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Early Settlers of Middlesex County Connecticut

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Early Settlers

It is not possible now to learn when the first settlers came into the territory now included in Middlesex county. It has been stated that English settlements commenced in Saybrook in 1635, and in Middletown in 1650; but probably there were settlers in both towns prior to those dates. The first settlers were almost wholly of English descent. Some came directly from England, but more from older settlements in the colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Dr. Trumbull estimated the number of inhabitants of Connecticut in 1713 at 17,000; and probably the towns now included in Middlesex county had 3,000 of these. The population of these towns at different periods is given elsewhere. It may here be remarked that from the first slavery existed among the people here, and that there were in the county in 1790, 208 slaves; in 1800, 72; in 1810, 57; in 1820, 8; in 1830, 2; and in 1840, but one. The slavery which existed here had practically but few of the odious features that characterized the institution in some portions of the country. The slaves were generally kindly treated, and care was taken that in their gradual manumission they should not be cast helpless on the world, but that they should be cared for in their youth by their owners, and provided for in their declining years by those whom they had served.

The first settlers of New England left Europe and came here in order that they might worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. To accomplish this object they renounced the luxuries of the Old World, and encountered hardships of which their descendants can have but a slight conception. Field says they were "strict in their religious principles and practices. Attentive to public and family worship, they caused their religion to appear in all their conduct. They were also distinguished by some customs which owed their existence either to their particular religious sentiments or to the circumstances in which they were placed."

"United together for the purpose of enjoying the ordinances of the Lord, as they believed them to be taught in the Scriptures, and exposed to the same enemies and dangers, they settled in bodies, and abounded in mutual affections and kind offices. A man of common standing they called a good man, while the title of Sir was given to magistrates, ministers, and men of liberal education."

Exposed constantly to the attacks from the Indians, they were careful to acquire the use of arms. They spent six and sometimes more days annually in military exercise. In plantations where there were 100 soldiers, 20 were required to serve on guard on the Sabbath and on other days of public worship, and in no plantation less that 8, with a sergeant. In times of war and special danger guards were kept constantly in every town, and in some instances several in the same town. The practice of keeping guard on seasons of public worship continued till May 1814, when the towns were excused from it by statute, except in time of war.

This practice, probably, produced the custom of assembling people for public worship by the beat of the drum, which prevailed for a time in Middletown, Haddam, Saybrook, Killingworth, and Durham. Whether it was ever introduced into Chatham and East Haddam is unknown.

"The circumstances of these people were exceedingly straitened. They had sacrificed a large portion of their property by removing to America; were unacquainted with the business of subduing a wilderness; had no commerce, and scarcely any means for acquiring property. In the meantime their families were to be supported, their children educated, and the institutions of the Gospel established and maintained; and these things were to be done in the midst of enemies whose motions they were obliged perpetually to watch, and against whose apprehended attacks they were obliged to provide the means of defense. Necessity, therefore, compelled them to the most rigid economy. Everything about them bore the marks of simplicity. Their houses were constructed in the plainest manner, their furniture consisted of a few indispensable articles, their dress was made of coarse cloths, wrought in the family, and their tables were spread with the homeliest of fare. Scarcely an article of luxury was used in Connecticut for a century after English settlements began, and very few articles were introduced for a considerable period afterward."

In the midst of such surroundings " the hardy sons of New England " were reared; but it must not be imagined by those whose lot has been cast in pleasanter places that their lives were wholly without enjoyment, or that the hardships to which they were subjected produced in them either physical or mental degeneracy. On the contrary, the sum of their happiness was fully equal to that of those who consider themselves more highly favored by fortune; for their enjoyment of the few comforts which they possessed was not abridged by unavailing repinings and longings after luxuries that were beyond their reach. They partook of their homely fare with that relish which only an appetite sharpened by active exercise can give; they slept sweetly on their humble couches, for their daily toil gave them robust health; and their homespun garments were worn with a feeling of laudable pride rather than shame, for they were the products of their own industry, and vanity had not crept in among them. They lived by their industry and frugality, erected their humble school-houses and churches, and reared their families in the rigid faith to which they held. Their children were not the effeminate sons and languid daughters of luxury, with pampered appetites that required to be tempted with delicacies. They inherited the strong physical systems, the active intelligence, and the indomitable energies of their parents; and they were reared in the midst of circumstances that tended to develop and strengthen these qualities. Thus was produced in the midst of the inhospitable surroundings of these pioneers, the race of men who are everywhere distinguished for their intelligence, their thrift, and their ready adaptability to Sny circumstances in the midst of which they m^y be placed.

Source: History of Middlesex County Connecticut with Biographical Sketches of it's Prominent Men, New York: J. B. Beers & Co., 1884.