HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT, is one of my least favorite metropolises on the East Coast – homely, pinned under two interstates, and full of insurance companies. Moreover, in 1940 they buried their meandering Park River in a crosstown sewer. However, the city is old, important, and plays a critical role in American history. And our family was deeply involved.
The city was founded in 1636 when the Rev. Thomas Hooker broke with the Puritans over the issue of voting and led 100 faithful through the wilderness to a new settlement on the Connecticut River. Because they were outside Massachusetts authority, they wrote up their own constitution establishing what some consider the world’s first democratic, representative government.
I don’t know how many of those 100 settlers were our direct ancestors, but it could be as many as half. The rest of them are surely cousins. We number 20 heads of families among Hartford’s first proprietors. Most fall on Dad’s side, both Pearson & Josephs, but there are a few Vail as well. Among those for whom I have an account of the trip are Richard Lyman, his wife Sarah, and their son John:
Richard Lyman first became a settler in Charlestown, Mass., and with his wife united with the church in what is now called Roxbury, under the pastoral care of Eliot, the apostle to the Indians; he became a freeman at the General court, 11th June, 1635, and on the 15th of October, 1635, he took his departure with his family from Charlestown, joining a party of about one hundred persons, who went through the wilderness from Massachusetts into Connecticut, the object being to form settlements at Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield. He was one of the first settlers at Hartford. “The journey from Massachusetts was made in about fourteen days time, the distance being more than one hundred miles and through a trackless wilderness. They had no guide but their compass, and made their way over mountains, through swamps, thickets and rivers, which were not passable but with the greatest difficulty. They had no cover but the heavens, nor any lodgings but those which simple nature afforded them. They drove with them one hundred and sixty head of cattle, and, by the way, subsisted in a great measure on the milk of their cows. Mrs. Hooker was borne through the wilderness on the shoulders of the men. The people carried their packs, arms, and some utensils. They were nearly a fortnight on their journey. This adventure was the more remarkable, as many of this company were persons of figure, who had lived in England in honor, affluence and delicacy, and were entire strangers to fatigue and danger. — Trumbull’s Colonial Records.
Lyman lost most of his cattle in the journey. Other names of ours among the first proprietors: Birchard, Bronson, Butler, Easton, Ensign, Goodwin, Higginson, Hopkins, Loomis, Lord, Olmsted, Seymour, Stanley, Steele, Thompson, Warner, and Whiting. I have more details for anyone interested.
Note the chunk in the middle to the right of the now-dead Park River, then called the Little River. We occupied two whole blocks: the Lords and the Stanleys, and the Goodwins and Steeles across the street.
Richard Olmsted sold his land to provide the burying ground, which still exists today on Gold Street. Richard Lord II was tasked with caring for the grounds. Not sure if he was paid for his troubles or donated his time:
This writing withnesseth an agreement between Richard Lord of Hartford, and the Townsmen of respecting the burying yard: “The said Richard doth covenant, promise and engage to and with the said townsmen, that there shall be a sufficient pale fence set up round avout the said burying ground,- that is to say, so much of the said fence as doth properly belong to the burying yard, and the fence next to the highway,- the pales and the post heads to be handsomely sharped, and the said fence set up straight, and the pales set even by a line at the tops, and this to be done at or before the 25 of October next ensuing the date herof. The said Richard is to feed off the grass with horses and calves, according to the former agreement. He is at no time to suffer hogs to come reduce the divident fence between his said orchard and the burying yard, nor to fodder cattle in it. The said Richard is also to reduce the divident fence between his said orchard and the burying yard to its ancient bounds. All this to be done according to this agreement, and so maintained during the whole term that the said Richard shall improve the said burying-yard. And upon the breach of this agreement, or any part of it, he shall forgeit all the cost and labor upon it, to the town. By pale fence, we intend only the fence against the highway, and the divident fence between his orchard and the said burying yard.” Sep 29, 1664
You can go to a map mashup here and see where all those sites sit in present-day Hartford. If you’re inclined to play with the maps, be warned that the 1640 map I printed above is oriented with West at the top; the mashup has been turned 90 degrees so that North is on top.