Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 7 published on April 1, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Retyped by Arlene Goodwin
Those who raise bees know with what sagacious boldness the new swarm rushes into the woods, and finds a home in the wilderness, and gathers sweets in the deep solitudes. Such seems to have been the emigrating instinct which must have seized and impelled the inhabitants of Connecticut into the newer parts of the country. The majority of the early settlers were a swarm from that hive.
The War of the Revolution had closed, and the few following years had been spent in anxious political discussion. A new Constitution was formed, and after much hesitation and reluctance on the part of some states it had been adopted by a bare majority, and then the government was organized under Washington. This unsettled period, when gladness and apprehension seem alternately to have possessed the patriotic mind of the country, when the poverty of the people forced them to struggle to live, and the political troubles invited them to dispute, was the period when emigration flowed in amongst these mountain wilds and forest. It may have been only the peculiar way of Connecticut Yankees: the hive not only swarmed early, but took a stormy day for it.
Jabez Barlow removed here from Connecticut shortly after 1790. He had previously gone to Ohio and bought the land on which the city of Marietta now stands, but was defrauded, and forced back from that cause, and the hostility of the Indians. He settled near the first fork of the North Settlement road. His son, Alanson Barlow, then fourteen years old came with him and a negro man. The family came on three years later. It was the old story of hardship, and stern conflict with difficulty. The family tradition is that pounded oats was often made into bread. Barley was raise and after a time ale made, and the means of living were increased by the sale of it. Mr. Barlow, we are led to infer was a man of reserved independence of character, and of most scrupulous honesty whose word of promise, in his own view of its obligation, was as binding as a written bond. Joel Barlow, the Revolutionary poet and statesman, was his half-brother.
There is something marked and curious in the contrasted history of the brothers Barlow. While Joel was writing poetry, and discussing theories of government with the French revolutionists at Paris, Jabez Barlow in his settler’s hut was pounding oats for bread, mixing them with water, and baking them before the fire. While Joel struggled against what he thought political heresies, and became eloquent for the rights of man, Jabez secured himself against the wolves at night as they rushed up to his door and whisked around the corners of his cabin. The identical bar of iron with which he barricaded his door at night was kept for many yeas as a memento by his daughter, Mrs. Edmonds. Jabez was content with sour bread, while Joel went into a political rhapsody in defense of what he regarded as the national dish—hasty pudding. It is curious at least, not to prolong the contrast too far. Jabez as a feat of bodily vigor, was lithe enough sometimes to walk on his hands, on a wall, feet up. Joel reached the eminent position of American Minister to France, and died shortly after inditing an eloquent political smear at the great Napoleon.
The early pioneer seems frequently to have had a morbid reserve of manner and feeling especially on religious subjects. Was it the result of his previous training and circumstances? To a reflecting mind it must appear singular that men of good sense should ever seem to be ashamed of the noblest possible action—the worship of God. The answer to the question, why is it so? would open some curious and startling trains of thought. Some men are forced into silence by the forward loquacity of others. They know that a babbling stream is hallow; and these are often the solid men of society. They dread superficiality, and have a horror of egotism and affectation, especially in religion. Hence the sincere and humble sometimes close their lips. It is related of the celebrated Dean Swift that he was careful never to let his guests know that he held family prayers, but called his household into the most retired room in his house for the duty.
Neighborhood gossip is not quite infallible. Jabez Barlow had a strong chest, which, as it stood near the head of his bed, he often made a convenient seat. Many wise people said it was filled with silver coin so old that it was rusty. When he died only enough was found to pay for the decent burial of his body.
It has been intimated that his unconcern of attention to public duties of religion was thought deficient. Rev. Mrs. Disbrow, now an (*later corrected—thought deficient; but Mrs. Disbrow, now an old old lady.) aged lady, I am told, remembers how, when young and teaching school in the neighborhood and boarding at Mr. Barlow’s house, she inadvertently came to know that he knelt each morning in his room spreading a towel to kneel upon. It was his habit often to sing hymns in privacy; and read the Bible and offer his prayers before he took his morning meal. Such is the testimony of those who ought to know, concerning the later years of Mr. Barlow.
The family was of English origin, and it seems probable that the father of Jabez, came from the old country, bringing with him habits and views of religion peculiar to the English Church. The prayer book was the constant companion of the declining years of the subject of this sketch. Thus he was an old-fashioned man of marked reserve and strong individuality. Who did not forget that it had been said "Enter into the closet and shut the door."
The material is at hand for only a very brief notice of another pioneer family:-
The two brothers Claflin came from Framingham, Mass. about 1786, when, as the family tradition reports, there was no house nearer than Schoharie (Prattsville) on the west, and only one on the east side of the mountain. Increase Claflin settled on a soldier’s claim on the farm lately owned by Pearl Lewis, between his house and the creek. His oldest children were very young, and all moved here on an ox sled. Increase and John Claflin had married sisters of Rev. M. Stimson. The family tradition speaks of their burning elm timber to ashes and selling the ashes at Claverack as a means to buy flour.
It is said, on what seems good authority, that the very earliest settlers not only got what flour they had at Claverack, but brought it home on their shoulders, a bushel at a time. And then each one in the settlement had a share of it. What a brotherly kindness does this imply—but such liberality is not, I believe, unusual among frontier settlers. There is an implicit, cheerful trust found among them.
Trout were abundant, and they had them for breakfast, dinner and supper. It was a great luxury at last, when some land having been cleared, they were able to keep a cow and make a little Dutch cheese as a special rare thing. But the enjoyment of the luxury must have been interrupted a little when a panther at night leaped in at the open gable end of the log barn, and took the young calf out at the same gable, and carrying it to the swamp left it half eaten up. Mr. Claflin got Wm. Stimson to come and set a trap for the panther, and they had the satisfaction of finding the brute caught a night or two after, and of shooting it. Their table, kept as a relic in Aaron Claflin’s family, was a trough hewn out with an ax, holes bored in it for the legs, and then a board hewed puncheon or slab on the top of it; the trough probably serving as a select place, or a secure drawer for nice things. The two brothers, John and Increase Claflin, moved to the West, with their families, excepting Aaron Claflin and family, who settled on a farm, then entirely new. About a mile and a half from the turnpike, on the road turning off at Mr. Snow’s.
The Claflin family were evidently among the very first to break in on these solitudes. It was Revolutionary soldier’s claim on which they settled about 1786, three years after the War of Independence.
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