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: Charles Grandison Finney’s Birthplace

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Monument at the birthplace of Charles Grandison Finney on Cunningham Road in Warren.

There were no great battles fought in Litchfield County, nor were any presidents born here. The county has, however, left an indelible mark on American history, perhaps in no area as great as in religion. The county was the home of Joseph Bellamy, Lyman Beecher, Horace Bushnell, and Michael McGivney. Another extremely prominent American religious leader who called the county home was Charles Grandison Finney, born in Warren in 1792. Finney was the youngest of fifteen children, and the family moved to upstate New York soon after his birth.

Charles Grandison Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

Finney has been called the “Father of American Revivalism,” and the area in western New York in which he operated became known as the “Burned-Over District” for the intensity of the religious revivals there. The high point of Finney’s revivalism was 1825-1835, and they were particularly popular in towns like Rochester that were undergoing dramatic economic transformations brought on by the opening of the Erie Canal.

Rochester, NY 1830

Rochester, NY 1830

Finney preached salvation through faith alone, but also wrote of the role of the individual’s will in achieving salvation. Finney’s religious views led him and his followers to promote social reforms, especially abolitionism and educational opportunities for women. These beliefs led him in 1835 to Oberlin College in Ohio, which accepted both genders and all races. Finney would go on to serve as the school’s president from 1851 to 1866.

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Getting to this monument is very challenging; it is advised that those seeking it walk or mountain bike down Cunningham Road. Thanks to Warren historian Ellen Paul and the dog walker I fortuitously met along Cunningham for the directions! Thanks also to Jason and Amanda McGrew for their assistance.

For more on Finney and his revivals in Rochester, see Paul Johnson’s wonderful A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837.