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.
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.
On Friday: Seeing the Big Picture