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Early Homes and History.
Written and Delivered by
SARAH LESTER TYLER,
At the Meeting of
Faith Trumbull Chapter, D. A. R., held December 7, 1905.
EAITH TRUMBULL CHAPTER, D. A. R.
Norwich: Early Homes and History.
I am sure every one agrees that Norwich, which in the old
Saxon tongue means North Castle, is a most picturesque and inter-
In some of the old records it is called " New Norwich," having
been named, it is pleasant to think, in loving memory of the old
home in England. There has always been some controversy as to
the true pronunciation of the name; it has been called, Norich,
Norwich, Norwidge, and Norridge, and even the old nursery rhyme,
" The man in the moon came down at noon
To inquire the way to Norridge,
The man in the south burnt his mouth
Eating frozen porridge,"
has'nt been able to settle the matter.
It is something of a problem to decide when our city is more
beautiful ; in the spring, when nature, springing into life, is putting
forth her tender greens and the high hills are a mass of feathery
beauty, or, in the autumn, when in her maturity she retires in a
blaze of glory, the maples, beeches and other foliage vicing with
each other in gorgeousness of coloring. Norwich stands almost
aggressively between the arms of the Thames, (the Yantic and
Shetucket rivers), and with its bold landscape possesses unusually
The sail up the Thames is delightful ; the hills crowned with
forests and sloping to the water's edge form an almost unbroken
frontage of green, reflected in the placid water beneath, and the
homesteads scattered along its banks add a touch of life and give
charm to the scene. The approach to the city is striking; at the
left, rising high is Mount Pleasant ; at the right, equally high,
Laurel Hill, and in front, rising still higher, is "Jail," or as it used
to be called, " Savin hill," and on each, tier above tier, are dwellings
peeping out from masses of foliage. It might, indeed, like Rome,
be called "The Hill City," Standing upon either of these heights
one looks down upon a scene of exquisite beauty, — the rivers, like
threads of silver winding through the green fields that are dotted
here and there with field flowers, gleam and glisten in the sunshine,
and make one almost imagine themselves in Rasselas' " Happy
One seeing Norwich today with its handsome streets, costly
dwellings, its industries, educational advantages and cultivation,
could hardly realize that originally this was a wilderness of nine
miles square, divided among thirty-eight proprietors, or that it
would occupy so distinguished a place in history, as it now does.
The early settlers were men of remarkable ability and far-
sightedness, and through their influence Norwich became a centre
of patriotism, and later a pioneer of industries.
Our "Rose of New England," as it has been aptly named, is
truly an "American Beauty," fragrant with historic associations;
her leaves ever green with the records of the devotion of her sons
and daughters to the causes of liberty, religion, and the material
interests of the place.
It has been with feelings of sadness, as well as admiration, that
I have looked over the history of this old town, and thought of the
struggles of those early times ; the weary, anxious days and the
watchful nights, when they knew not which to fear most, the face
of the savage foe or the growl of the beasts of the forest. And
the silence! we of the cities whose ears are accustomed to the
whir and hum of human activities, know nothing of the silence of
a great wilderness ; the sound of a footfall or the crackling of a twig
causing every sense to be upon the alert, not knowing what it might
As there were no markets, and very little money, the trade
was principally by barter, and no doubt the early settlers experi-
enced many privations ; but as intercourse with other settlements
was established and the redeemed land became productive, they
after a time accumulated considerable wealth, and as they became
more at ease about their temporal affairs, provided better houses
for worship, education and residence, and the stirring events of the
Revolution, and the participation in them of the people of the
"Town Plot," has made their names and homes historic.
With people who had so strong religious principles as the early-
proprietors of Norwich, the first duty after securing homes for
their families and a mill, was to provide a place of worship. The
first church was built probably about 1661 and stood near the
southwest corner of the Green.
It was undoubtedly a very primitive affair, and in 1668, a small
rate was collected to pay Samuel Lathrop for repairing and height-
ening "The Meeting house,"
In 1673 the town contracted with John Elderkin to build a
"New Meeting house." The site selected was on "the rocks."
The turbulent state of the time demanded that it should be
where they could not be easily surprised, and that it might serve
as a watch tower, an arsenal and a garrison post, as well as a house
Until all fear of the Indians had passed away, the men repaired
to the church with their muskets, which were stacked outside, and
some stayed to watch and guard them while the service was
going on within.
It must have been weary work for old people climbing the
steep hill, but they continued to do so for nearly a hundred years,
for it was not until 1770 that we learn the new church was com-
pleted in the "Town Plot," probably on the same site which it
now occupies under the rocks.
In 1708 a bell had been given the town by Captain Rene
Grignon, a French Protestant, who had recently come there to
reside. Miss Caulkins says: "This was supposed to have been a
Huguenot bell brought from France by a band of French exiles
who purchased lands at Oxford, Mass., and began a settlement,
which the hostile visits of the Indians obliged them to abandon."
Captain Grignon was one of this dispersed company, and the
bell had doubtless resounded on the shores of France and amid the
woods of Oxford before it came to Norwich. It was suspended
from a scaffolding erected on the hill near the ridge west of the
" Meeting house " and near the path by which the inhabitants of
the west end of the town came cross-lots to meeting.
It is doubtful if it was hung in the steeple of the new church,
although it was ordered to be rung on the Sabbath, and "on all
public days, and at nine o'clock in the evening, as is customary in
other places where there are bells."
Near to this historic old church, facing the Green, is the old
store. It was built by Gardner Carpenter, one of the first traders,
and has remained in the family ever since, and is now occupied by
one of the descendants, Joseph Carpenter, third, a very old man.
Between the store and the church was the tavern of Jesse
Brown. In the early part of the Revolutionary war he was in the
service of the State as an express agent and confidential messenger,
bringing, in October, 1777, the latest news of the Continental Con-
gress, then in session at Yorktown, and the occupation of Philadel-
phia by the British under Lord Howe. This hotel was famous for
its good dinners.
Mr. Brown's daughter married a Mr. Vernet, and he intro-
duced into the garden of the tavern a grapevine which was known
throughout the neighborhood as the Vernet grape. It is thought
some of the original vine may still be growing in the garden.
In 1817, Capt. Bela Peck purchased the tavern, and lived there
until his death in 1850. It was then bought by Mr. Moses Pierce,
who lived there several years and then gave it to '• The United
Workers," as a home for friendless children, and the old tavern is
now "The Rock Nook Home."
On the corner of "Burying ground lane," was the store of
John Perrit, diagonally opposite the house which was later sold to
William Cleveland, son of Mr. Aaron Cleveland.
On the site of Captain John Mason's dwelling, which was the
first house built in Norwich, was the court house. It was some
years since converted into a school house, and remained in use until
The key of the court-house was given into the custody of Capt.
Joseph Tracy in 1736, and a room was made to hold the towns
stock of ammunition, and a fine of $6. imposed on any man "who
shall smoke it, in the time of sessions or any town meeting."
In this court-house in 1767 was read the famous Boston circu.
lar, and a committee of prominent citizens was formed to draw up
a report for the next meeting. This consisted of an agreement not
to import, or to use articles of foreign manufacture or produce.
One clause reads, "And it is strongly recommended to the worthy
ladies of this town, that for the future they would omit tea drink-
ing in the afternoon." In 1774, a circular letter from the Boston
committee of correspondence calling for resistance to the oppressive
laws of the mother country, brought out so large an audience, they
were obliged to adjourn from the court house to the meeting house.
It was used not only for the county court business, but served
as a theatre also. In 1791, several "Tragedy's" and a "Comedy"
called "The Citizen, or Old Sqaretoes Outwitted," and "The
Female Madcap " were given. The entertainments began at six
o'clock. Singing schools and dancing classes were held here.
Mrs. Sigourney says, when discords occurred, the master, with
more knowledge of music than grammar would say, "There, it is
them young treble," referring to the girls of the novitiate, tech-
nically called the young treble ; her first dancing master was a
Frenchman, whose previous history, not even Yankee perseverance
could elicit. In front of the court house was the whipping post
The first newspaper was established in 1773. The press was
at first set up in an office at the foot of the Green near the court
house, but in July, 1775, was removed to a new building near the
meeting house, and for fifty years or more was known as "Trum-
bull's printing office." This newspaper was called "The Norwich
Packet, and Connecticut, New Hampshire, and the Massachusetts,
Rhode Island Weekly Advertiser." It was afterwards entitled
"The Norwich Packet and Country Journal."
Another printing press was set up on the Green the same
year by Judah Paddock Spooner, brother-in-law of Timothy Green
who printed "The Connecticut Gazette, New London at the
North West corner of the Parade."
The paper used by both firms was manufactured at Leffing-
well's Mills on the Yantic.
In an issue of the Packet, Sept. ist, 1785, we find : " Wanted —
A good new Milch Cow, that is very gentle and orderly — Inquire
of the Printer." This "inquire of the printer" was a common
ending to advertisements in the Packet, and was used by the wits
of that time as we use a slang expression. Also,
Price I I 6 (stitch'd in blue)
And now selling by J. Trumbull, at
his Priming-Office in Norwich,
(By the GROSS, DOZEN or SINGLE,)
For Cash, Country Produce, Public
Securities, or clean Linen Rags—
Plain Easy and Comprehensive
GUIDE to PRACTICAL
By ALEXANDE McDONALD.
This work was recommended by Nathan Daboll of the Aca-
demic School, Plainfield, and was subscribed to by the following
gentlemen : The Hon. Samuel Huntington, the Hon. Benjaniin
Huntington, Gen. Jedediah Huntington, Col. Christopher Leffing-
well and others.
Another Packet advertisement is :
Edenezer Freeman from Boston
Blue Dyer —
Informs the Public that he carries on the business
of dyeing of Cotton, Tow, and Linen a most
beautiful blue (in indigo) with the greatest
Also takes in genteel Boarders.
Has a handsome chaise to let.
Ladies Gauze Caps, Flys, Handkerchiefs, Aprons
&c. ready made in the newest taste at his house
leading to the Landing, mostly opposite to Capt.
upon a liberal Plan and the most reason
A good school for the ad
mission of A large number of
scholars ; where will be taught every
necessary branch of Education; — Who-
ever will be pleased to place their Children
in this Academic School, may depend
upon having them well instructed, in
The respective branches they shall chose
and the greatest attention paid to their
morals and good behavior.
QT^" Good Accommodations may be
had for Boarding at six shillings per
O:^^ Grain, Beef Pork, Butter or
Cheese will be taken in part pay for
Board and Instruction— For further par-
ticulars enquire of the Subscribers —
Hezekiah N. Woodruff.
Norwich Landing October 19—1786—
On the east side of the Green, Madame Sarah Knight owned
and kept as a tavern the house now occupied by the La Pierre
family ; her warehouse which was near her home has been converted
into a dwelling. She was the daughter of Thomas Kemble of
Boston. In 1673 he was sentenced to stand two hours in the
stocks for lewd and unseemly conduct in kissing his wife at the
doorstep, after an absence of three years, on the Sabbath day.
In the town records, August 12, 1717, we find: "The town
grants liberty to Mrs. Sarah Knight to sitt in the pue where she
use to sit in ye meeting house". This church still has in its pos-
session the handsome silver goblet presented to them by her, to be
used in their communion service.
In 1704 she made the perilous journey, as it was then consid-
ered, from Boston to New York on horseback. She wrote a very
interesting account of it in her diary which was printed in 1825.
and reprinted by the Academy Press in 1891. She relates very
graphically her experiences. At one place where she was to lodge
for the night, she says "she found everything very neat and clean,
After supper she went to bed, but not to sleep, on account of
some topers in the next room. At last she rises, sets the candle
on a chest by the bedside, and " falls," as she says, "to my old way
of composing my resentments," in the following manner :
" I ask thy aid, O potent Rum,
To charm these wrangling Topers Dum—
Thou hast their Giddy Brains possest—
The man confounded with the Beast—
And I, poor I can get no rest.
Intoxicate them with thy fumes,
O still their tongues till morning comes."
And she adds, " I know not but my wishes took effect, for the dis-
pute soon ended with tother dram, and so Good night."
Many of the old houses about the Green and the streets lead-
ing to it have a history of Revolutionary interest.
The house now owned by Mrs. W. Fitch was built by Gen,
Jedediah Huntington, who married Faith Trumbull, and served in
all the most important engagements of the war. General Hunting-
ton probably entertained the younger Tallyrand, and at a ball that
he gave soon after peace was declared, Rochambeau and General
La Fayette, as well as Washington, were present.
Near here lived Lieut. Tracy, and Gov. Samuel Huntington
built the house now owned by Mrs. Charles Young.
Here was the centre of gaiety. Miss Caulkins says: "The
Gov. Nephew, and his wife's neice, the beautiful Betsey Devotion
of Windham were frequent guests. After the social chat of the
parlor they would repair to the kitchen, and dance away till the oak
floor shone under their feet, and the pewter quivered upon the
These pastimes seldom lasted beyond nine o'clock. The good
old Norwich custom of ringing the bell at that hour broke up all
meetings, dispersed all parties, ended all discussions, and sent all
visitors quietly to their homes and their beds.
At the head of North Washington Street, a little up the hill,
is the house where Mrs. Sigourney lived at the time of her marriage ;
she often refers in her poems to the little brook that passed her
door. Her youth was spent with Mrs. Dr. Daniel Lathrop, who
lived where the Misses Gilman live. Norwich has always had the
greatest veneration and affection for her gifted daughter.
Across the street, a short distance down, is the Harlard resi-
dence, which was established in 1773 by Mr. Thomas Harland, a
clock and watchmaker. In the Packet, December, 1773, he prom-
ises "to do repairing and make watches as fine as can be done in
London." It is said the row of trees standing directly in front of
the Harland house was set out by Nathaniel Shipman, Sept. 6, 1781,
the day New London was burnt by the British. Still farther down
the street was the "grant" belonging to the Bliss family.
The son of Mr. John Bliss was a distinguished bridge builder,
and built the bridge known as the Geometry bridge. It was
described in a newspaper article June 20, 1764 :
" Leffingwell Bridge over Shetucket River at Norwich Landing
is completed. It is 124 ft in length and 28 ft above the water-
Nothing is placed between the abutments, but the bridge is sup-
ported by Geometry work above, and calculated to bear a weight
of 500 tons. The work is done by Mr. John Bliss, one of the most
curious mechanics of the age." This bridge is supposed to have
stood where the Laurel Hill bridge now stands.
Across the way from the Bliss home lot, as it was called, was
that of Lieut. Thomas Lefifingwell or Leppingwell, as it was some-
times spelled. Leppingwell means " Leaping well," denoting a
boiling or bubbling spring. He took a leading part in all town
affairs. The Sheltering Arms was once the property of Thomas
Leffingwell 3rd. Col. Christopher lived on the home lot, and was
an ardent patriot. General Washington on one of his visits par-
took of the hospitality of the Leffingwell home. He contributed
land toward the opening of Broadway, and planted some of the
elms which are such an ornament to the city. The Benedict
Arnold house was on the site of the one now known as the James
Ripley place, and the old well and other surroundings remain as
they were in his time. He was apprenticed at one time to Doctors
Daniel and Joshua Lathrop. These two doctors and Dr. Philip
Turner were the leading physicians of the place.
Near the entrance to Mill Lane is the Reynolds house, which
is on the original home lot, and is one of the few houses that has
some of the original house still in it. The other one is the Gen.
Jabez Huntington house, which is the quaintest, oldest and most
interesting one in the city. Mill Lane was the thoroughfare to
the Landing. It was changed to La Fayette Street, because it
was said General La Fayette called on a Frenchman living there
named Louis Barriel, a stocking weaver.
The triangular plot now the Little Plain was formerly called
the Everett Lot. It belonged to Colonel Leffingwell, and after
his death was purchased jointly by Hezekiah Perkins and Jabez
Huntington, and in 181 1 presented by them to the city on con-
dition that it should be enclosed and used only as a park.
East of the park was the old L'Homedieu house and rope-
walk. This house was a quaint old mansion with a lean-to, and
the rope-walk was conspicuous with its red paint.
Next the L'Homedieu house is the one now owned by Mr.
B. P. Bishop, which was built some time in the latter part of 1700
by Mr. Thomas Coit. It was purchased in 1816 by Mr. John
De Witt, who married Harriet, daughter of Gen. Jedediah, and
grand-daughter of Gen, Jabez Huntington. The last time General
La Fayette was in Norwich he went to see Mrs. De Witt, and
asked her if there were any other descendants of Gen. Jedediah
living here. Little Sarah Huntington, now Mrs. Edward Hunting-
ton, who was living with Mr. Jabez Huntington two houses below,
was sent for. She was about twelve years old when she saw him,
and remembers him as tall and very thin. When he went away
he kissed all the children, and Mrs. Huntington is the only one
living, in this city at least, who has had the honor of meeting and
being kissed by General La Fayette.
Where the Broadway Church stands was an old house called
the "Bath house," — probably Bath Street was named from it.
When there were freshets in the spring the Franklin Street brook
would become a river and regularly surrounded the old Bath
house. Once while Mr. Dorchester, a Methodist minister, was
living there, the water rose so high the family had to be taken out
of the chamber windows. He said, " If he had been a Babtist, he
shouldn't have minded it so much, but as he was a Methodist, he
didn't like quite so much water."
Across the street from the Bath house lived Mr. Lemuel
Warren, "Daddy Warren," as he was called, and the older people
say when they were children they used to go to Daddy Warren's
to get frozen apples. It seems a most satisfactory remembrance.
A part of Union Square was Mr. Warren's garden, and where
the court house stands was the home of Capt. Christopher Vail,
master of the packet Venus.
On the site of the Central building. Lower Broadway, stood
the old Nathaniel Backus house. This was a very fine specimen
of the old dwellings. The paneled front door was a work of art,
and very imposing with its immense brass knocker, which, when
lifted and brought sharply down, gave forth a sound that re-
sounded throughout the house. Entering the door, one found
themselves in a square hallway and facing the stairs which led to
the rooms above. The stairs were broken by two "landings;"
the sides were of solid wood, beautifully paneled and rich with
carving. The rooms were large, the "lights" in the windows
small, and the fireplaces large enough to contain nearly a cord of
wood each. We must not forget the kitchen fireplace with its
crane and pot hooks, and the capacious oven, where were baked
the winter's store of mince pies, the pumpkin pies, and the crisp
loaves of brown bread.
Next to the Backus house was the Grace house on the corner
where the Wauregan is, and the Christian Association building
and Otis Library occupy ground formerly belonging to Dr. Ripley.
The next house of note is on Church Street, just above the
Central Baptist Church ; it was built by Mr. Prosper Wetmore
and sold by him to Dr. Lemuel Boswell, who for many years was
the principal physician of Chelsea. There are several interesting
traditions of the Boswell family. They have a very dainty blue
satin slipper that belonged to Miss Anne, daughter of Dr. Lemuel
Boswell. It is said she used to walk in these slippers from her
home on Church Street to Norwich Town to do her shopping.
All the ladies of Chelsea used to go to "The Green," a dis-
tance of nearly two miles, to do their shopping, for they found
there the best assortment of dry goods — ribbons, laces, crapes,
calimaneos, tamrays, London dolls, etc.
Dr. Thomas Boswell, son of Dr. Lemuel, when a boy was of a
mathematical and inventive turn of mind. I was told he used to
go up into the attic after school and make drawings and calcula-
tions on the rafters, telling the family there would be steam car-
riages in the future, and people would ride in them. The family
was alarmed about him, thinking his brain was affected from over-
study, as at that time anything of the kind was unknown.
He was so persistent and talked about it so much, his father
determined to send him to sea with his brother, Capt. John L.
Boswell, master of the ship Sally. They had not got far from New
London when they encountered a severe storm ; the waves were
very high and the ship was rolling badly ; a wave swept across the
deck and washed young Boswell off, almost the next moment a
returning wave brought him back again. The sailors were super-
stitous and declared he was a "Jonah." They said he did not
want to go to sea, and if he stayed, they would not sail the ship.
Captain Boswell was obliged to return to New London and send
the young man home. He then decided to study medicine, and
became a prominent physician. His daughter, who told me these
incidents, went with her father to see General La Fayette when
he was here the last time. A great celebration was to take place
in the General's honor. He had some slight illness, and her father
was sent for the the night before; in the morning he went again
and took her with him ; she remembered him distinctly, his feat-
ures, his uniform, and his genial manner with her father.
Dr. Thomas Boswell married the daughter of Nathaniel Pren-
tice Peabody, who built the house now owned by Dr. Cassidy and
next to those that belonged to Rev. John Tyler. Dr. Lemuel
Boswell built the large house on the corner of School Street Lane,
now used as a boarding house, between his old home and that of