Plainfield Connecticut History 1750-1799
The Separate movement in Plainfield drew away from the standing church
a number of followers, but the breach was not as wide, nor the opposition
between the two religious factions as bitter as it was in some towns. The
Separatists, who had built a church and were supporting the Gospel
themselves, in their own way, objected strongly to paying additional taxes
for the support of the standing minister, as the law required them to do.
At a town meeting, April 7th, 1760, it was voted to have two distinct
societies. A committee was appointed to present the case to the assembly
and ask the approval of that body. The assembly granted the request,
dividing the town into two societies, not by geographical lines but by
ecclesiastical preferences of the people, both societies occupying the
same territory, the First to have two-thirds and the Second one-third of
the ministerial rate of the town. The adjustment of ecclesiastical matters
by the town seemed to occupy so much attention about this period that but
little consideration was given to schools, roads and other public
In 1756 certain French prisoners of war were billeted upon the town. These were some of the neutral French inhabitants of Acadia, who had been torn from their homes and native country after the conquest of Nova Scotia by the English, and were now distributed among the towns of New England. Forty-three of these unhappy Acadians were assigned to Windham county by act of assembly, but Plainfield appears to have been the only town that officially and publicly made provision for them. By such records loads of wood were allowed to Frenchmen; money was paid for going to Norwich for Frenchmen's beef, for doctoring the " Neutral French," and for keeping Pierre Meron's co-,v. Thus we see that whatever their sufferings elsewhere, in Plainfield they were not uncared for.
At the town meeting in 1765, Elisha Paine was moderator. The following officers were elected: Isaac Coit, James Bradford, James Howe, Joseph Eaton, Elisha Paine, selectmen; Major Ezekiel Pierce, town clerk; John Pierce, Elisha Paine, Lieutenant John Douglas, Doctor Robinson, Azariah Spalding, Jedidiah Spalding, Ebenezer Kingsbury, Stephen Warren, William Cady, Timothy Parkhurst, highway surveyors; Reuben Shepard, David Shepard, D. Perkins, Nathaniel Deane, Simeon Burgess, listers; Captains Eaton and Coit, fence viewers; William Park and Azariah Spalding, leather sealers: William Robinson and Joshua Dunlap, grand jurors; Samuel Hall, Joseph Spalding, Philip Spalding and Simon Shepard, tithing men; Hezekiah Spalding, sealer of weights and measures; Captain Cady, toiler and brander of horses. The engrossing subject of this time was the adjusting of ecclesiastical affairs. The majority of the town adhered to the Separate church, while by law the two-thirds of ministerial rates belonged to the First church. The remnant of the latter had not sufficient vitality to supply their church with a minister. The Separate church was a respectable and orderly body, differing little from the orthodox churches of the time except in opposing the support of the ministry by taxation. An effort was made in 1766 to unite the two societies. The town voted that the old town meeting house should-be used, that being larger and more convenient for the people to reach, and that Mr. Miller, the Separatist minister, should preach in it. This arrangement was unsatisfactory to a few who clung to the First church and distinctively opposed the Separatists, thus shutting themselves out from the house of worship. But a conciliatory settlement of difficulties was effected in 1769, by which the town was again united in its worship in the old church, -certain orthodox forms being observed, while the ministerial tax levy, which was so objectionable to the Separatists, was forever abolished and church expenses met by voluntary contributions.
In 1763 a project was set on foot for the improvement of the Quinebaug river from Danielson's Falls to Norwich, by digging it out. It was estimated that such improvement could be made for four hundred pounds, and the assembly was petitioned for authority to operate a lottery in behalf of the scheme, but the request was not granted, and so the improvement scheme was abandoned. In the summer of 1768 a weekly stage-coach was run over the road from Providence to Norwich through this town. A spacious tavern house for the accommodation of travelers over this road was built and opened in Plainfield village, by Captain Eaton, which became a very noted and popular resort. Taverns were also kept in other parts of the town by Thomas Stevens, Israel Underwood and others.
The old Eaton house or tavern has historic honors connected with it. At different times it had Washington and Lafayette for its guests. It stands on the thoroughfare mentioned and is now kept by David K. Douglas. On the front stoop stands an antique chair, in which,_ tradition says, Lafayette sat and wrote a letter. The editor of this History takes the liberty here to quote from his own note book the following paragraph, verbatim et literatim.
" On the front stoop of the old Douglass or Eaton house stands the historic chair. I am writing these notes on the same arm on which it is said Lafayette wrote a letter. It is an antiquated chair, the back and side arms of which are formed of swelled rounds. On the right arm is an oval board about 1 ft. wide and 2 ft. long, forming a very convenient writing desk. The old house and all its surroundings are wonderfully suggestive of the customs of a generation long since passed away. Massive elms of a century's growth shade the airy lawn and green and street. The swinging tavern sign of a former period still hangs out upon the highway."
In 1771 the town voted to provide a house for the poor and a proper overseer. The few Indians at that time left in the town were properly cared for by the town authorities or benevolent individuals. The provision made by Mr. Joshua Whitney for his negro servants at his decease in 1761 shows the conscientious regard with which some good men of that day fulfilled the responsibility of ownership. Not only did he make Sandy, Caesar and Judith, with their children, absolutely free, but bequeathed to each household six acres of land, stock and farming tools; gave to one his " oldest little Bible," and to another several good books; enjoined Sandy to take care of Bess, his wife, and give her a decent burial; and directed Cæsar and Judith to see that their children were in no ways left to perish."
The great exodus to the new countries took from Plainfield some valued citizens. A number of respectable families joined the first emigrants to Oblong and Nine Partners. Major Ezekiel Pierce and Captain Simon Spalding were prominent among the bold men who took possession of Wyoming. Elisha Paine, so active in professional and public affairs, removed in 1767 to Lebanon, New Hampshire. The township of Sharon, Vermont, was purchased and settled by a Plainfield colony. Isaac Marsh, Willard Shepard and others went on in advance, selected land, built huts, sowed grass and prepared for the main body of immigrants. William, son of Captain John Douglas, though but a lad of sixteen, served valiantly in the French war, and after the return of peace took command of a merchant ship sailing between New Haven and the West Indies, making his residence in Northford. These losses were in some degree made up by occasional new settlers. Timothy Lester, of Shepard hill, and Isaac Knight, of Black hill, were among its acquisitions. John Aplin, an Englishman, who had gained a handsome estate by the practice of law in Providence, removed hither about 1766. John Pierce succeeded to the position of town clerk for a few years, and was succeeded by William Robinson in 1772.
During the trying revolutionary period, Plainfield maintained its character for patriotism and constancy. In the summer of 1774 the town, by its vote, expressed its willingness to contribute to the help of Boston, then suffering in the common cause. A committee was appointed to receive subscriptions for that purpose, which committee consisted of Captain Joseph Eaton, James Bradford, Robert Kinsman, Andrew Backus, Abraham Shepard, Ebenezer Robinson, Joshua Dunlap, Perry Clark and Curtis Spalding. A committee of correspondence was also appointed, which was composed of James Bradford, Isaac Coit, Major John Douglas, Doctor Elisha Perkins and William Robinson. In 177 Plainfield approved of the methods proposed by congress for resisting the oppressive acts of parliament, and pledged a strict adherence to them. The town also voted, with but one dissenting voice, " That we will not in future purchase for ourselves or families any East India tea until the port of Boston is opened, and until the unreasonable Acts of the British Parliament are repealed." In 1777 Plainfield encouraged enlistments by voting that the families of those who should enlist for three years or during the war should be supplied with the common necessaries of life at the price stated by the general assembly, and also offered a bounty of $30 above that offered by the state. During that year Captain Daniel Clark, of Plainfield, was killed in battle at Saratoga, September 19th, and the town also lost its minister, Reverend John Fuller, who died in the service as a chaplain in the army. The women of this town were not to be left in the, shade of others in their acts of devotion to the common cause. They engaged in making thousands of cartridges with which to replenish the military stores at their depot. The following list of men who were killed or died in the service, from Plainfield, has been preserved:
Samuel Gary, Roxbury; Roswell Spaulding, Asa Chapman, 1775; William Dunlap, 1776; John Kingsbury, New York-ward, 1777; Samuel Cole, Zerniah Shurtleff, New York-ward, 1776; four negroes by sickness; William Farnham, captivity; Captain Daniel Clark, Paul Adams, killed at Stillwater, Sept. 19, 1777; Asa Kingsbury's son, killed at Fort Mifflin, nigh Philadelphia: Dr. Nathaniel Spalding, died at Halifax a prisoner, last of 1777; Dr. Phinehas Parkhurst, surgeon of brig Resistance, died at Portland, May, 1775; Daniel Parish died at Newport a prisoner; Samuel Spalding at Martinique after being wounded: Enos Tew, New York, captivity; Dr. Ebenezer Robinson, Jr., at New York, prisoner, July, 1779."
After the revolution Plainfield resumed, with other towns, the business of a community and time of peace. Agriculture and other industrial arts were promoted and a degree of prosperity was soon acquired. The selectmen in 1801 were directed to provide a suitable and convenient house for the reception of the poor. What provision was made we are not informed, but later on, in 1832, the house formerly belonging to Amos Witter was established for a work-house and house of correction. Military matters excited some attention. In 1799 the town voted to exempt from certain taxation all non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates who should equip themselves as to arms, clothing and accoutrements, and do military duty. Abel Andrus was at this time lieutenant colonel of the Twenty-first Regiment; Shubael Hutchins, first major; Reverend Joel Benedict, chaplain; Sessions Lester, quartermaster: George Middleton, paymaster; Doctor Johnson, of Westminster, surgeon; Daniel Gordon, surgeon's mate; Frederick Andrus, Aaron Crary, Samuel Douglas and Asa Burgess, captains of companies in the light infantry; Thomas and Daniel Wheeler and John Gordon, lieutenants and ensigns; Doctor Josiah Fuller, surgeon's mate of the cavalry regiment.
The easy communication with Providence and Norwich, the stages now running daily to and from, stimulated traffic and agricultural enterprise. Captains Lester, Dunlap and others gave much attention to wool growing and stock raising. Luther Smith, John and William Douglas and William Olmstead engaged in trade. George Middleton opened a harness shop, making a specialty of manufacturing pocket-books and portmanteaus of leather. Doctor Daniel Gordon kept an apothecary's shop. Potash works, tanning and hat manufacturing were carried on in the valleys east and south of the village. A post office, the third office established in Windham county, was opened here in 1797 by Captain Ebenezer Eaton, whose popular stage tavern maintained its former reputation. Nathan Angell, of Providence, purchased of Doctor Welles, in 1777, a fine farm on the Moosup, with large mansion house, store house, cheese house, milk house, young orchard, and various conveniences. Much other land was purchased by Mr. Angell, who ran saw and grist mills and carried on extensive farming operations as well. At a later period the town favored manufacturing industries by repealing its former regulations for the protection of fishing interests in the Quinebaug, thus allowing the water privileges to be utilized. It also took into consideration the canal proposed from tide water to Worcester, and gave expressions of confidence in its tendency to benefit the agricultural, commercial and manufacturing interests of the town, and requested its representatives to further the same.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889