In Which My Family Founds New England #4: The Convergence
I think it’s pretty hilarious that in a nation that’s all about heading west, and with so MUCH west to move to, 3,000 miles of it, all the way to the Pacific coast, my mother’s direct ancestors didn’t go any further than the Connecticut river. But that seems to be the way of it. We mentioned a few of these intrepid pioneers (the founders of Springfield, Mass and environs) in Part Two. Waterways were the key to early settlement, thus all the earliest towns in Connecticut were established either on the seacoast or on rivers.
Several of my ancestors were among the original proprietors of Hartford (founded 1635), including Richard Lyman, William Andrews. Giles Smith, and John and Richard Olmstead. These were men who (with their families) went with my (12th) great uncle Thomas Hooker to found the new settlement as a protest to the limitations on suffrage in place in Massachusetts. A full list of the original settlers is here. Others followed. My ancestor Thomas Dewey was among the earliest settlers of Windsor (1640) and Hartford (1642). Philip Randall was in Windsor by 1640. John and Elizabeth Kirby were in Hartford by 1644 and later became among the first settlers of Middletown. I also have a whole branch of the family among the founders of Fairfield, among them one Thomas Barnum, a mutual ancestor of my hero Phineas Taylor Barnum, an ecastic revelation which I will not hesitate to exploit!
I am related by marriage to Connecticut colonial Governor Robert Treat (1624-1710). Treat’s sister Katherine married my (9th) great grandfather Rev. William Thompson. Treat arrived in America with his family as a teenager and became one of the early leaders of New Haven. In the 1660s, when New Haven merged with the rest of Connecticut, Treat led a group of protestors and founded — oddly enough — what became Newark, New Jersey. He later returned and served as Governor of Connecticut from 1683 to 1698. He was also head of the colony militia during King Philips’ War. His great-grandson Robert Treat Paine was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Compared to the Plymouth, Massachusetts and Rhode Island colonies, comparatively few of my ancestors arrived in Connecticut during the earliest period of settlement. Later, some migrated to Groton, New London and New Haven. But Connecticut is important to this narrative because this is where the descendants of every single person we have talked about in this series all wound up in years to come.
They all come together in Windham County, in the northeast corner of the state. Every line we have talked about in these four posts, and hundreds more besides, would migrate here between the late 17th and early 19th centuries, and remain there for many generations until the time of my mother. She grew up there during the years 1926-1944, then hot-footed it to Rhode Island, where I was born 21 years later.
Windham County has always been Connecticut’s most rural, least populated, most obscure region, a place of farms and tradespeople, and two fairly well-known schools, the Woodstock Academy and The Pomfret School. My folks are from around the town of Woodstock, which was pioneered by the missionary John Eliot (whom we mentioned in part two). Eliot was one of the first people to translate the Bible into a Native American tongue — his version of the Bible is where the American political term “mugwump” comes from).
In 1682, the land in this area was bought from the Mohegan Indians and 13 men from Eliot’s Roxbury Parish became the town founders, including my ancestors Benjamin and George Griggs, John Marcy and Benjamin Sabin. Until 1749 the area was part of Massachusetts and known as New Roxbury.
Why this area was settled later can be attributed to two things. One, it’s not near a major waterway like all the earlier settlements we have discussed. And two, a major historical event that happened in the 1670s, which we’ll talk about tomorrow.