The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642 -- 188O.
Published: Press of Springfield Printing Company, Springfield, Mass., 1880.
Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17
THE TOWN OF OXFORD.
THE Oxford ecclesiastical society was established in 1741, and in 1742 a burying-ground was laid out, and from that time until 1798 they exercised the rights of such a society, but remained a part of the township of Derby. The effort to make the parish of Oxford a town began in 1789, and was continued with intervals until that object was attained. In 1793 an agreement with Derby was effected and the boundaries fixed by a committee, but the Assembly did not confirm the agreement.
In December, 1796, the parish of Oxford having previously petitioned the General Assembly to be made a town, the town of Derby voted that "We will not oppose the incorporation of Oxford as a separate town on account of representation, but will consent to divide the representation and each district have only one member, and that we will as a town unite with Oxford in a petition for the purpose, and the lines to divide said town shall remain as agreed by a committee of said town about three years ago, and if the inhabitants of the respective districts cannot agree on a division of the burdens of said town, we will submit a division thereof to a disinterested committee who shall adjust and divide said burdens which shall be binding on each party."
In the next April, Capt. John Riggs was appointed to carry the petition to the Assembly and urge the request of the people; but it was not agreeable some way to that body, and another committee was sent in December, 1797. At the same time they appointed a committee to adjust the burdens of the town, who made their final report April 23, 1798, recommending that "Said parish of Oxford, in consequence of the extraordinary burthens and public expense to be incurred by the old town in bridges and roads, etc., in said division lines shall pay as a compensation to said old town one hundred and seventy pounds lawful money in three yearly installments." This report was
accepted and passed in a lawful town meeting, and Oxford was made a town in October, 1798.
The territory now included in the township of Oxford, which was originally included in Derby, was obtained of the Indians by some twelve to fifteen deeds, the principal of which were the Wesquantuck and Rockhouse hill. Camp's mortgage. Moss's purchase, North purchase, Quaker's farm, Tobie's grant, and several others of smaller quantities in the north-eastern part of the township. The first of these, Wesquantuck and Rockhouse hill, was made in 1678, and the last in 1710.
Major Ebenezer Johnson, Ens. Samuel Riggs, Jeremiah Johnson and two or three others purchased small tracts of land at Rock Rimmon, or in the vicinity of what is now Pine's bridge, in 1678 and in 1680, where the first permanent settlement was made within the present township of Oxford. In 1692-3, Thomas Wooster and David Wooster made purchases south of Major Johnson's land on the west side of the Naugatuck, being a little above Seymour, but precisely when they or any of their descendants began to reside on these lands has not been ascertained. In 1708 Ens. Samuel Riggs gave to his son, Ebenezer Riggs, two hundred acres of land with houses and other improvements in this vicinity, and he at that time or soon after made his home here.
The first permanent settler at Quaker's farm was some time after 1707, and it is quite certain there were settlers in the vicinity of Pine's bridge and Rimmon some years before this date.
At the meeting of the Oxford society, October 6, I741* it was voted "to build a meeting-house, and to meet the Assembly in the next session at New Haven, to pray for a commission to appoint, order and fix the place whereon their meeting-house shall be erected and built."
No report of that committee is to be found.
The society meetings were held at private houses until the
* Much of the following account of Oxford and O.xford people is taken from an historical paper read by Judge N. J. Wilcoxson at the centennial celebration on the fourth of July, 1876, in Oxford. The paper was prepared by considerable research and great carefulness, and is worthy of high commendation. The matter of nearly the whole paper is incorporated in this book.
31st day of March, 1743. The meeting next after that was held at the meeting-house on the 21st of June, 1743.
The next important step after the building of the meetinghouse in those days was the settlement of a minister, but in the present day the first move would be to obtain a minister in order to the building of a meeting-house. Mr. Joseph Adams was called to settle, being offered £500 settlement, and a yearly salary of £150 old tenor, which brought to the silver standard meant £145 settlement and £45 salary. [New Haven Hist. Papers, 1. 74.] The call was not accepted, and at a society meeting held in June, 1745, it was voted to give to Mr. Jonathan Lyman a call to preach on probation. A committee consisting of Capt. Timothy Russell, Capt. John Lumm and Ensign John Chatfield, was appointed to hire Mr. Lyman on probation for the space of four Sabbaths. At the end of this time, in July, "it was voted to give Jonathan Lyman a call to settle over the parish in the work of the gospel ministry," with a settlement of £500, and a salary of £125, until the settlement should be paid, and then to be raised to £150. Subsequently it was voted to add ten pounds yearly to the salary for five years.
Mr. Lyman accepted the call and was regularly ordained over the parish Wednesday Oct. 4, 1745, and continued in this office with usual success eighteen years, when, as he was riding in the western part of the town on a visit to a sick person, he fell from his horse, and, it is supposed, instantly died.
Mr. Lyman was a brother to General Phineas Lyman, and was baptized at Durham, April 21, 1717; was a graduate of Yale College in 1742; preached in Middlefield, Conn., six Sabbaths in 1745, and ordained as above the first minister of the parish. The following records show somewhat of the esteem in which he was held:
"To all persons to whom these presents shall come, I Samuel Wheeler send greeting. Know ye that I ye said Samuel Wheeler, of Oxford, in Derby, in the county of New Haven and colony of Connecticut in New England, do for, and in consideration of love, good will and respect which I have, and do bear towards the Rev. Mr. Jonathan Lyman, pastor of the church of Oxford, in Derby, in the county and
colony aforesaid in New England, have given and granted and by these presents do fully and clearly and absolutely give and grant unto the said Rev. Mr. Jonathan Lyman his heirs and assigns forever a certain parcel of land lying in Derby, parish of Oxford, near the meeting-house . . Sept. 10, 1746." April 21, 1747, John Lumm gives him a piece of land "For and in consideration of the good will and respect that I have and do bear to the Rev. Jonathan Lyman, for encouragement to him in his settlement, in ye work of the ministry with us, which consideration is to my good and full satisfaction."
The next minister settled in the parish was the Rev. David Bronson, of Milford. The call is dated Monday, March 3, 1764; settlement £200, and a salary of £60, to be increased to £70, after four years. Dea. Ebenezer Riggs, Mr. John Twitchell, Mr. Thomas Clark, Capt. Russell, Capt. Hawkins, Lieut. Wheeler, Joseph Osborn, were the committee for treating with Mr. Bronson regarding his settlement. The 25th of April, 1764, was appointed for the ordination. Mr. Bronson lived to serve the parish until the year 1806, a period of forty years, when he departed to his future reward.
The next settled minister of the parish was the Rev. Nathaniel Freeman. His continuance was from June, 1809, to September, 1814. The society was without a settled minister from Sept., 1814, to the settlement of Rev. Abraham Brown, June 2, 1830. During these sixteen years of vacancy, the people were variously supplied with preaching, principally by Rev. Zephaniah Swift, a man of much personal worth and highly respected. Mr. Brown was dismissed, Oct. 16, 1838.
A call was next extended to Rev. Stephen Topliff, on the 2ist day of April, 1841, on a salary of $500 annually so long as he should continue with the church and society as their minister, which call he accepted and was installed the following September. He served them nearly twenty years and was dismissed in i860. He was esteemed for his integrity, faithfulness in the discharge of his professional duty, kindness as a neighbor and the wisdom of his actions as a citizen.
Following Mr. Topliff the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Mr. Barton one year; by Rev. Mr. Strong, who was installed, two and a half years; Rev. Mr. Chamberlin two and a half years, and after that by Rev. John Churchill, of Woodbury, seven
years. It is remarked of Mr. Churchill that, faithful to his calling as a preacher he deservedly ranks with the ablest, as a friend the kindest, as a neighbor unselfishly loving, and as a citizen discreet, just and true.
Not long before the close of the year 1792, the people began to talk of building a new meeting-house, and on the third day of January, 1793, voted so to build on the meeting-house acre, near the old one, a house 56 feet by 40. Thomas Clark, Esq., Capt. John Riggs and Mr. Josiah Strong, were appointed a committee to apply to the Hon. County Court to establish a place for the site for the same. In the meeting on the 23d day of December, 1793, Mr. Timothy Candee was appointed to build the meeting-house, the same vote agreeing to give him therefor the sum of six hundred and seventy-five pounds. It has been said that the stipulated sum did not pay Mr. Candee the expenses of the building, and to meet which so embarrassed him pecuniarily, that he gave up what of estate he had and removed to Pompey, N. Y., where he spent the remainder of his days. The house then built, the present Congregational church, was raised in the year 1795 as entered upon public records by Dr. Hosea Dutton. The same year the Oxford turnpike, said to have been the second in the state, was chartered.
The same year the hotel building, now styled the Oxford House, was erected by Daniel and Job Candee. It was first and for many years occupied by Daniel Candee as innkeeper. He was succeeded by his nephew, David Candee, who continued in the position a space of forty years.
The first post-office was kept in the same building, Daniel Candee, post-master. David Candee, upon taking the position of landlord, took also that of postmaster, which he held for a great number of years, and then it passed to his son, George N. Candee, by whom it was taken into a merchant store.
This parish was gathered and estabhshed by the labors of Rev. Richard Mansfield, D. D., in 1764, who was located at Derby as a minister of the gospel.
The following deed shows that the church was already organized; and although it says, "for a valuable consideration," it is probable that the land was mostly a gift.
"I, Joseph Davis, of Derby, in the parish of Oxford, . . for a valuable consideration of current money, . . received by Abel Gunn and William Bunnell, church wardens of the parish of Oxford, . . do give, grant and confirm unto them, and to others of the parishioners of the Church of England, in said Oxford, one certain tract of land known by the name of Meeting-house Lot, lying near Oxford meeting house, being by estimate five acres, . . to have and to hold to the said Abel Gunn, Benjamin Bunnell, and to all the rest of the professors of the Church of England, in said Oxford." December 22, 1766.
A like deed was executed by John Twitchell, June 21, 1770, for "near eighteen acres of a certain piece of land in the parish of Oxford, lying on Govenror's Hill, so called, lying near the church."
Information of the regular succession of ministers in this St. Peter's Church has not been obtained. The Rev. Chauncey Prindle, a native born citizen of Oxford, a graduate of Yale College, after a twelve years ministerial service at Watertown, Conn., was pastor at St. Peter's for several years. He was noted for a sound and forcible intellect and stern integritv, and was orthodox and firm in principles. He was a useful minister. His last residence for many years was on a farm in the northern part of Oxford, where he died at a great age about the year 1832.
After Mr. Prindle, the Rev. Aaron Humphreys was pastor, but how long he continued is not ascertained, possibly ten years or more. The Rev. W. A. Curtiss, a native of Coventry, Conn., came here in April, 1829, from New York. His pastorate continued a little more than two years, being a preacher of considerable ability, but such was his imprudence and indiscretion that he was ever upsetting his own dish. After him, Rev.
Ashbel Baldwin, Rev. Dr. Burhans, Revs. Messrs. Todd, Sanford, Marvin, Nichols, Eastman, Loop, Gray, Smith, Clark, Pierce, Anketel, and Burk, were in turn in charge of the parish and church.
The church first erected stood on the hill adjacent to the cemetery. It was taken down and removed, and the one now standing on the green was erected in the year 1834, and was dedicated by Bishop Brownell in the year following, the Rev. Charles Smith then being the minister.
"To the year 1798, Oxford was part and parcel of the town of Derby. About the year 1791, the people aspired to become a town, and year after year to the seventh they presented their petition, when on the seventh they were successful, and Oxford was incorporated a town. But this was not obtained without extra effort, for the people at last resorted to strategy, and thereby succeeded. The election of the town at Derby was at hand. The town-meeting was warned to be held at nine o'clock in the forenoon, but the custom was not to open it until one o'clock in the afternoon. The people of Oxford agreed to go together in a body, ready to open the meeting at nine o'clock. The hour of meeting in Oxford was known to every voter, and prompt at the time they were all assembled and formed in procession on the main street, and at a given signal the procession moved in stately order toward its destination, the town house of Derby. It was so much the custom then to open the town meeting with prayer, that such proceedings without prayer were hardly regarded as legitimate, and therefore to save trouble in that direction the Rev. William Bronson, the minister at Oxford, was taken along to offer the opening prayer. It was not the first time nor the last that religion has been called in to help carry out mischief, but this seems to have been that kind of mischief over which it is legitimate to pray. The procession reached the place of meeting; it was nine o'clock; they set about the business of the hour with a diligence that told what was meant. The Derby people were in consternation, and started out, running their horses in various directions, calling on persons to hasten to the meeting; but before enough of the
voters had reached the place to outnumber the Oxford voters, Nathan Stiles, who resided in what is now Seymour, was chosen town clerk, and they had voted that the town-meetings should be held one-half the time in Oxford. It is said that from that day, Derby no longer opposed the effort of Oxford to become a town. It is certain, however, that Derby consented to Oxford becoming a town some three or four years before the General Assembly made the grant. But the above account is doubtless true as to matter of fact, and was given by Capt. David McEwin, a prominent citizen, one every way competent to remember such an occurrence, a man of laudable character, active in public enterprise, a farmer by vocation, and when in the prime of life was one of the most thorough, flourishing and successful operators. He is said to have been marshal of the day in that grand Oxford descent upon old Derby, leading the procession to complete triumph, being assisted by the parson.
In and by the act of incorporation, it was ordered that the first town meeting should be held on the third Tuesday of November, 1798, that Thomas Clark, Esq., should warn the meeting, and that John Riggs, Esq., should serve the meeting as moderator, and in accordance with these arrangements the meeting was held. It was a very stormy day; the snow fell deeper than is often seen, yet the meeting was fully attended and the organization completed.
This is made up of what is called the "meeting-house acre land" given by a Mr. Chatfield, for a site for a meeting-house, and of land thrown out by proprietors along down on the eastern side until it ends upon the turnpike road. This constitutes what is called Upper Green. It was agreed at that time, that anything of rubbish or whatever could encumber the ground, if thrown out and left thereon, should after thirty days become a forfeiture to the owner. The Lower Green is proprietors' land and laid by a committee for a public common and a military parade ground. The honor of making the suggestion for thus laying out the lower end of the green belongs to Esq. Charles Bunnell, an unselfish, public spirited, worthy and respected citizen; and held a prominent place in the confidence of the
people. His residence was that of the late Harry Sutton. He died in March, 1838, aged 80 years.
The land thus given being a thickly grown bramble the people turned out under the lead of a committee, three military officers of the day and time, Capt. John Davis(afterwards colonel) Lieut. Samuel A. Buckingham and Ensign Ebenezer Fairchild. They cleared the land of rubbish and brought it to its present desirable condition by a large expense of time and money. The whole public common, both upper and lower, were laid out and improved under the leading of the same committee.
Before the laying and constructing of the turnpike, public travel was not as now, but passed easterly by the school-house in the center to and down what we now call Back street. The dwelling house now occupied by Michael Flynn was the hotel kept by Mr. Gideon Tucker." [Judge Wilcoxon's historical paper.]
Quaker's Farm is a small village in the western part of Oxford, originally in the north-western part of Derby, lying in the valley on the east side of Eight-mile brook. The first Indian deed given which seems to have included this territory was dated August 6, 1687, but Mr. Joseph Hawley, of Stratford, proposed in 1683 to have his grant in Derby, then agreed upon, laid at Quaker's Farm, and therefore he may have purchased it of the Indians before that date, and when it was transferred to the town a new Indian deed may have been given dated in 1687, as was the case in regard to several other tracts of land.
A tract of land containing 170 acres was laid to Ebenezer Johnson in 1688, "at the place or near to it commonly called the Quaker's Farm, bounded east with the common road about a mile of the place called Quaker's Farm."
On the 17th of February, 1691-2, Ebenezer Johnson deeded to "John Butler, yeoman," then resident of Stratford, "a tract of land commonly called Quaker's Farm, being one hundred and fifty acres, and another piece of land to the north side thereof."
This one hundred and fifty acres was the Quaker's Farm
* The town records always say, Quaker's Farm, not Farms.
itself; and was such when sold to John Butler, who is in the deed of sale of this land said to be a doctor. Therefore John Butler was not the Quaker by whom the name became established upon the locality. Who this Quaker was, where he came from, or where he went and when, has not been ascertained. The name was here as early as 1683, and the Quaker apparently was gone.
The administrators of "Dr. John Butler, late of Stratford, deceased," sold this land in 1707, and it was purchased by Mr. William Rawlinson of Stratford.
Soon after this, or about this time, lots were laid to a number of the inhabitants of Derby, but the following record was made January 8, 1711, "Whereas there is found that many of the lots laid out at Quaker's Farm purchase were not recorded," therefore the town appointed another committee to lay out all the lots and "draw notes of every man's lot as they were formerly pitched, and the recorder may record them at each man's charge."
Soon after this, it is probable that the settlers began to make their homes in this locality, but before this, aside from the Quaker, and Dr. Butler, who resided here a number of years, there were probably no residents in this place.
Abraham Wooster, father of General David Wooster, bought land here in September, 1722, and may have inherited through the right of his father, Edward, the first settler in Derby, a grant of considerable value. At this time he is said to be of Derby, but had been residing in Stratford since about 1706 until a short time previous to this date. That he resided here is very certain, for in 1733 he sold his "mansion house near Munson's Corners in Quaker's Farm," and a farm with a sawmill to Samuel Wooster, jun., and if the first white child was born here in 1725, as we shall see, then Abraham Wooster was among the first settlers at this place.
It was the earliest settled of any part of Oxford except along the Naugatuck river above Seymour. Next to Quaker's Farm, a neighborhood in the northern part of the town, bordering on what is now called Middlebury, once called Bristol Town, was settled in advance of the central part of the town.
Quaker's Farm is a region of valuable land, and it is not sur-
prising that it was early sought as a farming community. The first English person born at Quaker's Farm was Lieut. John Griffin, born at this place in 1725, who died in 1821, aged 96 years. He was distinguished as a soldier of the French war; was lieutenant in the army, spending his summers in campaign service, returning home and remaining during the winter and returning to duty in the spring for three successive campaigns, and at last participating in the victory under Wolfe upon the plains of Abraham before Quebec. These facts were handed down by the lieutenant's son-in-law, William Morris. The first, second and third births in Oxford occurred at Quaker's Farm. The third was Dr. Joseph Perry of Woodbury. Perry was a prominent name with the first inhabitants of Quaker's Farm; so also was Wooster, Hawkins, Hyde and Nichols. Of the name Perry, there were numerous representatives, but only one, Capt. H. A. Perry, remains.
Capt. Zechariah Hawkins was a farmer, and his house stood on the site of the Meigs dwelling-house. He was a substantial man, of sound judgment and a valuable citizen. Silas and Charles Hawkins, his grandsons, and Lewis, John and Samuel Hawkins, his great grandsons, represent the name.
Of the Wooster name there were many, and were mostly farmers. Nathan, a son of Arthur Wooster, was a graduate from Yale College. He was educated with the intention of being a clergyman of the Church of England, but lived and died on his farm at Quaker's Farm. Joseph Wooster located on Good hill, was an enterprising farmer, and sixteen was the number of his sons and daughters. Rev. Henry Wooster, minister of the Baptist church at Deep River, was a son of Joseph Wooster, jun., and was a man of culture, popular standing, and well approved as a useful minister. He is deceased.
Col. William B. Wooster of Birmingham, a popular politician and a well-known, influential lawyer, is a son of Russell Wooster and grandson of Joseph Wooster. He took an active and valorous part as a loyalist, contesting against the secessionists in the late civil war. Capt. Nathaniel Wooster was a noteworthy citizen, and by trade a blacksmith. He died at a great age, being but little short of ninety years.
Capt. Ira Hyde and Marcus, his son, represent the Hyde name.
Hon. Benjamin Nichols, alone represents the Nichols name.
The name of Tomlinson is of a little later date at this place. David Tomlinson was in his day a distinguished citizen. He came from Woodbury to Quaker's Farm when about twenty years of age, and took charge of land owned by his father, and engaged in business as a merchant. Having married a daughter of Jabez Bacon of Woodbury, he began in a small way and enlarged gradually; occupying a room in the chamber of his dwelling as a salesroom, and from that removed to more commodious quarters when his business demanded it. He was remarkably successful as a merchant, extending his trade many miles, and he was not less known in his operations as an agriculturist. His acres numbered 1,500, and he manifested great wisdom in applying fertilizers as the varieties of soil required, and seldom allowed his land to lie idle for want of application. Possessed of a keen discernment, he knew at once what seed to plant or sow upon the land as soon as he looked at it. The late Judge Phelps of Woodbury said of him, that he was the best specimen of a patroon there was in Connecticut. When he had become largely successful, he entered upon trade in foreign ports, chartering vessels and fitting them in some cases, and sending them with cargoes to different ports. One of his vessels and cargo was taken by French privateers, which loss with others finally somewhat embarrassed his estate. He was eleven times sent to the House of Representatives, was also a member of the state senate, and when he died, which occurred March, 1822, he was only sixty years of age. His eldest son, Charles, lived to be over ninety years of age. Mr. Samuel Meigs married into his family, was a merchant in Mr. Tomlinson's store some years, but spent his last days as a farmer, and died at Quaker's F"arm. He represented Oxford several times in the Assembly; was a judge of the county court, and many years a justice of the peace. His two sons, David T. and Charles A. Meigs, are merchants, occupying what was the stand of their grandfather.
The Quaker Farms [as this name is now written] Episcopal church was erected about 1814, and was for a time a chapel, but after some years was dedicated under the name of Christ Church. (See further account in the appendix).
During the Revolution, Oxford was a part of Derby, and whatever glory Derby has, falls alike on Oxford in that great struggle for freedom. At the beginning of the present century, or a little later, Oxford had the honor of the following pensioners as citizens: Capt. Samuel Candee, Capt. Job Candee, David Peck, Edward Bassett, Isaac Chatfield, Timothy Johnson, Phineas Johnson, Jeremiah M. Kelly.
The following story is given upon the authority of this Timothy Johnson, and corresponds to the items already written in public print concerning the taking of Stony Point, one of the most brilliant exploits of the American Revolution, and shows also that in that grand achievement, Derby had several soldiers besides the brave General William Hull. The corps of which Mr. Johnson was one was on the bank of the Hudson under General Wayne and in the presence of Washington. Wayne besought Washington for a permit to lay siege to the British fortress on the bank of the Hudson, called Stony Point. Wayne was refused permission. He besought a second time. Washington said the undertaking was too hazardous, it could not be successful, and refused permission, believing it would be but a sacrifice of life.
Wayne nothing daunted applied a third time to the commander-in-chief for his permit; told his plan and expressed his confidence of success in an earnest and decided manner. Permission was granted. He was allowed to pick his men. Timothy Johnson, the narrator, was one, and his brother Phineas another. The march began, Washington reviewed the men as they passed; he looked very sober and feared they would all be killed. They were marched near to the enemy's picket and halted. They were fed. Wayne came along with a piece of bread and meat in his hand, saying: "Blood may run in rivers; any one who desires may leave the ranks and not be branded with cowardice." Not one left. Wayne then went through the line and took the flints from every gun, that there might not be a gun fired to give light for the enemy's aim. The night was very dark, and when all was ready for the march, Wayne said: "Death to the man that attempts to leave, or falters in his duty." Onward they marched and soon came upon the enemy's picket. The picket hailed, but no answer, and he fired
and ran. Wayne and his force ran after. The fortress was encircled with the limbs of the apple trees piled thick and high, the twigs of which were sharpened so that it would seem impossible to climb over or press through. "But," said Johnson, "we were so close on the picket that he could not fill the gap left him. We ran through the same and so entered the inclosure. The enemy in the meantime continued a brisk fire, but not a man was hit. They reached the walls of the fort and began scaling them. The man first over the walls was killed, the only one lost of the detachment. The contest was sharp and severe, but short. The British surrendered. Wayne received a severe wound with a cutlass over the eye, which caused the eyelid to fall. He bled like a butcher. Wayne said he would ever be proud in carrying the scar of that wound."
This account, save a few items, such as Wayne's taking the flints from every gun, is very correct. With pleasure and pride the bravery of Oxford's sons, as well as others then of Derby, in so daring a contest, may be recorded.
In 1861, at the breaking out of the civil war, Oxford's sons proved themselves true to the old flag and the support of the authority of the nation. Cheerfully they joined the marching ranks and moved to the front until victory was won. No fewer than seventy-five men entered the loyal army by enlistment, of which but few, probably not more than five, disgraced themselves by desertion. Mainly they stood manfully at their posts and bravely fought the battles of their country, and suffered the hardships of war, and so continued until victory gave honor and perpetuity to their nation. Thanks, and more than thanks -- an undying gratitude is due to them.
In the year 1798, the school society of Oxford, which included the whole of the town, was divided into school districts, but school-houses were built and schools supported long before that. Within the last fifty years, select schools have been kept in different parts of the town many terms, by which many were qualified for teaching, some of whom have reached considerable celebrity. Eight or more of Oxford's sons have been graduated at colleges.
The occupation of the people of the town has been chiefly agricultural, yet about fifty years since there were a number of mechanical and manufacturing enterprises conducted with considerable success. A hat shop conducted by a Mr. Crosby employed at one time seventy-five men. There was also a shop for the manufacture of edge tools by a Mr. Turner. There were coopers not less than four, producing casks for the West India trade; blacksmiths, tailors and shoe-makers, all in and about the central part of the town, except what was done in these lines at Quaker's Farm.
Oxford in 1836.
The above engraving is a view of the central part of Oxford from the south-east, and is a very perfect representation of the place at the time. Mr. J. W. Barber, in his "Connecticut Historical Collections," [Conn. Hist. Col. 248.] makes the following record in regard to the picture and the place:
"The building with a Gothic tower is the Episcopal church; a part of the Congregational church is seen on the extreme right. The elevation seen in the background is called Governor's hill, so named, it is said, from its being principally owned, many years since, by a Mr. Bunnell, who was considered by his neighbors as a lordly kind of personage, having had con-
siderable to do with the law, and being engaged in many lawsuits for the support of his real or imaginary rights.
"About one mile south of the central part of the town is a remarkable mineral spring called The Pool, from the circumstance of its waters being efficacious, and much used for the cure of salt rheum and other complaints. ' Once in a month a yellowish scum will collect upon the surface of the water, which in a few days runs off and leaves the pool perfectly clear. In the coldest weather this spring never freezes, and in the dryest season it is as full as at other times.'
"The length of the township from north-east to south-west is about eight miles, and its breadth nearly five miles. The surface of the township is uneven, being diversified with hills and valleys. The prevailing soil is a gravelly loam; the eastern and western parts of the town are generally fertile and productive. There are in the town three satinet factories,, and an extensive hat manufactory owned by Messrs. Hunt & Crosby. A number of extensive manufacturing establishments are about being erected on Naugatuck river."
Oxford has changed in fifty years; changed as to inhabitants. Then, the Candee families were many, now, but two. Caleb, the first of the name, came from West Haven, and resided where John Candee now does. He raised nine sons, who were remarkable for longevity; John and Sterne Candee are great-grandsons.
Lieutenant Samuel Wheeler, an early settler from Stratford, was prominent as a business operator. Robert Wheeler, his great-grandson, occupies his place. Of the Wheeler name, that of Abel stands as prominently as any other, being a man in whom the people placed the utmost confidence and trust. He was sent to the legislature ten terms. As a justice of the peace, he was a dispenser of justice and equity. He was judge of the county court, and a state senator. He died in 1830, aged sixty-five years.
Of the Riggs families who were once numerous, there, remains but one, the grandson of Capt. Ebenezer Riggs, a valuable citizen in his day. Esquire John Riggs, a public spirited and respected citizen, a leader and servant of the people, raised a family of ten, five sons and five daughters. He built
and settled his sons in a row of houses with his own, and there being so many, the locality was named Riggs street, which it still retains; but not one of the name remains in that street.
John Davis was eminent in the military lines, reaching the position of colonel, commanding the second regiment of the Connecticut militia. He retained his faculties remarkably well until his death, which occurred when ninety-five years of age. Dr. Hosea Dutton, a physician from Southington, was an early settler, and spent his life in the practice of his profession, and died September, 1826, aged seventy-two years. He was a man remarkable for application, a useful physician, an influential politician, not only at home, but as a writer.
Dr. Noah Stone, from Guilford, settled in Oxford about the year 1810, and was a valued practitioner, exemplary in life, correct in deportment, a fair model for imitation. He died March, 1851, aged sixty-nine years. Rev. A. L. Stone of San Francisco, and David M. Stone, editor of the New York Journal of Commerce, were his sons. Mrs. Martha Hubbell, authoress of "Shady Side," was his daughter. How great is the change in Oxford in fifty years!
THE first ax that sounded on Derby territory was struck for the establishment of commercial relations between the English and the Indians, in the first trading house, erected on Birmingham Point in 1642. In 1646 this enterprise was attracting the attention of zealous parties in New York, and therefore must have been of considerable importance. This trading post was commenced by New Haven men, and continued until 1653 or 1654, when they sold their interests, including a tract of land, to a company of ten men of Milford, the principal leader being Richard Baldwin. In 1657, Lieut. Thomas Wheeler of Stratford bought about forty acres of land on Birmingham point, and engaged in building sailing vessels, most probably in partnership with Alexander Bryan of Milford. The number of men employed by Mr. Wheeler, with the three or four families living in Derby, were supplied with what trading was necessary through Mr. Wheeler, whose vessels necessarily must have passed frequently between Milford and Derby for these purposes, in addition to any trade with the Indians. Mr. Wheeler sold his interests at this place in 1664, to Mr. Bryan, who continued to conduct some kind of mercantile business here in connection with the building of vessels, as in later years when land was appropriated to Mr. Joseph Hawkins, a provision was made that highways should not be obstructed to hinder Mr. Alexander Bryan. In 1682, Richard Bryan, son of Alexander, made arrangements to settle in Derby, and was probably then engaged here in building vessels and keeping some kind of a trading house or store.
In 1676, a highway was constructed through the long lot to a point called the fishing place; that is from the first settlement at Old Town, down the meadow to a location on the east side of the valley below the present bridge, where was built, a few years later, a landing from which to ship produce. And this was the object of the road built in 1676. Before 1700,
there was put up here a building called the fish-house, and referred to as such in the records.
In 1709, a business place is spoken of on the Ousatonic river, the first mention of anything of the kind on the west side of Birmingham Point.
"Dec. 15, 1709; Voted, That the town will raise forty-five pounds in pay, that is to say in grain and flax at these following prices: wheat at six shillings per bushel, Indian corn at three shillings sixpence per bushel, flax at ninepence per pound; and said forty-five pounds shall be delivered by the collector of town rates, or town's men, to Mr. Joseph Moss, or his order, at the warehouse of Joseph Hawkins in Derby, at or before the first day of March next; and thereupon the said Joseph Moss is to pay to the town's men of Derby for the use of the town, the sum of thirty pounds current silver money of fifteen pennyweight, at or before the said first of March, always provided that if any man will pay his part of said forty-five pounds in money, it shall be taken at two-thirds."
Here was the warehouse of Joseph Hawkins, who was the son of Joseph the first permanent settler on the Bimingham neck, and who probably built this warehouse some years before 1700, or bought it of Mr. Bryan. The probabilities are that a warehouse store was kept continuously at that place from 1660 to the time this warehouse is mentioned in 1709.
In 1702, William Tomlinson was chosen leather sealer for the town, which shows that leather was made in the town, and was inspected and stamped or sealed according to law before being placed in the market.
In 1703, a sealer of weights and measures was appointed to see that all weights and measures were according to the standard of justice which the law required. Before 1690, re-packers were appointed to re-pack meats, or to see that meats were put up according to law to be exported. The sale of beef and cattle became one of the first important items for foreign trade.
Fish were quite an item of mercantile profit from the first organization of the town. In 1677, the town made a penalty of twenty shillings per barrel for any one to come into the town and fish without liberty, and soon after this they required threepence per barrel to be paid for catching fish in the town, and
under this rule Mr. Joseph Hawkins reported in one season that Fairfield men took eighty-two barrels and Milford men thirty-nine barrels.
In 1680, "the town, at the desire of Joseph Hawkins, in behalf of Milford men hath granted to the said men, namely, Mr. Benjamin Fenn, Daniel Baldwin, and their partners, liberty to fish anywhere in Derby bounds, provided they damnify no man's corn or grass, and also that they pay threepence per pound and so proportionably for all they catch and carry away."
The mercantile operations aside from fishing seem to have been conducted at Birmingham Point and Old Town, although the highway down the valley, from the long lot to the fish-house, received special attention in 1704, as though there was considerable of landing of produce at the fish-house, or something of the kind. It is probable that some of the shipping from Hull's mills was efifected at this fish-house in time of low water, for some years.
It is uncertain when the first store or shop was set up at Derby, or what was afterwards called Up Town, for the purpose of selling goods. The first record seen that indicates anything of the kind was made in 1712 by Edward Pierson, who styles himself merchant in a paper by which, in view of contemplated marriage with a lady of Stratford, he deeded his property, in keeping for himself and wife, to the ministers of Derby and Stratford. Two years afterwards, he was a merchant at Stratford. How many years he had been a merchant here is not stated, but as he had considerable property, and at this time changed his location to Stratford, it is probable that he had been thus engaged some years.
William Clark, who resided at this Old Town village, is called in a deed, merchant, in 1742, and shop keeper in 1748, both probably being the same business. He apparently continued here as merchant, initiating his sons to the same work, until his death, after which, during the Revolution, or just before, his son Sheldon removed his store or started a new one at the Landing.
In 1755, when considerable of the trading was transacted at the Old Town, the highway was transferred from the meadow to the side of the hill, near where it now is. About 1754,
Ebenezer Keeney built the first dwelling at the Landing, and in 1762, Stephen Whitney bought a piece of land of James Wheeler at this place, built a store and continued to trade as a merchant until 1768, when he surrendered his store to "James Juancy, Samuel Broome and company, with all who were his creditors in New York, and Stephen Demill of Stratford." Hence the first mercantile effort at the Landing was a failure.
In 1769, Captain Gracey (spelled also Grassee) bought land here and built a store on the wharf, and in 1763, he entered partnership with Joseph Hull, and continued his store some years. From this time onward the Landing was the center of mercantile operations, not only for Derby, but for many adjoining towns. During the Revolution, a large amount of state provisions for the army were bought and packed and shipped at Derby.
About 1790, the celebrated Leman Stone commenced here his energetic and, for some years, prosperous career as a merchant. In the language of the old proverb, "he left no stone unturned" which he thought might bring success to himself or the place. He was a man of untiring energy, determined purpose, and for some years was successful in nearly everything he attempted as a business man. He came from the town of Litchfield, Conn., which may account somewhat for his great energy for there is not a town in the whole state more celebrated for producing great men than Old Litchfield. And at the present day there is no man to whom reference is so frequently made in the prosperous times of Derby Narrows as Leman Stone.
The following very just remarks were written not long since by Dr. A. Beardsley:
A few years prior to 1800, Mr. Leman Stone and others settled in Derby, and for a long time carried on an extensive commercial trade with New York, Boston, and the West Indies. At one time Derby Narrows was nearly blockaded with carts and wagons loaded with all sorts of produce from Waterbury, Woodbury and other towns. Sometimes a string half a mile long would throng our highways, and teamsters would have to wait half a day, or over night for their turn to unload for shipping. Importation was also large. A truthful veteran informed
us that he had counted at one time no less than sixty hogsheads of rum landed on the dock in a day. We woold not have our readers suppose for a moment, that this quantity was all consumed in Derby. It was carted to various parts of the country whence the produce came. In the hight and glow of his commercial prosperity, Mr. Stone entered into the project of the turnpike from Derby to New Haven with a view to draw the business of the latter to this place. The petition was presented to the Legislature for a charter, and after two or three years' hard fighting and as many embarrassments, seemingly, as the Derby and New Haven railroad had in their project, the charter was obtained and the road built at great expense to Mr. Stone, and then the unfortunate man had the pleasure of sitting in his store-house door and seeing all his friends and customers go by him to empty their treasures into New Haven. The building of that turnpike, together with the old Washington bridge at Stratford impeding our navigation, operated against the interests of this town at that time most decidedly.
Derby became a port of delivery by the establishment of the collection district of New Haven on the second of March, 1799, "to comprise the waters and the shores from the west line of the district of Middletown westerly to the Housatonic river, in which New Haven shall be the port of entry, and Guilford, Branford, Milford and Derby ports of delivery."
After the close of the Seven Years' War, from 1755-63, the commercial prosperity of Derby rose rapidly, and as rapidly declined on the outbreak of the American Revolution, resuming increased activity after the independence of the Colonies was acknowledged.
Long before this we had an indirect trade with Europe through the Colonies and the West Indies, in which Derby sloops of eighty to one hundred tons, carried live stock and provisions to the leeward and windward islands of the Caribbean sea. In return they brought the products of these islands, also wines, fruits and manufactured goods of France, Spain and Holland, to whom these islands then belonged. This prosperity reached its culminating point about the year 1800, and began to
decline about 1807 from three distinct causes, although the people of Derby attributed it solely to the fierce struggle then going on between Napoleon and England, in which the inhabitants of all Europe seemed to be breathing nothing but the spirit of war, which then gave sufficient employment to the mariners of the eastern continent. This was an incentive to leave the world's carrying trade open to other powers not engaged in war, in which our country with its facilities for shipbuilding took a most prominent part.
The Derby Fishing Company was then fully organized, and in seeking a market for their fish prosecuted an extensive trade upon the northern shores of the Mediterranean. By simplifying a trade that had been somewhat complicated and very expensive, this project gave fair promise of success, which would have undoubtedly been realized had not events transpired which no human foresight could have anticipated. The cod fishery on the banks of Newfoundland and its vicinity by New Englanders was carried on in small schooners, which brought their cargoes to our ports, where they changed owners, and after supplying the home demand the surplus was shipped to the south of Europe. The Derby company abbreviated this process by sending their ships to their fishing stations during the fishing season, taking in their cargoes directly from their drying grounds and proceeding thence to southern Spain, France and Italy, returning to Derby with the products of those countries, thus saving the import profits on their goods, since then swallowed up by New York and other places. The entire circle of this trade, thus pursued without changing hands, must have resulted advantageously to the fishing company had times continued prosperous as they were in the first few years' operations, but England disliked our feeding her enemy, the French, and issued her orders of prohibition, while Napoleon intent on starving the proud islanders issued his Berlin and Milan decrees, aimed alike at our trade, but both transcending international law.
As our company's vessels carried nothing contraband of war, they continued their trade until they were seized and confiscated wherever found, in plain violation of national right and manifest justice. Nor was this all that worked commercial ruin to the Derby Fishing Company. Flushed with their early prosperity
they had engaged in a species of marine insurance against disasters from ary cause, and their risks in common with others of being captured on the high seas, encountered of necessity untold losses. Thus was the company's capital swept away beyond the remotest hope of recovery. An incident may be related in this connection. The crews of a fleet of merchantmen that was confiscated by order of Napoleon, were sent home in an old unseaworthy vessel which foundered on the passage and nearly all perished. A few were saved by their only boat, which was taken possession of by as many as could safely be accommodated and held at some distance from the wreck to prevent others from overloading her. In their haste to gain this position they had neglected to supply themselves with provisions or nautical instruments, when Samuel Crafts of Derby, chief mate of the schooner Naugatuck, one of the Fishing Company's vessels, volunteered to procure them from the wreck, which he accomplished by swimming with great exertion and hazard, no one offering in the excitement the needed assistance. The boat was put off while he was on the wreck for the last time, leaving him to go down with it. He was the son of Dr. Edward Crafts and brother of Dr. Pearl Crafts, a young man of great promise, universally esteemed, and in his death deeply lamented by the people of Derby. Another version of this painful story, better authenticated by Miss Rachel Smith, still living in serene old age, is, that Crafts with fourteen others perished from the pangs of hunger and exposure, while striving to save themselves from a watery grave.
Although this piracy of France and England was sufficient in itself to crush the enterprise of Derby, yet other causes combined might have produced a similar result. Our farmers in the interior where the line of trade began, in their eagerness to accumulate, sent off the products of their soil without sufficiently compehsating the ground for the loss of its fertilizing elements, as our wheat growers at the West are now doing, until their naturally thin soil became exhausted, and finally refused to yield to their demands. Another cause was the jealousy of New Haven and Bridgeport. These places cast an eye of envy and desire at the prosperity of their neighbor on the Ousatonic. New Haven contrived and executed the plan to tap the Derby
traffic, by cutting a road south of Woodbridge hills to Derby, and by offering the facilities of a harbor unobstructed by ice, and willing to accept a diminished rate of profit, drew the long line of loaded wagons directly past Wheeler's tavern at the Narrows to their Long Wharf in New Haven. Judge Isaac Mills of the latter, formerly a Huntington man, and brother of the late Samuel Mills, was the prime mover in this new turnpike, and singularly enough some of the Derby people favored the project, hoping in this way to invite increased trade from New Haven to Derby. Leman Stone was one of these, and he saw the disastrous results.
The Leman Stone building as it has long been called, over-hanging the mouth of the Naugatuck, defying the fury of ice floods and water freshets, for nearly a hundred years, at first a vast store-house, then the receptacle of wholesale garden seeds, next a seat of learning, long the domicile of its enterprising builder, Mr. Stone, and still longer a part of it the residence of one of the most gifted and estimable women of Derby, Mrs. Ellen Stone, still stands out in bold relief, through all its vicissitudes, without occupancy, a commercial landmark and relic of better days. This building, now in venerable decay, was once the head-quarters of commerce in Derby. Here Capt. Henry Whitney, a bitter opponent of the encroachments of England to destroy our commerce, father of the New York millionaire, Stephen Whitney, and Archibald Whitney, late of Derby, and one of the ancient worthies who assisted in laying the cornerstone of old King Hiram Lodge, for years carried on an extensive and profitable business of shipping horses to the West Indies, which gave him rather an enviable reputation.
Grain of all kinds, pork, butter and cheese were brought here for export from Woodbury, Waterbury, New Milford and towns around in great abundance. Within the fading memory of the oldest inhabitant, the old road now called Derby avenue has been seen lined and crowded with loaded teams by the hundred, waiting turns to deliver their goods for shipping and return to their homes. Imports were correspondingly large, hogsheads of rum, brandies, sugar, molasses, were brought here in large quantities, and either carried into the interior or transported over the hills to supply the business of New Haven.
At this period, sailing vessels in number from the docks of Derby and Huntington Landing were more than equal to those plying between New Haven and other places. An extensive business was also carried on at Hull's mills in the manufacture of linseed oil, situated at the head of the present Birmingham reservoir. Flaxseed in large quantities was imported and ground into oil and exported to New York and Boston. In addition to this they manufactured kiln-dried meal, which when packed in hogsheads was shipped to the West Indies. The two brothers Hull, sons of Samuel, senior, and Richard, son of Dr. Mansfield, were the proprietors through the most prosperous times, and were from the nature of the case so connected with merchants and the shipping interests of Derby as to be involved in their ruin from the same causes.
The Hitchcock mill built during this period at Turkey Hill, now occupied by De Witt C. Lockwood as a turning shop, added much to the commerce of Derby in the manufacture of linseed oil.
Bridgeport having absorbed Black Rock turned a wistful eye to Derby, and by great effort constructed the Bridgeport and Newtown turnpike in 1801, which immediately drew off the trade from Newtown, Brookfield, and ultimately New Milford and adjacent places. Bridgeport harbor being open at all seasons of the year, the millers in neighborhoods above, frequently having pressing orders, paid cash for grain instead of barter, and the regularity of their market boats at Bridgeport gave a better sale for the products of the farm at New York than when shipped from Derby. Besides, the roads away from Derby were less sandy and better adapted to loaded wagons, many a day no less than a hundred being counted passing over the Bridgeport and Newtown turnpike to empty their cargoes at Bridgeport, instead of going mostly as formerly to Derby.
The embargoes and non-intercourse acts of our government in aid of the downward tug left little in Derby for the war of 1812 to prey upon, and that little was effectually wiped out. The commerce of Derby then disappeared as does the wave along the shore. A few families, having reserved a portion of the earnings of their better days, remained to spend it, but many of the young and enterprising, discouraged at the outlook, emi-
grated to New York or further west. Busy streets became lonely, buildings decayed beyond repairs, property offered for sale found no purchasers, the docks along the shores of New Boston were thinned of their thickly crowded vessels, the Naugatuck rolled its waters by the old oil mill without turning its wheels, the toll gate on the New Milford turnpike rotted down, the green grass once more carpeted the barren roadway. These indeed were gloomy times for the prospects of Derby. Manufacturing had not then been established, and there was nothing comparatively left to stimulate industry in the town. Mr. Abijah Hull, part owner of the mill and a leading man in society, took his family to the wilds of Ohio, after having enjoyed the comforts of wealth until advanced age among his ancestors. This allusion is made merely to show the type of a class. Sea captains and seafaring men once so plenty and frolicsome in Derby, generally cultivated, from necessity, small plots of ground in their neighborhoods, or became tillers of the soil in the western country. We give only one example: Capt. Frederick Hopkins purchased a tract of wild land at a place called Somerset Hill, in Oxford, Chenango county, N. Y. In going into the wilderness he carried all his effects with his family in an ox cart, and left the last house and road on his way twenty miles before reaching his place of destination. Mrs. Hopkins, whose courage had been buoyant thus far, in viewing the dense entangled forest before her, away from home and friendship, away from the endearing associations of her youth, and bereft of all the pleasing hopes she had formed under her once cloudless sky, began to despair and refused to proceed further. Captain Hopkins though kind and sympathetic as a husband and father, was firm and resolute as a man. He had expended nearly the last remnant of his former competency in this enterprise, which he could not now recall. By adverse fortune his occupation was gone, and this was his dernier resort. He took his wife tenderly in his arms and placed her in the cart, she almost unconscious, and with a heavy heart, ax in hand, proceeded to cut his way through the woods, which, after great fatigue and privation he accomplished, sleeping in the cart as best he could while acting the part of guard, sentinel and pioneer. With ax and saw he built his first house and furnished it. His table was made of
the largest log he could saw off, his chairs of smaller ones, and all other things correspondingly rude. His gun and faithful dog furnished most of his food until his crops matured. Blessed with good health and an iron constitution, he cleared his lands of timber, and soon found market for his crops. With new adventurers who settled around him, in a few years he found himself surrounded with agreeable society, mostly of Connecticut people. His family became contented and happy, himself highly respected and often consulted in public affairs, and his neighbors styled him the Duke of Somerset. He passed the evening of a well spent life in comfort and repose, and left his children in affluent circumstances. Often visiting the scenes of his youthful prosperity, Hopkins delighted to entertain his old friends with a recital of his adventures.
Derby Landing in 1836.
"The above engraving* shows the appearance of the village at Derby Landing, or Narrows, as you enter it on the New Haven road, descending the hill, looking towards the north-west. The village is on the east side of the Ousatonic, immediately below
* The illustrations, Derby Landing, Birmingham, Oxford and Humphreysville, representing these places in 1836, were drawn and engraved by Mr. J. W. Barber of New Haven, author of the "Connecticut Historical Collections," and numerous other works of large circulation. He drew his pictures by visiting the places in person, and standing so as to obtain the views represented. Hence their great accuracy respecting the scenery, architecture and surroundings, they being represented precisely as seen upwards of forty years ago. The value of his work on Connecticut, in this respect alone, is beyond estimate.
He has also very kindly consented to engrave the cuts for this work, which represent the three first houses of worship erected in the town, having had the precise dimensions furnished him from the records, and being familiar with the old style of architecture. From these facts great accuracy has been secured. This last work he has done being in his eighty-second year.
its junction with Naugatuck. It consists of about fifty dwelling houses, four or five mercantile stores, and a number of mechanics' shops. These buildings stand mostly on three short streets running parallel with the river and on the side of a hill, which from its summit descends with considerable abruptness to the water, and of course the easternmost street is considerably elevated above the others. There are two churches in Derby proper, one for Congregationalists and one for Episcopalians, both situated about a mile north of the Landing. On the left of the engraving, in the distance, is seen the Leavenworth bridge leading to Huntington, crossing the Ousatonic river. The present bridge was erected in 1831, at an expense of about fourteen thousand dollars. Part of Birmingham is seen in the distance, situated on the elevated point of land between the Naugatuck and Ousatonic rivers.
"There are two packets which ply weekly between this place and New York. Considerable quantities of wood and ship timber are exported, and ship building to some extent is carried on at the Landing. Derby Landing is about fifteen miles from the mouth of the river where it empties into Long Island Sound and eight and a half miles north-west from New Haven. The river is navigable to the Landing for vessels of eighty tons, there being about ten feet of water" [Barber's Conn. Hist. Coll. 197.]
Sea- captains and seafaring men were for many years very plenty about Derby. Those recollected and here named were residents of Derby: Ebenezer Gracie, James Humphreys, Frederick Hopkins, Ethel Keeney, James Lewis, Silas Nichols, Eugene Olmstead, who sailed to all points of the world, William Clark, Thomas Horsey, William Whiting and his two sons -- Henry and William Whiting, --- Gibbs and his son William, and William Sheffield. All these were residents in Derby Narrows, and most of them came here after the Revolution. Those
residing at Up Town and who sailed to all parts of the world, were: Harry Curtiss, Carleton White, Thomas Vose, Jared Bartholomew, ---- Morris, Joseph Prindle and Mordecai Prindle, brothers, Elijah Humphreys, Francis M. French, Stephen Mansfield, son of Dr. Mansfield, James Thompson and his two sons -- William and Sheldon, and George Gorham. Upon the Huntington side of the river were Captain Hart and his two sons, Clark Elliot, ---- Tomlinson, ---- Moore and others, who sailed to the West Indies.
One of the above captains, Mordecai Prindle, made a sad record on his last voyage. With seven men from Derby, in a vessel heavily laden with live stock, with his scuppers under water, he sailed for the West Indies, and after a few days out at sea a September gale came on, endangering many vessels off Cape Hatteras. Among the dying embers of superstition, more rife then than now, it is mentioned that a kildeer out of season perched upon the window sill of Mrs. Prindle's house, which stood near Dr. Mansfield's, and was heard to sing distinctly several times, in plaintive notes, and then disappear. Mrs. Prindle was deeply affected, and declared that her husband was that moment sinking beneath the merciless waves. From that day to this Captain Prindle, his seven men and vessel have not been heard from.
After the commercial downfall of Derby its northern portion, Humphreysville, became a more lively and flourishing part of the town. The zeal, enterprise and noble heartedness of General Humphreys had already set in motion various kinds of machinery. Skilled mechanics were brought from Europe, and many were attracted here through the influence of General Humphreys, and this gave employment to and increased the population of the place.
For a series of years Derby, with its diminished ship building, was enlivened by the shoe-making business and cooperage. Captain Lewis Remer, his brother Abram Remer, George Blackman and others were manufacturers, and sold their stock mostly in New York. These men became celebrated in their business, and employed many hands, and a shoe-maker in Derby was thought to be of some consequence. A large proportion of their work was on women's shoes.
In the line of cooperage, Willis Hotchkiss, Levi Hotchkiss and Isaac Thompson at the Narrows, and Capt. Alva Bunnell and Dea. John Carrington at Sugar Street, carried on extensive operations in the manufacture of casks. In one season Capt. Bunnel made one thousand casks and shipped them to New Orleans. When more important manufacturing interests engaged the attention of the people of Derby, these employments dwindled into insignificance, until shoe-making and cooperage have about disappeared from the town.
Confluence of the Naugatuch with the Qusatonic at Derby.
The illustration of the confluence of the Naugatuck with the Ousatonic was sketched in 1857, from near the bridge over the Naugatuck at Derby. The Naugatuck appears on the left, the Ousatonic on the right. The picturesque edifice which is the most prominent in this cut, called "The Castle, the Leman Stone Building," was built about 1785, by Leman Stone, and was occupied by him as a residence and a store more than twenty years. It has been a landmark, both by sea and land about ninety-five years, and has outlived its builder and all his children and all his grandchildren except one. The walls of its founda-
tion on the water side were laid deep and five feet in width, and no mighty tide or ice floods of old Naugatuck have as yet stirred a stone. But time begins to make his mark on its outside appearance, and he is the great conqueror of all except the everlasting hills.
Connected with Derby Landing was the ferry and the turnpike toll bridge of which it maybe pleasing to record some reminiscences. It would be difficult to picture to the fancy a more pleasing view than meets the eye at the confluence of these two rivers when enlivened by vessels and little sail boats, with charming meadows here and there, beautiful islands environed east and west with green-wooded hills dotted with farm-houses and cultivated fields, and with all the necessary wants of life sufficiently supplied so as to bring serenity of mind and happiness.
In delineating the character of society in by-gone days, evenhanded justice seems to require an occasional portrait from the lower strata by way of contrast, and therefore the following character is presented, he having been the Derby ferry-man, well known in his day by the name of Old Parks. He was for years the toll gatherer on the river turnpike when the toll-gate was located at the east end of the Naugatuck bridge. Faithful to his trust no man could get through his gate without first answering to the demand, "Your toll, sir." On one occasion he was over faithful. An ox team with a load of flaxseed from Bridgeport was being driven over the ice and broke through in deep water near the causeway. The team belonged at Up Town, and a messenger was dispatched to the owner for assistance. Captain Bartemy came down in great haste, prepared to rescue the drowning cattle, and coming to the toll-gate without any change in his pocket, Mr. Parks demanded his toll before turning the key. Captain Bartemy having once cut his way through Washington bridge, said no petty toll-gate should foil him on an errand of mercy. He seized a new ax from Willis Hotchkiss's wood-pile and cut loose the iron fastenings of the gate, dumped it over the wall and drove on and saved the team and a part of the load of flaxseed. The gate and the ax were completely demolished and the toll gatherer acknowledged himself beaten.
Mr. Parks was sui generis in his way, and at the head of his class among the sinners of olden times. A more uncouth, boisterous, fearfully profane and vulgar man could scarcely be found in a day's journey. He was a terror to the school boys, offensive to the refined and shunned by all. In vain did the good parson expostulate with him. Independent in his sayings and doings, he was not, however, without his troubles. Attracted by an outcry from his house, a neighbor on a certain day ventured in and found him beating his wife most unmercifully, a not unfrequent occurrence when divorce laws were more stringent than at present. The neighbor remonstrated and inquired the cause of such brutal treatment. The husband replied in anger, charging his wife with such abusive use of his tongue that no mortal man could stand it. The neighbor having exhausted all his wits to allay excited passion, finally said, "Why Mr. Parks, you should consider that your wife is the weaker vessel." "I know it,"said he, "and let her then carry less sail." Mrs. Parks was often seized in a fit of what the doctor called violent hysterics. Driven to the wall, there was no relief for old Parks, in the dead of night, in a pitiless storm, in one of these attacks, until he brought to his wife old Dr. Kimberly, whose frequent visits told upon his purse. On one occasion he demanded of the doctor the cause of hysterics. He replied very gravely, "There are many causes for this disease; in the case of your wife, Mr. Parks, I think the cause is mostly hard work and trouble." "I don't agree with you, doctor," said Parks, "all the hysterics she's got comes from wind, will and the devil, and if you have got any medicine for these, unload your saddle-bags."
For a long time old Parks discharged the duties of ferry-man across the Ousatonic from near Huntington Landing to the Narrows. He usually sculled over his ferry boat without the aid of rope moorings. Many a weary traveler, more frightened at his rounded profanity than the swollen current of the river, while crossing the river rebuked him without let or hindrance, though to no good result. But as the strongest will is often broken by a little matter, so is the hardest heart sometimes softened by "trifles light as air."
Returning one night from the opposite shore, having ferried over a passenger from New Haven, a turning point in his life
occurred, which imparts a lesson unparalleled in all we have heard or read among the legends of demonology. Sudden reformations, even though brought about by the power of gospel preaching, are seldom permanent, but this is an instance of a man turning from the errors of his ways almost instantly and with lasting effect, on seeing a ghost. We do not tax credulity beyond what is real and full of traditionary proof.
Mr. Parks was alone at an hour favorable for deep and sober contemplation. The night was dark, still and foreboding. His thoughts turned upon himself and he fell into a reverie, which Addison tells us sometimes occupies the minds of fools as well as wise men. The usually dormant imagination of our hero was worked to an extent that fitted him for seeing objects not otherwise apparent. As he was sculling his boat in the stream, looking intently forward for some object for which to steer, an apparition suddenly met his eye a short distance ahead of him, directly in his course. Unused to fear, he said to himself, come on, nobody is frightened at ghosts. Yet the figure vanished not, but grew upon his imagination, and as he frequently and uniformly described it afterwards, it was a column of fire in the shape of a human skeleton of colossal size, apparently resting upon the surface of the water, and slowly advancing towards him, giving him ample time for examination and reflection. He saw the outstretched arms, the fiery eyeballs, the ribs, the heart, and the shriveled tissues of this skeleton, which was perfectly transparent, enabling him to see through it objects on the opposite shore, which the previous darkness had rendered invisible. Finally the figure, approaching nearer and nearer, rested upon the bow of the boat, and he was conscious of its movements until within five or six feet of him. At this instant Mr. Parks recollected a strange feeling coming over him, and then his judgment failing, he dropped his oar, fainted and fell on the bottom of his boat, which at falling tide floated down stream and lodged on Graven Rocks, just below Hallock's ship yard. A party returning from an excursion down the Ousatonic found him early next morning and believed him dead, but they restored him to consciousness and brought him with his boat up to the ferry-house.
The persistent uniformity and self-reliant relation of this story
so often reiterated by him, induced a general belief at the time that this affair was not the mere creation of an overwrought imagination. He might have seen a distant meteor, or a nearer ignis fatuus, but whatever it might have been it was no goblin to him, for it brought "fruits meet for repentance," and from that hour the Derby ferry-man was a new man, reformed in all his habits. Everybody remarked, "What a change in Old Parks." He read his bible and attended church; was respected and beloved, prospered and became conscientious in his daily walk. As proof of his better heart, when he married his second wife he supposed her a widow, but it appeared that her husband, whose name was Sacket, ran away and left her, and years afterwards a notice of his death revealed the fact that he had been living with another man's' wife. It is said he went straightway and was married again.
The writers upon superstition may be challenged to furnish a more striking illustration of the power of ghosts than the one which had so happy an effect upon the character of the Derby ferry-man.
This for a series of years was one of the most active and prominent industries of the town. Among the earliest vessels built were those constructed upon the shores of the Ousatonic and Naugatuck rivers, above their junction at the Narrows.
The first ship building was conducted, most probably, by Thomas Wheeler of Stratford, who settled on Birmingham Point in 1657; remaining six years, when he returned to Stratford.
Soon after Mr. Wheeler returned to Stratford Mr. Alexander Bryan, a merchant and ship builder of Milford, became the possessor of Mr. Wheeler's privileges, or a part of them on the Point, and continued these enterprises in his line until about 1680, when his son Richard made some arrangements to settle in the town as an important business man.
Joseph Hawkins the first became the possessor of Mr. Bryan's interests at the Point, in which his son, Joseph Hawkins, junior, succeeded him in mercantile business, but to how great an extent is not known, except that in 1712-20 it was the principal trading place in Derby.
At the cove near by the Stone building, where ancient walls in part are still standing, on the east side of the Ousatonic, a long mile above the dam, there was a busy ship yard, among the earliest great enterprises of the town. The little vessels built here were called the Boston Coasters, and employed in carrying on trade with Boston, the Southern Plantations and the West Indies. Here was also kept by Isaac Lane, at a later day, a trading house or store, from which were supplied the towns around with rich treasures, such as molasses, sugar and the like, brought up the river in these little coasters. The first Leavenworth toll bridge, a short distance below, was built in 1798, after which this building was transferred down the river to the west side, near the old red house now standing. Capt. Edmund Leavenworth and his son Gideon built the bridge, and some years afterwards, it having been condemned by the commissioners, it was in part rebuilt by Gideon. This Capt. Edmund Leavenworth was the son of Dr. Thomas Leavenworth, who first purchased the large farm, including the famous Indian Well, which farm has been in the possession of the Leavenworth family more than one hundred and fifty years. Dr. Thomas was born in 1673, and after mature age made his home here upon this obscure spot along the wild shores of the Ousatonic. He was a man of uncommon energy of character, and was the progenitor of the numerous family of Leavenworths now scattered throughout the United States. His farm was bounded on the river some miles, and his habits of primitive frugality made him wealthy and gave him a commanding position.
The first vessel built at the Red House was called the Anaconda, and was launched at the ship-yard which lay between the Red House and the Leavenworth Hotel standing on the bank of the river a few rods below. Schooners, sloops and vessels to the number of twenty-one were here constructed by Capt. Edmund Leavenworth and his sons, Gideon and Edmund, the latter having been long known by many now in this vicinity by the familiar name of Uncle Ed.
Gideon Leavenworth in his early life was a captain in the Revolution in 1777, and commanded an infantry company raised by the state from Ripton, now Huntington. He was in the battle of White Plains, where he was wounded in the thigh by
a musket ball. Religiously trained, he had a kind, social and Christian heart, and was noted for his praying propensities, but like many other good and noble-souled men, he sometimes, when provoked, lost his balance of mind, even in his pious moments. A truthful story is related of him in reference to a mischievous swine which often annoyed him by coming into the kitchen whenever she could escape from her inclosure.
On one occasion while at his morning devotions, leaning over the back of his chair in the good old Puritan way. Captain Gideon [sometimes called the "Presbyterian deacon"], being disturbed by a noise in the kitchen, opened his eyes, and looking through the open door discovered that his domestic intruder had turned over the butter churn filled with new milk. Pausing a moment, he bawled out, "Boys, go and drive out that damned old sow from the kitchen," and then went on and finished his devotions.
The last two vessels built were unfortunate, one was called George and Jane, the other The Fox. They were owned mostly by Uncle Ed., and were captured by the French in the war of 1812, which was a serious loss to their owner.
On launching days thousands of people flocked to see a vessel ride from dry land into the water, and a launch generally ended with a merry dance at the Leavenworth hotel.
Pickets were built up the Naugatuck river earlier than 1797 opposite the "Old Parsons Place," just above S. H. Proctor's residence. Soon after a schooner was built by Capt. George Gorham and launched near the present Naugatuck Derby station. Capt. Gorham was in the war of the Revolution and helped to stretch the famous iron chain across the Hudson to obstruct the British from going up the river. He built many vessels below the Point of Rocks at the Thompson Place, near Reuben Baldwin's distillery, now known as Hallock's Old Ship Yard. Capt. Bradley of Guilford built several vessels for the Derby Fishing Company about 1810, and among them was the Ocean, a large and fine sailing vessel, and being fitted out and heavily laden she was captured by the French and all her valuable cargo confiscated, which proved a heavy and serious loss to Derby people at that time.
The Rev. Mr. Ruggles, for some time pastor of the Derby
Congregational church, then Up Town, having fallen into some imprudences unbecoming a minister of the gocpel, was obliged to resign his pastorate, and he then went into ship building. He built a fine schooner which was launched just above the Point of Rocks upon the Huntington side of the river. Mr. Ruggles had a wife and daughter, both named Hannah, and to perpetuate their names in seafaring life he called his schooner Hannah. The night before she was to be launched, some wag, with a paint brush, daubed on three sides of the schooner in glaring capitals, "The Pulpit," which name adhered to the vessel through all its misfortunes, outliving in fact its baptismal name, Hannah.
Ezra Hubbell built a vessel soon after, which was launched opposite or near the Doct. Jennings place, just above Capt. Z. M. Piatt's store in the Narrows. Now Ezra was an old bachelor, slow, sure and circumspect in all his movements and undertakings, and some of the fair damsels of the town thought he was uncommonly so in reference to matrimonial alliance.
It was predicted that he would never finish his vessel, but after a long while it was completed and when launched it rested upon the meadow, and the disappointment then gave it the name Who'd Thought It, but Ezra called his vessel Laura, and with much difficulty she was made to rise and float on the waters.
Just below this last place, a vessel was built by John Lewis, and was named Mary, in honor of three families, Smith, Andrews and Kimberly, each of whom had a daughter by the same name; only one of the three, the venerable and accomplished Mary Smith at the Narrows, is still living.
We learn of vessels being built next, at Sugar street, by Talmadge Beardsley, where he built several of different tonnage, and has the credit of building the first center-board vessel ever built upon the Ousatonic. This was called the Commodore, and was the fastest sailing vessel that ever plied between Derby and New York. Beardsley afterward worked at ship building in Bridgeport, and again in Derby, for the Hallock's, He is believed to have been the first man, especially in these parts, who went into the forests, felled the trees, hewed the timber and every way constructed the framework of a vessel before it
was delivered to the ship-yard. His workmanship was of a superior order.
He was employed by Robert Fulton, and assisted in building the first steamboat that was commercially successful, and that moved upon the waters of the Hudson.
As we come down to later times, we find that during the cold summer of i8i6i Capt. Lemuel Chatfield built a sloop called the Champion, which was launched just north of what is now the west end of the Ousatonic bridge in the new and enterprising
The Schooner Modesty.
village of Shelton. Chatfield employed Zephaniah and Israel Hallock, brothers, as builders, who came from Stony Brook, Long Island.
The Huntington side of the river being unfavorable for launching, Chatfield bought the Sugar street place of about ten acres, including the old store which was used afterwards as a ship carpenter's shop. In 1820, at Sugar street, just below the dam, the ship-yard was thought to be a permanent establishment, and the Hallocks then removed and made their residence in Derby. Here at Sugar street they built many large vessels,
but experienced a difficulty in launching and getting them down the river, when a more desirable spot being offered them, they bought, in the spring of 1824, a tract of land at Derby Landing, including the famous Reuben Baldwin's peach and cider brandy distillery. Being temperance men, they thought it wise to break up the old distillery.
Here ship-building was carried on successfully until 1868, when the march of progress in railroads rather compelled the Hallocks to sell the interest in their ship-yard as the Naugatuck railroad by charter passed directly through it. Four vessels however, were built after the railroad was in operation. The last one built by the Hallocks was named Modesty, which was certainly in good keeping with the character of the builders. The Modesty was named by Mary Louisa, daughter of Thaddeus G. Birdsey. It was a vessel of two hundred tons burthen, built for Thomas Clapman. In all, they built fifty-two vessels, great and small, and only one was unfortunate in being launched, having stopped on "the ways" causing much delay and trouble in remedying the mishap afterwards. Great precautions were always taken in launching, as it was a sort of superstition among sailors that any bad luck at such a time is ominous of evil on the waters, and they will never ship on board of such a vessel for service if aware of the fact. This vessel proved no exception to the belief, for she was early lost at sea.
The launching of vessels at Derby was always a great curiosity, and when this took place, the people at home and for miles the country round, came to see the wonder of the craft, and thus launching day with colors flying, was made a grand and exciting holiday among the denizens of the town. On one occasion, a gentleman and his little son came a great distance to witness the launching of a vessel, and going on board and examining her minutely as they were on deck, the son looking down the hatchway into the hold cried at the top of his voice, "O, daddy, look here! She's all holler."
The Hallocks as ship-builders always bore an enviable name at home and abroad. Zephaniah the elder, familiarly known by the name of Uncle Zeph., was among the most honest men that ever lived. Pious to the rule, there was no duplicity or double dealing in his character, and rather than shirk
his contracts by putting in shoddy timbers or practicing any dodge upon his employes, he would sooner suffer great loss in dollars. Therefore, any vessel labeled in memory, Uncle Zeph., whether in port or on the ocean, always bore the palm of great merit.
Ship building therefore has been, nearly from the commencement of the town, a large element in the enterprises which have employed capital and labor. At one time few if any towns in Connecticut built more sailing craft than Derby, and this in earlier years gave it the name of "Ship building town." The question may be asked, how could vessels built so high up the river be launched and floated down to deep water? The answer is, that once the volume or quantity of water flowing down these rivers was much larger than now, besides the vessels were launched during freshets and on tide water, and were buoyed with hogsheads or other floating material.
Thus once a lively branch of profit and loss among our enterprising forefathers has at length given place to the noisy hum of machinery, and a great variety of manufacturing interests, and in a little while all traces of ship building in Derby will have passed from sight except in the records of history.
Since the above writing the following additional items have been obtained.
If correctly informed, many vessels were built in colonial times below the junction of the rivers. One called the Lorinda, a brig, was launched at Huntington Landing, directly opposite the present residence of William Holmes, the florist. She was owned by George Thompson, a wealthy merchant who carried on a brisk trade with the West Indies, keeping quite an extensive store at the Landing. Sometime during the Revolution this brig, returning from the West Indies heavily laden with a cargo of sugar, rum and other valuables, was captured and detained by a British man-of-war off Stratford harbor. Thompson was a cautious, shrewd, far-sighted man, and being immediately sent for, hastened on board his brig, where he met the British captain. After the usual courteous salutations, Thompson, who had never signed the pledge, said to the British captain, "We have on board some liquors, superior to anything ever drank in Old England, I propose a drink all round." "I
have no objections," said the British captain. The smooth, oily rum once swallowed, the verdict was, "nothing ever better." The wily merchant then said, "This will hurt no one, I propose one niore." "Agreed," was the response all round. Another and matters grew friendly, and good feelings prevailed, although beginning to be -- a little mixed, and the British captain said to Thompson, "I perceive that your captain is a Scotchman." "Yes, sir," with a graceful bow. "I also perceive that your mate and yourself are Scotchmen," continued the rough commander. "Yes, and may it please you majesty's honor, I perceive that you are a Scotchman, making the fourth, all good blood." Another taste of sugar and rum and Thompson's brig with her valuable cargo was re-captured, and without further molestation she was safely taken into the port of Derby.
The navigation of the Ousatonic by so many of Derby's vessels brings before the mind one of the items of difficulty with which these later day navigators had to contend. In the beginning of the present century was built the first bridge across the Ousatonic between Stratford aud Old Milford. Its completion formed an epoch in the history of these ancient settlements, which was celebrated with appropriate demonstrations of joy and rejoicing; for prior to this, only a step behind the Indian's canoe, travelers were borne across the waters from town to town with scow and oar. At that period the coasting trade between Derby and the West Indies was in its hight of glory and prosperity, and the people in this vicinity very naturally were tenacious of their rights, and waxed violent in their opposition to any obstruction in the great highway of commerce. Derby was then an important port of entry, and paid heavy duties to the government on her importations. Singularly enough, among other complaints, it was claimed that the fishing interests up and down the river would suffer from the noisy travel over this bridge, and as Ousatonic shad then sold at fourpence and sixpence apiece, and as there was a statute law against hindering them from going up stream within certain hours of the day, between Half Moon Point and Quimbo's Neck Point at the mouth of the
river, the Legislature was importuned with lobbies to stave off and prevent at all hazard the entrance of this proposed charter for a bridge. A warm contest ensued, lasting many weeks, which led to some cruel personalities. But the bridge petitioners finally found favor among the wise Legislators, the charter was granted and the bridge built; but in a few years an ice flood swept it into the deep. This providential mishap in turn created much rejoicing among the opposers of the bridge in Derby, while the good people of Stratford and Old Milford were deeply chagrined over their unexpected calamity. Horace Bradley was deputized to go down the river and make sure the bridge was gone, and he returned with the glad tidings that nothing was left of it but the piers. The people then had an impromptu gathering and made merry over its destruction, some of them in their rejoicing getting not a little exhilarated with sugar and rum. One Col. Tomlinson, not unknown to Derby farmers living on the Huntington side, it is said, slaughtered on the occasion ten innocent turkeys and made a jubilee, inviting his friends and neighbors to partake of the entertainment. He gave the following toast to his guests, which was characteristic of the feeling then prevalent, showing a little of the old Adam of human nature: "May the fishing and shipping interests of our river never more be disturbed by the intolerable nuisance of another bridge across the mouth of its waters." Music, Yankee Doodle.
This bridge question engendered an enmity between the people up and down the Ousatonic, which generations have scarcely effaced. By dint of great effort, but mostly as the result of a lottery scheme in which some of our Derby citizens drew large prizes, the bridge was soon re-built, and commerce and shad again obstructed. Among the first vessels coming up to Derby after the re-building of the bridge, was Captain Bartholomew's, better known as Capt. Bartemy, a shrewd and plucky Frenchman, who was at the time a resident of Derby. It was the law, that vessels approaching the bridge to go through its draw should either fire a gun, or blow a horn, as a signal. Capt. Bartemy, whose vessel was heavily laden with rum, sugar, molasses and coffee, blew his horn, but the bridge sentinel most peremptorily demanded his papers, as a pass to the port of Derby.
This incensed the old captain, and he ordered hisown men to leave the vessel and open the draw; but they failed in their attempts, being unable to get the hang of the machine. He then ordered them to get out of the way, for he could clear the obstruction, and having on board two large cannon loaded nearly to the muzzle with iron spikes and what not, he ranged them and blazed away, and made the splinters fly in all directions. This caused the bridge party to show the "white feather" and hasten to open the draw, very glad to get rid of the Derby Frenchman, who was never afterwards troubled or hindered at the bridge.
Not long after this annoyance and before old sores were forgotten, there was again trouble at the draw. The proud vessel named Delight, commanded by Captain Morris of Derby, was sailing down the river at a falling tide and with a strong wind; nearing the bridge, they hauled down their sails and gave the signal, but the draw, from some neglect refused passage, and the vessel swung round, her boom striking hard against the draw, causing damage. Night came with a piteous storm, and the vessel was obliged to cast anchor, and remain in the river until the next morning, when she managed to get through and make her trip to New York. Willis Hotchkiss of the Narrows, then a little boy, was on board as cook of the vessel. This affair became a test question on the future res gestae of the bridge, for the sloop company sued the former, and brought their case before Esquire Tomlinson, then living at Wesquantuck. As parties in interest could not then testify, the boy Hotchkiss was the only important witness. After a rigid examination by two eminent lawyers, and a long and elaborate plea on both sides, the case was finally given to the judge, who gave the plaintiff eight dollars damages and costs. Ever after this, vessels sailing to and from Derby were no more annoyed at the draw by the good people of Stratford or Milford.
How different now the condition of that old and long hated Washington bridge! Her crumbling, tottering piers still defy the ebb and flow of tides, exhibiting only the sad relics of better days, while the traveler takes the iron horse by rail, or wends his way to Derby and crosses over in safety.
On a bright Sunday morning in the summer of 1824, the General Lafayette rested upon the bosom of the Ousatonic. A steamboat at that time was a great curiosity, and thousands made "a Sabbath day's journey" to see its advent into Derby. As she steamed up the river, passed the highlands and neared Derby wharf, the streets were filled and the shores lined with spectators eager to catch a glimpse at the invention which has rendered the name of Robert Fulton immortal. Imagine yourself back more than half a century, when the almost barren fields now dotted by the thrifty villages of Birmingham, Ansonia and Shelton were cultivated by the rustic ploughman, and Derby Narrows was a little neighborhood, and see fathers and mothers with their children, rushing from the hillsides and back settlements, many of them for the first time to witness a steamboat, and the reader is inspired with the thought that there was some enterprise in Derby, years ago. The Lafayette was a small boat built with a mast and bowsprit and had side wheels. Thomas Vose her captain, was in ill humor on her first trip. At old Washington bridge, at the mouth of the river, long an eye-sore to Derby interests, a dispute arose as to letting the boat through the draw, when Capt. Vosc said with emphasis, "I have sailed over the Atlantic for years, and I have the honor to command this boat; let me through; my orders must be obeyed, right or wrong." The man at the draw obeyed, and the boat was put through, not however without producing a fearful fracture of the box that inclosed one of the side wheels of the boat. On her arrival in Derby, a boy remarked that she had "lost one of her ears." The next day was the Fourth of July, and the boat was advertised to make an excursion on the Sound. What was to be done? Why! they rallied Truman Gillett from his devotions, and with his apprentice boys, although it was a holy day, the boat was repaired and with flying colors, on Monday morning sailed down the river, with many Derby adventurers on board, returning at an unseasonable hour.
The Lafayette was owned mostly by a company in New York,
and destined to run between that city and Derby, touching the borough of Bridgeport on her regular trips. Meeting with united opposition from a line of Derby packets, the Parthena, Commodore and Pulpit, these combined making three voyages a week through the season, the Lafayette was obliged to succumb and sell out to Bridgeport parties, who at that time were jealous of Derby's prosperity. Derby, then a sea-port town was ambitious of keeping up the commerce of the place. The citizens of Bridgeport had no steamboat, and to head off Derby, they bought the Lafayette which was lucky for the owners, for it was a sort of elephant on their hands, not being adapted to the navigation of our river. One of the above packets, the Pulpit, was fast sailing, built by a Congregational minister, and while running against the boat never lost a trip during the summer season; so it seems our first steamboat had strong opposition even from Derby citizens. Not satisfied with their first experiment, a part of the people of Derby had a steamboat built under the superintendence of Capt. Vose, expressly for the navigation of the Ousatonic, and it was called after the name of the river, the Ounjtonic. After running one season between Derby and New York, she was run into the cove once owned by Gen. David Wooster, about four miles from the mouth of the river, where she remained for the winter. The next spring she commenced her regular trips, but meeting with the old opposition of Derby packets besides interfering with the sloop navigation of Bridgeport, she passed into other hands and steamboating on the Ousatonic was not attempted again until 1836. The founder of Birmingham, Sheldon Smith, promised the villagers that they should have steamboat facilities. He first put on the Caroline, which was destined to run up to Birmingham; but this boat with Capt. Battell did not prove a success. Mr. Smith in his zeal then built a dyke and expended several thousand dollars in deepening the channel across the river, when he purchased the little steamer Maria which made several trips in 1837 between New York and Birmingham. On her last trip, Capt. John C. Hotchkiss in command, when nearing the Birmingham wharf one Saturday evening, the boat instead of rounding the dyke ran upon it at high water and was fast, the passengers being transported to Birmingham in boats, and
the next morning the Maria rested upon the dyke high and dry above water. Steamboating on dry land and the Ousatonic, being unsatisfactory, was abandoned on the part of Mr. Smith, when in 1845 the Naugatuck Transportation Company built an iron boat called the Naugatuck, by some nicknamed the Iron Pot which ran to the great accommodation of Derby citizens two or three seasons, and afterwards the same company put on the Ansonia, and for two years more a brisk business was continued between Derby and New York. The Valley City was the next steamer on our river, built by.the Atwater iron and steel works, and after the war broke out was sold to the government.
The eighth and last steamboat running from Derby to New York was the Monitor. She was built by a party of Derby citizens, at a cost of about $30,000 and running a few seasons, Capt. Henry Bemot in command, was run into off New York by another vessel, badly damaged and nearly sunk, and this foul collision, as it was claimed, involved an expensive lawsuit, and the stockholders of the unfortunate Monitor lost every dollar of their capital. Thus within fifty-five years, eight different steamboats have plied between Derby and New York, the citizens having the benefit, while the owners were poorly remunerated for their zeal and enterprise in trying to accommodate the public.
By an act of the General Assembly the "Derby Fishing Company" was chartered in 1806, James Lewis, Leman Stone, Canfield Gillett and Philo Bassett being the corporators, Canfield Gillett was elected president and James I. Andrews secretary. The primitive object of the company mostly was to be confined to "Cod and other fisheries, exporting and disposing of the same and carrying on the fishing business in all its branches." The capital stock was to be not less than $50,000. After the organization of the company, the stock of which was liberally subscribed to by the people of Derby and vicinity, they at once commenced the building of vessels. The first built was called the Eliza, and Capt. Clarke Elliott went four voyages with her to the West Indies. She was afterwards captured by the French
and lost. About this time Capt. J. Hull went out as a supercargo in a large vessel heavily laden with fish, bound for Spain, and a gale coming on before reaching the coast, all the fish and valuables were thrown overboard to save the vessel and crew. The Qusatonic and Naugatuck vessels were built by the Fishing Company and launched in the Narrows near Baldwin's old distillery, where 2000 barrels of cider were distilled annually, and much of the brandy was put upon the market unadulterated at 37 1-2 cents a gallon. The Fishing Company carried on a large trade with different ports until near the breaking out of the war of 1812, and it was not surprising that New Haven people should become jealous of its prosperity. It made tempting dividends, and after several amendments to its charter, it was allowed to deal in various kinds of speculations. The stock was largely increased, parties by virtue of charter, giving their negotiable notes in lieu of money paid in. The company subscribed for many shares of the first Derby bank, incorporated in 1809, which afterwards did a flourishing business. The Fishing Company and the Derby bank were in harmony with each other financially, yet both were violently opposed by capitalists of New Haven, as there was then a lively competition between the interests of Derby and the then small place, now the great City of Elms. At one time the Fishing Company brought from New York a chest of specie, which requires eight men to remove and place in the Bank, the old brick house still standing in the back street of the Narrows, owned and occupied by David T. Osborne.
In the memory of the oldest inhabitant this Derby Bank once had "a fearful run" upon its specie deposits by the Eagle bank of New Haven. On one Saturday ten thousand dollars of Derby bills were presented at the counter and the specie demanded. Fitch, the cashier, very quickly and coolly said to his teller, "Hand out that smallest box of specie from the vault and we'll begin to count." The box was filled with six cent pieces of silver, and just then it was all the specie the bank had on hand. Before the ten thousand dollars were counted out, however, the doors were closed, b the Spartan rule of these moneyed institutions. In the meantime the cashier, Fitch, had stepped out and penned a note to the president of the bank,
Wm. Leffingwel, who resided in New Haven, stating the plan on foot by the Eagle bank, and immediately dispatched a messenger over the hills to New Haven. On Monday Leffingwel had gathered up thirty thousand dollars of Eagle bank bills and when a further run was continued on the Derby bank by the Eagle bank the bills of the latter were presented in payment, and thus the New Haven sharpers were foiled in their attempt to break the first bank of Derby.
The Derby bank lost heavily by the Fishing Company, but no man ever lost a dollar by the bank. It paid in full before stopping business. An effort afterwards was made to transfer its charter to New Haven, but it was opposed by the people of Derby and the Legislature, and the project failed.
Successful and highly prosperous at first, the Fishing Company was destined to encounter financial shipwreck. The war of 1812, together with bad management, proved its utter ruin. Most of their shipping with valuable cargoes was captured by the French and confiscated, involving total loss.
The sheriff became busy in attaching all the available property of parties refusing to pay and owing notes to the company. These notes were collectible by suits at law. Many who thought themselves in good circumstances were made poor by this operation, and left the town in disgust. The president of the company for the first few years was voted by the directors a salary of $1500 a year for his services, the last two, each year, he was voted six and a quarter cents. An act of the Legislature, passed in 1815, transferred the office of the company to the city of New Haven, with all the books, papers, etc, and thus the Derby Fishing Company was wound up by receivers, with more than a total loss to the stockholders of Derby and its vicinity.
The charter of the Derby bank being owned mostly by John Fitch and others of New Haven, was suffered to remain dormant until 1824, when it was resuscituated. Some Derby people in connection with Horace Canfield and his brothers, both financial adventurers of New York, purchased for $12,000 the charter, with the brick building used by the bank. Horace
Canfield had married a very worthy and respectable lady of Derby, which gave a favorable impression among the people of the town. The bank was soon in active operation. John L. Tomlinson a lawyer, was made president, and Edward Crafts, cashier. They operated under the charter of 1809, which allowed a capital stock of $200,000, but could commence banking business when $60,000 was actually paid in. The Canfields were the agents, the moving power of the bank. Little business was done within doors by way of discounts; exchange of bills on other banks being a prominent feature of the agents. Crafts, the cashier, obtained and had in hand, through the Canfields, in current bills and specie, $100,000, which he deposited with the Fulton bank of New York to the credit of the Derby bank. Derby notes were then issued which read as follows:-- "The Derby bank promises to pay at FULTON BANK New York," etc.
An Ordinary observer without scrutiny would take the bill for a Fulton bank bill. These Derby bills, were then put upon the marked and for the first few months redeemed at the Fulton bank of New York. The Canfields in one month exchanged with drovers and other-business men $80,000. They bought largely of real estate and dabbled in other speculations, and paid in Derby money when it would be received. When $200,000 were issued, the deposits were withdrawn by the Canfields from the Fulton bank, and then the Derby bank as a matter of course failed. The excitement over the affair was intense and many were the anathemas heaped upon its managers. At the General Assembly in 1835, Mr. Tomlinson was called before the standing committee on banks, to explain the condition and management of the Derby bank, when he became so confused in his statement, showing that he had been most egregiously duped, that the chairman of the committee told him to take his seat and forthwith a report to the House revoked the charter.
The stigma of the Derby bank failure has long rested upon the town and more than was deserving upon Mr. Tomlinson. It haunted him in streets and public places and even annoyed him in his forensic eloquence at the courts. On one occasion he was counsel for a party in Quakers Farm, Oxford, when his
principal witness was under impeachment for truth and veracity. To maintain his reputation Tomlinson relied upon a good old lady who happened to be blessed with a five-dollar Derby bank bill.
When called upon the stand the question was asked her, "Do you know the witness, Mr. ----?"
"I do; well acquainted with him; always known him."
"What of his general character for truth and veracity?"
"On a par with the Derby bank."
"Madam, what do you mean by that comparison?"
"Good for nothing now, nor never was while you honor was president of the bank," was the reply.
"That's all." The witness was impeached.
In justice to Mr. Tomlinson it proper to say that he was not a particeps criminis to the affairs of the bank, except that he suffered it to be managed loosely. Lyman Osborn, an honest man, aged 84 years, now living, 1879, who was assistant cashier while Crafts was absent on a sea voyage for his health, says he has no reason to think that the president of the bank, or the cashier, Crafts, ever received one dollar of the swindle money. Osborn's duty was simply to sign bills and nothing more, though after the failure of the bank he went down to New York, spending many days to see what could be done to relieve the unfortunate bill holders, but as he writes, "Could find nothing of the Canfields."
There was a peculiar specimen of judicial administration in Derby at a time when law was less a science than at present, and the rules of evidence not so strictly confined to proper limits. A Mr. D., peaceably and piously disposed, had from time to time missed corn from his crib, and his suspicions resting upon one of his distant neighbors, Mr. R., he entered complaint to punish the offender. Petty larceny in olden times was considered, and visited with swifter and more condign punishment that it meted out to those who steal on a more magnificent scale in these later days. The constable brought Mr. R. before Justice Hotchkiss, then living at North End, who was good authority for the whole town in matters of law and equity.
The justice, as was customary, called in an assistant to give dignity to the court and aid him in the rendition of a verdict.
The evidence offered by the prosecution was that corn had been stolen from his crib, and as the accused had for some time maintained a suspicious character, he could be no other than the thief. All of which Mr. R., pleading his own cause, stoutly denied, alleging his entire innocence of the crime, declaring that he did not know that Mr. D. had any crib, much less corn. After a patient hearing from both sides his honor, Judge Hotchkiss, turned to his associate for his opinion. He replied that the complainant had undoubtedly been dispossessed of a certain quantity of corn, and whatever might be the probabilities of the guilt of the accused, there was no real evidence before the court to convict him, and the most prudent course would be to discharge him with a friendly admonition to beware of exposing himself to suspicion in the future. The chief justice, somewhat disconcerted by the leniency of his associate, taking the whole responsibility, forthwith pronounced the judgment of the court, which was that as Mr. D. was a very worthy citizen, it was the duty of the magistrate and the laws of the land to protect him in his property, and as the prisoner was known to be the only thief in Derby, therefore Mr. R. must have stolen the corn, and ordered that the constable take him to the nearest post and inflict "one dozen on his bare back, well laid on." The sentence being carried out, and Mr. R., smarting from the lash, confessed to the bystanders, saying, "Well, I did steal his corn, and if he don't keep his crib locked, I'll surely steal more."
Another case is given, which is a beautiful illustration of brevity. The prisoner, poor Pat, was arraigned before our worthy judge for certain violations of the statute, for which he had frequently been tried but never proved guilty. This time he was sure he would get clear, for he had a shrewd lawyer. The evidence against him being all in, his counsel, full of quibbles, informed the court that he should offer a mass of testimony to prove beyond a doubt the entire innocence of his client, but the justice promptly ruled out the evidence as inadmissible, and said to the prisoner, "Guilty or not guilty, you are fined seven dollars and costs."
Tradition gives us but one case as tried before Judge Lynch in Derby. A lawyer once took up his abode in town, who, finding the people opposed to litigation and thus affecting his interests, stirred up unnecessary suits, which were extremely annoying. The pettifogger was declared a nuisance and a meeting was held and a committee appointed to wait upon him. The committee after exhausting mild and humane means to abate the nuisance, as a dernier ressort warned the knight of Blackstone to desist from his nefarious business, and leave the town within ten days, on penalty of a visit from Judge Lynch. The lawyer laughed at their threats, and defied their interference in his affairs. At the expiration of the ten clays, however, the committee waited on him at his house in the night season, took him from his bed, apologizing to his wife for the rude disturbance, and in his sleeping garments gently seated him on a wooden horse, previously prepared, and paraded him through the street, accompanied with a tin kettle band, at last depositing him in a mud puddle, a mile from home, with the promise of another ride, with a coat of tar and feathers, if found in town at the expiration of another ten days. The lawyer was naturally very indignant and lavish with his threats, but the remedy was successful. In his own behalf he entered a nolle prosequi, left for parts unknown, and the good people of the town were a long time without the luxury of petty lawsuits.
During the West India trade Derby was a place of frequent resort for planters' families, who came, as many now go to Saratoga, for recreation. A Mrs. Gallagher and family from St. Martins spent several summers at the residence of Mr. N. Lewis in the Narrows. She was a lady of rare attainments, of finished education, benevolent, and an ornament to society, but no argument could harmonize her views with the Yankees on the status of the negro. She had lived on the plantation where the grades in rank were strongly marked, and by the force of education and association, like thousands under similar circumstances, had no just conception of human rights. Her idea was that the negro was a semi-human being, a sort of domestic
animal, holding the same relation in her estimation as a favorite dog or horse that ministers to the comfort or amusement of its owner, and was horror stricken at our recognition of the negro as differing from us only in color. Always kind and indulgent to her slaves, ministering to their animal wants, recognizing no other, it was an amusing novelty to Mrs. G. to think it was any more unjust to enslave the negro than any other animal that served her convenience, but how many precious lives and how many millions of money have been wasted to explode this one idea, so deeply rooted in the mind of the slave-holder by the force of circumstances.
At one time large quantities of alewives were caught in Derby and packed for the West India market. She was asked what use was made of them in St. Martins. She replied, "We give one to each of our negroes every Sunday morning as a special indulgence. They are an excellent fish for ourselves, but we never eat them." The alewives are a dry, very bony fish of the herring species, and were mostly used by our farmers at that time as fertilizers. One hundred barrels were caught in one day by two men near Naugatuck bridge. This was accomplished by means of a weir. Then two men with a scoop net held between, facing each other, entered the pocket of the weir and scooped up as many fish as they could carry or hand in, when they were emptied alive into huge vats of strong brine, and afterwards packed in barrels for shipment. This was considered a paying business in those times at §1.50 to $2.00 a barrel.
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