Territory of Woodstock, Connecticut

As soon as possible after the restoration of peace, Massachusetts arranged to take possession of the conquered territory. William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley were commissioned by the general court to treat with the Indian claimants and agree with them upon the easiest terms attainable. February 10th, 1682, negotiations were completed by which the whole Nipmuck country, from the northern part of Massachusetts to a point called Nash-a-way, at the junction of the Quinebaug and French rivers, Connecticut-a tract fifty by forty miles in extent was made over to the government of the Bay colony, for the sum of fifty pounds, a reservation of five miles square being also allowed the Indians. Colonization was the immediate result of this cession. Plantation in New England was quickly followed by emigration. The mother towns were not able to furnish homes for new comers, and the many children of the first planters. The flourishing town of Roxbury was especially hampered in this respect, ” its limits being so scanty and not capable of enlargement ” that many families were forced to find other settlements. Eagerly its inhabitants welcomed the opening of the Nipmuck country as furnishing a wider field for their superabundant population.

In October, 1683, its selectmen petitioned the general court for a tract of land seven miles square, ” for the enlargement of the town and the encouragement of its inhabitants,” the land to be laid out at Quinnatisset or thereabouts, if a convenient way may be found there. This prayer was granted on condition that previous grantees had the first choice, and “that thirty families be settled on said plantation within three years, and maintain among them an able, orthodox, godly minister.”‘ The town accepted the conditions, and in the following year sent out Lieutenant Samuel Ruggles, John Ruggles, John Curtis and Edward Morris, ” To view the premises and find a convenient place to take up her grant.” With Indian guides they made their way through the wilderness and carefully viewed the premises. Quinnatisset (now Thompson), for which they had asked, was already appropriated, and farms laid out to English owners, but land adjacent at Senexet and Wabbaquasset they thought commodious for a settlement.

The town accepted their information, October 27th, 1654. and chose a suitable committee, to draw up, upon consideration, propositions that may be most equable and prudent for the settlement of the place.” Inhabitants unwilling to assume the responsibility of carrying forward the work had liberty to withdraw without offense, and be free from further charges. All others were to be held responsible for the settlement and expenses of the Nipmuck colony. The following year farther arrangements were made, the town agreeing to give to the actual settlers one-half the entire grant, and a hundred pounds in money, to be laid out in public works, but it was not till the third year that they proceeded to take possession. A number of pioneers having volunteered to go in advance and prepare the way for the main body, it was voted in town meeting, March 4th, 1686, ” That such should have liberty to break up land and plant anywhere they please without being bound to accept it as their share of the grant.” This advance guard, thirteen in number, viz.,, Benjamin Sabin, Jonathan Smithers, Henry Bowen, John Frizell, Matthew Davis, Nathaniel Gary, Thomas Bacon, John Marcy, Peter Aspinwall, Benjamin and George Griggs Joseph Lord and Ebenezer Morris left Roxbury about April 1st, and having surmounted the perils of the journey, made record that on April 5th, 1686, “Several persons came as planters and settlers and took actual possession (by breaking up land and planting corn) of the land granted to Roxbury (called by the planters New Roxbury; by the Ancient natives Wapaquasset.)”

Through Senexet valley in the east of the tract they passed on southward, making headquarters at Plaine hill. In the vale eastward they planted corn fields and set up a saw mill on a small brook running toward the lake. The larger stream feeding the lake was given–the name of their own Muddy brook in Roxbury. No curious natives disturbed their solitude. The Wabbaquassets were still sojourning in Mohegan. In May they were visited by a deputation from Roxbury, which came with Surveyor Gore to take a more formal survey of the tract, settle the south bound, and determine the length and breadth of the grant, so that the first ” Go-ers ” might make an intelligent choice. Eleven days were spent in exploring and surveying. Massachusetts’ south bound, an unknown, disputed, almost imaginary line, making much trouble between Massachusetts and Connecticut, could not be identified, but a substitute was devised by affixing a station about one and a half miles south of Plaine hill, and thence marking trees in line, east and west. The south bound thus obtained was nearly two miles south of the Woodward and Saffery Line,” claimed by Massachusetts and about eight miles south of the south bound finally established. Other arrangements were made and the committee returned in time to report proceedings, June 12th, at Roxbury.

A vigorous new colony ” boom ” had now set in and much interest was manifested. The prescribed quota of thirty planters was already full and others were pressing in. Men were known in town ” under the denomination ” of ” Go-ers ” or “Stay-ers ;” men from adjacent towns were craving admittance and permission was granted to admit such with the ” Goers,” ” if the selectmen of Roxbury and other Go-ers do approve them.” July 21st, an especial meeting was held for the more orderly settling the aforesaid village or grant, when the following agreement was adopted

” I. That every man should take up what number of acres he pleaseth in his home lot, not exceeding thirty; and after-rights and divisions of land shall arise according to the proportion of his home lot, and all after-charges to arise proportionally upon the home lots for the first six years.

” II. That whoever shall neglect the payment of his rate two months after a rate is made and demanded, shall forfeit for every five shillings two acres of his home lot with all proportional rights, and so, more or less, according to his failure; always provided that they take not his house nor orchard

” III. If any meadows should fall out to be in any one’s home ‘lot it shall be accounted as so much of his proportion of meadow, and his home lot made up with upland.

” IV. That all persons that have planted in the year 1686 shall have two acres of his home lot free for the first three years, and shall enjoy the land they planted in 1687 and ’88, though it fall out in any other person’s home lot.

” V. That within one month they will go personally to their new plantation, and there make farther agreements, divisions and settlements.”

The fifth article of the agreement was faithfully carried out. Within the specified month they set out upon their distant pilgrimage-the forty men who had enrolled themselves “Go-ers,” and a fair proportion of their families. Of all circumstances connected with the fitting out, departure and journey of the colony we are wholly ignorant. On foot and horseback, with cart . and cattle, they traversed the well-worn Connecticut path, or the newer way laid” out by Major Pynchon through the Oxford grant, to meet a joyful welcome from the waiting pioneers. In their five months’ residence the thirteen planters had made a good beginning. Three distinct sites, suitable for villages, had been selected and on the northern extremity of Plaine hill a house or hall, intended for general use, had been put up. The first public meeting was held August 25th, ” at New Roxbury, alias Wapaquasset,” at the Wabbaquasset Hall, when the planters voted to take the south half of the tract for their portion, and “that the place where the home lots shall begin shall be upon the Plaine Hill.”

Finding some difficulty in arranging plans of settlement, on the following day the planters agreed to select seven men to state needful highways, and a lot for the minister, and consider of land convenient for the planters to settle on, and for a convenient place for a meeting house to stand on. Each planter also specified the number of acres he desired in his home lot, according as he was able and willing to carry on public charges, and liberty was given for any one to select any particular piece of land he might desire, otherwise it would be settled ” as the lots shall fall by a lot.” The seven wise men selected for this service were the oldest, and, inferentially, the wisest in the company, viz.: Joseph Griggs, Edward Morris, Henry Bowen, Sr., John Chandler, Sr., Samuel Craft, Samuel Scarborough and Jonathan Smithers. Assisted by the thirteen pioneers, and the surveys they had already accomplished, the work assigned was soon despatched, and on-Saturday, August 26th, 1686 (old style), the company of emigrants met on Plaine hill, ” in order to draw lots where their home lots should be.”

The seven wise men chosen for laying out and pitching the town, had decided upon the three locations previously referred to the Plaine hill,” the “Westward hill ” adjacent, and the Eastward vale, now South Woodstock, and laid out or assigned suitable home lots in each. They had also marked out and ordered convenient highways, viz.: 1. A highway, eight reds wide, running along the Plaine (hill’), extending to a brook at the north end of the eastward vale, running by marked trees; thence southward along the vale to another brook, six rods wide, with a cross highway four rods wide about the middle, where it may be most convenient when the lots are laid out. 2. From the north end of Plaine hill, a highway eight rods wide, to the east side of the westward hill; thence northward four rods wide and so on circuiting the hill: which were considered sufficient for present use. They had also agreed that the meeting house should stand upon the Plaine hill, and that the lots should begin upon the north end of Plaine hill, adjacent to Wabbaquasset Hall.

The business of the day was carried forward with much formality and dignity. It was no common band of emigrants that were laying the foundations of Woodstock, but leading men from one of the most prominent and prosperous towns in Massachusetts, whose people were the best that came over from England. In troublous times, a narrow-minded Catholic bigot upon the throne of Great Britain, the charter of Massachusetts taken away, a royal governor imminent, they hoped to find in this distant settlement a place of refuge from despotic extortion. Thus, with religious ceremonies, as well as legal formality, they made their distribution. The place of meeting was doubtless Wabbaquasset Hall. The seven seniors, who had served as committee, occupied the place of honor. The settlers had ranged themselves in three bodies, according to their choice in matter of location, and each company in turn presented itself before the honorable committee. ” Liberty was given to those that desired to sit down on the Plaine hill, to draw by themselves. Others desiring to sit down in the eastward vale had liberty to draw for that by themselves,” and those wishing to sit down on the westward hill had the same liberty allowed them. Four of the elder settlers, who had made choice of particular lots, then stepped forward and manifested their choice, viz., John Chandler, Sr., Samuel Scarborough, Samuel Craft, William Lyon, Sr. ” Solemn prayer to God, who is the disposer of all things,” was then offered for his guidance and blessing, followed by the drawing of lots by the three companies in succession, “every man being satisfied and contented with God’s disposal.” Thirty-eight persons received allotments on this occasion, viz.:

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

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