West Cemetery: Joseph Harris Memorial

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Encounters – and violence – between the earliest settlers of Litchfield and Native Americans was not uncommon. In 1722, Jacob Griswold of the town was kidnapped by a tribe and brought to present-day Canaan. His daring escape became the stuff of legends. Joseph Harris, one of Litchfield’s original settlers, was not as lucky.

The following year, Harris, known as a “respectable inhabitant” was attacked by a group of Native Americans while tending to his fields. When Harris attempted to escape, he was shot dead and scalped. Residents searched the area when Harris did not return to town that afternoon, but darkness put an end to their efforts. The next morning his body was found, sitting on the ground, his head resting against a tree near what is now Litchfield Ford. The area became known as Harris Plains.

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The Harris memorial in West Cemetery, when the inscription was legible. (From Litchfield and Morris Inscriptions, 1905)

Harris was the first of Litchfield’s original settler to die. His burial spot was long forgotten, but in 1830 a memorial was erected to Harris in the town’s West Cemetery. The memorial still stands, but its inscription has become too difficult to read. It says:

In Memory of Joseph Harris who was murdered by the Indians in the year 1721.* While plowing in his Field in the vicinity of the Alms House, he was shot by the Indians concealed in Ambush. He was found dead Sitting on the Ground, his Head and Body reclining against the Trunk of a Tree. To record the first Death among the original Settlers of this Town & to perpetuate the Memory of a worthy but unfortunate Citizen this Monument is erected 1830 by the voluntary Benefactions of individual Subscribers

* While both Alain White and Rachel Carley’s histories of Litchfield say that Harris was killed in 1723, the monument states 1721.

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