John Leverett Merrill.

History of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms online

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Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 12 of 33)
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But some have sunk to early graves when life seemed bright and fair ;
And were laid beneath the daisies with a blessing and a prayer ;
Thank God for Immortahty ! though precious friends have died,
There will be a sweet reunion in our home beyond the tide.

Yours truly, Lurinda Cummings.


Boston, July 14, '68.
Gentlemen, — Your favor communicating the invitation to the Centennial
Anniversary is received. It greatly revives my first recollections of the beau-
tiful hills of Acworth — the first square, unpainted meeting-house, through
the pew-railings of which it was one of the first developments of my genius
to thrust my flaxen head — the successor of that primitive building with its
tall white steeple, its stars around the gallery for the boys to count during
sermon time," and its wondrous lightning rod which tempted me to climb be-
yond the proper limits of a boy's ambition — the singing seats, with the " pitch
pipe," and its subsequent refinement to instruments of string and wind — the
choir, with its momentous questions of leadership and conventional proprie-
ties, which almost visibly shook those eternal hills. The old red school-
house ! Oh ! that -wonderful seminary ! with a Brigadier-General imported
from Lempster, (ten feet high, as he then seemed to me,) to govern the
school — the " high seats," so infinitely elevated in our juvenile view ; where
one of your number, gentlemen of the committee, sat and "did his sums"
with vastly more dignity than Senators or Presidents are capable of putting
on now-a-days — with the row of stout young men on one side of »the middle
aisle, and an equal number, by count, of pretty girls on the other, skillfully
keeping one eye on the reading lesson, while the other danced with gleam-
ing fun and frolic across the aisle, the brow, nose, ears and other features,
maintaining meanwhile the utmost deference to the Brigadier, who stood be-
fore the fire-place with his big ruler under his arm to keep order.

I hope that old red school-house survives bodily, as it does in my memory,
at least that its ancient landmarks may be found.

My memory busies itself in tracing the roads as they were fifty years ago,
spreading out from the " middle of the town " to the four points of the
compass — down steep and up high hills, leading away to the Grouts, the
Campbells, the Duncans, the Dickeys, the Silsbys, the McClures, the Moores,
the Heraphills, the Sladers, the Warners, Howards, Greggs, Griers, Lincolns,
Nourscs, Wilsons, Thaycrs, Studleys, and Kcycs, while Robinsons, Gilmorcs,
Wallaces, Davidsons, Parkers, Montgomerys and others were clustered
in the " middle of the town."


" Park's Hollow," " Derry Hill," Cold River, the trout brooks, the broad
green pastures, the beech, and the hemlock woods, the sugar orchards, the
potash kettles, the berry-fields, the rabbits, partridges, squirrels, the boys
and girls, the singing-schools, and the spelling-schools, the haying time and
husking time, the cider-mills, the whole barrels of apple-sauce, the butter and
the cheese, (specimens of which were sure to find their way to the minister's
house) but above all the people of fifty years ago, sturdy and healthy in
body and in mind. Old Scotch brains, keen as a razor in separating the
true and the false, the precious and the vile — powerful in "arguing" and
staunch against sophistry, as their rocky hills themselves — honest in thought,
sober in industry, true and noble in friendship, sympathetic in trouble,
generous and brave in action.

Acworth, as it was then, is good to tlfe memory — the whole picture is
fresh, pure and wholesome. Away from most of the influences which cor-
rupt and degenerate society, yet favored less by the inaccessibility of its
mountainous location, than by the impregnable virtues which the fathers
taught and their sons and daughters cherished.

I must shape my plans to be with you on the anniversary, if Providence
will permit. Very many reasons beside the one so naturally influential with
me, induce me to come.

My honored and beloved father, so largely identified with the history of
Acworth, reposes in your cemetery, and in the affections of his children
most lovingly, as I doubt not he does in the memory of very many of his
flock, still alive in Acworth. Very respectfully and cordially yours,

George Cooke.

A tree in commemoration of the Centennial Anniversary has
been planted upon the Common by Mr. Granville Gilmore.


History of Acwortli.


The town of Acworth is situated east of Charlestown, its
north-western corner being only about three miles from the Con-
necticut Eiver. Its boundaries are nearly east, west, north and
south lines. Its shape is almost square, being six miles and a
half in length, north- and south, by five miles and three-quarters
in width. Perry's Mountain is situated at its north-western cor-
ner. Coffin Hill near its north-eastern, and Gates Hill near its
south-eastern. Cold Pond covers its north-eastern boundary, and .
Cold River, its outlet, flows along the eastern and southern sides
of the town, only that it is compelled at its head by the spurs of
Coffin Hill to make a detour into Lempster, and is prevented by
Gates Hill and ridges connected with it, from approaching the
southern boundary of the town until it reaches its south-western

The church at the center of the town is 1397 feet above the
level of the sea, and there are dwelling-houses on sites still higher
than this. The views around Acworth are unsurpassed, in some
respects, by any in the State. To the spectator on Derry Hill,
a beautiful panorama of the Green Mountains extending from
Northern Vermont into Massachusetts, is spread out, Ascutney
beino; on the rio-ht hand and Monadnoc on the left. From tTie brow
of the hill, beyond school-house No. 4, a view of Ascutney from
its base to its top is obtained. From Coffin Hill, the highest point
in town, the White Mountains, on a clear day, can be seen.
From Grout and Derry Hills the arable portions of the town are
seen by the spectator, showing its beautiful farms, for Acworth
claims to be one of the best hill towns in the State for farming.

^z!y ,;:i-un-<.^c


Mrs. Elizabeth Adams Grout.



The underlying rock is principally mica slate, in which are
large veins of granite. The outcropping ledges, and loose
boulders on the surface, are not so numerous as in most other hill
towns of New Hoimpshire, though the farmers think in some fields
they are plenty enough. There is a boulder on the Symonds
farm, measuring thirty feet in circumference, which is so poised as
to seem to be easily moved, and to which geologists have given
the name of the " Rocking Boulder."

The most interesting locality to the mineralogist, is " William's
Ledge " or " Beryl Hill," celebrated for the immense size of its
beryls which have been sold to cabinets, in various parts of the
world. Some of these crystals are more than a foot in diameter
and eighteen inches In length, but they are defaced by strlje and
cracks. They are however, valued for their huge size. There is
one of them in the Imperial cabinet in Vienna, highly prized even
in that superb collection. The Acworth beryls, when perfect,
have a fine light blue green color, of that variety known as
aqua marine. Some pure fragments might be cut and polished
for jewelry. These beryls have been obtained by much labor, it
being necessary to remove the overlying quartz, which is white,
smoky and rose-colored. This quartz vein runs N. W. and S. E.
and, forms the summit of the hill. It is of the purest and best
kind, suitable for the manufacture of glass and sand-paper. From
it fine glass tubes, suitable for chemical purposes have been pro-
duced, almost equal to the celebrated Bohemian glass.

Other minerals have been found here, black tourmaline largely
crystallized, white soda feldspar, or Cleavelandite, Columblte, and
asbestos. Feldspar has been taken from this ledge to make porce-
lain ware at Bennington, Vt. James Bowers expended much labor
and capital in developing the resources of this quarry. On the
western side of the hill is a bed of hornblende slate, cut through
in a remarkable manner by a brt)ken vein of compact feldspar.

The town of Acworth is situated upon territory once claimed
by Massachusetts. According to the Masonlan charter, the
boundary line of New Hampshire commenced three miles north
of the mouth of the Merrlmac, and followed the river to its head,
and extended thence in a north-western direction until a point sixty
miles from the sea was reached. At the time the charter was
granted, the bend in the Merrlmac was unknown. New Hamp-
shire claimed, that the spirit of the charter required that the line
should run west from the bend in the river. Massachusetts, on the


Other hand, claimed a literal construction of the charter. The case
was decided in favor of New Hampshire.

Massachusetts then called upon New Hampshire, to provide for
the forts which she had estabhshed in the disputed territory.
This New Hampshire refused to do, -as her settlements being east
of the Merrimac were not sufficiently benefited by these forts
to warrant the expense. In 1752, the question of reimbursing
Massachusetts for her expense in keeping up Fort Dummer by
o-ranting her the disputed territory was agitated. This quickened
the Governor of New Hampshire to grant several charters for
towns in that quarter, chiefly towns previously settled under
Massachusetts charters. This was doubtless the occasion of grant-
ino- the charter of the town of Burnet in 1752, although at that
time the hostility of the Indians made it impossible to live at any
distance from Fort No. 4. This charter of course was forfeited
by failure to settle. In the description of its boundaries Unity is
called Buckingham. Burnet covered exactly the same territory
o-ranted in 1766 to the same leading proprietor. Col. Sampson
Stoddard, though with different associates, under the name of
Acworth. The conquest of Canada had put an end to the Indian
wars several years before Acworth was granted, and only now and
then was a wandering Indian seen by its early settlers.

The name of Acworth was probably given to the town by the
Governor, in honor of a friend of his, Lord Acworth. The pro-
prietors were mostly citizens of towns bordering on the Merrimac
Eiver in Massachusetts, and of Londonderry, N. H. Among them
we find the names of Benning Wentworth the Governor, John
Wentworth, last Colonial Governor of New Hampshire, Theodore
Atkinson, Secretary of State, Matthew Thornton, afterwards
signer of the Declaration of Independence arid delegate to the
Continental Congress from New Hampshire. None of these pro-
prietors ever settled in Acworth.

The land was divided into seventy parts. Five hundred acres,
to be reckoned as two shares, were allowed to the Governor.
This was set off in the north-western corner, on "Perry's Moun-
tain." One share each was allotted to the " Society for the prop-
agation of the Gospel in foreign parts," and for a glebe for the
church of England. The lands which fell to these shares are now
held by a perpetual lease, and the income from the rent is enjoyed
by the Protestant Episcopal Church in "West Claremont. One
share was allotted to the first settled minister in town, and fell to


Rev. Mr. Archibald, and was sold by him when he left town.
One share was reserved for schools which was sold, and the in-
come is devoted to school purposes. One share, as near the cen-
ter as possible, w^s to be laid off in town lots, one being assigned
to each proprietor. The remaining sixty-three shares were dis-
tributed among the sixty-three proprietors.

Amono" the privileges sainted was the holding of an annual
fair and weekly markets, which the inhabitants never availed them-
selves of. Among: the conditions was the annual tribute of one
ear of Indian corn, if lawfully demanded, during the first ten years.
Tradition does not say that the demand was ever made. After
ten years, each proprietor or settler was to pay a tribute of a shil-
ling for each hundred acres possessed, which first fell due on the
25th of December, 1776, but the Declaration of Independence effect-
ually stayed the payment. Another condition was inserted to in-
duce the speedy settlement of the town : five acres for every fifty
owned, were to be brought under cultivation by every proprietor,
under pain of forfeiture, and reversion to the crown.

As the charter was not signed until the 19th of September,
there was no time for settlement that year, but in 1767 three
young men from Connecticut, William Keyes, Joseph Chatterton,
and Samuel Smith, were induced to choose farms in the newly
granted town. They immediately began to clear these farms, and
in the spring of 1768 William Keyes brought his young wife to
the cabin he had built. She with an infant a few months old
made the journey from Ashford, Ct., in an ox-cart, in which also
was stowed all the household goods they brought with them.
They settled on the farm now occupied by Hon. Jesse Slader.

They were joined during the year by Joseph Chatterton, who
boarded with Mr. Keyes and cleared a farm near by, and Samuel
Harper who erected a cabin where Hiram Hayward now lives, and
John Eogers of Londonderry, who built his cabin where Alonzo
Mathewson now resides.

The first settlements near the center of the town were made the
next year by Henry Silsby, where Mrs. Willard Perham now re-
sides, and by Ephraim Keyes, near William Hay ward's present
house, and by Samuel Smith, Sr., a little below the old burying-
ground. These were all Connecticut men. They were followed
from their native State by comparatively few. But the Con-
necticut settlers wielded a large influence in town, and most of
them were the progenitors of a numerous posterity, and a large


liroportion of the inhabitants of the town during the last two gen-
erations could claim relationship to them, besides very many who
have emigrated from Acworth.

According to the charter, the first town meeting was to be held
on the 2d Tuesday of October, 1866, to be called and moderated by
Colonel Stoddard, which of course was not held because no one
was living in town, but upon petition of the settlers, a town meet-
ing was first called on the 2d Tuesday of March, 1771.

The condition of the charter, as to the amount of land to be
brought under cultivation, within the term of five years, not being
complied with, the charter was forfeited in September, 1771. The
proprietors immediately petitioned for an extension. A committee
was sent in May, 1772, by the Governor to inspect the settlement
and report upon its growth and improvement.

They reported two hundred and sixty-seven acres of improved
land in town, and one hundred and twenty-one acres partly cleared.
This land was all in what now constitutes school districts Nos.
1, 2 and 3, except one dozen acres on the Ira Wheeler place, in
No. 4, and about twenty acres partly cleared in No. 5, where
George W. Lathrop now resides, and about four acres partly
cleared at the gdst-mill in South Acworth.

There were thirteen houses in town, six of which have already
been spoken of, and the other seven were situated thus : Dean
Carleton's, a little out of the village on the road leading to Derry
Hill ; David Cross, where Ira Wheeler afterwards lived ; Elijah
Parker, where Lauriston Keyes now resides ; Joseph Chatterton
and James Pease, west of Deacon .John Grout's, — they were the
only persons in town who hud a barn ; Eobert Davidson, where
Thomas B. Hayward now resides ; Solomon Bigelow on what is
best known as the Jacob Hayward place. Thomas Putnam had
built a o'ood o-rist-mill, saw-mill and house at South Acworth.
There were but two carriage roads in town, one leading from
Charlestown, over the hill, past Hiram Hay ward's, and running
near Benjamin P. Wood's, then across to Henry Silsby's inn,
(Mrs. Willard Perham's,) over the hills, past the Jonathan Mitch-
ell farm, and so on to East Acworth and Dempster. From
Charlestown to Mr. Silsby's it was a good carriage road, the re-
mainder of the way a wagon might pass with difficulty. There
was also a good road from the middle of the town to the mill.
Besides these, there were bridle paths to the various houses.

This was the condition of Acworth in 1772. Thirteen houses,


probably all log cabins, one barn, one grist-mill, one saw-mill,
eight miles of carriage road, and perhaps twenty-five legal voters.
The town, however, continued to receive accessions through the
troublous times preceding and during the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Putnam was soon joined at South Acworth by Joseph
and William Markham, Alexander Houston and Christopher
Ayres, and at the close of the war, by Thomas Slader and others.
Near the close of the Revolution, the McClures made the first set-
tlement in the neighborhood which has ever since borne their
name. In 1781 Isaac Gates made the first settlement on Gates'
Hill, joined in a few years by Jabez Alexander, and Ezra George.
Thomas Clark made the first settlement in the Tracy district, fol-
lowed soon by Issachar Mayo, Joseph Blanchard and others. Col.
Ebenezer Grout settled first upon "Grout Hill" in 1782. Jonas
Keyes built the first house in East Acworth, or "Keyes Hollow."
The settlers for the first twenty years came from Londonderry,
New Hampshire, except a few influential families, as the Keyeses,
Sladers and Silsbys, who came from Connecticut, and the Grouts
and others from Massachusetts. From that time, for several years,
a tide of immigration set in from New Boston, Weare, and the
surrounding towns, settling mainly on Grout Hill, and in the
north part of the town. The earliest settlers brought their effects
on ox-carts, up the river from Connecticut, and around through
Keene from Londonderry. When on horseback they came
through Washington and Lempster,

It was in many respects more of an undertaking for a young
wife to leave her parents in Connecticut, Massachusetts or Lon-
donderry, and follow her hardy pioneer husband into the for-
ests of Acworth, than it is now to go to the far West. Thouofh
parents wept, expecting to see their faces no more, yet in a few
years at farthest, the young couple would pay a visit to their old
homes, the wife on horseback, with a babe in her arms, and per-
haps another child on a pillion,while the husband walked by her
side. Many visits were paid in this way. These women were
worthy mates of their daring husbands. Many incidents are still
related of their courage and fearlessness.

While Mrs. William Keyes one day was alone in her cabin, she
heard an outcry in the pig-pen. Fastening her infant child in
the house, she ran out to ascertain the cause, when lo, a bear was
seen seizing their pig, the only reliance for meat during the coming
winter. The exigency called for prompt action. Seizing a cudgel


she attacked the bear. But he patiently endured the beatinf]^,
being intent upon his prey, which he bore off in triumph. But
his day of reckoning speedily came. Through the efforts of Mr.
Keyes he took the place of the pig in the meat-barrel, so the
family were supplied with meat, inferior in quality indeed, but
more in quantity than they had anticipated.

Often during the first season a covei'let sufficed as a door to
the cabins. The wolves were sometimes bold enough to lift the
edge of the coverlet and survey the household as they sat around
the blazing hearth on winter evenings ; or if a solid door pre-
vented this their faces might be seen against the window-panes.
But the women did not go into hysterics, nor refuse to be left alone
in the house under these circumstances.

So fiir from having carpets on their floors, they were sometimes
forced to have only the earth for a floor, which became hardened
and polished by use, and the housewife took special pride in mak-
ino- it shine. The big stone chimney sometimes served a double
purpose, and supplied the only staircase in the house. Hemlock
bark always constituted the first roof of the cabin. The single
room down stairs often served the purpose of kitchen, dining-room,
parlor and bedroom, while the loft was reserved for strangers.
Two rooms on the first floor were considered amply sufficient.
Yet these humble cabins were as generally the abodes of happi-
ness as the more comfortable dwellings in which the inhabitants of
our town are now housed, and probably were the witnesses of more
mirth and hilarity. The people had the generosity and open-
heartedness common to pioneer settlers. The new-comer always
found neighbors ready to assist him in rolling up the logs of his
cabin and in making his first clearing.

For this purpose a " frolic " was made, and undoubtedly
they made a frolic of it. There were also husking-parties and
apple-bees innumerable, besides many other gatherings for young
and old. There were also "road-breakings" in the winter.
Those who lived at the outskirts of the town would start first
through the drifts to their nearest neighbors with their teams,
when another yoke of oxen would be attached, and so on from
house to house, until long teams might be seen pouring into the
middle of the town from every direction ; when there a rush was
made upon the stores and taverns, " black-strap " flowed freely
for the time, sending some home in not a very fit condition to
meet their families. But when we consider their privations and


hardships, and the age in which they lived, we can pardon these
infirmities. We have no need to speak of their industry to those
who know that these hills and valleys were heavily timbered, and
those who have seen the " stone fences " of Acworth.

The chief problem presented to them was not, What can I
most profitably raise, and what can I more economically buy?
Money was scarce, and the means of intercommunication and
transit were few and expensive. They studied therefore to live as
much as possible within themselves. They studied to produce
not only food, but clothing for their families, and thus they became
manufacturers as well as farmers. Linen, tow and woolen goods
were manufactured, and soon in such abundance as to become an
article of export, some families selling one hundred dollars' worth
annually. Nor were all these fabrics coarse. Acworth linen was
noted for its fineness as well as its abundance. Miss Peggy
McClure received the premium at the county fair for the quality
of her linen. In those days of large families and industrious
habits, there was little anxiety as to the future of their sons and
daughters. The sons had but to buy a tract of the wilderness
which was cheap and near at hand, and begin to make for them-
selves homes as their fathers had done. The daughters did not
go to the city to purchase their trousseau in anticipation of their
wedding, but they were provided with flax, wool and often raw
cotton in abundance, and their busy fingers wrought a bountiful
supply of material for setting up housekeeping usually long before
it was needed. Thus it required no long purse to start a son or
daughter in life. The simple habits of the early settlers did not
require that calculating prudence which our more artificial man-
ner of life and accumulating wants compel us to exercise. Some-
times we think it would have been more for their comfort to have
exercised more forethought. For instance they had no wood-
sheds, and a wood-pile was seen at every door with the axe in the
end of a log, ready for use in cutting the daily supply, which we
have no doubt was often forgotten. One instance at least has
come down to us, where the farmer went to his day's labor for-
getting to cut the usual supply of wood. On returning at noon
he found the dinner-pot hanging in the fire-place with the dinner
all prepared in it, ready to boil when a fire was made. He took
the hint, but whether he ever forgot to chop wood again for his
wife we know not.

The settlers from Londonderry were large of stature, with mus-


cular frames. They were conservative, which peculiarity is still
marked in their descendants. They were tenacious in their opin-
ions, and jealous, of their rights.

They were reverent and scrupulous observers of the forms of
religion, even when there was no hearty piety. One peculiarity

Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 12 of 33)