William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

History of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) online

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away the buildings near there, carrying the Morse and Dean
Factories away at South Easton, and then rushing on its work of
destruction through West Bridgewater, Bridgewater, and lower
down the stream. Under the circumstances, therefore, it was of
incalculable importance to prevent the dam from breaking away.
Oakes A. Ames, who was on the ground, ordered an alarm. The
shop-bell was rung ; men were aroused, to the number of fifty or
sixty ; several loads of hay were carted to the spot from the
Ames barn, and then in a pouring rain began the fight to save
the dam. The hay was thrown into the channels which the
water was rapidly cutting out, and stones, earth, ashes, and other
materials were heaped upon it, until after several hours of the
hardest work the streams were stopped and the dam was made
secure. But there was a large overflow of water notwithstanding,
and a part of it cut across Canton Street above Picker lane, and
down through Edwin Russell's land into William King's brook,
causing a very bad railroad wash-out a few rods above Elm Street
crossing. The various streams met again in Stone's Pond, and
poured thence in a flood over Main Street by the Red Factory,
washing it out so as to render it impassable to vehicles. The
upper end of the arch of F. L. Ames's stone bridge was under-
mined. Mr. Morse's bridge at South Easton was carried away,
houses were flooded there, and the road between Mr. Morse's
and Mr. Dean's made impassable. On the Turnpike there was
a wash-out of about thirty feet in width and over ten in depth,
this being the most serious damage inflicted at any one place.


On Saturday and Saturday night great anxiety was felt lest
Leach's reservoir at the Furnace Village should give way ; but
the same preventive measures were taken that had been success-
ful at North Easton, and the reservoir was saved. Great damage
was however done the road by the overflow, which washed it out
and made it impassable to teams. The dam at the old Pond at
Drake's foundry had already given way, causing much damage.
All over the town roads were overflowed, bridges washed away,
small rills became rivers, and little pools became broad lakes.
In North Easton half the cellars were flooded, some of them
having three or four feet depth of water in them. The damage
to the public highways and bridges was estimated at not less
than three thousand dollars. There was a serious wash-out not
only just above Elm Street on the railroad, but also near the
railroad bridge above the town, and no train ran between Easton
and Boston from Friday night until the following Wednesday.
It was an occasion unprecedented in the history of the town.
About seven inches of water fell, the melting of the snow add-
ing three inches more ; as the ground was frozen it could
not soak away, but gathered rapidly into powerful streams. It
is noteworthy that on Saturday morning song sparrows were
abundant, and bluebirds and robins were seen. The sweet
notes of the song sparrow seemed a prophecy of swift-coming
spring, — a prophecy soon proved false, for not long afterward
came four days of steady and powerful northwest gales, intensely
cold, being the most inclement weather known for years.


The following interesting obituary of an old resident of Eas-
ton is presented to the reader, not only on account of the inter-
esting information it gives concerning him, but also because of
its romantic story concerning his grandmother. This obituary
was written by Isaac Stearns, of Mansfield, and printed for dis-
tribution : —

" Died in Easton, Mass., on the 5th of August, 1836, Mr. David
Thompson, aged 98 years, 6 months, and 22 days. Mr. Thompson
during his long life was much respected. He belonged to the Con-
gregational Church and Society at the time of his death, having been


a communicant forty-four years. He left at his death six children
thirty-eight grandchildren, and one hundred great-grandchildren.

Mr. Thompson at the age of sixteen enlisted in the old French
War, and lost his left arm by a bomb in the storming of Fort Henry by
the French in 1757. He received a pension until his decease, and was
the last surviving pensioner who took part in that war.

His grandmother, Mrs. Mary Houghton, was one of the three whose
lives were saved at the sinking of Port Royal in Jamaica by an earth-
quake in June, 1692. She heard and felt the shock, and rushed to
the door. As the place sunk in the water she clung to the sill of the
house, which separated from the building. She remained in the water
three days and three nights, when a vessel passed near her and she
was taken on board. Her trunk of clothing floated near her and was
also saved.^

She afterwards lived at a public house in Dorchester, and waited
upon guests. Several years had elapsed since the occurrence of the
earthquake, when her husband entered the house in which she re-
sided to obtain lodgings for the night ; they immediately recognized
each other, and the surprise was so great that Mary fainted. The hus-
band supposed she had perished at the time of the earthquake, and
she believed he was lost at sea, he being absent on a voyage at the
time of the disaster.

She died in 1768 at the advanced age of 105."

David Thompson, Jr., the subject of the above obituary, was
the oldest son of David and Mary (Blackman) Thompson, of
Stoughton, where he was born January 14, 1738. The fact of
his being in the French and Indian War has been mentioned.
He became a pensioner January 25, 1758, as he himself states
in a petition for an increase of pension made in I'JJJ? The
writer has found several such petitions presented by Mr. Thomp-
son for the same purpose, on account of the continued deprecia-
tion of the currency.^ April 7, 1760, David Thompson married

1 This narrative appears to be intended as a sober statement of facts ; yet one
knows not which most to wonder at, — the readiness with which the door-sill de-
tached itself from the house to serve for a raft, the accommodating disposition of the
trunk, apparently packed for the occasion, in floating so conveniently near as to be
ready for an emergency, or the unparalleled endurance of the woman who could live
three days and three nights in the deep upon a door-sill !

2 State Archives, vol. clxxxii. p. 93.

8 Ibid., vol. clxxx. p. 99, vol. ccxvii. p. 134, vol. ccxxiii. p. 351, vol. ccxxix.
p. 379, etc.


Sarah Osgood, of Stoughton, with whom he had seven children,
several daughters marrying in Easton. He bought land in
Easton in 1783 and soon moved here, although his name does
not appear on the town tax-lists before 1786. His house was on
Mill Street, on the line separating Easton and Mansfield.


One of Easton's marked and eccentric characters was James
Adams the poet. By trade a blacksmith, he was for many years
employed in the Ames Shovel Works, being a skilful workman
and very ingenious, making several improvements in machin-
ery. His was a keen and vigorous mind. In a debating society,
of which Dr. Caleb Swan, Oliver Ames, Jr., Joseph Barrows, and
others were active members, Mr. Adams was a ready debater.
He was best known however for his poetical gifts, for he was
more than an ingenious and prolific rhymester, — he was a poet
of real merit. It is to be regretted that his nature was not of
a higher grade, otherwise he might have produced some poems
that would have deserved to live. But he seldom attempted any-
thing higher than personal satire ; his lampoons were witty, but
sarcastic and even abusive. Reference has already been made
in the note on page 351 of this History to the satirical poem
which took for its subject the exciting church controversy, be-
ginning in 1832. It was printed in January, 1835, but its per-
sonal character makes it unfair to reproduce it here ; three
stanzas not thus personal may however be given to show its
style and spirit : —

" This sacred truth they 've all denied,
That God begat Himself, then died
All men to rescue from the tide

Of God's fierce wrath :
And will with Nick at last divide.

And scarce get half.

" How God, by absolute decree,
Foredoom'd that all should damned be
In Hell to all eternity, —

Their righteous due ;
And us ordained joint heirs to be

A chosen few.



" When sweeping vengeance from above,
Cloth'd with vindictive wrath and love,
Shall o'er a cursed creation move

With vengeful ire,
You then your heresies may prove

' Mid flames of fire."

The severest lampoon that James Adams wrote was entitled
" Our Hero : a Descriptive Poem," — the subject of it being Col.
John Torrey. It is published in a pamphlet seven inches long,
contains over sixteen pages of forty-six lines each, and is not
merely satirical, but derisive and scathing. It has considerable
poetic merit, but cannot be quoted here without manifest im-
propriety. It is matter of sad regret that talents of so high
an order as our poet possessed could not have been inspired by
a better spirit and devoted to nobler ends. Mr. Adams followed
the ruinous path of many a bright genius, becoming a victim of
that ruthless destroyer that respects nothing human or divine, —
the drinking habit. This kept him poor, dulled his wits, and de-
graded his character. His latter days found him travelling
about the vicinity as a clock-tinker, making his home at the
Almshouse, where he died May 11, 1883, at the age of eighty
years and eleven months.


Many readers of this History have heard of the celebrated
Lawrence Townley and Chase Townley Estate case, which has
excited great interest in this country and in England, — the Law-
rences and the Chases both claiming to be descendants of Mary
Townley, who became heiress to a vast and still unsettled estate
in England. From a " History of the Lawrence Townley and
Chase Townley Estates and Families," and from other sources,
the following statements have been derived : —

1. Mary Townley married John Lawrence and emigrated to
America, and had but one son, Jonathan.

2. Jonathan married, 1738, Hannah Robbins, of Walpole, and
they had two sons, Jonathan, Jr., and William, — Jonathan, Sr.,
being by English law heir to his mother's estate.

3. Jonathan, Jr., " married Rachel Smith of Easton, Massa-
chusetts, in 1762. This fact is proved by the town records of


Easton and by ofificial documents in the possession of the
present Jasiel Lawrence."

4. This Jonathan Lawrence, Jr., and Rachel his wife had two
sons, one of whom, Jasiel, was born in Easton, in 1772, and died
in Durhamville, New York, in 1842.

5. Jasiel left a Jasiel, Jr., born September 30, 1808, oldest sur-
viving son and heir to the estate.

In reference to these statements the writer presents all the
facts he can discover after careful examination of the town books
and other documents.

1. There is nothing in the town records, notwithstanding the
positive assertion to the contrary quoted above, to show that
Jonathan Lawrence married Rachel Smith, of Easton, in 1762.
Bridgewater records show that Jonathan Lawrence married
Rachel Smith in Bridgewater, May 22, 1765. Easton had a
Rachel Smith at this time ; she was daughter of Benaijah. But
on the Bridgewater records the Rachel spoken of is not called
"of Easton ;" and Easton's Rachel, November 11, 1767, married
Jonah Drake.

2. There is no record of the birth of Jasiel Lawrence on the
town books of Easton, though this omission is no proof that
he was not born in town, as omissions of birth records were
then very common.

3. In the first treasurer's book of Easton a " Mr. Larrence "
is alluded to as follows : "June 3d., 1762. — Paid to Mr. Samuel
Kinsley as Adminst'r of the Estate of Mr. Larrence Disceased,
for what he was over Rated in yr 1757, in full, the sume of Js.
^dy This was not Jonathan Lawrence, Jr., who appears in town
later. No Lawrence appears upon the list of persons in town
liable to do military duty in 1757. This would suggest the prob-
ability that the Lawrence whose estate was settled was Jona-
than, Sr., who may have been too old for military service ; the
date of his birth however does not seem to be given in the
statements first quoted.

4. Jonathan Lawrence is on the valuation list of Easton for
1 771, and he seems to be quite poor, owning only one cow and
six sheep.

5. In the second volume of the town records, page 100, we
have the following, under date of October 9, 1775 : "Voted to



Thomas Manley, Jr., six shillings and six Pence, one farthing, for
Jonathan Lawrance's Rates which he could not collect."

Easton records furnish no further information relative to the
supposed heir of the Townley estates, and such information as is
here furnished is not likely either to make the Lawrences very
jubilant or the rival aspirants for this vast fortune, the Chases,
very despondent.


On page 1 1 of the book written concerning the " Townley and
Chase Townley Estates and Families," already referred to, may
be found the following interesting narrative : —

" Among the romantic incidents connected with the family efforts to
reach the estate now in question is the following: In 1774 Jonathan
Lawrence, Jr., grandson of John and Mary Lawrence, then a man of
thirty-five, reared like his father in the rough ways of a sailor and
rover, conceived it necessary to go to England to secure his rights by
proving his loyalty. He was a British subject, and pardy from dread
of the Revolution, as well as with a certain undefined notion of his in-
heritance, for which he was in the main indifferent, he left Nova Scotia,
brought his wdfe and her two sons to her Massachusetts home [mean-
ing Easton], and set sail for England, but was shipwrecked and reported
to have been lost at sea. He was however picked up by a vessel
bound for the East Indies and carried to its destination. It was three
years later when he reached England, and in his sailor-like listless-
ness — especially while the war was in active progress — he seems
to have made no eifort to communicate with the family in America.
Upon the declaration of peace, however, he determined to return to
America to look after them. On his arrival he learned that his wife,
supposing him to have been lost at sea, had married again, and had re-
moved to the western part of the State, having children by this second
husband ; and without communicating with her he returned by the same
ship which had brought him over, succeeding, however, in gaining pos-
session of his youngest son, whom he now took with him."

This is very romantic and interesting, and the writer is pained
to throw any discredit upon so good a story. But if its author
were at hand, he would ask him how this roving sailor, Jonathan,
could have been so wonderfully far-sighted as to anticipate the


Revolutionary War over four years before it broke out ; for by
the author's own previous statement this return of Jonathan
to bring "his wife and her two sons to her Massachusetts home"
must have occurred prior to 1771, since at that date he had
moved from Nova Scotia and become a resident of Easton, as
the town valuation shows. Moreover, as Jasiel, the second son,
is not born until 1772 according to our author, and is then born
in Easton, Jonathan could only be spoken of in a prophetic
sense as coming with " his two sons " from Nova Scotia. And
furthermore, why is it that the marriage of Mrs. Lawrence, above
asserted, does not appear upon the records of Easton, after the
departure of her husband ? — for the marriage records, unlike
the town birth and death lists, are very complete. How is it,
indeed, that Jonathan is able to take his youngest son from
home " without communicating with" the boy's mother .-^ It is
exceedingly interesting also to note, that in order to make the
claim of Jasiel, Jr., to the great Townley estates perfectly valid,
Libbeus, Jasiel Sr.'s older and only brother, and John A., the
only son of Libbeus, kindly take themselves out of the way,
having no longer an interest in any title except that "to man-
sions in the skies."


On the second day of May, 1766, Isaac Phillips, a son of
Dea. Ebenezer Phillips, was born in Easton. March 15, 1786,
he married Rachel Hayden. They had one child, but finally
separated. It is said that about 181 3 he went South, engaged
in the slave-trade, acquired a fortune, gaining an estate and
having a large deposit of money in the Manhattan Bank in
New York City, and died about 1834, leaving no family to inherit
his property. In 1871 the relatives of Isaac Phillips living in
Easton and elsewhere, hearing of these facts or supposed facts,
made strenuous exertions to obtain further information in the
hope of getting possession of the property left. They were able
to learn from an official in St, Stephens, the county-seat of
Washington County, Alabama, that an Isaac Phillips from the
North had lived in that county and died there about 1834, leav-
ing an estate which was held by a person who was thought to
have a very imperfect title or right to it. Application was



made to the Surrogate Court at New York for authority to
oblige the Manhattan Bank to disclose any facts relative to a
deposit of money there by Isaac Phillips ; but the Judge of the
Surrogate decided that this could not be done until those mak-
ing the demand should furnish information of the time and place
of death of said Phillips. This they had no means of doing, and
nothing further was done about the matter.

While these proceedings were going on, it was thought desira-
ble to get the authentic record of the birth of Isaac Phillips and
also of his family connections, whose descendants might claim
some share in the fortune that was supposed to have been left.
Then the question arose as to where was the old family Bible.
Deacon Phillips, pious Baptist that he was, was sure to have had
one, and to have made a careful family record. It was remem-
bered that his son Jacob had inherited this Bible ; that Jacob
fell from a load of hay July 17, 18 12, and broke his neck ; that
his widow was dead, and the Bible had descended to the daugh-
ter Susanna, who was second wife of Mr. Macy Randall, and
who died June 4, 1866. It was remembered also that at her
earnest request this family Bible had been laid under her head
in her coffin and buried with her in the Washington Street
cemetery. Permission to open the grave was applied for and
obtained of the selectmen. The grave was opened and the
Bible removed, whch was found somewhat, but not seriously,
decayed. The birth and death records were thus obtained ; and
the Bible is now in the possession of Lewis Randall.

No progress has been made toward recovering the fortune
supposed to have been left by the slaveholding Isaac Phillips.
The statements made are however sufficiently probable and
well authenticated to warrant further investment in the attempt
to regain it. The story is interesting, and when first given to
the papers by D. C. Lillie, of Easton, it excited much comment
and inquiry.

"old bunn."

Few persons have left a more marked impress upon the
traditions of Easton than the singular character whom our
fathers called Old Bunn. Probably no one was known by more
various names. The first documentary reference to him is in




the warrant ^ warning him out of town. This warrant begins as
follows : " Whereas Benjamin Brewer, also called Eddy Benna-
wine, and his wife Thankful, and their two sons Oliver and
Benjamin, whose last place of residence was Raynham," etc.
This warrant shows that he was a contribution to Easton from
Raynham, and it also gives the exact date of his coming here,
which was July 14, 1759. The writer has found him bearing
not only the three names already given, but also Bunedy, Ben-
jamin Benoni, Benjamin Edy, Eddy Beniway, and Edy Benqy.
He is said to have come from Canada with returned troops, after
the French and Indian War, and to have been a half-breed, or
Canadian-Indian. In a list of death-records he is called a
Frenchman.^ He appears to have made Raynham his home,
and to have found some Raynham woman simple enough to
marry him. He brought with him to Easton also two sons, as
already noted, and not long after coming here a daughter, Judith
by name, was added to the family. Old Bunn supported him-
self by two kinds of business, — wood-carving and stealing. At
the first he was an adept ; a good specimen of his work being a
well-wrought wooden sugar-scoop belonging to Mrs. Bernard
Alger, of North Easton.

But his energies were frequently employed, as we know by
trustworthy traditions, in his second line of business, and many
stories are told of his petty thefts of vegetables, fowls, wood, etc.
Considering his reputation, it was quite natural that he should
be charged with thefts perpetrated by other parties. On one
occasion he was justly indignant at being arrested on a charge of
which he was innocent, and then made the significant remark, "A
good many people in this town are stealing on my credit." He
was usually, in regard to thieving habits, the dread of the neigh-
borhood in which he happened to be living ; and sometimes his
neighbors clubbed together, made him a visit, took him to the
woods, and gave him a good thrashing. When one locality be-
came too warm for him he would find his home in another part
of the town, so that all sections had an opportunity to form his
acquaintance. Whether his children learned his trade of wood-

1 Records of the Court of General Sessions at Taunton, vol. fr. 1746-1767, p. 424.

2 The record is as follows : " Eddy Beniway ye frenchman child, Deceased may
2q, 1776."


carving or not cannot now be determined, but he transmitted to
them his thieving propensity. We have already referred to the
arrest and conviction of Benjamin Benoni, Jr., and Judith Benoni
for larceny, — the former of a silk handkerchief, and the latter of
a quilted petticoat.

Old Bunn was a nomad. The writer has found him living in
various localities at different times. Perhaps his first residence
was in the old unfinished Presbyterian meeting-house at the
Green, whose bare walls were profaned by frequent ejaculations
of God's holy name that would have deeply shocked the Rev.
Solomon Prentice and his pious though somewhat belligerent
followers. Women and children were afraid to pass by his hab-
itation, for Bunn's swarthy countenance struck terror to timid
hearts. We hear from him again in a cabin near Edward D.
Howard's, in another cabin northwest of Mr. Sharp's, in the
old Hugh Washburn or Snell place, at the Thomas Randall, 3d,
place, east of the DeWitt farm, and in other localities. The
Randall place was owned by Oliver Howard when Bunn was
there, and Mr. Howard ordered him to vacate the premises.
Bunn paying no attention to his order, Mr. Howard sent Hope-
still Randall with his ox-team to move him and his family
away. The latter tried to do it, but Bunn resisted, and Hope-
still did not care to stir too deeply his Indian blood. The re-
sult was reported to Mr. Howard, who said, " Come to-morrow,
and I will go with you." Early the next day they went together
to the house. Bunn was absent. His wife was willing to com-
ply with Mr. Howard's demand, but the daughter Judith was in
bed and refused to get up. Mr. Howard flourished his whip
over her and said, " Get up, Jude, or I '11 horsewhip you ! " She
obeyed, and the whole household furniture was soon heaped upon
Hopestill's cart. Bunn meantime had returned, and they then
began a weary pilgrimage about the town in search of another
home. Different places were asked for, but Bunn's reputation
made his applications unsuccessful. They finally became
wearied and discouraged, and Hopestill, who did not at any
time excel in patience, became thoroughly provoked. The level
rays of the sun showed that the day was nearly done, and they
were then in the southwest part of the town, far from Hopestill's
house. The jeers of bystanders, who laughed to see this forlorn



caravan, did not serve to soothe his troubled spirit ; and in a
sudden flash of temper he tipped up his cart and dumped the
goods in a heap by the wayside. Being asked the next day by
Mr. Howard where he had left Bunn's family and furniture,

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 70 of 78)