Winter Travel in 18th Century Litchfield County

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An early 19th century sleigh at Old Sturbridge Village

With snow on the ground and the Christmas season upon us, here’s an account of the difficulties that winter weather posed in an earlier era. John Cotton Smith (1765-1845) was the son of Cotton Mather Smith, the prominent minister in Sharon at the time of the Revolutionary War. John Cotton Smith studied at Yale, became a notable attorney, and then served Connecticut in the United States House of Representatives and as governor of the state.

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John Cotton Smith in later life

While a sophomore at Yale in 1780, his father traveled to bring John Cotton home for winter vacation. On their return to New Haven from Sharon:

A great snow storm came on, and they were compelled to leave their sleigh in                    Woodbury, and travel to Bethlehem on horseback. By that time the roads were                    impassable to horses, and, fearing that they might be wholly blocked up, they set out,        with Dr. Bellamy’s sanction, on Sunday afternoon, on snow-shoes, reached                            Washington that night, Warren the next, and home on the third.

This account is from “A Biographical History of the County of Litchfield, Connecticut,” written by Payne Kilbourne in 1851. It tells us not only of the hazards that awaited winter travelers in the 18th century (it is interesting to note that it is 8 miles from the Bellamy-Ferriday house in Bethlehem to the center of Washington, 9 miles from Washington to Warren, and 14 miles from Warren to Sharon) but also of the strong hold that religion had on people’s daily lives. As a minister, Cotton Mather Smith was certainly familiar with the Reverend Joseph Bellamy, the influential theologian who was known as the “Pope of Litchfield County.” Bellamy was such a power that his approval was needed for Sunday travel.

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The Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and happy new year!

Hidden Nearby: Roxbury’s Blue Star Highway

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Blue Star Highways across the United States pay tribute to members of the United States armed forces. Blue stars can be found on service flags, which emerged as banners hung in windows during World War I to indicate that a member of that household was in the military. A gold star flag indicates that a member of that household died in military service; Connecticut also honors gold star families on license plates.

In 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the National Council of State Garden Clubs (now known as National Garden Clubs, Inc.), began marking highways to honor members of the military. The National Council of State Garden Clubs was established in 1929; today, the National Garden Clubs, Inc. has over 5,000 member garden clubs, comprised of over 165,000 individuals.

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There are at least 193 Blue Star Highways in the United States; of these eighty are in Louisiana, the most – by far – of any state. Connecticut has seventeen Blue Star Highways. The first, along Route 1 in Guilford, was dedicated in 1950. It wasn’t until 2003 when Exit 5 off of I-84 in Danbury became the state’s second Blue Star Highway. This marker, along Route 317 in Roxbury, is Connecticut’s second newest, dedicated by the Roxbury-Bridgewater Garden Club in 2018. Two days later, the Black Rock Garden Club of Bridgeport denoted a walkway in the St. Mary’s by the Sea park the state’s newest Blue Star Highway.

 

 

Hidden Nearby: North Canaan’s Monument to the Convention Army’s March

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The monument to the Convention Army’s march, “the Revolution’s longest” on Sand Road in North Canaan.

My last post featured the sign in Southbury commemorating the march of General Rochambeau’s French army across the southern border of the county during the Revolutionary War. A second Revolutionary War army had traveled across the northern edge of the county three years earlier. This march is commemorated by a marker along Sand Road in North Canaan.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull. The original hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.

Following the victories of the American army at Saratoga in September and October 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his army of about 6,000 men on October 17th. The terms of the surrender – known as the Saratoga Convention – stated that these British soldiers were to be paroled upon a promise to never fight against the Americans again. As the terms required approval by King George III, the British prisoners were marched to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to get them away from the approaching Adirondack winter. They arrived there in early November, taking up quarters that had been built by the British in 1775. Many of these men were sent to work for local farmers during the day. Approximately 1,500 British escaped, as legend holds that they became romantically involved with the daughters of these farmers.

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A Viginia historical marker commemorating the end of the Convention Army’s march in Charlottesville.

In November 1778, with the terms of the convention still unratified and with Burgoyne refusing to provide a list of names of his officers so that Americans could ensure they would not fight again, the terms of the convention were revoked. The remaining British soldiers departed Boston, bound for Charlottesville, Virginia. This was, as the monument in North Canaan testifies, the longest march of the Revolutionary War. Entering Connecticut at Suffield, the British (and German Hessian) prisoners and their American escorts passed through Litchfield County’s Barkhamsted, New Hartford, Winchester, Colebrook, Norfolk, North Canaan, Salisbury and Sharon. A separate column comprised primarily of the Hessian soldiers passed through Kent and New Milford as well. In Sharon, A detachment of Hessians reportedly camped on the Norfolk green, where one prisoner escaped, married a local woman, and settled down. Other Hessian soldiers encamped opposite the Stone House (along what is now Stone House Road), where local residents long remembered the soldiers singing devotional songs in German.

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For more on the Convention Army, see this excellent post by Tim Abbott.

 

Hidden Nearby: Rochambeau’s March through Southbury

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Following the great American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, Benjamin Franklin negotiated an alliance between the fledgling American nation and France. Motivated by a desire to weaken their British adversaries, and convinced that the Americans could not defeat the British with only foreign financial aid, in January 1780 France reversed its policy to not send ground troops to assist the Americans. In July 1780, General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, with and army of approximately 6,000 men. Two months later, Rochambeau traveled to Hartford to meet with Washington, who desperately wanted to French to aid him in his plan to assault New York City. However, even Washington was forced to admit that it was too late in the year to carry out such an operation.

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807)

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

 

In May of 1781, the two generals met again, this time in Wethersfield. (Note: It was for these two meetings that Washington traveled through Litchfield County, likely crossing Bull’s Bridge in Kent, resting under the Washington Oak in Gaylordsville, and spending the night in Litchfield.) Here, they decided that Rochambeau would indeed move his army to Westchester County, to cooperate with Washington in an attack on the British garrison of New York City. The line of march would bring them across Connecticut, a route known today as the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, administered by the National Park Service.

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Rochambeau’s forces began their march out of Rhode Island on June 18th. The general’s plan called for the men to march 12 to 15 miles a day. To avoid the heat of mid-day, the troops awoke at 2:00 am, and were on the march by 4:00 am. Marching was typically completed between 8:00 am and noon, at which time the men pitched their tents. The French army were treated as heroes by the Connecticut populace, who greeted them with music and dancing, and French soldiers long remembered the “beautiful maidens” they met on the march. Around June 30th, Rochambeau’s marched through Southbury, an event commemorated by the above marker. While this marker is situated between Route 6 and Mansion Hill Road, a National Park Service map indicates that Rochambeau’s forces did not take this route, instead picking up Route 6 further south.

Jonathan Trumbull’s Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. Rochambeau is the 12th (final) figure on the left side. The British general Charles O’Hara, tasked by Cornwallis with surrendering the army, initially offered his sword to Rochambeau, who refused in deference to Washington. Washington also refused, and directed O’Hara to surrender his sword to Benjamin Lincoln (on the horse at center), who had previously been humiliated by the British at Charleston.

 

Washington personally reviewed the French force after their arrival in Westchester on July 6th. After considerable discussion about how best to attack the British in New York City, the arrival of a French fleet off the Virginia coast compelled the two generals to change their plans and focus on the British force under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Within a few months, Cornwallis had surrendered, the world was turned upside down, and the Americans were on their way to independence. It was thus a victorious French army that marched back through Southbury in 1782, having done much to ensure American independence.

For more information on Rochambeau’s march, check out the National Park Service’s excellent brochure: https://www.nps.gov/waro/learn/news/upload/WARO-brochure-both-sides-2.pdf

 

 

 

Hidden Nearby: The Old Waterbury River Turnpike in Winchester Center

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With the end of the American Revolution, Connecticut needed to reframe its transportation infrastructure from one dependent upon the British fleet to one that utilizes roadways to connect the state to major markets. The challenge faced by the fledgling state was that because it was heavily in debt from the war effort it lacked the funds to build roads, and in the wake of the revolution, it didn’t dare tax its citizens to pay for them. The answer to this transportation and economic dilemma was privately built turnpikes.

Map from Frederic Woods’s The Turnpikes of New England (1919)

The last two decades of the 18th and first decades of the 19th saw dozens of state-chartered but privately built turnpikes criss-cross the state. Turnpike corporations undertook the high costs of building the roads – clearing forests, grading the roads, building bridges if needed – in exchange for the rights to operate two tolls along their route. (Paths around these tolls, known as shunpikes, soon dotted the landscape.) Profits were limited to 12% return on investment; anything more was taken by the state. The most successful of the turnpikes, including the Greenwoods Turnpike between Norfolk and Winsted, reinvested their excess profits in their road, continuously improving conditions.

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The Waterbury River Turnpike Company ran one such road that began at the Massachusetts border, ran through Colebrook and Winchester to Torrington and ultimately Waterbury. (The Waterbury River refers to what we know as the Naugatuck River.) There is, perhaps, no better place to see what these turnpikes looked like than in Winchester Center. Designed in a French style, turnpike engineers looked to minimize curves. They also desired broad roadbeds; the section of the Waterbury River Turnpike pictured above, however, demonstrates that this was not always achieved.

 

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The turnpikes were at the heart of the nation’s market revolution in the early 19th century, providing the means for increasing numbers of Americans to access the goods being produced in a booming economy.  Testimony to this stands in the interpretative marker (seen above) that stands in Winchester Center. The fees charged indicate that these roads were used to transport livestock, goods, and people. By the 1850s, most of these turnpikes had their charters revoked and became property of the state, but their importance in helping to build the nation’s economy cannot be understated.

 

Dam Remains along Butternut Brook

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Remnants of a stone dam along Butternut Brook in Litchfield. This is a common feature on the Litchfield County landscape.

These remnants of dams are on Butternut Brook, along Duck Pond Road in Litchfield. They transport the explorer back to a time when the region’s many small industries were powered by water, an era historian Kenneth Howell has called an “empire over the dam.”

A grindstone, most commonly used in a gristmill to grind wheat into flour, or more commonly in New England to ground kernels into corn meal.

Water power was cheap and usually – except in droughts – reliable. Dams would hold back enough water to turn the water wheel, which in turn powered the drive shaft. Attached to the shaft was a vertical gear, which in turn transferred power to a horizontal gear. This, in many Litchfield County mills, turned the grindstones that turned wheat or corn into flour.

The Butternut Brook crosses Brush Hill Road (called Ripley Road on this older topographical map). The dams are located near Duck Pond Road’s intersection with Milton Road.

While Litchfield proper never saw industry rise above the level of small grist and saw mills, greater sources of water power in Milton and Fluteville (a section of town along the Naugatuck River bordering Harwinton, now lost to the Northville Dam) larger operations blossomed, powering lathes, blacksmith shops, and clock making. And of course, the dams in Northfield fueled that borough’s knife shop.

The streams of Litchfield County are dotted with hundreds of remnants of old dams, a reminder of the small industries that helped make life in this once isolated corner of Connecticut a little easier.

Look for a future post specific to Milton’s industrial heritage.

Hidden Nearby: An Autumn Walk Along the CCC Road at Macedonia State Park

Camp Macedonia Brook operated as a base for the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 to 1936, during the New Deal. The camp was charged with building a new road to Macedonia Brook State Park and a road to the top of Kent Falls. The road to Macedonia, which still exists, was especially difficult, requiring many cuts into the rocks and filling. The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad ran alongside the camp, allowing for direct delivery of supplies. The men of the camp were also involved in flood relief during the 1936 floods of the Housatonic.

Fall is a wonderful time to explore the history of Litchfield County. At Macedonia State Park, a road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression offers insights into the area's history.

Fall is a wonderful time to explore the history of Litchfield County. At Macedonia State Park, a road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression offers insights into the area’s history.

An old grindstone can be seen along the roadside, certainly pre-dating the CCC.

An old grindstone can be seen along the roadside, certainly pre-dating the CCC.

The explorer can appreciate the beauty of the CCC's stonewalls. The CCC was established by the Roosevelt Administration as a New Deal agency to both protect the environment and give work to 18-24 year old men.

The explorer can appreciate the beauty of the CCC’s stonewalls. The CCC was established by the Roosevelt Administration as a New Deal agency to both protect the environment and give work to 18-24 year old men.

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The above two photographs provide a glimpse into the drainage system developed by the CCC. Even after a heavy rainfall the previous day, the road was dry.

The two photographs above provide a glimpse into the drainage system developed by the CCC. Even after a heavy rainfall the previous day, the road was dry.

CCC members cut rocks to crate the roadwa.

CCC members cut rocks to create the roadway.

Where the men didn't build stonewalls, they put coping stones in place to serve as guardrails.

Where the men didn’t build stonewalls, they put coping stones in place to serve as guardrails.

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A true appreciation for the scope of the work done by the CCC can be gained by examining the sheer size of the road's retaining walls.

A true appreciation for the scope of the work done by the CCC can be gained by examining the sheer size of the road’s retaining walls.