Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 18 published on June 24, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Old Wallingford must have been a full hive, so many settlers issued from it; and it must have been a sweet, industrious place, capable of filling its virtuous citizens with tender and glad recollections. The several families of the name of Tuttle came from Wallingford, and then the fever of emigration seized the family, and took them off to the wilderness. On the way, so toilsome and rough, their thoughts ran back, the old house pictured on the heart, grew vivid, and the wife and mother must yield now and then a tribute to the past, and tears wet the track to the new country. But hope ruled the hour. The two oxen and one horse were true, and driven by a true man. A purpose is to be accomplished, and the scene of it is beyond "the river." The incomparable Hudson was the Jordan of the Connecticut pilgrim, and he approached its bands hopefully as Joshua and his hosts, and the Priests, bearing the ark, advanced to Jordan. Landing on the western bank, "the Jordan and the Hudson both flow southward), Charles Tuttle and his family were kindly and hospitably sought out by Mr. Day and his wife and invited to their house. Judge Day (I believe he afterward became) was a Wallingford man. But the travellers had already "put up" at the inn. Then having toiled across the mountain (and having found the Stimson rock, when Ephraim Stimson came out and jumped upon the vehicle, and looking in gave them welcome) the wagon stood before the door of Capt. Medad Hunt’s Tavern. All were brothers then, all were kind, and glad whether they had known one another or not; They felt the quick bond of sympathy, and henceforth there was only their unqualified fellowship, and the frank, open mutual joy of pioneer life. Sally Hunt and Mamre Tuttle—8 years old then, 82 now—must run on before the wagon, down to John Tuttle’s, and let them know who had come. John Tuttle had emigrated (it was now 1794) five years before, and was living in a log house west of where was afterward the old red house one story, with a porch, and a blacksmith shop on the lower side of the road. Sidney, the youngest child, came in, and was introduced to his cousins, his face blackened, and his fat boyish cheeks drawn wide with a smile of good nature. Jehiel, the oldest son, worked when young. Mr. Tuttle’s other boys are said to have taken matters more quietly. And now we are on the ground. Charles Tuttle settled near the bridge below the Old Meeting House, was a shoe-maker and tanned a little leather, and got a comfortable living. He sold out soon afterward to Jedediah Hubbard, Jr., and removed to North Settlement and then to Schoharie.
A schoolhouse probably the first in Windham, was built on the corner of the burying ground lot, and the children were gathered in from all the outposts and corners on week days, and E. Stimson taught the first school. Samuel Gunn read the service on Sundays, and a Mr. Collins read a sermon to the people who filled the school house. Mrs. Disbrow—then a child—remembers well going to the service, how calm and devout Mr. Gunn was, and how the solemn service imprinted itself on her memory. But there were some, and her mother was one, who would not go with the rest; and a Mrs. Osborn said to her, "Why, you and Mrs. Heart and Mrs. Turney mean to go to heaven by yourselves!" But really, the good women thought they were showing suitable fidelity to their own principles and if so, no one could blame them. Quite a large number of these Connecticut men were churchmen, and Capt. Samuel Gunn was a worthy leader of their service, and it appears to have regularly been held in their school house before the meeting house was built. Then when built, by all, until on a certain occasion, the Rev. Mr. Perry preaching, and at the conclusion saying to the assembly that he would preach there again at a given time. Mr. Stimson arose and said that the himself would preach there at that time. The churchmen seem than to have abandoned the attempt to hold service there, and met in the school houses in different neighborhoods. Till their own church was built in 1818. Capt. Medad Hunt gave the land on which the old meeting house was built. It seems probable that as the matter was popularly understood, and originally acted on, the house was what would be called, to a certain extent, a Union Church.
Mrs. Mamre Disbow, Charles Tuttle’s daughter, remembers going to church once in Wallingford, when a child, but the first person she ever saw kneel down on the floor itself, in public worship, was old Mrs. Merwin, in the old primitive school house, in church service as read by Capt. Gunn. It may not be amiss to say that the fortunes of the Episcopal Church in this region, seem to have been peculiar. In numbers and zeal the church had a clearly marked position so early at least as 1797. Its regular service was solemnly held, and a large congregation attended in the first school house ever built here. The Tuttles, the Merwins, Sanford Hunt, the Andrews, Mr. Goslee, the Gunns, Mr. Coe, Mr. Collins, Orange Munson, Silas Lewis, and others were churchmen, and formed a fair proportion of the population. Then so soon as 1799, the regular canonical organization of Trinity Church took place four years before the organization of any other religious society. But it does not appear that the church had regular or frequent official ministrations. Such as they had were held in the old meeting house, until in some unexplained manner they were withdrawn. The old Congregational society was not organized till 1803, four years later, four years after the building of the house.
Great were the troubles and contentions about land titles—the agents of one proprietor trying to eject some who had titles, from another proprietor. Mrs. Disbrow remembers one day when her father lived near the bridge before spoken of, how they heard a great noise, the blowing of conch shells and tin horns, and shouting till the valley rang again. It was the signal for the advance of an army of Indians, to rescue Uncle Jedediah Hubbard and his family, out of the hands of the cruel land agents, who had come to eject them. The whole valley quaked; men and women, boys and girls ran as the echoes sounded long and loud. The army of Indians never got quite out of the woods where it was given out that they hid, but a panic seized the hostile land agents; their hearts melted, and they grew faint; as did the inhabitants of Jericho, and desisted from their wicked attempt for the time.
Tradition lets us know of the sharp frightful scream of the panther, and its seems that he cannot very patiently bear being imitated. Tom Bishop knew that it was a panther screaming in the swamp, opposite the house, and out of daring fun went toward the place whence the scream came and imitated the animal’s cry. It was night, and the amusement went on till imperceptibly the creature drew nearer and nearer, and a sudden loud yell made Tom spring toward the house. It was a keen race; Tom swung inside the door just as the panther’s paw struck against the outside.
Charles Tuttle was late at his sugar bush one night and at about nine o’clock, heard a shrill cry as of a woman in distress. It was repeated, when he knew what it meant. He felt about in the dark for a club, and walked on but when he got to the clearing he walked no more, but rather flew, till he reached Hunt’s house, and rushing in Mr. Hunt exclaimed, Why Charles! What’s the matter? You are in such a tremor—so white. The next morning Silas Lewis put his dogs on the track of the panther, and treed him and killed him. Mr. Tuttle acknowledged that he felt as though the hairs on his head struck out straight and stiff, and his hat was on the ends of them, Charles Tuttle and wife spent their last years at what is now Prattsville, and were buried there.
Asahel Disbrow, father of Ezra, the husband of my informant, Mrs. Disbrow, removed from Fairfield, Conn. 1799, and found a house in West Settlement, to and from which he went by marked trees. Mr. Groat, father of John and grandfather of Henry Groat, lived at the head of Sutton Hollow, and Mr. Disbrow lived in Mr. Groat’s house till his own was built.
There were a few Methodists in the country but no organized society. Skeptical books such as Tom Paine’s Age of Reason were circulated to some extent.