The first white settler, as far as is known, came to Killingly in 1693. He was Richard Evans from Rehoboth. He had purchased of the Reverend James Pierpont a two hundred acre grant, for twenty pounds. Little is known of him, and the bounds of his farm cannot now be identified. It was in what was subsequently called the South Neighborhood of Thompson, and is now included in Putnam. In those early days his establishment served as a landmark, by which many other purchases were located.
In 1694 Reverend Noadiah Russel secured two hundred acres five miles southeast of Woodstock, east of the Quinebaug, “lands that bound it not taken up.” In 1695 seventeen hundred acres, scattered about on Five Mile river, southeast from Evans’, were confirmed to James Fitch, Moses Mansfield, Reverend Mr. Buckingham and Samuel Rogers. This was ” the wild land in Killingly,” afterward granted by Major Fitch to Yale College. Indian troubles interfered with further movements toward settlement, and Evans was probably the only settler here before the close of that century. When peace with the Indians was established, land speculation began here again. This valley of the Quinebaug, extending from the Great Falls, now in Putnam, to Lake Mashapaug, was then known as Aspinock, and had attracted the attention of Woodstock men, who saw value in it. Turpentine was gathered in large quantities from its numerous pine trees by that enterprising trader, James Corbin.
While engaged in this work in his employ, Joseph Leavens, a young man, was one day bitten on the thumb by a rattlesnake. There being no help near, the young man coolly chopped off the bitten thumb with his axe, and then killed the snake. His life was saved, but his thumb was lost, and in after years the Indians gave him the nickname, ” Old One-thumb.” In 1699 Reverend Russel sold his land to Peter and Nathaniel Aspinwall, Samuel Perrin and Benjamin Griggs, for twenty pounds. Lieutenant Aspinwall then settled on the land, a mile southeast of the falls.
In 1703 Aspinwall bought of Caleb Stanley two hundred acres south of Mashapaug lake. The land adjoining it westward and extending to the Quinebaug was laid out to Thomas Buckingham, and sold by him to Captain John Sabin of Mashamoquet, whose daughter Judith, married young Joseph Leavens, and received this beautiful valley farm as her marriage portion. James and Peter Leavens bought up land grants and also settled in this vicinity. Other settlers soon followed. These settlers, the pioneers of Killingly, located on or near the Quinebaug, mostly between the falls and Mashapaug lake, on the land called Aspinock, at distances of three, four and five miles from Woodstock. As details of the settlement of those parts of original Killingly which are now included in Thompson and Putnam are given in connection with the history of those towns, it will be unnecessary to repeat them further in this connection. We shall therefore confine our review now as far as practicable to the territory of the present town of Killingly.
The first settler south of Lake Mashapaug was James Danielson, of Block Island, who in 1707 purchased of Major Fitch “the neck of land ” between the Quinebaug and Assawaga rivers, for a hundred and seventy pounds. Mr. Danielson had served in the Narragansett war, and his name appears on the list of officers and soldiers who received the township of Voluntown in recompense for their services. Tradition tells us that he passed through the Whetstone country on an expedition against the Nipmucks, and stopping to rest his company on the interval between these rivers, was so well pleased with the locality that he then declared that when the war should be ended he would settle there. Nothing more is known of him until thirty years later, when he bought the land from the junction of the rivers, ” extending upstream to the middle of the long interval.” Tradition adds that he first traded with the natives, receiving for a trifle all that he could see from the top of a high tree, but found that Major Fitch had forestalled him, so then he bought out his claim. Mr. Danielson at once took possession of his purchase, built a garrison house near its southern extremity and was soon known as one of the most prominent men in the new settlement. No other settler appeared in this vicinity for several years. The land south from Acquiunk—the name given by the Indians to this locality—was held by Plainfield proprietors, under their purchase from Owaneco, and no attempt was made for many years to bring it into market.
The settlers in this locality were few in number, but their remoteness from the seat of government and independent mode of settlement made the organization of a town government very desirable. Their- deeds of land transfer had to be recorded in Hartford, Plainfield and Canterbury. In May, 1708, the assembly granted town privileges to the people here, the patent of which set forth the bounds as follows: “Northerly on the line of the Massachusetts Province (it being by estimation about) five miles from the line between this Colony and the Colony of Rhode Island and the river called Assawaug; easterly on the said line between the said colonies; southerly, partly on the northern boundary of- Plainfield and partly on a line to be continued east from the northeast corner bounds of Plainfield to the said line between the said Colonies; the said northern boundary of Plainfield being settled by order of the General Court, May the 11th, 1699, and westerly on the aforesaid river; the said township being by estimation about eight or nine miles in length and five or six miles in breadth, be the same more or less.” The men named in the patent, as representing the proprietors, were Colonel Robert Treat, Major James Fitch, Captain Dan Wetherell, Joseph Haynes, Samuel Andrew, George Denison, James Danielson, David Jacobs, Samuel Randall, Peter Aspinwall and Joseph Cady.
Grantees now hastened to take up their lands and sell them to settlers, so that population increased much more rapidly than in the richer neighborhoods owned by corporations and large landholders. The land north of Danielson’s, extending from the middle of “the long interval ” to Lake Mashapaug, was conveyed by Major Fitch to John, Nathaniel and Nicholas Mighill; a farm east of the lake was sold to John Lorton; David Church, of Marlborough, and William Moffat settled in the Quinebaug valley, adjoining James Leavens. Many grants were bought up by Nicholas Cady north of Rattlesnake hill, in the neighborhood of Richard Evans, and sold by him to George Blanchard, of Lexington, Thomas Whitmore, William Price, John and Samuel Winter, John Bartlett, William Robinson and others, who at once took possession of this northern extremity of the town.
The claimants of lands within the bounds of original Killingly having located, described and recorded their lands, the remaining lands within the limits, were given to the proprietors in common, and on October 13th, 1709, the payment of forty pounds through the agency of Captain Chandler having been made, a patent for the remaining lands was given by the governor and company of Connecticut to the following proprietors: Colonel Robert Treat, Major James Fitch, Captain John Chandler, Joseph Otis, James Danielson, Ephraim Warren, Peter Aspinwall, Joseph Cady, Richard Evans, Sr. and Jr., John Winter, Stephen Clap, John and William Crawford, George Blanchard, Thomas Whitmore, John Lorton, Jonathan Russel, Daniel Cady, William Price, William Moffat, James and Joseph Leavens, John, Nathaniel and Nicholas Mighill, John Bartlett, Samuel Winter, Ebenezer Kee, Isaac and Jonathan Cutler, Peter Leavens, Sampson Howe, John Sabin, John Preston, Philip Eastman, David Church, Thomas Priest, Nicholas Cady, John, Thomas, Matthew, Jabez and Isaac Allen. Nearly one-third of these forty-four patentees were non-residents, so that Killingly probably numbered at that date about thirty families. Only a small part of the territory was inhabited, and that mostly in the Quinebaug valley and the open country north of Killingly hill.
An extensive rise of land in the eastern part of the town was called Chestnut hill. A broad open plateau lay upon the top of this hill, while its steep sides were heavily wooded. This very desirable spot of ground was included in the grants laid out to John and Joseph Haynes, Timothy Woodbridge and Governor Treat; sold by them to John Allen; by him to Captain John Chandler, who sold the whole tract-2,400 acres, for £312-to Eleazer and Thomas Bateman, of Concord, Samuel and Thomas Gould, Nathaniel Lawrence, Ebenezer Bloss, Thomas Richardson and Ebenezer, Knight, joint proprietors. John Brown, Moses Barret, Josiah Proctor, Daniel Carrol, Samuel Robbins, Daniel Ross and John Grover were soon after admitted among the Chestnut hill proprietors. Home lots were laid out on the hill summit, but the remainder of the land was held in common by them for many years. A road was laid over the hill-top and carried onto Cutler’s mill and the Providence way. The remainder of Haynes’ grant was laid out east of Assawaga river, bordering south on Whetstone brook, and was purchased by Nicholas Cady, who, in 1709, removed his residence hither. This tract, together with Breakneck hill on the east, and much other land in this vicinity, passed into the hands of Ephraim Warren, son of Deacon Jacob Warren, of Plainfield, and who was one of the first settlers of Killingly Centre. The Owaneco land in the southern part of Killingly, held by Plainfield residents, was still unsettled and undivided, though many rights were sold or bartered. Edward Spalding bought the rights of James Kingsbury and William Marsh for £61, 10s. each. In 1708 Michael Hewlett purchased Parkhurst’s right for one pound. Jacob Warren sold his right in this land to Nicholas Cady in exchange for land north of Whetsone brook, southwest from Chestnut hill, in 1710. Thomas Stevens at the same date sold his share to Ephraim Warren. John Hutchins bought out the rights of Nathaniel Jewell and Samuel Shepard.
Previous to this time the north line of Killingly had been what was known as Woodward and Saffery’s line, then recognized as the boundary between Massachusetts and Connecticut, which line crossed what is now the southern part of Thompson. In 1713 this line was exchanged for a new one, six or seven miles farther north, which has since been recognized. As the charter of Killingly named the Massachusetts line as its north bound, the town now claimed the enlargement thus created. This claim was, however, denied by the government, by whom the north bounds of Killingly were declared not to be above nine miles to the northwards of the said south bounds.” But Killingly was persistent in asserting its claims, which were recognized by the courts, and this town continued to exercise jurisdiction over the territory in question, and admitting the people living upon it to ecclesiastical and civil rights in the town. In 1728 this territory was constituted a distinct society. By the government that society was regarded as independent of any town, but the society itself and the town of Killingly regarded it as belonging to that town, and so continued to exercise the ,conditions of such an association until the society became an organized town in 1785. At that time the dividing line between Killingly and Thompson was agreed upon as a due east and west line between the Rhode Island line and the Quinebaug river, which line should run through the middle of a certain “heap of stones about two feet south of the garden wall owned by Mr. John Mason.” The mansion house of Mr. John Mason. near the garden wall spoken of, is that now owned and occupied by Mr. William Converse, of Putnam.
The population of Killingly continued to increase. Daniel Cady removed to the south part of Pomfret, Nicholas Cady to Preston; but others took their places. Robert Day settled south of Whetstone brook in 1717. Nell-Ellick Saunders-afterward called Alexander-bought land of the non-resident Mighills in 1721, near Lake Mashapaug, which soon took the name of Alexander’s lake, which has since clung to it. Joseph Covill, Philip Priest, Andrew Phillips and John Comins, of Charlestown, were admitted among the Chestnut hill company. John Hutchins, of Plainfield, is believed to have taken possession of the north part of the Owaneco purchase about 1720. In 1721 the town of Killingly laid out and distributed its first division of public lands. About eighty persons received shares of this land. No record is preserved of the terms and extent of this division. During this year the train-band was organized. Joseph Cady was chosen captain, Ephraim Warren lieutenant, and Thomas Gould ensign. Of the progress of schools, roads and many public affairs at that time, no knowledge can be obtained. A burial ground south of the Providence road was given to the town by Peter Aspinwall at an early date.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889