William C Gilman.

The celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the settlement of the town of Norwich, Connecticut, and of the incorporation of the city, the one hundred and twenty-fifth, July 4, 5, 6, 1909: online

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Online LibraryWilliam C GilmanThe celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the settlement of the town of Norwich, Connecticut, and of the incorporation of the city, the one hundred and twenty-fifth, July 4, 5, 6, 1909: → online text (page 9 of 19)
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tions in England, where it took two centuries to accomplish
Avhat was done here in four generations.

Up to 1688 there was absolute power held by the king
and after that the prime minister was made answerable to
parliament. Here we found people representing communi-


ties from which they came. Now the currents are meeting
and we are learning from England as England learned
from us.

In closing his address Dr. Garfield said that he had
found much pleasure in looking up the old history, but he
had dwelt upon it so long that upon his arrival here he was
almost surprised to see paved streets, bunting and electric
lights and was almost prepared to be on the lookout for the
redskins. He was glad, however, to congratulate Norwich
for its progress and for the citizens it has turned out.

The hymn by Dr. Leonard Bacon, "O God, Beneath
Thy Guiding Hand," was then sung by the choir and

In introducing Arthur L. Shipman of Hartford for an
address on the Circumstances Leading to the Incorporation
of the City, Mr. Williams said :

Had not our ancestors been of a roving disposition, one
of our speakers, Arthur L. Shipman, would probably not be
here to-day. He is a descendant of Thomas Leffingwell,
and we want him to tell us when he intends to return to
Norwich as his home.

Mr. Shipman began his address by saying that Norwich
had always been a second home to him, and that he with
his brother and sister were the last of the Shipman descend-
ants of Nathaniel Shipman who know Norwich, for which
he always held profound respect. He continued as follows :

The lifetime of Norwich as a town is just double its
age as a city. The incorporation of the city marked the
recognition of a change in the economic and political condi-
tion of the state and of the township.

In 1784 many of the towns of the state had passed the
plantation stage and entered a life of varied industrial in-
terests. The events preceding the Revolutionary war, and
the war itself, had given the people at large a more adequate
conception of the sphere and functions of government.
Town meetings had been numerous. Committees ap-
pointed at such meetings had been in active com-


munication with similar officials of other towns. Service
in the army, and travel on civil business for the new govern-
ment, had brought men of Connecticut and of other states
in closer touch. History and international law had been
studied in all accessible books. The resulting public per-
ception of the new relations of things industrial and political
came, broadly speaking, about half-way between the settle-
ment of Norwich and the present time.

What led up to the incorporation of the city of Norwich
and its life and that of the town for some years after-
wards, it is my part to describe briefly.

Nine Miles Square.

The "nine miles square" was purchased and settled by
a self-selected company. As a community, it cut the for-
ests, grubbed the underbrush, tilled the fields; launched
first the shallop, then the sloop, and finally the ship. It
was the community also that turned the trails to bridle
paths, and then to wagon roads. All this it did with perse-
verance, in the fear of God, and with honorable self-respect.
The founders and their descendants to the third generation
were no mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. Who
they were, we know. What they did, we can never know,
in spite of far more abundant data than most towns can
boast. The glory of their achievement we can well appre-
ciate, but never can express. No address, even as eloquent
and complete as that to which we have just listened, can
do it, and our fathers, justice. Of some things, however, in
the past of Norwich, we are sure. We know that the figures
of these fathers and mothers of ours do not bulk unduly
large in retrospect, magnified by the mists of time. Mason
and Tracy, Fitch, Leffingwell, and their companions, were
men such as our imaginations now paint them the outlines
correct, the colors in proper tone.

We must not forget that our fathers called this place a
"plantation." Here they settled as a community. As a
company they bought this land. The government of Eng-


land to them was it a shadow, or not? Historians and
lawyers can debate for days upon that subject, but there is
no tribunal to determine it. But of the relations of the plan-
tation to the colony there can be no difference of opinion.
At a session October 3, 1661, Major Mason, deputy gov-
ernor, presiding, the general court ordered "the secretary
to write a letter to Xorridge to send up a committee in May
next, invested with full power to issue of the affair respect-
ing settling that plantation under the government" ; and in
May following the freemen from Norwich were presented
and accepted and sworn by Major Mason. The general
court granted title to lands within the plantation itself. In-
deed, it was originally called upon to confirm Uncas's deed
to the company, provided "that it shall not prejudice any
former grant to our worshipful governor or others." Yet
it is still claimed by some accepted historians that Con-
necticut was a confederacy of towns.

It was in 1783 that 175 freemen of the town of Norwich,
then containing Bozrah, Franklin, Lisbon, and a part of
Preston as well, petitioned for the incorporation of the
Landing and the uptown district as a city. Their reasons
were stated in their memorial as follows :

"That your memorialists, from their local circumstances,
are not able to gain a subsistence by agriculture : That,
therefore, they have for many years past turned their atten-
tion to commerce and mechanical arts: That, during the late
war they have been unfortunate in their navigation, having
the greatest part captured by the enemy and burnt and
destroyed by them when they were at New London."

The memorial goes on to complain that the internal
police system is defective ; that good wharves and streets
are lacking; and, finally, that they must have a court of
their own.

I shall not attempt to detail the subsequent changes in
the local governments of the various parts of the original
town plot. They have been lately fully chronicled ; but
they have more than a purely historic interest, for they
illustrate the imperfect relations which have always existed


between the state and the municipalities. Of course, Con-
necticut is not peculiar in this respect, but she has yielded,
on the whole, more than her sister states to temptations to
special legislation.

Reason for Town.

The Connecticut town exists primarily to take care of
roads and bridges, and paupers within its limits. It must
be of such convenient size that its voters can often meet at
some central place. The original nine miles square, split,
as it were, by two rivers, was too large. If town meetings
were frequent they absorbed too much of the voter's time in
coming and going. The incorporation of the city, and of the
three northern and western towns, was approved by a large
majority of the dwellers in the original township. Later
legislation, actual and proposed, to alter local boundaries,
met vigorous opposition.

In the late years of the eighteenth and the early years
of the nineteenth centuries, it was apparently the policy of
Connecticut to regulate municipalities through general laws.
That practice has unfortunately fallen into abeyance. A
city, in 1800, was still a novel state agency ; it existed mainly
to give its inhabitants better roads, sidewalks, police and
fire protection than they enjoyed under a town management.
By mistake, too large a territory was included in the original
city of Norwich. It was difficult for the uptown dwellers
to secede that could only be authorized by the general
assembly. The petitions for change of city lines, presented
in 1827, disclose disputes which the general assembly, under
the present constitution and laws, must unfortunately de-
cide. A controversy over local matters is never so destruc-
tive to the peace and progress of the community interested
as when taken before the state legislature. Is there any
reason, for instance, why Norwich should not have the
right to manage its private affairs, as distinct from its
public duties, on the Galveston or Newport plan, or to fol-
low any other new idea in city government, if it so de-


Another Disadvantage.

Universal suffrage on questions where a city is acting
in a private capacity is another disadvantage. Funds must
be provided by the taxpayers, although the control of an
election may be with persons having no pecuniary interest
in the result. Well studied and general legislation provid-
ing for larger local control of the private affairs of local
communities, and restricting the right of decision on such
matters to property owners, is to-day one of the greatest
needs of American cities.

The memorialists of 1783 spoke of the "late war." We
must confess that the results of the war were not as ruinous
as the petitioners stated. To be sure, Norwich had given
freely of her substance and men in the long contest: Samuel
Huntington, in the Continental congress, at one session its
president and some day a proper defense of that congress
will be written ; it has suffered too long the sneers of hostile
critics; Joseph Trumbull, dying for his country as loyally
as if on the battlefield ; Jabez Huntington, the father, at
home rushing men and supplies to the ever-changing fight-
ing line; and his sons, Jedediah, Joshua and Ebenezer, in
the field, and Andrew as commissary at home Jedidiah a
brigadier general, Ebenezer a colonel. And we must not
forget Chaplain Ellis, Colonels Durkee, Throop and Rogers ;
the two captains, James Hyde, Captains Nevins, Jedediah
Hyde, Simeon Huntington and Elisha Prior, or Dr. Turner,
the beloved and untiring physician and surgeon, or the two
brothers, Christopher and Benajah Leffingwell. We ought
not to pass by others equally brave and efficient; but the
name of Benjamin Huntington stands among them almost
pre-eminent. He was not at the battlefront, but in matters
of service at home, in the general court, as agent of the
town in all things most sensible and helpful, Norwich
owed him much during the Revolution, and more later.

Location a Protection.

But Norwich was protected during the war by her loca-
tion. Her position also gave her a good chance for pri-


vateering and blockade running. Jedidiah Huntington's
letters to his father from the army show that even his
absence did not prevent him from joining eagerly in that
dangerous game. With the treaty of peace came the com-
mercial opportunity of Norwich. The West India trade
flourished briskly. Horses, mules, sheep and swine were
carried between and on decks by thousands. One wonders
where they all went to. Each issue of the Connecticut
Courant of those days calls for "sprightly" or "lively" young
horses, and hard money would sometimes be offered in ex-
change, and profits rose by bounds. Indeed, Connecticut
was so much engaged in money making after the war and
before the constitutional convention that the necessity for
a more stable form of national government was not as ap-
parent to us as to some of our neighbors. When Ellsworth
hurried from Philadelphia without signing the instrument
which he and his Connecticut colleagues had been so instru-
mental in framing he found a general assembly very indif-
ferent to his persuasions. But Connecticut was federalist
to the backbone. Roger Sherman in New Haven, the
Wolcotts in Litchfield, the Champions in Colchester, Wil-
liam Samuel Johnson in Fairfield, Ellsworth in Hartford,
the Trumbulls and Huntingtons in Norwich the state was
under an oligarchy indeed; and so it continued until the
alliance of toleration and democrats finally overthrew it.

How incomprehensible it was to an old fashioned fed-
eralist to see Norwich follow strange gods is shown by a
letter of my great-grandfather which I found the other day.
He was writing to his son: "The result of the election
(April, 1817) you know. Democrats are on tiptoe. What
they will attempt when the legislature meets no one can
tell. I think in Governor Wolcott they have got a Tartar,
and will not find him exactly the man they wish." What
the democrats attempted and carried through was the state
constitution of 1818, and the Tartar, Oliver Wolcott, con-
tinuously served the state as governor for ten years there-


When Monroe was visiting New London, in the same
year (1817), the old gentleman complained in another letter
that two good court days were entirely wasted by the
"huzzaing boys." Three years afterwards the old gentle-
man had become reconciled to defeat. He is writing to
his son again :

"I will take to myself a moment to give you an account
of our late election of members for the legislature, which
I fear has terminated in the choice of a larger number of
democrats than we have ever had before. A number of
gentlemen met at Hartford in January last and agreed to
recommend to the electors for senators six federalists and
six democrats, and in their selection made a ticket of
twelve persons which for talent and weight of character
was thought by all reflecting men far superior to the present
senate. Yet, such is the blind obstinacy of democracy, that
although great numbers of the party admitted that it would
be desirable to elect a senate composed of men all parties
could put confidence in and a large number of our best
citizens for some weeks before the meeting flattered them-
selves that the new ticket would succeed, but when we came
to the trial the same spirit which has long blasted our hopes
appeared, and Sam Charlton and Calvin Case, carried all
before them, giving the old senators a majority of sixty in
this town, and I fear our neighbors are not much better off."

It is strange that writers of American history are in
general so unfair to New England sentiment between the
French Revolution and 1815. Go over the list of captures
and confiscations of Norwich vessels prior to the War of
1812; one after another they fell into the hands of the British
or French or both. Often the crews are imprisoned, but
the moment they strike the northern shore of the sound
again they re-embark in other ventures.

Three Reasons for Choice.

One wonders, of course, why New England, in spite of
impressment of our seamen by the mother country and her


renunciation of a well settled shipping rule, was so luke-
warm in its animosity against her, and so hostile to France.
The reasons are three: In 1 the first place, the French
privateers of the West Indies and their depredations on
New England commerce; secondly, Jefferson was at the
same time a French adherent and the author of a commer-
cial policy the stupidest conceivable from our standpoint.
He had called a halt in navy making and had forced on the
country the embargo and non-intercourse acts. But the
third reason was by far the most important, viz.: The
feeling in every real New England man that Great Britain
was fighting the battle of Christendom against Bonaparte.
"Suppose England has changed her maritime rules," our
fathers said, "let us in at the game, no matter what rule she
makes. Give us seaway, and give us a port ahead we will
find our way in. Never mind the cruising frigates or the
blockade, actual or on paper. If we are caught, ours the

The thought that, after all, old England might not
win, hung like a cloud over every New England hamlet.
Open the limp sheets of those old Connecticut journals.
Even in our actual fighting days, from 1812 to 1815, clip-
pings from the English papers that slipped in via Halifax
were what people wanted most to read not news of Chip-
pewa and Lundy's Lane. Wellington and Napoleon were
the real figures on the world's stage. And our grandfathers
judged rightly.

Such were the feelings that gave birth to the Hartford
convention. Have we in Connecticut anything to apologize
for in that gathering? If so it doesn't appear in its journal
and Theodore Dwight was an honest man. Do we wish
it had never met? If that page were taken from New Eng-
land history, we should always miss something a rare
sample of her sober courage, her four-square view of things
as they are. If other events the treaty, and Jackson at
New Orleans had not come near at the time of its adjourn-
ment, its name would never have been spoken with a sneer,
or written with nullification in the context.


Representatives Were Uptown Men.

During those days the Landing took second place and
the town plot came once again to the fore. The representa-
tives in the general assembly were uptown men. But with
the treaty things changed. The federalist party was dying.
It must needs be that the established church, Yale College,
and the state, as a triumvirate in Connecticut, must sur-
render their power. The era of Norwich enterprise in water
traffic gave way to ventures in manufactures ; men who
worked with their hands were drawing closely together.
It was not yet the day of buying labor, but of laboring
together, apprentices in the shop and in the family as well.
They were not always likely boys, of course. An advertise-
ment in the Courier for a runaway apprentice ironically tells
the public that his master will pay one cent, and no more,
for the boy's return. The girls of that day apparently
needed no training. Indeed, in the Connecticut Courant of
July 5, 1789, I find this item:

"Stocking looms are now making at Norwich by that
self-taught, ingenious man, Thomas Harland, already well
known for the excellence of his fire engines. Cloth shears
superior to the imported ones have been made since the
peace in that neighborhood, and that place is likely to be
the Sheffield of this country. Two girls at Norwich by the
name Roath, one of 12 and the other of 14 years of age,
without any instructions respecting that article, or any
assistance, fabricated 32 yards which weighs one pound,
ten ounces, avoirdupois weight, and are now sprigging it
with the needle."

Who were the leading men and women of Norwich
after the second war with Great Britain? During the era
of good feeling, and prior to the rise of the whig party,
Calvin Goddard seems to have been the great man. He was
mayor for seventeen years, until 1831. You will recall that
the charter of Norwich was unique in that a mayor must
resign his office, die, or be removed by the general assembly.
Mr. Goddard must have been a sound and thoughtful
lawyer. His written opinions, as a judge, are commendable.


Senator Foster selected his office to read law in. He was
an enterprising manufacturer. He was one of Connecticut's
delegates to the Hartford convention and a member of
congress. Yet I confess it is hard to find much color in his
personality. That is not true of Henry Strong, nor of
Senator Huntington, nor is it true of other men prominent
in later years, like William C. Oilman and William P.
Greene. Henry Strong and Jabez W. Huntington were
born in the same year, 1788, one the son of a beloved clergy-
man of the town, the other the son of Zachariah Hunting-
ton and grandson of General Jabez Huntington. They were
intimate friends in boyhood, classmates together in college,
and associated as lawyers. It is said that Henry Strong
could have had any of the political honors which were
showered upon his friends, but he preferred those of a
professional life, and they came to him abundantly. His
face looks down from the portrait in the courthouse here,
and yet in spite of his local and perhaps temporary reputa-
tion, I wonder if Governor Hubbard's well known descrip-
tion of the work and memory of another lawyer pure and
simple is not applicable to him :

"The truth is," he said, "we are like the little insects
that in the unseen depths of the ocean lay the coral founda-
tions of uprising islands. In the end comes the solid land,
the olive and the vine, the habitations of man, the arts and
industries of life, the havens of the sea and ships riding at
anchor. But the busy toilers which laid the beams of a
continent in a dreary waste are entombed in their work and
forgotten in their tombs."

There is no necessity, even if time permitted, to speak
of many others to whom Norwich is indebted, and of whom
we are proud Mrs. Sigourney and Mrs. Sarah Huntington
for instance. To be sure, one can hardly find Mrs. Sigour-
ney 's name in a modern list of American writers, but when
they were written her memorial verses carried comfort to
many afflicted hearts. The names of Senator Foster,
Governor Buckingham and of Daniel Coit Gilman will
undoubtedly be mentioned in a later address.


Political Life of Norwich.

The political life of Norwich, after 1820, seems to have
been a steady control by the tolerationists until the sturdy
youth of the whig party, about 1835. Then Norwich became
a whig stronghold, until the free soilers came to the front.

After all, the politics of the past play but a small part
in our common and separate family traditions. It is of
our own great grandparents, of our grandfathers and
grandmothers, and of their children that we are thinking;
of the tea parties of those days, the neighborly dropping in
of evenings, the quiet talks on shaded porches, the strollings
and whisperings of lovers under the elms ; of the boys steal-
ing from pool to pool along the alder sheltered trout
streams ; of their breathless climbs up the ridges along the
line of the partridge's whirring flight; of friendly groups
about the winter evening fireside, the leaping flames sink-
ing into glowing ashes, and the lively talk broken by sympa-
thetic silences ; of the short Saturday nights, and long
Sundays, and the goodness of the white haired men and the
sweetness, like the dropping rose petals in their gardens, of
our gentle grandmothers. And later we come to the burden
of the national problem of slavery and its extension, the
claims of the south, and finally the roar of the guns against
Sumter and the spring to arms.

Fifty years ago Norwich's jubilee was silent on what
must have been an undercurrent in many minds. Some of
you here present were there. We to whom the feeling of
those days is lost in the flood of household traditions, in
mingled stories of joy and sorrow, of sparkling wit for
jarring notes disappear with the years we prefer the
silence also.

To us who have found home ties elsewhere, Norwich
is the place of our dear ones, many of whom we never saw,
but whose names and memories we love for whom \ve
name our children, and to whose kind and steadfast eyes
as they look down upon us from their dulling frames, we
submit our questionings.


Forbears all, we greet you ! We make no promises for
ourselves we have fallen short of what you would have
us to be. For the little we have done, for the more we have
tried to do, we owe much to an honorable pride in you, our
ancestors of Norwich. If we cannot promise for ourselves,
we can undertake somewhat for our children. The tri-cen-
tennial will see them returning as we have come to-day, and
they will assert a larger and nobler influence than even we
dare claim for their town and our town, Norwich.

The audience received this address with much applause.

After the singing of Dr. Isaac Watts's hymn, "O God,
Our help in Ages Past," Mr. Williams said that while Judge
Samuel O. Prentice of the supreme court of errors is not a
son of Norwich, he came from so close to the nine miles
square that we have adopted him and made no mistake in
his adoption. He introduced him as the next speaker.

Judge Prentice then delivered the concluding address,
reviewing the History of Norwich in the Last Half Century,
as follows :

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my allotted task to take up the threads of the story
of this ancient town at the point where the bicentennial
celebration in 1859 dropped them. The half century which
has passed since that time lies within the memory of not
a faw who are before me. Its most significant events are
familiar to most of you. It would, therefore, interest you
little, and profit you less, if I should attempt at this time to
compile a record of them. I will leave that task to the local
historian of the future who shall undertake to speak of the
things of the past to a generation whose knowledge of them

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Online LibraryWilliam C GilmanThe celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the settlement of the town of Norwich, Connecticut, and of the incorporation of the city, the one hundred and twenty-fifth, July 4, 5, 6, 1909: → online text (page 9 of 19)