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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Stories of Connecticut Towns

By Samuel Peters (1735–1826)

[From A General History of Connecticut. 1781.]

WEATHERSFIELD is four miles from Hertford, and more compact than any town in the colony. The meeting-house is of brick, with a steeple, bell, and clock. The inhabitants say it is much larger than Solomon’s Temple. The township ten miles square; parishes four. The people are more gay than polite, and more superstitious than religious.

This town raises more onions than are consumed in all New-England. It is a rule with parents to buy annually a silk gown for each daughter above seven years old, till she is married. The young beauty is obliged in return, to weed a patch of onions with her own hands; which she performs in the cool of the morning, before she dresses for her breakfast. This laudable and healthy custom is ridiculed by the ladies in other towns, who idle away their mornings in bed, or in gathering the pink, or catching the butterfly, to ornament their toilets; while the gentlemen far and near, forget not the Weathersfield ladies’ silken industry….

Simsbury, with its meadows and surrounding hills, forms a beautiful landscape, much like Maidstone in Kent. The township is twenty miles square, and consists of nine parishes, four of which are episcopal. Here are copper mines. In working one many years ago, the miners bored half a mile through a mountain, making large cells forty yards below the surface, which now serve as a prison, by order of the General Assembly, for such offenders as they choose not to hang. The prisoners are let down on a windlass into this dismal cavern, through a hole, which answers the triple purpose of conveying them food, air, and——I was going to say light, but it scarcely reaches them. In a few months the prisoners are released by death and the colony rejoices in her great humanity, and the mildness of her laws. This conclave of spirits imprisoned may be called, with great propriety, the catacomb of Connecticut. The light of the sun and the light of the gospel are alike shut out from the martyrs, whose resurrection-state will eclipse the wonder of that of Lazarus. It has been remarked by the candid part of this religious colony, that the General Assembly and the Consociation have never allowed any prisoners in the whole province a chaplain, though they have spent much of their time and the public money in spreading the gospel in the neighboring colonies among the Indians, quakers, and episcopalians, and though, at the same time, those religionists preach damnation to all people who neglect to attend public worship twice every Sabbath, fasting and thanksgiving day, provided they are appointed by themselves, and not by the King and Parliament of Great Britain. This well founded remark has been treated by the zealots as springing more from malice than policy.

I beg leave to give the following instances of the humanity and mildness the province has always manifested for the episcopal clergy.

About 1746, the Rev. Mr. Gibbs, of Symsbury, refusing to pay a rate imposed for the salary of Mr. Mills, a dissenting minister in the same town, was, by the collector, thrown across a horse, lashed hands and feet under the creature’s belly, and carried many miles in that humane manner to jail. Mr. Gibbs was half dead when he got there; and, though he was released by his church wardens, who, to save his life, paid the assessment, yet, having taken cold in addition to his bruises, he became delirious, and has remained in a state of insanity ever since.

In 1772, the Rev. Mr. Mozley, a missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, at Litchfield, was presented by the grand jury for marrying a couple belonging to his parish after the banns were duly published, and consent of parents obtained. The Court mildly fined Mr. Mozley 20l. because he could not show any other license to officiate as a clergyman, than what he had received from the Bishop of London, whose authority the Court determined did not extend to Connecticut, which was a chartered government. One of the Judges said, “It is high time to put a stop to the usurpations of the Bishop of London, and to let him know, that though his license be lawful, and may empower one of his curates to marry in England, yet it is not so in America; and if fines would not curb them in this point, imprisonment should.”…

The true character of Davenport and Eaton, the leaders of the first settlers of New Haven, may be learnt from the following fact:—An English gentleman, of the name of Grigson, coming, on his travels, to New Haven, about the year 1644, was greatly pleased with its pleasant situation; and, after purchasing a large settlement, sent to London for his wife and family. But before their arrival, he found that a charming situation, without the blessing of religious and civil liberty, would not render him and his family happy: he resolved, therefore, to quit the country, and return to England, as soon as his family should arrive, and accordingly advertised his property for sale; when lo! agreeable to one of the Blue Laws, no one would buy, because he had not, and could not obtain liberty of the selectmen to sell it. The patriotic virtue of the selectmen thus becoming an insurmountable bar to the sale of his New Haven estate, Mr. Grigson made his will, and bequeathed part of his lands towards the support of an episcopal clergyman, who should reside in that town, and the residue to his own heirs. Having deposited his will in the hands of a friend, he set sail, with his family, for England, but died on his passage. This friend proved the will, and had it recorded, but died also soon after. The record was dexterously concealed by gluing two leaves together; and, after some years, the selectmen sold the whole estate to pay taxes, though the rent of Mr. Grigson’s house alone in one year would pay the taxes for ten. Some persons, hardy enough to exclaim against this glaring injustice, were soon silenced, and expelled the town. In 1750, an episcopal clergyman was settled in New Haven; and, having been informed of Grigson’s will, applied to the town clerk for a copy, who told him there was no such will on record, and withal refused him the liberty of searching. In 1768, Peter Harrison, Esq., from Nottinghamshire, in England, the King’s collector of New Haven, claimed his right of searching public records; and being a stranger, and not supposed to have any knowledge of Grigson’s will, obtained his demand. The alphabet contained Grigson’s name, and referred to a page which was not to be found in the book. Mr. Harrison supposed it to have been torn out; but, on a closer examination, discovered one leaf much thicker than the others. He put a corner of the thick leaf in his mouth, and soon found it was composed of two leaves, which with much difficulty having separated, he found Grigson’s will! To make sure of the work, he took a copy of it himself, and then called the clerk to draw and attest another; which was done. Thus furnished, Mr. Harrison instantly applied to the selectmen, and demanded a surrender of the land which belonged to the church, but which they as promptly refused; whereupon Mr. Harrison took out writs of ejectment against the possessors. As might be expected, Mr. Harrison, from a good man, became, in ten days, the worst man in the world; but, being a generous and brave Englishman, he valued not their clamors and curses, though they terrified the gentlemen of the law. Harrison was obliged to be his own lawyer, and boldly declared he expected to lose his cause in New England; but after that he would appeal, and try it, at his own expense, in Old England, where justice reigned. The good people, knowing Harrison did not get his bread by their votes, and that they could not baffle him, resigned the lands to the church on that gentleman’s own terms; which in a few years will support a clergyman in a very genteel manner. The honest selectmen yet possess the other lands, though report says Mr. Grigson has an heir of his own name, residing near Holborn, in London, who inherits the virtues of his ancestor, and ought to inherit his estate.

The sad and awful discovery of Mr. Grigson’s will, after having been concealed above one hundred years, would have confounded any people but those of New Haven, who study nothing but religion and liberty. Those pious souls consoled themselves by comparison: “We are no worse,” said they, “than the people of Boston and Windham county.” The following fact will explain this justification of the saints of New Haven.

In 1740, Mrs. Cursette, an English lady, travelling from New York to Boston, was obliged to stay some days at Hebron; where, seeing the church not finished, and the people suffering great persecutions, she told them to persevere in their good work, and she would send them a present when she got to Boston. Soon after her arrival there, Mrs. Cursette fell sick and died. In her will she gave a legacy of 300l. old tenor (then equal to 100l. sterling), to the church of England in Hebron; and appointed John Hancock, Esq. and Nathaniel Glover, her executors. Glover was also her residuary legatee. The will was obliged to be recorded in Windham county, because some of Mrs. Cursette’s lands lay there. Glover sent the will by Deacon S. H——, of Canterbury, ordering him to get it recorded, and keep it private, lest the legacy should build up the church. The Deacon and Register were faithful to their trust, and kept Glover’s secret twenty-five years. At length the Deacon was taken ill, and his life was supposed in great danger. Among his penitential confessions, he told of his having concealed Mrs. Cursette’s will. His confidant went to Hebron, and informed the wardens, that for one guinea he would discover a secret of 300l. old tenor consequence to the Church. The guinea was paid and the secret disclosed. A demand of the legacy ensued. Mr. Hancock referred to Glover, and Glover said he was neither obliged to publish the will, nor pay the legacy: it had lapsed to the heir at law. It being difficult for a Connecticut man to recover a debt in the Massachusetts Bay, and vice versa, the wardens were obliged to accept from Mr. Glover 30l. instead of 300l. sterling; which sum, allowing 200l. as lawful simple interest at six per cent. for twenty-five years, ought in equity to have been paid. This matter, however, Mr. Glover is to settle with Mrs. Cursette in the other world.

New Haven is celebrated for having given the name of “pumpkin heads” to all the New-Englanders. It originated from the Blue Laws, which enjoin every male to have his hair cut round by a cap. When caps were not to be had, they substituted the hard shell of a pumpkin, which being put on the head every Saturday, the hair is cut by the shell all round the head. Whatever religious virtue is supposed to be derived from this custom, I know not; but there is much prudence in it: first, it prevents the hair from snarling;—secondly, it saves the use of combs, bags, and ribbons;—thirdly, the hair cannot incommode the eyes by falling over them;—and, fourthly, such persons as have lost their ears for heresy, and other wickedness, cannot conceal their misfortune and disgrace….

Yale College exceeds in the number, and perhaps in the learning, of its scholars, all others in British America.

This seminary was, in 1717, removed from Saybrook to New Haven; the extraordinary cause of which transition, I shall here lay before the reader.

Saybrook dominion had been settled by Puritans of some moderation and decency. They had not joined with Massachusetts Bay, Hertford, and New Haven, in sending home agents to assist in the murder of Charles I. and the subversion of the Lords and Bishops:—they had received Hooker’s heretics, and sheltered the apostates from Davenport’s millenarian system:—they had shown an inclination to be dependent on the mother country, and had not wholly anathematized the church of England. In short, the people of Hertford and New Haven suspected that Saybrook was not truly protestant; that it had a passion for the leeks and onions of Egypt; and that the youth belonging to them in the Schola Illustris were in great danger of imbibing its lukewarmness. A vote, therefore, passed at Hertford, to remove the college to Weathersfield, where the leeks and onions of Egypt would not be thought of; and another at New Haven, that it should be removed to that town, where Christ had established his dominion from sea to sea, and where he was to begin his millenarian reign. About 1715, Hertford, in order to carry its vote into execution, prepared teams, boats, and a mob, and privately set off for Saybrook, and seized upon the college apparatus, library, and students, and carried all to Weathersfield. This redoubled the jealousy of the saints at New Haven, who thereupon determined to fulfil their vote; and, accordingly, having collected a mob sufficient for their enterprise, they set out for Weathersfield, where they seized by surprise the students, library, etc., etc. But on the road to New Haven they were overtaken by the Hertford mob, who, however, after an unhappy battle, were obliged to retire with only part of the library and part of the students, Hence sprung two colleges out of one. The quarrel increased daily, everybody expecting a war more bloody than that of Sassacus; and, no doubt, such would have been the case, had not the peace-makers of Massachusetts Bay interposed with their usual friendship, and advised their dear friends of Hertford to give up the college to New Haven. This was accordingly done in 1717, to the great joy of the crafty Massachusetts, who always greedily seek their own prosperity, though it ruin their best neighbors. The college being thus fixed forty miles farther west from Boston than it was before, tended greatly to the interest of Harvard College: for Saybrook and Hertford, out of pure grief (pure grief means, in New England, anger and revenge), sent their sons to Harvard, instead of the college at New Haven. This quarrel continued till 1764, when it subsided in a grand continental consociation of ministers, which met at New Haven to consult the spiritual good of the Mohawks and other Indian tribes, the best method of preserving the American vine, and the protestant, independent liberty of America:—a good preparatory to rebellion against Great Britain.