From the Connecticut Historical Collection
BY John Warner Barbour
THE tract of land now comprised in the township of Litchfield, was called by the native Indians Bantam. In 1718, it was purchased of the colony of Connecticut by a company, who divided their purchase, (which was intended to cover ten miles square,) into sixty shares, under the name of "Proprietor's Rights," and was valued at £5 per right. The proprietors, who made the purchase and first settlement, were principally from Hartford, Windsor and Lebanon. In 1720 and 1721, several families began to settle on the tract. "Nothing appears on record to show that the proprietors purchased any of the lands in this town of the Indians: the title having been previously extinguished by the colony. The lands in this town afforded better hunting ground for the Indians, than extensive intervals. Many of the hills were nearly cleared of trees by fires, kindled for the purpose of hunting. To this remark, however, many valuable tracts, containing excellent pine and other forest trees, were an important exception."
In 1724, Bantam was incorporated as a town by the name of Litchfield. "By the act of incorporation, the grant was made to John Marsh of Hartford, to, John Buel of Lebanon, and their associates; amounting to fifty seven. The first founders built log houses. The settlement proceeded as fast as could be reasonably expected, considering the circumstances of the times. During the wars between England and France, the Canadians and Indians often harassed our borders; and Litchfield being a frontier town, was exposed to their ravages. Between the years 1720 and 1730, five, houses were surrounded with palisades. One of these stood on the ground near the present Court house; another about half a mile south; one east, and one west of the center; and one in South Farms. Soldiers were then stationed here to guard the inhabitants, both while they were at work in the field, and while they were attending public worship on the Sabbath.
"In May, 1722, Capt. Jacob Griswould, being at work alone in the field, about one mile west of the present Court house, two Indians suddenly rushed upon him from the woods, took him and pinioned' his arms, and carried him off. They traveled in a northerly direction, and the same day arrived in some part of the township called Canaan, then a wilderness. The Indians kindled a fire, and after binding their prisoner hand and foot, lay down to sleep. Giiswould fortunately disengaging. His hands and feet, while his arms were yet pinionws, seized their guns, and made his escape into the woods. After traveling a small distance, he sat down and waited till the dawn of day; and, although his arms were still pinioned, he carried both the guns. The savages awoke in the morning, and finding their prisoner gone, they immediately pursued him; they soon overtook him, and kept in sight of him the greater part of the day, while he was making his way homeward. When they came near, be turned and pointed one of his pieces at them; they then fell back. In this manner he traveled till near sunset, when he reached an eminence in an open field about one mile northwest of the present Court house. He then discharged one of his guns, which immediately summoned the people to his assistance. The Indians fled, and Griswould safely returned to his family."
"The capture of Griswould made the inhabitants more cautious for a while but their fears soon subsided. In the month of August following, Mr. Joseph Harris, a respectable inhabitant, was at work in the woods alone, not far from the place where Griswould was taken; and being attacked by a party of Indians, attempted to make his escape. The Indians pursued him, and finding they could not overtake him, they shot him dead and scalped him. As Harris did not return, the inhabitants were alarmed, and some search was made for him; hut the darkness of the night checked their' exertions. The next morning they found his body, and gave it a decent burial. Harris was killed near the north end of the plain, where the road turns towards Milton, and a little east of the school house now standing; and for a long time after, this plain was called Harris' plain."
The first white male person born in this town was Gershom Gibbs, in the month of July, 1721. The first minister in the place was the Rev. Timothy Collins, a native of Guilford, who graduated at Yale College in 1718. Mr. Collins accepted the call of the inhabitants to be their minister, in December, 1721, and was ordained in June, 1723; the following salary was voted, viz. £57 for the first four years; for the fifth year £60; for the next year, £70; and for the seventh year, and so long as he should continue with them in the work of the ministry, £80. His fire wood was voted him in addition to his salary. Mr. Collins continued in the ministry till 1752, when he was dismissed at his own request. In the following year he was appointed a justice of the peace. He also practiced physic. He died in Litchfield, in 1776.
In April, 1723, the inhabitants voted to build their first church which was finished within three years. Its dimensions were 45 feet in length, and 35 in breadth; it was built in a plain manner, without a steeple. It stood within a few feet of the present Congregational church. At the raising of this building all the adult males in the town were present, and sat on the sills at once. The second house of worship was finished in 1762; this also has been taken down, and a new building has been recently erected. The first Episcopal society was formed in this town about the year 1746, but they had only occasional preaching till the year 1754. At this time Mr. Solomon Palmer, who had been just dismissed from' the church in Cornwall, took the charge of the Episcopal congregation in this town, and that of New Milford at the same time, and preached to them alternately. Mr. Palmer continued here in 1763, when he removed to the Episcopal congregation in New Haven. In 1766 he resumed his charge in Litchfield, and continued it till his death, in 1770.
Litchfleld, the seat of justice for the county, is situated in lat. north 41o 0 50' being 30 miles west from Hartford, 36 northwest from New Haven, and 100 from New York; bounded north by Goshen and Torrington, on the west by Washington and Warren, east by Naugatuc river, separating it from Harwinton, and on the south by Watertown, Bethlenm and Plymouth. It is about 9 miles in length from east to west, and a' breadth of nearly miles. It is an elevated township, and its surface presents a diversity of hills and valleys. The hills are generally of considerable elevation, and their prevailing course is from north to south. In the western part of the town, there are some mountainous' tracts which comprise several considerable eminences, of which mount Tom is the most elevated. Great Pond, situated to the south west of Litchfield village, is a beautiful sheet of water, comprising an area of about 900 acres, and is the largest pond or lake in the state. Litchfield abounds in good springs of water, and from its elevated situation, the air is generally pure and salubrious, and the town has the reputation of being remarkably healthy. The soil is generally strong and fertile, and for an elevated tract, is warm and favorable for vegetation.* Litchfield is divided into four societies, Litchfield proper, South Farms, Northfield, and Milton. Litchfield village was incorporated in 1818. It is delightfully situated upon an elevated plain in the center of the first society, affording the most extensive prospects, surrounded `by interesting scenery, and from its situation, enjoying a salubrious atmosphere. The corporate limits of the village ate about one mile and a half in length, and about one mile in breadth. The principal Street, running from N. W. to S. E. is well built, comprising numerous handsome dwelling houses, some of which are elegant edifices. This street is intersected by another, forming a pleasant square in the center. There are in the village upwards of 80 dwelling houses, 2 printing offices, a Bank, being a branch of the Phoenix Bank, Hartford; Court house, jail, professional offices, mercantile and mechanic shops. In 1784, a law' school was established here by the Hon. Tapping Reeve. In 1798, the Hon. James Gould was associated as a joint instructor with Judge Reeve. This school was considered as the most respectable and systematic law school in the United States. It was discontinued a few year's since. There is a high school for young ladies, which is of considerable celebrity. There is an Infirmary in this town under the direction of Dr. Alanson Abbe, established for the purpose of curing and relieving diseases of the spine.
South Farms was incorporated into an ecclesiastical society, in 1767. In the year 1753, when Mr. Champion was settled in Litchfield, there were but 30 families in the parish; when it was incorporated it contained seventy, in 1764 the inhabitants agreed to build their first church. It was only one story high, 31 feet by 32: the second house of worship was erected in 1785 An academy was begun in South Farms, in 1790, by James Morris, Esq. in which the higher branches, of education were taught. This school is still kept up, and is a respectable institution.
Northfield parish was incorporated in 1794. It is situated in the S. E. corner of Litchfield, and includes within its limits part of the township of' Plymouth. The surface of this parish is uneven, and many parts stony, rough, and hard for tillage. The' sell is generally good, and produces good grass and grain. There are two houses for worship in this place, 1 Congregational and I Episcopal. The first Congregational minister, the Rev. Joseph E. Camp, was settled here in 1795
Milton is situated in the N. W. corner of Litchfield. It was incorporated in 1795, and their first minister was Mr. Benjamin Judd, who was installed in 1802. The parish embraces within its limits a part of Goshen, Cornwall, and Warren. The surface of the parish is uneven and stony, with `many large primitive rocks, and though good grazing land, are hard for tillage.
There is a mineral spring in the west part of Litchfield, near a place called Bradleysville, "which is saturated with iron and sulphur. The water issues from the east side of the mountain in considerable quantities. The mud from the bottom of the spring burns with a blue flame, and the principal part of it consumes." An Indian relic was found in this town, about a half a mile east of the Court house, near Bantam river. It is a rude sculpture of brown stone, nearly the size of life, representing a female with head and shoulders extending down to the waist: it is now deposited at Yale College,' New Haven.
Ethan Allen, a Brigadier General in the American service, distinguished for his daring and intrepid spirit, was a native of this town. There has been a considerable diversity of statements respecting the place of his birth. Cornwall, Salisbury and Roxbury, have been named as places where he was born. By an examination of the Litchfield town records the present year, (1836,) it is recorded that he was the son of Joseph and Mary Allen, and was born Jan. 10th, 1737. The fact of the differing statements, mentioned above, seems to have originated from the circumstance of his residing for a while in those towns. The following sketch of his life is from `Allen's Biographical Dictionary.
"While he was young, his parents immigrated to Vermont. At the commencement of the disturbances in this territory about the year 1770, he took a most active part in favor of the green mountain boys, as the settlers were then called, in opposition to the government of New York. An act of outlaw against him was passed' by this state, and 500 guineas were offered for his apprehension: but his party was too numerous and faithful to permit him to be disturbed by any apprehensions for' his safety: in all the struggles of the day he was successful; and he not only proved a valuable friend to those whose cause he had espoused, but he was humane and generous toward those, with whom he had to contend. When called to take the field, he showed himself an able leader and an intrepid soldier.
"The news of the battle of Lexington determined Col. Allen to engage on the side of his country, and inspired him with the desire of demonstrating his attachment to liberty by some bold exploit. While his mind was in this state, a plan for taking Ticonderoga and Crown Point by surprise, Which was formed by several gentlemen in Connecticut, was communicated to him, and he readily engaged in the project. Receiving directions from the general, assembly of Connecticut to raise the green mountain boys, and conduct the enterprise, he collected 230 of the hardy settlers and proceeded to Castleton. Here he was unexpectedly joined by Col. Arnold, who had been commissioned by the Massachusetts committee to raise 400 men, and effect the same object, which was now about to be accomplished. As he had not raised the men, he was admitted to act as an assistant to Col. Allen. They reached the lake opposite Ticonderoga on the evening of the 9th of May, 1775. With the utmost difficulty boats were procured, and 8, 3 men were landed near the garrison. The approach of day rendering it dangerous to wait for the rear, it was determined immediately to' proceed. The commander in chief now addressed his men, representing that they had been for a number of years a scourge to arbitrary power, and famed for their valor and concluded with saying, `I now propose to advance before you, and in person conduct you through the wicket gate; and you, that will go with me voluntarily in this desperate attempt, poise your firelocks.' At the head of the center file he marched instantly to the gate, where a sentry snapped his gun at him, and retreated through the covered way: he pressed forward into the fort, and formed his men on the parade in such a manner as to face two opposite barracks. Three huzzas awaked the garrison. A sentry, who asked quarter, pointed out the apartments of the commanding officer; and Allen with a drawn sword over the head of Capt. De La Place, who was undressed, demanded the surrender of the fort. `By what authority do you demand it?' inquired the astonished commander. `I demand it (said Allen) in the name of the great Jehovah and of the continental congress.' The summons could not be disobeyed, and the fort with its very valuable stores and 49 prisoners, was immediately surrendered. Crown Point was taken the same day, and the capture of a sloop of war, soon afterwards made Allen and his brave party complete masters of lake Champlain.
"In the fall of 1775 he was sent twice into Canada to observe the dispositions of the people, and attach them, if possible, to the American cause. During this last tour Col. Brown met him, and proposed an attack upon Montreal in concert. The proposal was eagerly embraced, and Cot. Allen with 110 men, near 80 of who were Canadians, crossed the river in the night of Sept. 24 In the morning he waited with impatience for the signal from Col. Brown, who agreed to cooperate with him, but he waited in vain. He made a resolute defense against an attack of 500 men, and it was not till his own party was reduced by desertions to the number of 31, and be had retreated near a mile, that he surrendered. A moment afterwards a furious savage rushed towards him, and presented his firelock with the intent of killing him. It was only by making use of the body of the officer, to whom he had given his sword, as a shield, that he escaped destruction.
"He was now kept for some time in irons, and treated with great cruelty. He was sent to England as a prisoner, being assured that the halter would be the reward of his rebellion, when he arrived there. His arrival about the middle of Dec. he was lodged for a short time in Pendennis castle, near Falmouth. On the 8th of Jan. 1776, he was put on board a frigate, and by a circuitous route carried to Halifax. Here he remained confined in the goal from June to Oct.; when-he was removed to New York. During the passage to this place, Capt. Burke, a daring prisoner, proposed to kill the British captain and seize the frigate; but Col. Allen refused to engage in the plot, and was probably the means of preserving the life of Capt. Smith, who had treated him very politely. He was kept at New York about a year and a half; sometimes imprisoned, and sometimes permitted to be on parole.
Col. Allen was exchanged for Col. Campbell, May 6, 1778, and after having repaired to head quarters, and offered his services to George Washington in case his health should be restored, he returned to Vermont. His arrival on the evening of the last of May, gave his friends great soy, and it was announced by the discharge of cannon. As an expression of confidence in his patriotism and military talents, he was soon appointed to the command of the state militia. It does not appear, however, that his intrepidity was ever again brought to the test, though his patriotism was tried by an unsuccessful attempt of the British to bribe him to attempt a union, of Vermont with Canada. He died suddenly at his estate in Colchester, Feb. 13, 1789.
"Col. Allen possessed strong powers of mind; but they never felt the influence of education. Though he was brave, humane and generous, yet his conduct does not seem to have been much influenced `by considerations respecting that holy and merciful Being, whose character and whose commands are disclosed to us in the scriptures. His notions with regard to religion were such, as to prove, that those, who rather confide in their own wisdom than seek instruction from heaven, embrace absurdities, which would disgrace the understanding of a child. He believed, with Pythagoras, that man after death would transmigrate into beasts, birds, fishes, reptiles, &c., and often informed his friends, that he himself expected to live again in the form of a large white horse. Besides a number of pamphlets in the controversy with New York, he published in 1779 a narrative of his observations during his captivity, which has been lately reprinted; a vindication of the opposition of the inhabitants of Vermont to the government of New York, .and their right to form an independent state, 1779; and Allen's theology, or the oracles of reason, 1786. This last work was intended to ridicule the doctrine of Moses and the prophets. It would be unjustly bringing against it the charge of having effected great mischief in the world, for few have had the patience to read it."
Oliver Wolcott, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was for many years a resident of this town: he was a native `of East Windsor, born Dec. 1st, 1726, and was the son of the Hon. Roger Wolcott, governor of the colony of Connecticut. He was graduated in Yale College in 1747.
"He commanded a company of soldiers in 1748, in the war against the French, in Canada. After one campaign; he retired from military service, studied the profession of physic, and commenced the practice in Goshen. In the year 1751, he was appointed high sheriff of Litchfield county, removed to this town, and continued in the office of sheriff till the year 1772. He represented this town in the General Assembly, in the year 1770. In the year 1772, he was chosen a member of the council. In 1772 he was appointed judge of probate for the district of Litchfield. In the year 1774 he was appointed judge of the court of common pleas. In the year 1775, he was chosen a representative in congress, and was present at the declaration of independence. He continued a member of the council till the year 1786, and was then chosen lieut. governor of this state. In this office he continued till the year 1796, and was then chosen governor; and in this office he died, Dec. 1st, 1797. The duties of all these stations he discharged with unshaken integrity and firmness; courted favors from no man; and neither sought nor obtained any end by intrigue, or from interested motives. He was singularly modest, and even diffident, in his intercourse with men, in the common walks of life. Those who best knew this gentleman well knew that the highest trust was never improperly placed in him. Two questions only were asked by him, while discharging the duties of the several offices' of' high responsibility, which he held, viz. What is right? And, What is my duty? He possessed a benevolent heart, and was warm in his friendships; a firm friend to order; a promoter of peace; a lover of religion; and a tried, unshaken friend to the institutions of the gospel. He was an indefatigable student; and neither wasted his time nor his words. His mind was clear and penetrating; his views of political subjects, just and comprehensive, his discernment of the wisest means to promote the best ends, ready and exact; and his acquaintance with science, particularly with theology, extensive. He had a remarkable talent at investigation; and `-nothing satisfied him but proof.' He has left a name, which is a sweet savor to his surviving friends; and a lively hope, that he is enjoying the rewards of the faithful in immortal bliss." - Morris History of Litchfield.
Oliver Wolcott, son of the preceding, was born in 1760. When a lad of 17, lie lent his aid to the cause of his country: he was present in the engagement with the British at the time of their invasion of Danbury. On the formation of the U. S. government in 1789, he was appointed first auditor of the treasury; and in 1794 he succeeded Gen. Hamilton as secretary of the treasury. In 1817 he was elected gay error of Connecticut, which office he held till 1827. He was the last survivor of the administration of Washington. He died in New York, June 2d, 1833.
Benjamin Tailmadge, a major, and afterwards a colonel in the revolutionary army, was a resident of this town. He was born at Brookhaven, (L. I.) Feb. 25th, 1754. His father was the clergyman of that place. He was graduated at Yale College in 1773. In 1776 he entered the revolutionary army, and soon received a major's commission from Washington, who honored him with his confidence, and entrusted him with several hazardous and important services. He was present in most of the general battles which took place with the main army in the northern states, at Long Island, White Plains, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, &c., besides many smaller engagements, with- the command of his own detachment. He removed to Litchfield in 1784. In 1800 he was chosen a representative to congress. He was an ardent patriot and sincere Christian. He died at Litchfield, March 7th, 1835.