Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 12 published on May 13, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
It seems difficult to ascertain the original name of what was known as Windham about 1798. Elisha Thompson came from Goshen, Conn., in 1791, an settled in what is now Jewett, but his deed for this land given in 1794, describes it as lying in Woodstock, Albany county, leaving us to infer that this portion of the country was not then included in Ulster county, as it certainly was in 1799. In the New York Civil List for the current year is a notice of Greenland and Greenfield, as at a certain date, towns in Greene County, which, however, are put down as soon after changed in title, and seem to have comprehended what is now Hunter and Holcott; but Mr. John Thompson, the only surviving child of Elisha Thompson, before mentioned, thinks Greenland and Greenfield were nick names, applied to a very cold section of the country. He has furnished some reminiscences.
The First Meeting House in what is now Jewett was built on the site of the garden on Mr. Distin’s old place. It was never finished inside, and was finally sold at public auction. Elisha Thompson bought it for fifty dollars and gave it back to the Society, and it is now the barn on the Parsonage lot of the Presbyterian Church, near Jewett Heights, having been moved across the road from it s old site. It is singular that in the boundaries of the old town of Windham, two Presbyterian houses of worship should have been converted into barns. This old House, however, was used freely by ministers of all names. Before Mr. Stimson, were Mr. Hotchkin, Mr. Fenn, Mr. Townsend, and a Baptist minister, Mr. Bronson, who preached in it, and probably Mr. Chase, afterward Bishop Chase, must have held service there, for it asserted that at about the same period be baptised the children of some families who lived near by. The ground for the burial place, in sight from the point where the old meeting house stood, was the gift of Laban Andrews.
Woodstock must at all events have been, at one time, a part of Ulster county, because Elisha Thompson was constable of the town, and in the capacity attended court at Kingston; and what makes it more certain, is the fact that on a time when he was returning home from Kingston, the Westkill Creek was so much swollen that it swept the horses down the stream, and one of the company, either old Mr. Turney or Mr. Simmons, was near being drowned.
Pioneer humor was often yoked with pioneer hardship. Asahel Hull lived in what is now Jewett, and being determined to have some bolted flour, took a bushel of wheat on his back and went to Wolcott’s mill, between 25 and 30 miles off, and got it ground. Chaffering with the miller, he wanted him to take the bran for toll; but the miller told him the bran was good for nothing, so Asahel took it and poured it into the creek. Why did you do that? Said the miller. Because I did not intend to carry it home, and you said it was good for nothing, I supposed you would not want it.
Sometimes bran was made to do for what could be eaten. Several neighbors, on or near the Heights, had successively the use of a bushel of ground, unbolted wheat. The first sifted it, and passed it on to the next, and he sifted it, and than another, till at last it was nothing but bran indeed; and than it was boiled into a pudding. Dyspepsia was not heard of in those days.
Sullivan Chaffee, and his father, lived on Little Westkill. Sullivan, and a companion or two, found two young panthers, and ran them into a hollow tree, just as nightfall, and having no ammunition, two of them kindled a fire, and watched the panthers all night, while another went to Strong’s store—now Ashland village—just south of which lay the scene of the adventure, and got some powder. The old panther came in the night, and climbed a tree, and watched the hunters, as they watched her cubs. But in the morning, they killed the young panthers, and then pursued the old one till she took refuge in a rocky den on a high cliff of the mountain. Old Chaffee was determined to go in and drive her out, and in spite of the remonstrances of his son and the others, went in, creeping toward the brute, looking steadily at her eyes, glistening in the dark. He had no gun, and the animal, probably abashed by such affrontery, plunged for the outlet of the cave, scrambling and squeezing over Chaffee’s back, till her head was even with his heels, when Sullivan leveled his gun at its head, and the panther, springing from the hole, made its last bound.
Titus Heaton lived a little south of Jewett Heights. His wife, Phoebe Heaton, deserves remembrance. She was stout herself, and had two sons, stout boys, who not grown, when looking for birch sticks to make brooms of, heard a strange scratching and noise in a hollow tree and told their mother, who went out to see what it was. It was midwinter; the snow and ice had filled up the entrance to the hollow tree which was near the ground, and the only way to find out what was there, was to chop in with an ax, and make an entrance higher up. Phoebe and the boys fell to work, and soon a bear’s head protruded from the opening they made. It was an unequal contest for the bear; he was killed, and dragged home in triumph on an ox sled, and both the fat carcass, and the warm fur were found serviceable.