Organization of the new Town of Putnam, Connecticut

With all this growth, and bustle and hurry, there was inevitable clashing and jangling. Nothing could have been more complex and unmanageable than this cluster of villages, belonging to three distinct, independent towns, with no central authority to bring and hold them together, and legislate for their best interests. That so much order and harmony existed under such unfavorable circumstances was undoubtedly due in great measure to the early character of the place as developed under the strong hand of Mr. Wilkinson. There was also something in the new spring and impulse, the pleasure of helping up-build a new and vigorous community, that brought the inhabitants into friendly and mutually helpful relations, working together as one man for the good of the whole section. As the inconvenience of the situation became more manifest, various projects of relief were suggested, such as separate voting places, borough privileges, etc., but nothing met the case till. the formation of a new, independent town was suggested. Like many other popular movements, it seems to have started simultaneously from several sources, or if one man suggested this natural solution of a difficult problem, it was assimilated with such avidity that the name of the originator was swallowed up in universal acclamation. Mr. Edmond Wilkinson engaged in carrying out this project with great heartiness, giving freely money, time and influence.

A public meeting of those favoring a new town was promptly held, and an energetic committee appointed, through whose agency a petition was laid before the legislature in May, 1849, showing the difficulties of the situation, and praying that the villages “known as Pomfret Depot, Wilkinsonville, Rhodesville, Ballouville and Morse’s Village might be incorporated into a new town, made from portions of Thompson, Killingly, Pomfret and Woodstock, and designated as Quinebaug. Indignant representations from the four towns therein named procured a prompt rejection of this presumptuous petition. Opposition but increased the zeal and determination of the new town agitators, and made them more united in effort. New inhabitants coming in caught the spirit of the contest, and joined with the older citizens in contending for sectional rights and independence. Few battles have been fought in which there was more harmony among the assailants. There were no traitors in the camp. Few if any old town sympathizers were to be found in the villages, but in the outlying country demanded by the new town there were many who objected strongly to any change in their municipal relations, whose names swelled the mammoth memorials gathered by its opponents.

Leaving out Harrisville from the prospective town, in 1851 petition was renewed for parts of Thompson, Killingly and Pomfret. Again they were beaten, though evidently gaining the ear of the general public. The old towns perceiving the fiery spirit that animated their youthful adversary, roused themselves to greater effort. Their strongest men, their sharpest lawyers were retained as committees and agents. An actor reports ” Each Legislature was besieged by the friends and opponents of the measure; lobby members reaped a golden harvest; much other business was seriously embarrassed by this bitter and use less strife; party politics was invoked on both sides; to the democrats it was going to make a whig town and leave the old towns hopelessly whig, a result to be fearfully dreaded; and to the Whigs it would make a democratic town, and inevitably fix democracy as the ruling power in the old towns, and thus ruin the state and county; to the miserly men the taxes would be increased enormously in both the old and the new towns.”

It is hard to realize that so much time, temper and money should have been freely squandered by three intelligent towns in fighting against the inevitable. Taking Putnam for name and watchword in 1854, after a brief suspension of hostilities, the new town champions battled on to victory. The rise of the know-nothing party and the election of Mr. Sidney Deane as representative hastened the inevitable result, and the Goliath of conservatism fell before the youthful representative of energy and progress. The final hearing of the case, May, 1855, excited unusual interest in the state. Very able counsel was employed on both sides. The closing arguments and pleas were offered in one of the largest halls in Hartford, which was crowded with eager listeners. Hon. Charles Chapman made a forcible appeal in behalf of the old towns. He was answered by Windham county’s special orator and advocate, ex-Governor Chauncey F. Cleveland, a life-long democrat in the true sense of the word, the friend of the people and of everything relating to the highest good and development of individuals and communities, who had been deeply interested in this unequal struggle, and now surpassed himself in his most earnest pleas that the petitioners should be allowed their reasonable request for expansion and town privileges. Six years of arduous conflict were rewarded by triumphant victory, and liberty to embody as a distinct town was at length heartily accorded. Ringing bells and booming cannon bore the joyful tidings to the ears of conquerors and defeated, and the Fourth of July celebration held a few days later in Putnam village, had a new and vital meaning to its rejoicing participants. While all citizens were interested, and to a degree helpful, the main burthen was borne by the van-leader, Mr. Edmond Wilkinson, who planned and carried out details from the beginning to the end, and paid five-sixths of the legal expenses.

The first town meeting was held at Quinebaug Hall, July 3d, 1855. George Warren, Esq., served as moderator. James W. Manning was chosen town clerk and treasurer; George Warren, Horace Seamans, Luther Hopkins, selectmen; Asa Cutler, agent of town deposit fund and treasurer of the same; Alanson Herandean, Moses Chandler, Erastus Torrey, Abel Dresser, Jr., grand jurors; Abiel L. Clarke, constable. Sign posts or bulletin boards were ordered to be set up, one near the depot, one at Sawyer’s store, one at South Putnam, and others at any suitable place, and the several books needful for public records were ordered.

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

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