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Early Stratford History

(The following is furnished courtesy of the Stratford Historical Society)
The following information has been written to assist the Docents of the Stratford Historical Society in their use of the publication "Interpretation of Historic Sites" by William T. Alderson and Shirley Payne Low, published by the American Association of State and Local History. Teachers have also requested historical material, for classroom use, prior to touring Judson House and the Catherine Bunnell Mitchell Museum.

I. Did you know that George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette passed through Stratford several times and stopped at Benjamin's and Marshall' s taverns? The Farmer's Almanac of 1800 lists Lovejoy' s Tavern in Stratford as the stopping place for the stagecoach on its way from Boston to New York via the Old Post Road. They crossed the Housatonic River by ferry.

Location of Taverns .
a. Benjamin's Tavern was located on the S.W. corner of West Broad Street where the large brick house now stands.
b. Marshall's Tavern was on the S.W. corner of Stratford Avenue where Brodie's Drug Store is in 1978. This tavern burned in 1899.
c. Lovejoy's Tavern was north of the Episcopal Church opposite the home of William Samuel Johnson. (W.H.W. 553) It was moved in 1864 to Stratford Avenue. In recent years it was Dillon's Funeral Home. It was torn down in 1977.

Early Settlement
We don't know just when William Judson came to Stratford. He may have come before the Rev. Adam Blakeman. We don't know exactly when Stratford's first minister, Mr. Blakeman, came from Wethersfield or exactly who came with him. Cotton Mather says he was followed by a "desirable company of the faithful who said unto him, in the language of Ruth, 'Intreat us not to leave thee for whither thou goest we will go' ---". Thomas Hooker once remarked "If I might have my choice, I would live and die under Mr. Blakeman' s ministry". We know that Roger Ludlow and Adam Blakeman were appointed by the General Court in Hartford to survey the land here in 1638. Stratford was settled In 1639. It is possible that William Judson may have built his "stone house" before the settlement at Sandy Hollow? Some say he came early to trade with the Indians.

II. Did you know that on this hill across from where the Captain David Judson House now stands, there is said to have been a watch house and a palisade, which surrounded the entire settlement? These were built as protection for the settlement against the Indians. You can see why this hill was first called Watch House Hill.

III. Did you know that the town itself was first built at Sandy Hollow at the junction of what is today Elm Street and South Avenue?

IV. Did you know that Stratford was first called Cupheag (Indian for "place shut in), then Pootatuck (Indian for "falls river" for the falls at Kent on the Housatonic) and in 1643 called Stratford Plantation?

V. Did you know there was only one church in 1639 which was Puritan, later called Congregational? There are no records as to when their meeting house was first built. Today we call the building a church; then it was called a meeting house and was used both for religious worship and to conduct the affairs of the town.

We don't know just when the Rev. Adam Blakeman left England with his "following of the faithful". We know he and his followers went first to Wethersfield, as did his friend Thomas Hooker, and came later to Cupheag. We know Mr. Blakeman was an ordained minister in England. We know that the meeting house was built on Guard Hill, opposite Mr. Blakeman's house, overlooking the harbor. We don't know just when it was built, because no records were found prior 1660. That record states ----"that Goodman Pickett shall take the place which Goodman Peake, for age hath layd down the ringing of the bell ----". Therefore, we know they had a bell. This was unusual; generally the meeting, whether for religious purposes or to conduct town affairs, was called together by drum, horn or shell. We know that the land had been cleared, by the Indians, before Mr. Blakeman came with his little band of Puritans. This greatly facilitated the building of the first settlement.

We also know that fish were in plentiful supply. The oysters were at least three times larger than those found today. They were found at the mouth of what is now called Mac's Creek or Harbor. (This was the name given to the place long after the first settlement. A negro, Mack, collected oyster shells at the mouth of the creek and carried them in his canoe across the harbor to Shell Keep Point. Here they were calcined (burned to form ash) and bought by the settlers and used to make plaster like that In Judson House.) . In the18th Century, Captain George Gorham moored his schooner in this harbor.

VI. Did you know that the second meeting house was built in 1680, here on this hill across from Judson House? It faced south, looking down Elm Street, was just east of where the monument now stands. Watch House Hill then became Meeting House Hill. Sgt. Jeremiah Judson was one of the committee appointed ---- "to lure carpenters and workmen for carrying out the work of the new Meeting House". Nine years later, due to King William's War, it was fortified ----" for security for women and children in times of danger". Sgt. James Judson was appointed to this committee.

VII. Did you know that in 1707, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, sent a missionary to Stratford to help establish a second church, Anglican (Church of England) or today called Episcopal? It took some time to establish the church but, finally in 1723, Dr. Samuel Johnson was sent to Stratford by the Society and, in 1724, on Christmas Day, he preached the first sermon in the First Episcopal Church in Connecticut. This church was built on the S.W. corner of Broad Street and Elm Street. You can see today their burying ground; Dr. Samuel Johnson and his famous son, William Samuel, are buried there. This land was part of the town commons.

VIII. Did you know that in 1743 both Congregational and Episcopal churches had outgrown their respective buildings? The Congregationalists built their third edifice just west of their second meeting house on the hill. From Town Records we learn that it was voted "that Captain David Judson, Lt. John Wilcoxson and Sgt. Daniel Porter shall be the committee for building and furnishing the meeting house ----". The Episcopalians built their second building just north of the present church, where the Catholic rectory now stands. We are fortunate to have an engraving of the 1743 Episcopal Church and also an engraving of the Fourth Congregational Church built on 1786. (Exhibit 3, Religious Foundations)

The Third Congregational Meeting House called "the church of the Revolution" was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1785. Their fourth church was built on Main Street where the present church now stands.

IX. Did you know that Thomas Salmon, "joiner" later called "architect", designed and built the second Episcopal church in 1743? He also is buried in the old Episcopal Burying Ground. There is an excellent account given in "History of Stratford 1639 -1939" by William Howard Wilcoxson, describing in detail this beautiful church. They installed the first organ in the colony and the first organist was Mr. John Benjamin. He was the goldsmith who, with the help of his neighbor, blacksmith Samuel Fulsom, made the Golden Rooster weather cock. The architecture of the church with its curved pedimented doorway and that of the Captain David Judson House have been carefully researched and published by Mrs. Russ Miller of Deerfie1d. She believes that Thomas Salmon also designed Judson House, because of the similarity of their respective doorways. She believes that his design was the forerunner of similar doorways throughout the Connecticut Valley.

X. Did you know that Judson House chimney is in the form of a Maltese cross? Early pictures make it appear taller than it is today.

XI. Did you know that the east gable still has the original shingles which were put on when the house was built in 1723? The rest of the house has graduated clapboards which replaced the earlier shingles. It is reasonable to believe that Captain David Judson built his house on the foundation of his grandfather William Judson's house.

XII. Did you know that in --- "Town Meeting December 17, 1804 --- (Stratford) subscribed $1,000.00 for the building of a school house or acedemy for the education of youth --- and have applied for Iiberty to erect the same on the public square called Meeting House Hill. Signed Aaron Benjamin, Town Clerk." For the third time the name of the hill has been changed for today we call this hill for the last old building to stand there, Academy Hill.

XIII. Did you know that Captain Gideon Tomlinson, grandfather of Governor Gideon Tomlinson (1756-1763), fought in the French and Indian War with his friend and neighbor Colonel David Wooster?

XIV. Did you know that Jabez Tomlinson, son of Captain Gideon, was guarding Major Andre the night before he was hanged as a spy? That night Major Andre, looking in a mirror, made a line drawing of himself which he gave to Jabez the following morning. (Museum Exhibit #17)

XV. Did you know that we have in the Museum the original diaries of Solomon Plant and Stephen Hains? (Museum Exhibit #12) Solomon Plant recorded, day by day, his expedition from Branford, Connecticut, to Oswegatchie (Ogdenberg, New York) and back to Branford. The expedition lasted from May to November 1760. (Oswegatchie was the culminating battle of the French and Indian War.)

Later in his diary Solomon wrote "Came to Stratford 1763". Solomon was a wheelwright for Fairfield County. His son, David Plant, graduated from Yale 1804 and taught in the Stratford Academy. He later became Lt. Governor of Connecticut. In 1826 David Plant built his house on the site of his father's saltbox house. The present kitchen and room above were part of the father's original house. He had visited his classmate and friend, John Calhoun, and incorporated some southern grandeur in his new home. (Still standing on the N.W. corner of Elm and Broad Streets.)

XVI. Did you know that two years before Solomon Plant joined the company of Captain Jonathan Baker's 2nd Regiment of New York, under Sir William Johnson, May 22, 1760, Stratford had 245 men quartered on what was then Meeting House Hill? These men were from Colonel Simon Fraser's Highland Regiment. Colonel Fraser was Quartered in the Rev. Izrahiah Wetmore's house (still standing on Judson Place). For 16½ weeks, in the winter of 1757-1758 the "Heelanders", as Solomon Plant called them in his diary, were quartered on the hill. They amused themselves by using the Golden Rooster on the Episcopal Church for target practice! That beautiful old church of 1743 was torn down, but the Golden Rooster was salvaged. It stands for all to see on the present church, built in 1858, just south of the site of the former church.

Compiled by Alma Gay Fowler
May 1, 1978