Thompson, Windham County, Connecticut History

Thompson occupies the northeast corner of the state of Connecticut, bordering north on Massachusetts and east on Rhode Island. Its territory is ample, about eight miles by six, comprising 48.49 square miles. The Quinebaug and French rivers, flowing through the west of the town, unite below Mechanicsville. The Five-mile or Assawaga river is near the eastern border. Capacious reservoirs greatly augment the volume of these streams and multiply the manufacturing facilities of the town. The surface of the soil is much broken and diversified, particularly between the rivers, and so encumbered by stones as to make its cultivation very laborious. Granite ledges underlie the hills, and myriads of detached stones overlie field and pasture. Sixty years ago Niles’ “Connecticut Gazetteer reported ” more miles of wall fence in Thompson than in any town of the State,” and it is doubtful if this record has been broken. Elaborate and unique stone walls in all parts of the town testify to the ingenuity and industry of the farmer. Many well-cultivated-farms, neat and convenient farm houses, and a general aspect of thriftiness indicate a further triumph over natural disadvantages. In spite of hard and stony soil, farming in Thompson has not been unremunerative, and the majority of her farmers are well-to-do and comfortable. The eastern part of the town is less favored-a barren ridge of rocky woodland, stretching into Rhode Island and southward to the Sound. With increasing emigration and modern methods of farming, less pains are taken to cultivate poor soil, and many fields and pastures are left to grow up into forest, and though much wood is cut off and sent to market, much more is growing than there was fifty years ago.

The territory now included in Thompson was, prior to white settlement, a part of the Nipmuck country, though also claimed by the Narragansetts. The Great Pond, Chaubunakongkomuk, just beyond its present northern boundary, was the bound mark ” between the Nipmucks and Narragansetts. An Indian captain named Allum or Hyems gave his name to the little Allum pond, near its northeast corner. In the days of John Eliot’s missionary labors, 1670-1674, the Nipmucks were in ascendancy, occupying a fort on the hill east of what is now Thompson hill. This latter hill and the surrounding country was known as Quinnatisset, and the little brook circuiting from “the meadow” into the French river was called Quinnatisset brook. Through the faithful labors of Eliot’s Indian missionaries the Quinnatisset. residents were persuaded to gather into a village on the hill, where a large wigwam was constructed, visible as late as 1730. Twenty families, containing about a hundred souls, were reported to Eliot, partly civilized and inclined to religious worship, to whom was sent in 1674 ” a sober and pious young man of Natick, called Daniel, to be their minister, whom they accepted in the Lord.” The breaking out of King Philip’s war quickly obliterated the results of missionary labor. The Quinnatisset Nipmucks joined the Narragansetts and were mostly destroyed. The fort in Quinnatisset, known as ” Fort No. 1 in the Nipmuck Country,” was assaulted and demolished, but the aboriginal cellar on Fort hill, described by surveyors in 1684 as “the ruins of an old Indian fort,” is visible until this day, one of the oldest and best authenticated Indian relics in Windham county. Many Indian utensils and arrows,. found in this vicinity and the adjacent Pattaquatic (now Quadic), show that this Assawaga valley was once a favorite resort. The remains of corn rows were distinctly seen upon Fort hill within the memory of older inhabitants.

In connection with the general settlement of Indian affairs following King Philip’s defeat, five thousand acres of land at Quinnatisset were included in the reservation allowed to the Indians. This land was immediately made over to the Massachusetts agents, Messrs Stoughton and Dudley, and soon after sold to non-resident English gentlemen. June 18th, 1683, two thousand acres of forest land in the Nipmuck Country,” including the present Thompson hill and surrounding land, was conveyed to Thomas Freak, Hamington, Wells county, England, and a two thousand acre tract, east of the above, was soon after sold to Sir Robert Thompson, North Newington, Middlesex, England- the initial bound between the tracts running through the cellar of the old fort. Another large slice of the Indian reservation, east of the Quinebaug or Myanexet, now occupied by New Boston village, was secured by Joseph Dudley, and smaller farms by other non-residents. These farms were all laid out in 1684, the earliest of any in Windham county, but owing to the uncertain tenure of the land, they were not improved for many years. The survey under which Massachusetts claimed Quinnatisset and the adjacent Senexet (now Woodstock) was clearly erroneous. Woodward and Saffery’s line, dividing Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies, deflected southward six or eight miles, striking the Connecticut river at Windsor. The protracted boundary quarrel greatly discouraged settlement, and it was not till after 1713, when Massachusetts consented to rectify the line provided she could keep all the towns she had settled, that much progress was made. The township of Killingly had meanwhile been settled and organized, and as it was certain that Connecticut’s claim would ultimately prevail, a few settlers had straggled in north of that town.

The first known and datable settler within the limits of the present Thompson was Richard Dresser, of Rowley, Mass., who in 1707 purchased the place called Nashaway,” a beautiful farm west of the Quinebaug, at its junction with the French river, a little south of the present Mechanicsville. His son Jacob, born in 1710, was the first white boy born upon Thompson territory. Sampson Howe followed the next year, settling between the rivers. Farther north, between the rivers, land was taken up by Isaac Jewett and John Younglove, whose premises were so infested with bears, wolves and Indians, that a log fort or garrison was needed for protection. The first settler in the vicinity of Quinnatisset hill was Samuel Converse, of Woburn, who, with wife and four sons, in 1710 took possession of what was known as the Quinnatisset farm, about a mile south of the hill (now occupied by Mr. Stephen Ballard). Mr. Converse was a man of middle age and excellent position and character, and was long regarded as the father of the growing settlement. His residence was the first south of the great wilderness between the colonies, traversed yet only by blazed paths, and served as a welcome resting place to many a wearied traveler. On the doubtful border-land adjacent Killingly the first settler was Richard Evans, as early as in 1693. His establishment, with “tenement of houses, barn, orchard, tanning pits and fulling mill,” was purchased by Simon Bryant, of Braintree, in 1713, the happy father of seven blooming and capable daughters, the future mothers of many a Thompson family. The oldest daughter, Hannah, married her neighbor, William Larned, another early settler in this vicinity. Thomas Whitmore, James Wilson, Joseph Cady, Samuel Lee, Jonathan Hughes, were among the early residents of this old South Neighborhood ” very prominent in Thompson affairs, although their various farms and homesteads are now within the limits of Putnam.

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

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