Tag Archives: Asahel Hall. carol crump bryner


"Pen," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

“Pen,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

Among the Whirlwind Hill documents my mother treasured were a dozen or so letters written between 1812 and 1815 to my great-great-grandfather Salmon Hall. Until recently I assumed these letters to be written by his brother Aaron Chauncey Hall. All the signatures on the letters were either A. C. Hall, or A. Hall.

A. C. Hall signature

A. C. Hall signature

But just last week I discovered upon closer reading, that many of these old letters were written by my great-great-uncle, Asahel Hall, son of Aaron Hall Esq., older brother of Salmon Hall, and younger brother of Aaron Chauncey Hall. His signature is different than Aaron’s and the letters he wrote more detailed and informal. I was happy to be able to finally connect this Asahel to the Dr. Asahel Hall lauded in an obituary that my mother kept with these letters.

Dr. Asahel Hall signature

Dr. Asahel Hall signature

Asahel grew up on the farm, became a doctor, and during the war of 1812, when he was just twenty years old, became a surgeon’s mate at Fort Griswold in New London, Connecticut. (I wonder what this says about the medical profession in those days, that a twenty-year old could become a doctor?) Later in his life he settled in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he practiced medicine, married, and had four children. One of his sons, Henry Clay Hall, was a long-serving United States diplomat to Mexico, Cuba, and Central America, and was consul-general in Matanzas and Havana, Cuba. Abraham Lincoln signed Henry’s appointment as vice-consul general of Matanzas.

Asahel’s letters home to his brother from his post at Fort Griswold are affectionate and personal. He often laments the fact that he hasn’t heard from his four brothers and six sisters, and wishes he could come home to see them.

“Dear Brother, The mail has come in & nought [sic] do I hear from you & why? Are you too busy to give me a line, or your mind & attention given to the fair daughters? If the latter be the case, I will not presume but admonish you to relax a little and give me a word or two to revive a flagging spirit.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, May 20, 1814

He also spends time thinking about women.

“Dear Brother, I am comfortably seated by a good fire in a warm room, although it is devilish cold without & in fact it has been so cold for a number of days, I have hardly made the daring attempt to call on the fair ones. Just after my return, I attended two parties & my favorite lady was there. She almost tempted me to sin. Her glistening arms & ruddy cheeks – her fine fair form & lips so sweet, would almost raise the devil with any fellow.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, February 1, 1814

And he gives Salmon advice on planning for the future.

“I had some conversations with Father, about you & business. He said he had not mentioned to you anything about living with him the ensuing year, but was of the opinion it would be best for both for you to tarry another year, as in the course of that time the prospects of affairs might change, & some good opportunity arise for you. He said he would give you so much per month or give you a proportional part of the products of his land, etc. etc. Under all circumstances I could but believe an agreement in one or the other of those points, would be better than entering into any other business.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, February 1, 1814

Salmon took his brother’s advice, and so the Hall farm was passed down for generations to enjoy.

Letters sustained me for much of my life. I became homesick easily, and newsy letters arriving at camp, college, summer jobs, and my eventual exile in the far west were always welcome. Both of my grandmothers and my mother regularly wrote me news of all sorts. In this letter sent to me at camp in 1958, my grandmother reports on all of my Hall first cousins except Dean, who hadn’t yet been born.

Grandma Hall's letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, front page, summer, 1958

Grandma Hall’s letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, Front page, summer 1958

Grandma Hall's letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, back page, summer 1958

Grandma Hall’s letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, back page, summer 1958

During my teenage years I corresponded with a pen pal, Merle. She and I wrote letters back and forth from her home in England to my little red house in Wallingford, Connecticut. We talked about lipstick, nail polish, new dresses, our parents, our siblings, our pets, and boys.

I never met Merle, but felt I knew her through the details she sent to me about her everyday life. And now I’m gradually starting to get acquainted with my distant and sometimes mysterious forefathers and mothers. Although their lives and times were different from mine, we shared a similar desire to stay connected, to send and receive news, and to give advice. Maybe the ancestors didn’t talk about lipstick and perfume as I did with Merle, and I certainly never advised anyone to take Calomel the way one brother advised another, but we enjoyed the process of writing a letter – of putting pen to paper and using words to bring another person closer to us and to let them know we care.

A letter from Asahel to Salmon

A letter from Asahel to Salmon

On Monday:  Foraging


I’ve always liked the custom of passing down family names, even though my own mother named me after the Christmas songs being sung at the hospital when I was born.

The Hall family followed a rhythm of repetition when they named their children. The first three generations included four Johns, and one Jonathan, the Jonathan being a brother to one of the Johns. And there were three Marys, three Elizabeths, and two Sarahs.

In the fourth generation Asahel Hall and his wife Sarah Goldsmith gave birth to twelve children. Many of them “died young,” and in those days, because child mortality was so common, it was customary to name a surviving child after a brother or sister who had already died. So Asahel and Sarah bore two Aarons, three Asahels, and two Sarahs. The surviving Aaron (Aaron Hall, Esq), lived for seventy-two years, giving birth to his own sons Aaron and Asahel and his own daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Here and there an odd name crops up. Asahel (itself a bit odd) and Sarah had a Mehitabel and Aaron an Electa.

My great-great-grandfather, Salmon Hall, had a younger brother Billious Kirtland Hall. He seems to have been named after a Dr. Billious Kirtland whose family plot is next to the Halls in the Wallingford Cemetery. I’m still trying to find out more about this family connection. The name Billious was never used again, as far as I know, but one of my mother’s favorite cousins as well as my brother shared the name Kirtland.

Salmon (pronounced Sal-mon) may have been a version of Solomon. Biblical names were popular. This photo, probably taken around 1860, may be my great-great-grandfather. My grandmother wrote on the back “Possibly Salmon Hall.” But recently my cousin Patti sent me photos of two portraits that used to hang in the farm living room. She refers to them as “The Eggheads,” and they may be Salmon and his wife Cornelia. It’s always nice to have a face to go along with a name, but for now I have one name and two faces that don’t appear to belong to the same person.

Possibly Salmon Hall

Possibly Salmon Hall

Also Possibly Salmon Hall

Also Possibly Salmon Hall

The last name of mysterious origin is Whirlwind Hill. I always thought it was named after the Wallingford Tornado of 1878, but in his book, “History of Wallingford, Connecticut,” Charles Davis says, “Whirlwind is that high land east of the late residence of Luther Hall, and west from Pistapaug Pond.”

Since Davis wrote his book in 1870, our hill couldn’t have been named after the 1878 whirlwind. I read somewhere that it had once been called “Wild Mare’s Hill,” but can’t seem to find that reference again. If anyone has any ideas or clues to the source of the name “Whirlwind Hill,” I’d love to hear about it. For now I’ll just let it conjure thoughts of wild winds, blowing trees, and houses flying over hill and dale.

At the top of Whirlwind Hill, May 2014

At the top of Whirlwind Hill, May 2014

On Friday: May Window

A Piece of the Past

In 1968, after I married and settled into a California life, I received a gift from my grandmother Agnes Hall. Folded into a plain white envelope was the 1746 deed to part of the land that eventually became the Hall farm. This document, deeding land to my great-great-great-great grandfather Asahel Hall, had stayed for five generations in a desk in the farmhouse living room, maybe waiting to be sent across the country to me. Inside the envelope with the 1746 deed was a second deed and this note from my grandmother.

“These old deeds take this part of the Hall family back to Revolutionary times…Do what you want with them but they are really family history and perhaps I shall take you back by names and dates to the original founders of New Haven and Wallingford.” Yours with love, Grandma Hall

 And this is how my history and knowledge of the farm accumulates. I’ve searched for some, stumbled upon others, and been handed treasures by relatives. For me there are never enough of these bits, and the truth seems never quite complete. I love this quote from Julian Barnes’s novel “The Sense of an Ending.”

 I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory.

 I hope to proceed with my stories of the farm in “subjective time,” filtering these bits and pieces of history through my memories, and writing about what I hold closest.

1746 Deed

 My grandmother suggested I frame the deed and hang it on the wall, but I prefer to be able to hold it in my hands once in awhile. More than just a piece of paper, it’s a treasure touched and written on by an ancestor whose son fought in the Revolutionary War. I know it’s a legal term, but the words “Know Ye” seem very grand. The legal part of the deed was printed with hand carved type and the rest written in sepia ink with flourishes added to the letters. In some words the letter s looks like an f, and I can’t read it without thinking about the “heirs and affigns”, which I suppose includes me. I have other deeds to this land, some of which are earlier, but this is the first that mentions a dwelling. I want to believe this is the original Hall homestead. If Wallingford was the center of my world growing up, my grandparents’ farmhouse was, for me, always its heart.

Hall Homestead, ca. 1750

On Friday:  April Window