The Great Falls at Paterson, New Jersey

Great Falls of the Passaic River, Paterson, New Jersey (Engraving after a drawing made by Thomas Pownall in the 1750s)

In 1778, right in the middle of the American Revolution, Alexander Hamilton took George Washington to see the Great Falls of the Passaic River in northern New Jersey. There the river drops 77 feet in a torrent 280 feet wide. The visionary Hamilton saw in this watercourse a dream of plenty: cheap energy to build industry and free the nation from foreign markets.

Three years after the war, in 1791, Hamilton lined up a group of patriots, industrialists, and financiers to form the “Society for Establishing Usefull Manufactures,” otherwise known as the S.U.M. It was America’s first industrial community. The S.U.M. hired Pierre L’Enfant – the military engineer who laid out the plans for Washington, D.C. – to build the first raceway and harness the Passaic River’s energy.[...] read more

John Colt the younger, ca. 1661-1751

John Colt the younger is our second Colt in America, son of the immigrants John Colt and Mary Skinner of Hartford and then Windsor, Connecticut. He was born probably in Hartford, grew up in Windsor, and spent most of his adult life in what is now known as Old Lyme. He may have worked as a shipbuilder, according to a Rhode Island history that got nearly every other fact about his life wrong – and why are they writing about John Colt anyway?

Somewhere, some time he married Sarah Lord, daughter of William Lord and granddaughter of Thomas Lord and Dorothy Bird, who emigrated with their family from Northamptonshire in 1635 on the Elizabeth and Ann. Thomas Lord was a Puritan and a blacksmith and one of the founders of Hartford. He and his wife are also Pearson ancestors through another son named Richard Lord.[...] read more

The first American Colt

John Colt, ca. 1630-ca. 1713

I kind of hate to write this boring post and burst any family bubbles. The truth is, we know very little about John Colt, the first immigrant to come here with that family name. And much of what we thought we knew turns out to have been spun in the 19th century to please Colt descendants. We don’t know his birth or death date, the names of his parents, or when and how he got here. We don’t know where he came from, or if he has any connection whatsoever to Colts Hall in Cavendish, Sudbury. Turns out he didn’t come here in 1633 on the Griffin as a ward of the famous Rev. Thomas Hooker, and he probably didn’t get here in 1638 on the Susan and Ellen as some have claimed, either. His first genuine sighting in the records is in 1656, when he was fined for playing cards in Hartford.[...] read more

King Philip’s War

Wheeler’s Surprise and the Siege of Brookfield, August 2–4, 1675

King Philip’s War was an armed conflict between the Native Americans of New England and the English colonists that lasted from 1675 to 1678, named after the Wampanoag chief Metacomet, who was known to the English as “King Philip.” It continued in northern New England – primarily Maine – even after Metacomet was killed in 1676, until a treaty was signed at Casco Bay in April of 1678.

Proportionately, it was one of the most devastating wars in the history of North America. More than half of New England’s 90 towns were assaulted by native warriors. For a time in the spring of 1676, it appeared that the entire English population of Massachusetts and Rhode Island might be driven back to a handful of fortified seacoast cities. 1,200 homes were burned, 8,000 cattle lost, and vast stores of foodstuffs destroyed. One in ten soldiers on both sides was injured or killed.[...] read more

Hartford: blecchh, but still

Seth H. Clark, Emigration of Hooker and his party to Hartford – Connecticut Historical Society

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.[...] read more

John Corish Devereux: the dancing uncle

Note that in the parody engraving on the wall, a cat is teaching a monkey to dance
Grown Ladies Taught to Dance, engraving by John Collett, ca. 1770

When I started this project back in 2010 I spent some puzzled hours wondering how the Devereux name came to be part of the Colt family. It appears nowhere in the direct line. There were murmurings that the name may have come from a friend of the family somewhere along the line. Finally, I found the answer: a dancing uncle! 

The Irish immigrant John Corish Devereux (1774-1848) married Mary Rice Colt, a sister of Roswell Lyman Colt, in 1815. After a colorful start as a dancing master, he eventually became a hugely successful merchant and banker. John and Mary Devereux had no children of their own and eventually left their entire estate to the Colt family. In 1817, Roswell passed on his sister’s name to his fifth child: Mary Devereux Colt,  who would later marry A.K Josephs.  Perhaps he guessed that his sister was not going to have her own family.[...] read more