Days and Recollections of North Stonington
By Cyrus Henry Brown
Paper read before the Westerly, Rhode Island Historical Society, November 9, 1916
My earliest recollection begins April 1, 1833, this being the day my father took up farm work on the Rouse Babcock farm two miles west of Hopkinton City. This Rouse Babcock was the second by that name. He was born in Westerly in 1773, son of Rouse and Ruth (Maxson) Babcock.
The lease of this farm was for three years and written beautifully by his son, Rouse Babcock (young Rouse he was called) with a quill pen. This lease is printed in full in Brown Genealogy, Vol.2, pp. 232 and 233.
It was a produce rent. Three items of the lease were: 1500 pounds of pork. 4500 pounds of cheese, 8 barrels of cider, and all to be delivered in Westerly or not further than Stonington Port. The rent in a lump sum per year amounted to $5l5.00.
The great value of farm land at that time is worthy of note, as the rents then paid were enormous. The land in North Stonington in the early part of 1800 was under a high state of cultivation. When North Stonington was set off from Stonington in 1807, it had 2700 inhabitants, while in 1910 less than 1000. The young people in 1790 and for the next fifty years began emigrating to York State, which was called Out West.
Elder Simeon Brown Jr. went horseback to Albany, N.Y., in 1790 and bought land in the township of Brookfield. He then went to the land. made a clearing, and built a log house. He came back in the fall of that year, and in the spring following took his family and his belongings in an ox cart and went to this new western home where his children. grandchildren and great grandchildren spread out, and the Browns are numerous there at the present time. Elder Brown’s oldest married (laughter went to Brookfield about six years later in company with twelve families from North Stonington, all these families going in ox carts As the news came hack to their friends of the wonderful country and the products of the soil, catching the inspiration, especially the newly married people ventured to Madison and Chenango Counties in New York State. All newcomers were accorded a warm hospitality and met with open arms and given a most cordial welcome. You say. what has this to do with North Stonington? I will remind you that my theme is “Days and Recollections.” T heard the constant talk of the people who had gone west, and of that wonderful country and its productiveness. Later on the more venturesome heard of Iowa and Wisconsin and the song was ringing among the young people:
Away to Wisconsin a journey to go,
And double your fortune as other folks do.
Refrain from older people:
Oh, stay on your farm and suffer no loss,
The stone that keeps rolling will gather no moss.
Farm lands sold for great prices, but only rarely was a farm for sale and it would bring three times as much as any farm did in 1900, with quick sales for cash.
The farm products were much the same on all the farms. Nearly all farms made butter and cheese in quantity, according to the number of cows the farm would keep. No butter or cheese was made after November until March and then only a little butter until near May.
In April the farm work began in earnest and it was toil early and late. On the housewife the heavy burden seemed to fall, and her work was never done. On her the burden of making the butter and cheese fell heavily, beside a large family to cook for and other household duties to perform. The winter was quiet, the man or men had only to care for the stock and get ready the year’s supply of firewood. When evening came the women would gather around the large open fire, making a perfect semi-circle, and one of the number would be back of them with the spinning wheel to piece out the day with three hours more work while those in the circle would be knitting stockings or mittens for the numerous household. They spun and made their own cloth for the household for everyday wear.
Other products of the farm were largely hogs, the staple meat of the family. There was not a meat market in Westerly and probably none at Stonington Point. Such a thing had never been thought of, neither was there any use for a market. Did any of you ever see carried into your homes a quintal of salt codfish? Poultry was raised in large quantities, especially turkeys. Every farmhouse would have its quota. from fifty to a hundred turkeys every year. The price at wholesale was from seven to nine cents a pound in 1830 to ’39, from ten to twelve in 1840. Cider was made in large quantities. Every farm had its orchard, more especially for cider.
Thanksgiving day was the only real holiday of the year when there was a homecoming, when the older members that had married came with great joy to the parental hearthstone. Grandmother roasted the turkey suspended before a blazing hot fire. turning it round and round and basting it, the young eyes watching every movement. No children ever waited for the second table, for mother made it sufficiently long for every child, and the baby was not without his turkey bone. There were no cook stoves in the early thirties, but the brick oven which was brought into use once a week was found in every old farmhouse.
SUPPLY OF BOSTON
I must not in this paper omit to say that Westerly and the towns adjacent supplied all or nearly all the turkeys for Boston from 1830 to 1850. When I say Boston, it includes all towns adjacent to that city. I believe that North Stonington raised more turkeys than Westerly and far more than Stonington; yet all were considered as Rhode Island turkeys and are still so-called. The Crandall brothers, in the Sixth District, in one year raised over five hundred. I remember purchasing a dozen turkeys from York State in about 1870, the first foreign birds so far from the Rhode Island base of supply. But they were inferior birds and no two were alike. Geese were plentiful at four cents a pound. The chicken supply came from New Hampshire and adjacent towns to Boston. Now the Boston supply of turkeys comes largely from the western states with large quantities from Kentucky. Westerly and North Stonington do not raise enough turkeys for home consumption.
Every farmer kept as many hogs as he could feed. Nothing was ever bought to feed them on. In value the hog product was as large as the poultry. Potatoes were produced in large quantities. They were sold and shipped from Stonington Point for twenty-five cents per bushel. Some oats were sold, but no other grains . The stereotype price for corn was one dollar per bushel, and it was sold only among farmers for ponecake meal, if his neighbor came short of corn. Before 1845 my father came from Westerly and said he had brought from a vessel in Bungtown ten bushels of corn for $5.00. This was a wonderful surprise.
I pass now from farms and farm work, which was the principal business, to speak of churches.
I must speak of the first Congregational Church of Stonington, better known as the Road Church. The town appointed a committee to go to the Bay (Massachusetts), to procure a minister. They invited Mr. James Noycs of Newbury to become their Gospel preaching minister. He accepted the invitation and came to Stonington in June, 1664, and commenced his labors in July following. He preached as a licentiate until 1674, when he was ordained on the tenth day of September, 1674, and continued his labors with this church until his death, December 30,1719.
Rev. Mr. Noyes was a graduate of Harvard College. His father, the Rev. James Noyes. was a graduate of Oxford, England, and came to this country in 1634 and settled in Newbury, Mass.
One of the branch of the churches mother church was located in North Stonington, known as the second Church in Stonington. They called the Rev. Joseph Fish, the second pastor of the church. His predecessor had scarcely begun his labors before he was called to his reward. Rev. Joseph Fish, the second pastor, was born in Duxbury, Mass., Jan.28, 1706, and graduated at Harvard College in 1728. He died at the ripe age of 76, beloved and honored among the people of his life-long and only pastoral charge. The commemorative discourse was delivered by Rev. Stephen Hubbell, Sunday, August 16, 1863, pastor of the church, on the life and patriotic services of Rev. Joseph Fish.
When the infirmities of age were beginning to be felt by Mr. Fish, the war of the Revolution opened upon this country. Then his patriotism became a living fire. His private and public influence was given to it.
In the Plain Cemetery northwest of the village, was erected a monument of beautiful white granite of Westerly, R. I., about twelve feet high. Inscription In memory of Rev. Joseph Fish, born at Duxbury, Mass., 1705, who died May 26,1781, aged 76. For fifty years pastor of the Second Church in Stonington. Graduate at Harvard College, 1728. A Patriot and Soldier of the Cross. The next panel is devoted to his wife.
Rebecca, daughter of William Pabodie, of Duxbury, great grand-daughter of John Alden, of the Mayflower, wife of Rev. Joseph Fish, died at Fairfield, Oct.27, 1783. The other two panels of the shaft are devoted to the memory of their two daughters–Mary, wife of Rev. John Noyes, 1758, and Rebecca, second daughter, wife of Benjamin Douglas.
In this large cemetery are many others interred, of distinction, worthy of note, but I will mention only John Swan and his courageous wife, who came to North Stonington from Haverhill, Mass., and settled on what was afterwards called Swantown Hill, in the northwest corner of the town.
Haverhill was a frontier town for nearly seventy years and suffered severely from the barbarity of the Indians. At this period we can have but a faint conception of sufferings of the inhabitants. Surrounded by an immense and mostly unexplored forest, thus did John Swan and his heroic wife begin their home in Haverhill.
Two Indians attacked their house. Mrs. Swan saw them approaching and they determined, if possible, to save their own lives and the lives of their children from the ruthless savages. They immediately placed themselves against the door. Mr. Swan almost despaired of saving himself and family and said to his wife it would be better to let them come in. But his wife bad no such intentions. The Indians had now succeeded in partly opening the door, and one of them was crowding himself in. Mrs. Swan seized her spit (a pointed iron three feet long for cooking meat before a fire) and thrust it through the body of the foremost Indian. Who but a woman would ever think of spitting an Indian? Thus, by her heroic courage. the family was saved from a bloody grave.
John Swan and family removed to Stonington in the year 1707, and settled, as before stated, on Swantown Hill. The inscriptions on their tombstones, difficult to decipher, reads:
“In memory of Capt. John Swan, died May ye 15th, 1743, in ye 75th year of his age.
“In Memory of Mrs. Susannah, wife of Capt. John Swan. She died March ye 20th A. D. 1772, in the 100th year of her age.”
There is much more of interest in the Plain Cemetery.
THE THREE BAPTIST CHURCHES OF NORTH STONINGTON
The First Baptist Church was organized in 1743. Elder Wait Palmer was chosen its pastor and ordained the same year.
At the time this church was organized there was but one other Baptist Church in the State of Connecticut. The First Baptist Church of Groton was organized by Rev. Valentine Wightman as pastor in 1705. This church has the unique distinction of having the father, Valentine Wightman, his son Timothy, and his grandson, John Gano Wightman, successively pastors for one hundred and twenty-five years. Your essayist was present at the unveiling of a tablet commemorative to the memory of these three worthy pastors of this old church at its 200th anniversary in 1905. It must be borne in mind the founding of this church carries us far back into the early settlements of the country, seventy years before the American Revolution. Probably the oldest Baptist parsonage in the country is the one built by Valentine Wightman, 211 years ago, still standing three miles west of Old Mystic, near the Turnpike, on the north side of the road. This church was located three miles west of Old Mystic, where, afterwards the society built their new and commodious meeting house. With this church Stonington Union Association met in 1845, the first association I attended. The Rev. Charles C. Weaver of Voluntown preached the sermon and William C. Walker was ordained. Many of the North Stonington people before 1743, attended this church, who had a leaning toward the Baptist faith, although members of the Congregational Church. The distance traveled in those days was not a potent factor. Elder Wait Palmer was baptized May 27, 1711, and Mary Brown, his wife, daughter of Eleazer Brown and Ann Pendleton, was baptized June 12, 1704, at the Road Church.
First Baptist Church in North Stonington was organized in 1743 and Elder Wait Palmer was chosen its pastor and ordained the same year. Its house of worship was located eight miles from Pawcatuck bridge and two miles south of Pendleton Hill. Ten years after it was built a road was surveyed and laid out from Pawcatuck Bridge to Voluntown line, which passed this church. My great great grand-father, Daniel Brown, with Thomas Holmes gave the land for the meeting house, and it was without paint inside or outside. Elder Palmer received no support from the church. He owned a farm of ninety acres. He was a plain man, common education, yet of strong, vigorous intellect, of sound practical sense. Elder Palmer was an active patriot in the Revolution, soon after which he died in 1790, nearly ninety years old. Interment was half a mile south of the Pendleton Hill meeting house in an unmarked grave.
The second pastor of this church was Eleazer Brown who came from the Second Baptist Church as a licentiate and served four years. He was ordained as pastor June 24, 1770 The church now numbered ninety-seven. A great awakening came in 1791 and the church received an accession of fifty-two. Elder Brown was a man of strong native powers, of vivid thought and conception and of a flowing, rapid delivery. He was rightly esteemed as one of the most eminent preachers of his day. This was his only pastorate and the longest of this church.
The third pastor of this church was Peleg Randall who succeeded Elder Brown. and his pastorate was by no means unfruitful in the conversion of souls, He closed his labors with this church October 8, 1813.
The fourth pastor was Rev. Jonathan Miner, ordained at the First Church of Groton, February 14, 1814. During the first three months of his ministry fifty-six members were added to the church by baptism. The work of grace continued from year to year, as revival followed revival up to the close of his ministry. The next great awakening came in the autumn of 1822 and extended till April 1823.
Dr. A. G. Palmer said on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the church “These were days of childhood to many of us; but they left an impression upon our hearts which neither time nor eternity will ever efface.” The membership now is 231. All these years of the existence of this pioneer church, till 1830, they worshiped in the old meeting house and here had been gathered a large and flourishing body of spiritual believers. But the time had come for the church to enlarge its house of worship. Accordingly in 1830, they rebuilt on that beautiful plateau, Pendleton Hill, commanding a most magnificent view of the surrounding country and of the ocean, fifteen miles away.
The Rev. Mr. Miner said to his people, “Yen have increased in numerical strength and built a new meeting house and you ought now to give your pastor a little salary.” Up to this time the church had paid their minister no salary. But they did not comply with his request, and he soon resigned. and removed to New York in 1834.
SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH
This church was organized in March, 1765. with Elder Simeon Brown pastor. He was converted under the preaching of White Field in 1745. He was baptized by the Rev. Wait Palmer in 1764, being ordained the same year. With the assistance of his brethren he built the meeting house where he preached for fifty years and eight months without salary. He is buried in Brown Cemetery, north of the Miner meeting house, so-called, with his ancestors, children, grandchildren and relatives. A towering monument marks his resting place. He was succeeded by Elder Asher Miner, who had been for ten years associate pastor with Elder Brown. and at his death he became pastor and served until his death, September, 1836. The day of his funeral I well remember. During Elder Miner’s pastorate the church membership was 480.
The first meeting house was without paint outside or in. It had three galleries with square family boxed pews, unlike any other church I ever saw, except the church at Nooseneck Hill, Rhode Island, which was burnt about 1860. The old meeting house was taken down in l845 and the present structure as it now stands was erected, I have seen forty or more horses tied around the old church, the most of the people coming on horseback, a man with his wife on a pillion and oftentimes with a child in her arms. They came from Old Mystic, Stonington and Westerly in ye olden times and as late as 1845 in large numbers.
THIRD BAPTIST CHURCH
This church was organized in 1828, and by the rapid growth of the church the present house of worship was built in 1833. The first acting pastor of this new church was Rev. Levi Walker, M..D. He had three sons that were Baptist ministers Rev. Levi, Jr., William C. and Orrin T. Walker. This church had the reputation of having a number of most excellent preachers. who had short terms of service. Very large congregations gathered in this church from 1845 to the time of the removal of the writer to Boston in 1856. (Verbally mention records.)
SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL TEACHERS
North Stonington had sixteen school districts. In those school houses or “education boxes,” as one called them, were gathered a large number of scholars, to the full capacity of the house, in the early forties.
Select schools in the autumn of the year for advanced scholars were taught for several years by Francis Starr Peabody. Many of these students afterward became teachers in their native town and nearby towns in Rhode Island. Of special note was the large number of teachers that were sent out from North Stonington. Here are the names of a few that are remembered: William H. Hillard, Albert W. Hillard, Asher Coats, John Coats, Jonathan Allan, Ralph Coats, Dr. Lot Kinney, Adaniran Walker, Samuel Avery Babcock, William H. Maine, Edwin C. Maine, John Hami1ton Partelo, Van R. Gray, Jira I. Gray, William H. Randall of the old school and many others.
The year I came on the stage of action, in 1829, there were sixteen miles of railroads from a coal mine to tide water, in 1830, twenty-three miles, in 1831, ninety-five miles, in 1832, 239 miles, in 1833, but in 1902 195,886, now 200,000.
Prof. Morse invented the first practical telegraph in 1844. With the aid of Congress a line was installed between Washington and Baltimore. The first message; “What bath God wrought?” was sent from the United States Supreme Court Room in the Capitol at Washington to Baltimore, May 24, 1844. Prof. Morse likewise set up the first daguerreotype apparatus in 1843.
The first express company was Haruden’s Express, established between Boston and New York in 1839. He is buried in Mount Auburn. The inscription on his tombstone, “The King’s Business Demands Haste.” I find I must close this paper, but not without mentioning a few things that impressed me in my early days. I will return to the village of Militown, as it was called. until the electrics passed through the town when, and thereafter. it was called North Stonington.
When I first remember the village, it had six flourishing stores and people came there to do their trading from Old Mystic, Stonington, Westerly, Potter Hill and Ashaway. Major Doudly R. Wheeler was the leading merchant of the village, and in his store I bought my wedding outfit, and it was made by an up-to-date tailor in the village, by Mr. O’Connell, but we do not think of going there now for the most stylish wedding outfit.
David Holmes had a small carpenter shop and he made coffins for the people of the town as they required.
The most remarkable presidential campaign that I have ever passed through was in 1840, although there were many stirring times that I witnessed in Boston. The campaign when William Henry Harrison was a candidate for the presidency was the longest drawn out and the most exciting time the country ever witnessed. It began in March and continued until election. New London County offered a $500 silk banner to the town that made the largest Whig gain. North Stonington won the banner, and the greatest exciting day the greatest exciting day the town ever saw was when the City of Norwich came with a hind of music to present the banner. Delegations came from New London, Mystic and Stonington. Visitors came from Stonington in a large whale boat down by four horses with flag waving from the stern of the boat; also from Westerly, Potter Hill, last but not least, Voluntown, a delegation was drawn by eight yoke of oxen with a pole erected and on the top of the pole a fleece of wool, with the motto, “You can’t pull the wool over our eyes.”
There were many leading families in North Stonington worthy of mention in my early days, viz: Dudley R. Wheeler, Maj. Russell Wheeler, William R. Wheeler, Latham Hull, Dr. Thomas P. Wattles, Dea. Allen Wheeler, Jabish Maine family, Aaron Thompson family, Luther Palmer family, Andrew Chapman family, Nathan Pendleton family, Russell Bentley. Daniel Bentley, Ailsel Coats family, Rev. Levi Walker’s family, Dea. Josiah Brown, Dea. Cyrus W. Brown, Dea. Ezra Miner, Stephen Main’s family, Benjamin Peabody’s family, Ephraim Maine’s family.
I speak especially of these that I knew as the leading citizens of the town.