Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 3 published on March 4, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Retyped by Arlene Goodwin
George Stimson, senior, was one of the very earliest settlers in the Batavia Valley. He came from Framingham, Mass., in 1785, and built a brush shanty by the side of the great rock at the west end of the village of Windham. He then returned and brought his family of wife and several children. The shanty took fire and burned shortly after, and then was rebuilt. It was a great struggle to live, taxing the energies of the father and his sons to the utmost. The sons were Jeremy, Nathaniel, George, Ephraim, Henry B. and William, and there were five daughters. One of the sons remained in Mass., and Henry B., afterwards known as the Rev. Mr. Stimson, was a lad of 13 when his father built his cabin, and he assisted in the care of the family for the greater part of the next seven years. He then, at about 21 years of age, went to Claverack, Columbia County, where he spent nine years in study, working meanwhile to pay his way, at the cabinet-making business. He then spent a year or two in the study of theology, with the Rev. Mr. Fuller of Rensselaerville, then in 1802 was ordained, and shortly afterward married Rebecca Pond, and removed to Windham, took charge of the Presbyterian congregation. The Society was first regularly organized under Mr. Stimsonís influence and care in 1803.
The Old Meeting House, historically the most important building in this part of the country, was raised in the fall of 1799, remaining uncovered three or four years, consequently is of nearly seventy years standing. The house now occupied by his daughter, Miss Rebecca Stimson, was built about 1805, and occupied by him until his death in 1851. His pastoral care of the First Presbyterian Church in Windham continued 23 years. In the early times of this country, his association with the families of the settlers were of the most important character. The moral and spiritual growth of the country was under his eye and care. No one could question his sincerity and honesty, however they might feel called to differ with him.
The pioneers of a new country are a peculiarly marked and noble race. Their virtues are characteristic. Their generosity is peculiar. And there is often seen in them a striking union of the sweetest gentleness with the harsh energy of conscious power; a giant-featured individuality sheltering the tenderest affection, They grapple with the most difficult problems with as sturdy as resolution as they heave forests out of their way. Their axion is, what needs be done can be doneówhat ought to be must be, and straightway they bend to the task patiently and steadily till waving grain supplants the forest and fine houses take the place of rude shanties, and christian spires point upward where the smoke of the wigwam arose.
As he said in his farewell sermon preached in 1825, Mr. Stimson had been with the people in their times of grief and seasons of joy. He had struggled successfully to rear a large family on a very small salary, never over $400, per annum. He was no idler, but wrought with his own hands and rising before day to his studies. Education received an impulse from his aid and counsel. Growing with the growth of the county, the large society under his care was flourishing and prosperous when he resigned his charge. It was a conscious rectitude, and the ability to point to the results of his ministry, that seemed to animate the last of his discourses to his people as their minister, from the text: "Witness against me, whose ox have I taken? Whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded?" and with characteristic honesty and frankness, Mr. Stimson reminded his hearers, in that, his last discourse as their pastor, that he had always preached the doctrines of predestination and election with fullness and clearness.
The connection of the writer with this earnest man and faithful Christian, cannot be forgotten, or easily detailed. Often in childhood, as it were accidentally, having started for school, has he been present at the good manís house when he offered the morning worship with his family. He is no stranger to the assiduity which knelt and prayed with, and consoled hearts rent with grief. The unaffected , good-natured salutation cannot be forgotten. And he must recur with gratitude to the unfailing, genial hospitality, the valuable and earnest advice, and kindly sympathy of this good man. Not less worthy of honorable mention was his excellent wife. It is not eulogy, but justice, to recall the cheerful patience which bore a large household through a life-long struggle so successfully. Mrs. Stimsonís life was an exemplification of those excellent traits that makes up the character of the judicious mother, the intelligent adviser, and the sympathizing neighbor and friend. For so much as this of affectionate recollection, the writer must ask the indulgence of his readers.
The first settler on the ground where Mr. Stimson built his house was a Mr. Cargill; the next Mr. Martin, the father of Nicholas, Peter, and Frederick Martin; and of him Mr. Stimson bought the farm. The house was an unfinished shell for at least 15 years, and was then lathed and plastered and made comfortable.
Since writing the above it has come to the writerís knowledge that Mr. Stimson was teaching the district school in the old school house in Ashland, 1807. The list of his pupils remains in his own-writing and contains 63 names of persons, very few of whom are living. His ministerial labors at that time were extended over the territory now embraced in Windham, Ashland, Prattsville, Jewett and Lexington.
The above very imperfect sketch of a sincere and brave man is given in the interest of historic truth and christian charity. The writer does not of course wish to be thought indifferent to either those articles of the creed, or to the principles of the Church, wherein to use the old fashioned candor, he feels obliged to differ with the subject of this sketch. But his view is that we may owe a debt of gratitude, and pay it without stint for carping, to the venerable man whose work is done, and into whose labors we have entered. The subject of this sketch was one of the last who would claim exemption from human infirmity, and probably would have preferred to be smitten by a friend rather than be praised indiscriminatingly. But when walking among the graves, nothing is reasonable but fellow-feeling.
"Homo sum, etc. Ė I am a man and have sympathy with man," as a sentiment which even a heathen audience could understand and applaud.