s, but this site was considered too far eastward. Captain Payson, Moses Barrett, Joseph Chaffee, Jonathan Bugbee and Nathaniel Sanger were appointed a committee to view the site John May, Benjamin Child and Maturin Allard, to take care of building said house, but still the work did not go forward. Several other families of Child had now settled in this section, and many children were growing up, and while waiting to agree upon a building site schools were maintained in private houses.. John May and Jonathan Morse taught in the winter; school ma’ams were employed in the several sections in the summer.

The town at this date was much exercised by a controversy with its most prominent citizen, judge Chandler. Deacon William Lyon superseded him as moderator of town meeting; Isaac Tiffany as town clerk; David Holmes as town treasurer. Judge Chandler refused to deliver up the town records, ” because proprietors’ concerns are mixt with ye town’s,” and declined ” to transcribe what belongs to proprietors from the town books without some adequate compensation. The town, on her part, refused to be at the charge ” of transcribing proprietors’ concerns from town affairs,” and ordered the selectmen “to get and procure town books from Hon. John Chandler, as speedily as they can by the most prudential ways and means as they shall judge best.”

Judge Chandler also disagreed with the town in relation to the settlement of a minister in place of Reverend Amos Throop, deceased. A call was extended to Mr. John Hovey to become their pastor. A tendency to override technicalities, and manage affairs in a somewhat independent fashion, was severely censured by the honorable judge, who 11 apprehended the whole proceedings both in church and town were the product of arbitrary or mobbish principles, and the foundation being laid upon the sand, the superstructure cannot long continue.” . The town responded by appointing as agents Deacon William Lyon, Captain Payson and Lieutenant Morris, “To demand, sue for and recover the town book of records.” Mr. Hovey declining this irregular call, the town concurred with the church in sending to New Haven ” to invite Mr. Abel Stiles to preach with them by way of probation.” A large majority expressing their satisfaction with the ministerial performances and qualifications of the candidate, he was ordained pastor of church and town, July 27th, 1737. Able and accomplished, the only drawback in this relation was Mr. Stiles’ preference for Connecticut’s form of church government. He did not, however, explicitly refuse to sign the church covenant, but presented a written statement of his own views and principles, which was considered satisfactory. This harmonious settlement contributed to further pacification. Colonel Chandler was again chosen moderator of town meetings. Twenty-five pounds was allowed him for twenty-six years’ service as town clerk, and other demands conceded.

School divisions were confirmed in 1738. Captain John May, Deacon William Lyon, Jedidiah Frizzell, James Chaffee and Benjamin Bugbee served as committee in setting the bounds of schools in the several parts of the town, ” so that one part may not send their children to any other part, and every part enjoy its own school without being interrupted by any other part.” The ” parts ” thus assigned were the central school at Plaine hill, the southeast quarter, the northeast quarter, and the whole west side of the town. A fifth section was soon after set off at Wabbaquasset, in the south of the town.

The settlement of the western part of Woodstock had now made considerable progress. Its south half had been laid out to original proprietors, and was occupied mainly by their sons. Joshua, third son of judge Chandler, was one of the first to take possession of his father’s out-division, ” Lot 23, third range,” in the heart of the future village of West Woodstock. He was soon followed by other adventurous youths, viz., Thomas and John Child, John and Joseph Marcy, Nathaniel Johnson, John Perrin, Ebenezer Lyon, Benjamin Corbin, Samuel and Jesse Bugbee, Nathaniel Aspinwall, Ebenezer and Abraham Paine, children of first planters, eager to establish themselves in this pleasant and fertile section. No part of the town was settled under more favorable circumstances-a body of well trained young men, with friends at hand to help and encourage them. In 1731 a two months’ school was allowed by the town. In 1733 it was voted ” That the inhabitants dwelling on the west side of a due north and south line from the top of Fort hill to the dividend lines on the north and south bounds of the town have liberty to meet together and agree where a school house may be built.” Improving this privilege, the western residents met together and voted ” That the best place for a school house is north of Clay-pit Brook, between Joshua Chandler’s and John Paine’s lots.”

This house being constructed, other needs were manifested. In 1736 it was found that thirty-five families had gathered within the limits of the west school who were exposed to great hardships and difficulties, especially in cold and difficult times of the year in travelling to and from public worship in the distant Plaine Hill meeting house. Having borne cheerfully their part of public charges, these westward residents now asked the town to help them pay the expense of hiring a minister through the winter. The town granted liberty to have preaching at their own cost, but refused to afford any help toward its support. After five years’ efforts and trials, the western inhabitants again most earnestly besought their friends and neighbors to take their remote and difficult circumstances into their compassionate consideration, and in order to settle the worship of God suitably among them, allow the western half to be erected into a separate town. Aghast at this presumption, the town positively refused to grant its countenance and consent to the western inhabitants. Again, in the spring of 1742, the petitioners pressed their suit, and succeeded by a majority of two in gaining permission to address the general court.

July 2d Benjamin Marcy and thirty-five others forcibly represented ” their inconvenience by reason of remoteness from public worship,” and gained encouragement to hope that a precinct might be allowed them. Another appeal was made to their obdurate fellow townsmen, not willing ” to drive things to extremities,” the settlement of public worship the principal thing we aim at,” but again were scornfully repulsed. With equal firmness the western inhabitants again preferred their request to the general court, showing their condition, the distance which each petitioner and his family were obliged to travel to the crowded meeting house on Plaine hill, and begging humbly to be set off into a distinct and separate precinct. A very strong and forcible response from the old inhabitants of the town, headed by Judge Chandler, could not in this instance stay the march of progress. A committee appointed to repair to Woodstock and view the situation reported in favor of the petitioners. September 15th, 1743, the report of the committee was accepted, and the ” west half part of Woodstock erected into a separate and distinct township, and vested with all the rights and privileges that precincts by law enjoy.”

The first parish meeting was held in the one schoolhouse, September 27th. John Marcy served as moderator; Isaac Johnson, clerk; Joseph Chaffee, Joseph Marcy and Ebenezer Lyon were chosen society committee; Joseph Chaffee, Moses Lyon and Isaac Johnson, assessors; John Marcy, treasurer. Ebenezer Smith, John Child and Nathaniel Johnson served as committee, with Captain John May, Jabez Lyon and Daniel Paine of the old society, in affixing the bound between the precincts by a north and south line through the center of the town. The new society assumed the name of New Roxbury, and at once devoted its energies to the establishment of public worship. A tax of two pence a year on all unimproved land, to be applied toward building a meeting house and settling a minister, was allowed by the general assembly. After discussion and delay, the” decisive .spot for meeting house” was fixed upon by a committee from .abroad, viz., Robert Knowlton, Joseph Leavens and Mr. Walbridge; Isaac Johnson, Joseph Chaffee, Ebenezer Paine, Thomas ‘Child, Jonathan Bugbee, Ebenezer Corbin waiting upon them. After four days’ deliberation ” a dry knoll east of Bungee Hill ” was selected. Mr. Joshua Chandler giving an acre of land for building site. Equal deliberation was manifested in choosing a minister. The successful candidate was Mr. Stephen Williams of Longmeadow, Mass., the worthy son of honored ministerial .ancestry. The meeting house was raised in 1746, and made ready for service the following year. A day of fasting preparatory to that of ordination was held in June, 1747, at which time Woodstock’s second church was organized, and on June 24th the -ordination was effected. Fifty acres of good land and a suitable dwelling house were provided for the young minister, and thus, after ten years’ effort, religious worship was prosperously -established.

The first meeting of the east half as a distinct parish was held March 6th, 1744. John Holmes was chosen moderator; Thomas Chandler, clerk and treasurer; jabez Lyon, John Frizzell, Thomas Chandler, assessors; Richard Child, Benjamin Bugbee, collectors; Captain Jonathan Payson, Captain Joseph Wright, Captain Samuel Chandler, committee to call precinct meetings and take care of the prudentials, viz., to sweep the meeting house, mend the glass, etc., at the charge of the precinct. All matters relative to ecclesiastic and school affairs were now referred to the two societies. Five schools were maintained by the first society, viz., Center, North, South, West and Wabbaquasset. New school houses were built ” in the southeast part in the old spot,” and at Wabbaquasset, sixteen feet square, beside chimney way. A more spacious and elaborate house was provided for the center at Plaine hill. The north district, after ten years’ consideration agreed upon the spot where the highways intersect, east of Capt. Child’s house,” near the mill site on Muddy brook.

New families were now appearing, especially in the north part of the town. The old settlers had passed away. Deacon William Lyon died in 1742; Judge John Chandler, the most prominent citizen of Worcester county, died in, 1743; the last survivor of the original proprietors was Thomas Bacon, who died in 170″8, aged 96 years. With the passing away of the pioneer generation and the introduction of new elements, the tie between the inhabitants of Woodstock and the old homes at Roxbury and Boston was greatly weakened. Massachusetts was at this date involved in many difficulties. Her debts were heavy; her currency demoralized. Connecticut was far more prosperous and in greater favor. with the British government. Yet the movement for a transfer of allegiance was apparently sudden. Mr. Stiles indeed took care to remind his people of the burthens laid upon them as part of “a province groaning under sore calamities,” yet the people in general submitted uncomplainingly without thought of secession or rebellion. The rumor that other ” Indented towns ” were preparing to assert their claim to the charter privileges of. Connecticut was the incentive to action. There was apparently no very strong feeling in the matter, no sense of ill-usage or hostility to the Massachusetts government, but the change was desirable on the ground of absolute right and local convenience. The question was brought before the town March 31st, 1747, ” ` If a person should be chosen to join those chosen by Suffield, Enfield and Somers in trying to get off to Connecticut.’ A large majority voted in the affirmative and chose Colonel William Chandler to lay the affair before the General Assembly of Connecticut. Fourteen persons dissented ‘as not likely to prove successful and costing more expense.”‘

The petitioners from the four ” Indented towns ” asked to be received under the jurisdiction of Connecticut, upon the ground that the territory of their towns was included in the original .grant to that government, and that the boundary settlement of 1713, under which they were allowed to remain in Massachusetts, had never received the royal sanction, and they did not believe that commissioners could transfer or alter the jurisdiction of lands given by royal charter, and that the doing of the same was an infringement on the rights of the subject. The assembly appointed a committee of honorable gentlemen to confer with gentlemen from Massachusetts, who failing in this effort, were farther empowered to consider the affair, and reported in favor of the memorialists. After two years’ delay and reiterated memorials, the Connecticut assembly decided that the boundary agreement of 1713 was made through mistake, that Connecticut had received no equivalent for the jurisdiction of these towns, and as the agreement had never received royal confirmation, so it never ought to receive it, and must be looked upon as null and void, and solemnly declared, “that the inhabitants south of the line fixed by Massachusetts were within and had right to the privileges of Connecticut Government.”

This decision was received with delight by a large majority of the inhabitants of Woodstock, whose interest in the matter had been greatly stimulated by two years’ agitation. A warning from a Connecticut justice soon summoned them” to the choice of proper town officers, of which they were destitute.” This “notable meeting” was held in the first meeting house, Friday, 10 A. M., July 28th, 1749 (0. S.). Justice Joseph Leavens, of Killingly, a native of Woodstock, presided. Before entering upon the business of the day, a formal protest was entered by Samuel Chandler, John, Jonathan, Nathan and Asa Payson, John Frizzell, Joseph Wright, Zebulon Dodge and Joseph Griggs, declaring that the meeting was wholly unlawful and had a tendency to stir up the greatest confusion and disorder, if not rebellion. Deciding to take no further notice of this protest, John May was chosen moderator; Henry Bowen, town clerk and first selectman; Isaac Johnson, second selectman; Jabez Lyon, third; Abraham Perrin, fourth; John May, fifth; Andrew Durkee and Ebenezer Paine, constables; Benjamin Bugbee and Samuel Child, grand jurors; all sworn into office by Justice Leavens. William and Daniel Lyon, John Morse, Ephraim and Benjamin Child, Henry Bowen, Thomas Chandler, Daniel Paine and Nathaniel Johnson were then approved to take the freeman’s oath agreeably to the laws of Connecticut. At the following town meeting seventy-four additional residents were admitted freemen, and Thomas Chandler and Henry Bowen chosen representatives to the general assembly. Transference of allegiance had thus been practically effected, and Woodstock enrolled among Connecticut townships.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, wholly refused to accept the situation. Spirited remonstrances were laid before the Connecticut assembly; warrants and writs were served upon her revolted subjects; commissioners failed even to agree upon terms of negotiation. Both governments, after some years of bickering and wrangling, attempted to lay their claims before the crown, but owing to many hindrances and public disturbances did not succeed in gaining a hearing. After the close of the French and Indian war another attempt was made to gain a decision from supreme authority in Great Britain, but the revolutionary troubles again prevented its consideration, and the revolted towns were left to Connecticut dominion, according to the original grant of territory. The aggrieved memorialists of Woodstock continued to protest against this transfer, but were forced in time to submit to the will of the majority. In many respects the change was greatly to its advantage. The population of the town in 1753 was 1,336 whites, 30 blacks; value of estates £16,500.

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

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