When I had a tooth pulled a few years ago I fussed and complained about it for days before and for days after. My great-grandfather William Ellsworth Hall didn’t make a very big deal about his adventures at the dentist. Nor did he say much about the start of the Civil War. Here’s what he wrote in his 1861 journal.

Saturday, April 20 – “Went to New Haven. Had 8 teeth out. Spent the night with Aaron.”

Sunday, April 21 – “Went in town to have teeth out. Had 8 out. Walk home. War news.”

Monday, May 6 – “Got my teeth. Came home.”

He may have complained about his teeth to his wife, but didn’t share his feelings in his journal. Sometimes it bothers me that the past reaches me in this consciously or unconsciously edited way. William was a busy man and penned only a few words each day. But he wrote what he thought were the essentials, and it’s fun for me to have these glimpses into his life.

Journal of William Ellsworth Hall, 1861

Journal of William Ellsworth Hall, 1861

The women and men who built the Hall farm were probably even tougher than my great-grandfather. The first settlers carved the town of Wallingford out of land “purchased” from Quinnipiac Indians Mantowese and Sawseunck in 1638. In his “History of Wallingford Connecticut” Charles Davis describes the purchase.

“Lastly, the said Theophilus Eaton, John Davenport, &c., accepting from Mantowese this free gift of his land as above do by way of thankful retribution give unto him eleven coats made of trucking cloth, and one coat for himself of English cloth, made up after the English manner.”

At the time of this treaty the Quinnipiacs in the area numbered about two hundred and fifty. By 1774, a mere four were left in Wallingford.

The original 1670 town plan for Wallingford shows the six-acre house lots (forty-two in all) mapped out on the “Long High Way” – the street that would eventually become Main Street. To the east of these lots, in the direction of the Hall farm, the planner wrote two words – “East” and “Wilderness.”

Charles Davis describes the challenges for the first settlers.

“Making a new settlement was quite a formidable undertaking…Wolves, in thousands, infested the new settlements. They killed the cattle, they stole and carried off the sheep, and did what they could by their unearthly howlings at night, to add to the horrors that thickened on the skirts of the wilderness. The moose, the deer and the bear roamed at will through the unbroken wilderness.”

Whether or not it was right for my ancestors to become owners of land that had belonged to Indians and animals that “roamed at will,” is a thornier issue than I can cover in this blog, but it does give me pause to remember that the land I think of as mine and ours was not always so.

When I visit Wallingford and take walks around the block that makes up Whirlwind Hill, I pass a lonely wooded area. It used to be the site of the Scard farm, but in just the few years since the house was taken down, the woods have reclaimed their place. I think about John the Immigrant’s three sons who were among the thirty-eight original settlers of Wallingford. How intrepid they must have been to clear the land one tree at a time to build their homes and their lives and their community. Farming was, and still is, an incessant battle against the forces of nature, and they worked daily to be good caretakers of their land.

In these woods I can almost feel the ancient presence of people and animals that walked and roamed among the trees before any of our family arrived. Someday these familiar acres may be wilderness again, and the thought humbles me as I continue on my way to the top of Whirlwind Hill.

"Wallingford Woods, Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2012

“Wallingford Woods, Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2012

On Friday: Seeing the Big Picture


8 thoughts on “Wilderness

  1. Margaret Norton Campion

    Boy, “OBoy!” This post is packed … I hardly know where to start …. I do think of women keeping Day Books (Lydia Jane’s), but – in my sexist way – I don’t think of the men doing this, too. I didn’t know you had William Ellsworth’s. So wonderful. And my goodness. 16 teeth out on one weekend (and just 8 days after the start of the Civil War) … I guess I DO use too many exclamation points!! I should try to be more like my understated ancestors. Yes. It takes quite a leap of the imagination to picture Wallingford as the wilderness that it was. The quotations you include here make it live. I can “see” it a bit more clearly. The one thing I CAN clearly picture (though on a very different path and with very different scenes), is his walk home from town. He did that. I did that, too. That is nice to think about.
    OBoy. I love this. Thank you, Carol.

    1. Carol Post author

      Your exclamation points are just fine with me, and I wouldn’t want you to try to be understated. One of the reasons they may have been understated was because they had a very limited supply of paper and pencils or pens. It would make one be more concise for sure.

  2. Michael Foster


    This is a wonderful project and obviously undertaken with great love. Each post brings me back to the hill and to experiences and thoughts sometimes forgotten. The land you describe is such a central part of me. Even though we no longer have the hilltop home as the anchor for our family, I have the memories you have awakened of walking the woods and fields, bringing in the hay, spreading the manure. It brings tears to my eyes and a profound gratitude to have grown up in such a special place.

    Thank you,

    Mike Foster

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks so much Mike. It’s so nice to see your name here and to read your very kind comments. It certainly was a wonderful place to grow up. I do miss stopping in to see your parents when I walk to the top of the hill. But I’m also so glad they are happily living near you and that I still get to see them once in awhile. I’m glad I could remind you of happy times on the hill.

  3. Katy Gilmore

    I love going along on this walk to the top of Whirlwind Hill. And really love that drawing of the new growth. Such expressive lines making very spindly trees – so very different from here in the Pacific Northwest – and such a long way from ever being what is real wilderness. Thank you for this snapshot of bravery in the face of dentistry John (ouch!) and the glimpse of an almost unimaginable time when moose and wolves roamed troublesome on the East Coast. I look forward also to the part of this story where, as farmers, it isn’t all battling nature, but encouraging nature, depending on nature. Or do farmers ever think in such an Pollyannish way?
    Oh my goodness – and I just looked up from the computer to see THREE coyotes trotting down my driveway, one behind the other! – a farmer would not like that. Thank you Carol for doing such a fine job of this story.

    1. Carol Post author

      Wow! YOU live in a wilderness of sorts. Although coyotes are pretty brazen these days and certainly feel entitled to “roam at will.”
      Really, you’re right – it isn’t all about battling nature, and I hope I can do justice to the part where the farmers in my family depended on nature and encouraged it.

  4. Michelle

    Oh wow Carol, what an interesting story! I can picture these woods, the wilderness, the hill, though I’ve never been there. Thank you for sharing your history with us—it’s most intriguing.


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