Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 14 published on May 27, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
For the following sketch the writer is indebted to Mrs. Steele, relict of Col. Stephen Steele, and a grand-daughter of Laban Andrews who came from Wallingford at a very early period of the settlement of the country.
Perez Steele came to Windham from Tolland, Conn., about 1795, with a family of six children. They came with a pair of oxen, before a lumber wagon, covered with sheets. Their friends in Tolland were very much opposed to their coming, and told them when they came to visit them, that their children would grow up so wild that they would crawl into hollow logs. They came calculating to buy a good deal of land, and have their children settle around them—Stephen Symmons was a brother of Mrs. Steele, and selected for them the farm of the North Settlement, where David Brandow now lives; but they got very home-sick, and said they would go back to Connecticut, unless he would get them a better farm. He did so, and they moved to the farm on the turnpike where Mr. Munger now lives, and lived and died there, leaving their son Stephen Steele residing. Perez Steele, Sr., was at one time member of the State Legislature, and Justice of the Peace for many years.
Stephen Symmons, Constant A. Andrews—father of Loring Andrews, now of New York—a Mr. Tomlinson, of New Haven, were landholders through a part of this region of the wilderness in those days. Andrews built the house where Mrs. Matthews now lives, with her son Levi, across the creek. Symmons delighted in building, and built a house where Darvius Prout now lives, and another about a half a mile below Ashland village, in which he lived some time. He married Capt. Medad Hunt’s daughter. Her father was one of the early settlers, a carpenter by trade, and built, over 60 years ago, the house where B. G. Morss keeps his dairy. In those days this was said to be the best built house in the country. Symmons was one of the principal men in building this Windham turnpike. He wanted to board his men who worked for him, and having no kettle large enough to cook his dinner in, he started for Catskill on foot, and brought a dinner pot home on his back. It was said he had to go by marked trees.
Perhaps lady house keepers do not know the origin of Turnpike Yeast, or why they came to dry it. When they were laying out the Windham Turnpike, through the Wilderness, they were very much troubled to carry the soft yeast, since they had to move as fast as they made the road. One Mrs. Fowler, who cooked for them, contrived to dry it, so that she could carry it conveniently. This was done sixty years ago, and is what gave it the name of Turnpike emptyings or Turnpike yeast.
In the War of 1812, a large company of soldiers went from this, and surrounding towns, then all Windham, since divided into smaller towns. When the day came for them to march, they assembled at the house of John Tuttle, Sr., or his son Sidney, where Addison Steele now lives, then a public house. They were formed into line at the beat of the drum, and marched up to the Old Meeting House, stacked their guns in front of the house, and marched in. The body of the house was reserved for their use, and occupied by them, and prayers were offered, and the Rev. Mr. Stimson preached a sermon or delivered an address, very good in its way, but it happened not to suit both parties, and gave occasion to a good deal of political conversation. But such a meeting! Parents and children, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends in tears, perhaps never to see each other again. To appearance it was a very solemn scene, almost like burying so many friends. The writer, then a child, remembers well being afraid going into church by the guns, they looked so bright and savage. I know of but one now living that belonged to the company. That one is Jerry Miller, of this village; I think and officer was in the company, but Eli Robinson was Captain.
In addition to what is kindly communicated above, it is reported that while the soldiers were attending worship, Aaron Taylor was stationed as guard over the arms stacked in the front yard, and one Beers, encroaching in a tantalising way, and trifling with him, Taylor stabbed him with his bayonet in the thigh, and Beers died of the wound.
Mrs. Steele remembers the Rev. Mr. Perry, the Episcopal minister from Hobart, and his preaching at the school house near her father Mr. Isaac Buell’s house. She is assured that her brother, Milo Buell, and herself were baptized by him. Her mother was a daughter of Laban Andrews, was a church woman, but when Trinity Church was built, the services were withdrawn from the neighborhood, and she found it difficult to attend at the church.