Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 4 published on March 11, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Retyped by Arlene Goodwin
Jedediah Hubbard’s tomb-stone in the old grave yard has inscribed on it, "The first Deacon and the first Settler in Windham." Probably he was Deacon at the founding of the Society in 1803, but as no date of his settlement here is mentioned, it is not so evident that the tradition is correct, that makes him the first settler. It is an authentic tradition among the descendents of Elisha Strong, senior, that this family were much rejoiced at the coming of Mr. Hubbard into the country, because they would thus have another neighbor near them. It would follow that Mr. Strong was here first, and his arrival was about 1786. The several sons of Jedediah Hubbard, Timothy, Jedediah, Chauncey, Amos and Samuel, young married men, came with their father and settled around him. The old man’s residence, built by himself , is still standing across the creek from the saw-mill, on the farm owned by Darius Prout. This house is probably one of the very oldest in this part of the country.
Respecting Mr. Hubbard’s residence in this house, a rather curious incident or two may be related. The land on which it stands was claimed as covered by two patents, that of Livingston and that of Hardenburgh. It would appear that Hubbard’s title obtained of Livingston, was held by the agent of Hardenburgh to be invalid, and he consequently proposed to take formal possession of the house in Hardenburgh’s name. It his anxiety, Mr. Hubbard applied to one Simmons, who then lived in the house built by him, but afterwards sold to John Prout, Senior. Simmons told him to go directly home, and put over the fire all the kettles he had or could get, and fill them with water, and heat it hot, and bar the door of the house, and if the agent come near enough, pour the scalding water on him. Whether in the face of such a plan of defense, the agent and his men made their proposed attack, the story does not say-but it is certain that Mr. Hubbard was left in peaceful possession until the day when, at 82 years of age, he slept with his fathers. It is said that as a solution of the difficult question of title, the settlers sometimes got deeds from both Livingston and Hardenburgh agents for the same tract of land.
There was a cheerful, gay tone about the early settlers, characteristic of pioneers generally. It is related, for example, that it was the custom of the Hubbard family, father and sons, to keep their holidays by playing the game of ball. What a picture does it present of the simple, old fashioned joyousness! The Patriarch, (Deacon afterwards) with his married sons, all boys again together; and full of innocent glee, like children, engaged in a joyous laughing struggle who should win.
In the lack of what is more serious the following incident may be mentioned. It will at least help to illustrate the manners and ways of the Old Times.
The Simmons before mentioned was present, it would appear, in the kitchen of the house built and occupied by Jedediah Hubbard, when a dance, then a very common way of spending an evening, was going on. It was probably before the organization of the Presbyterian Society in 1803-indeed much earlier-for there was present in the room adjoining the kitchen a gentleman who in the early years occasionally preached here-the Rev. Mr. Townsend. Very naturally, as music and dancing went on, the good man’s excitement increased, till rising in his indignation, and opening the door, he thrust his head among the gay crowd, exclaiming, "fire! fire! fire!" this was met by Simmons in mad-cap hilarity, shouting, "water! water! water!" and the musical uproar ceased not.
It is to be regretted that the authentic facts relative to the early history of so large a family are so few. Only one descendent of Jedediah Hubbard, Mrs. Snow, a great-grandchild, is living in this part of the country. His son, Deacon Timothy Hubbard, held a prominent place in the Presbyterian Society for many years. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Jedediah Hubbard have followed the drift of emigration and must be sought in the far West.
To turn for a moment to period not so remote—1815. In the inscription over his grave, Elizur Wheeler is said to have died of hydrophobia. It was communicated to his person by a mad wolf. He lived in the neighborhood of what is called the old Van Norden place. Hearing a noise in his barnyard at night he went out and found a wolf among his cattle and sheep. Mr. Wheeler engaged the wolf in a hand to hand struggle until his daughter came with an ax and dispatched him. Mr. Wheeler felt no immediate inconvenience from a very slight wound he received in the struggle. He had no suspicion that the wolf was mad, detailed the encounter to his friends cheerfully, and showed them his wound. But in the course of no very long time, hydrophobia developed and the poor man died. He left three children, two daughters and one son.
Among the early recollections of the writer is the fact of being sent to a school taught by his daughter, Miss Lucy Wheeler, in the school-house near Gen. Jehiel Tuttle’s Tavern. Her reputation in those days was that of a remarkably good teacher. As nearly as a childish remembrance enables one to judge, Miss Wheeler must have combined in an uncommon degree, brightness of intellect with sweetness of temper. Dignified and calm, and devoted to her calling, she secured the love and veneration of her pupils. Her home—as an orphan she had no other—was the house of Gurdon Brainerd, then living opposite the Episcopal Church. Teaching was her calling, but years wore on, and her health became impaired, she sank quietly but inevitably. The brilliant eyes grew paler, and the rarely equaled smile disappeared. It was the yielding of a tremendously beautiful and easily over wrought sensibility. The sympathy of friends was in vain. The spirit itself was diseased, and passed away in gentle despondency, into the presence of the Great Healer of souls—the Good Physician.
About the year 1815, the mountains were much infested with wolves, and it was no uncommon occurrence to hear their howling. One night a Mr. Richard Peck, resident in Big Hollow, heard a noise in his yard, and called to his son, who went immediately to the barn, and discovered a wolf among the cows. He requested his father to bring an axe, and in the midst of the struggle he received a wound in the face, but dispatched the wolf with the axe. No apprehension of further danger was entertained, until about nine days after, when conversing with a neighbor, he remarked that he felt strangely. "I feel," said he, "as though I could fight the whole world;" then turning around he commenced kicking the barn violently. It was evident an attack of hydrophobia and caused great consternation. Dr. Crouse was immediately sent for and administered medicine, but for the young man there was no hope. He lived a few days having lucid intervals. He would then wish his friends to come near saying." I will not injure you," but when the spasms were returning he would say, "go from me." An eye witness said the scene was truly appaling.
His remains were taken to Lexington Flats for interment. As the procession moved along, the wolves set up a dismal howling on the mountain on the opposite side of the creek, and seemed to be moving in a parallel direction. The belief was that they scented the corpse, as it was but little past mid-day when it occurred.
From a lady in Jewett to Rev. H. H. Prout