Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Linda's Corner: Early Cavendish Families

Sometimes when we are at the historical society we overlook things that are interesting reading. Here is  an article that Merrill Dole Wheeler had published Oct 1947 in the Vermont Quarterly. It is about early Cavendish folks, and very interesting indeed !  Linda Welch.

The Old Morgan Cemetery - - Henry Proctor’s grave - - Wheeler and Densmore Farms – Reverend Joseph Brown  - Cavendish Baptists – Levi Stevens – William Bond and their families
From Merrill Dole Wheeler:  "Near at hand by the eastern wall of this old [Morgan] Revolutionary cemetery in Cavendish, is a grave of much interest, if not of mystery. It stands alone, the only gravestone facing eastward.  The inscription reads. "Henry Procter, died June 19 1778 age 51", thus indicating that it marks the first burial in Cavendish, earlier by eight years than any death of record.  Who was this lone man of mature years, and what brought him into the wilderness when only three families were living in town? A little research has grown some light on this subject, taking us away form the seclusion of the little cemetery, away from Vermont, then back again to the stone of the oldest, best known farms in town.

Henry Proctor was not closely related to others of that name who were to lived in the Proctorsville - Cavendish area. This Henry was the son of Gershom Proctor, who in his day had been a well-to-do citizen of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Gershom had owned slaves as well as land and other property. He had also been one of the proprietors of a land bank, which issued currency on the basis of land band bonds, until suppressed by an Act of Parliament as unsound in principle and inflationary. While Gershom Proctor was a man of note in his community, it cannot be said that he or his son Henry enjoyed the full approval of the more conservative elements of Chelmsford's First Church Society.

This humbled the men, and thus doing so, the Church then proceeded to call the women to account before a meeting. If the reader things that Colonial women were demure and obedient, he should prepare for a surprise. "Diverse female members," among them Rebecca, the wife of Gershom Procter, acted in a "Very Audacious manner ... [and] Justified their Conduct!" Indeed they behaved so badly that it became necessary to dismiss them from the church "forthwith." So, Gershom Proctor and his wife were dismissed from their own church in Chelmsford. Years later —some 16 years later —in the case of Rebecca Proctor —a number of these errant "Females" acknowledged their fault and were taken back into the church. Unfortunately the Baptist movement came about with renewed vigor and Gershom Proctor was again one of its leaders. In 1773, the Baptist sect bought a church building on the Westford side of the line. When the identity of the purchaser became know, says the History of Chelmsford, the building was robbed of its pews and furnishings. Nothing daunted, the Baptists came in the night with ox sleds and hauled the building on the snow crust directly to its new site in Chelmsford, on or near the farm and home of Gershom Proctor."

Wheeler's article continues: "In January of 1778 after the death of his parents, Henry Proctor sold his home and land in Chelmsford for £2,376. This was a large sum in those days, sufficient to insure a good living in such a well-settled community in which he was raised. But Henry chose to forego the comforts of his home at the age of fifty years and subject himself and family to the hardships of pioneer life in an undeveloped section of Vermont, then known as the New Hampshire Grants Henry bought 1,076 acres of wild land from the original grantee for £600. Well chosen, this tract included within its bounds two of the [later] best farms of Cavendish, long known respectively as the Wheeler and Densmore farms in what is now, the Cavendish Center District. In coming to Vermont, Henry Proctor made a fateful decision and must have been moved by compelling motives, probably a strong desire to get away from a scene of religious strife and perhaps, also, an unwillingness to pay rates to support a church and congregation he did not care to attend or associate with.  It is significant that a number of those like-minded Baptists and neighbors from Westford and Chelmsford later followed him to Cavendish. Among them was Dr. Asaph Fletcher [see Families of Cavendish Volume One, Fletcher]. He became the first physician in Cavendish and a leading citizen in the new state of Vermont.  Dying in June of 1778, Henry Proctor did not live long in Cavendish, but it is supposed that he spent much of the winter there. It is strange that no record can be found of the administration of his rather large estate, either in Massachusetts or Vermont. A deed to his land in Cavendish was signed in Massachusetts a year after his death, evidently in confirmation of an "informal transaction" which had taken place prior to his leaving for his Vermont land. Members of Henry's family lingered in Cavendish for a number of years after his death. It was his widow who undoubtedly married second in 1784, Nahum Powers. [see: Families of Cavendish, Powers]. Nahum and his two sons Henry and Gershom Powers were landowners in Cavendish in the early 1790s.

Henry Proctor's daughter Rebecca, then living in Woburn, Mass, sold in 1788, two thirds of the land in Cavendish, "the property of my father Henry Proctor, deceased" to Levi Stevens, a member of an enterprising family of that named in Townsend, Mass [see Families of Cavendish, Stevens] Levi Stevens made a good start, built his log cabin. The site of this cabin can still be seen in the west pasture of the one-time Daniel Wheeler farm on the Twenty-Mile Stream [the Riford Farm] and a large house with a peaked roof, built in 1797, stood in place of the later farm house, until it was destroyed by fire in 1883. Daniel Wheeler, who finally became owner of the farm, was living with his Uncle Willard Spaulding in Cavendish when Reverend Joseph Brown came to town. Anna, wife of Willard Spaulding, was a sister of Joseph Brown. [see Families of Cavendish, Vol. 2, Spaulding, also families of Brown and Wheeler for later volumes]. Other sisters living in Cavendish were Mary (wife of Colonel Samuel Wyman) [see Families of Cavendish, Wyman] and Rebecca (wife of Josiah French) [see Families of Cavendish, Vol. 3, French].

Levi Stevens had a difficult time in making his ends meet. He had a wife and thirteen children to support. He was obliged to sell off parcels of his land from time to time, until finally, to liquidate a debt, the original farm passed into the hands of four local men, Levi’s creditors, who soon sold it to the Reverend Joseph Brown of Alfred, Maine — little suspecting the comedy that was in the making. Shortly before the day set for making payment and taking over the newly purchased farm, Reverend Brown started out on horseback from his home in Maine. In his saddlebags was the purchased price, so much in bullion, so much in bank notes —$800 in all. We may suppose that the good man began his journey in a hopeful mood. Behind him was a scene of trouble and sorrow. He had been minister in Alfred for four years and had seen fit to give up his church three years previously. Shakers and other radicals of that day had caused great dissension by their proselytizing and offensive agitation. Finally, during the current year, 1811, his wife Rebecca had died. He considered in Vermont, then a new state in its boom period, he could begin again. Rev. Brown had good reason to anticipate a much happier experience. There were no threats of quarrels over religion in the town of Cavendish. Also, he would be welcomed in that town by his three of his sisters, all wives of its leading citizens, and by other Congregationalists whose pastor he was to be for many years. Yes, he was assured of a welcome in Cavendish and of a good home there, but what about a mistress for it, a mother for his town children, an aid to him in his pastoral duties and in many other says? Surely there were attractive girls in that growing town who would consider it an honor to be the wife of a minister of the gospel, a man of some education and of good family. While we cannot be sure that such thoughts were with the traveler on his journey, we do know, as will after appear, that they came to him a little later.

Arriving in Cavendish after several days on the road, the Reverend Joseph Brown reached the farm at the specified time and found the people of the neighborhood on hand to witness the change in ownership by "turf and twig," this being in accord with an ancient custom that prevailed when the written word was not trusted or generally understood. Among them were families of Bates, Bond, Proctor, Smith, Spaulding, and probably young Daniel Wheeler; also the Conant's, French's, Hutchinson's, Page's, Scott's, Stiles' - with men, women and children. [see Families of Cavendish Vol. 3, French and later volumes on Wheeler, Conant, Page, Hutchinson, Scott, Stiles]. After greeting his new neighbors, many of whom were to be members of his church, and partaking of a tasty noon meal, Reverend Brown took the saddlebags from his horse and brought them into the east room of the farmhouse where he began to count the money. He counted and recounted the gold, silver and bank notes, but one note was constantly missing. No end of searching and checking brought the missing note to light. His Reverence was perplexed and greatly upset. He was certain that the full among of money had been placed in the bags and the disappearance of any part of it was a very great mystery indeed. It was also embarrassing for him to be in this position at his first meeting with the people of Cavendish, but nothing could be done. The frustrated man was compelled to return to Maine without paying for the farm in full.

The loss of the money was disturbing to the people of the neighborhood also, because many considered it to be a reflection on their honesty. It became so distressing to one William Bond [see Families of Cavendish, Bond] that he journeyed to Plymouth to consult a "conjurer" of that town. Unable to return with Bond in person, the conjurer was willing to tell him what to do to solve the mystery, namely: cause the people to reassemble and to bring to them the Great Bible and key of the Meeting House." Bond was shown how to suspend the Bible from the key by means of a cord, and was taught a jargon which each man was to repeat while he, in his turn, he held the Bible by means of the cord and key, well up in the air in the sight of everybody. The innocent would have no trouble in holding the Bible in this manner, said the conjurer, but the guilty would let it fall. Certain that he had the means of detecting the guilty party, Bond rushed home and called a meeting of the people of the neighborhood, convincing them that they should submit to this test. The beginning was without event. Several men met the test in triumph but when James Bates, [see Families of Cavendish, Bates] the local Blacksmith seized the key and began to repeat the magical words, the Bible fell violently to the floor to the astonishment of many. Mr. Bates was, by all accounts, a man of good repute among them. He was one of the joint owners of the farm being sold. His wife and daughter wept copiously and he appeared to be greatly disturbed himself at the prospect. After the confusion had subsided somewhat, it was proposed that the test be continued and the Bible was held by others without mishap until Mr. James Smith, [see Families of Cavendish, Smith] an outstanding citizen, dropped the Bible to the amazement of the people; later, Mr. Jabez Proctor, another leading citizen and joint owner of the farm, similarly failed in the test!

At this stage, Bond, a small, nervous man, became greatly excited. He had expected that some lowly fellow would be exposed by the test and frightened into admitting his guilt. The exposure instead of three joint owners of the farm, all men of substance and influence, was more than disconcerting —it was alarming. What would the people think of the test and what would these strong, shrewd men do? While hot and bothered by the course of events, Mr. Bond met with another surprise that was most disturbing. Some inconsiderate person suggested that he, the instigator of the test, should submit to it in his turn. This was not according to plan, considering the trouble he had taken, it seemed ungrateful, but the people insisted, and he could not refuse. Seizing the key, Bond raised the Bibe from its resting place, well in sight of everybody, trembling with excitement the while. He began to mumble the prescribed jargon and then disaster overtook him. The good book broke loose and fell to the floor with a crash, to his intense distress and that of his family. The frantic man proclaimed his innocence to the high heavens but the people were not impressed. They could not believe that the three leading citizens would stoop to petty theft, but it was conceivable that Mr. Bond, who was favored neither with much of this world's goods nor sound judgment, might have yielded to temptation. Why had he taken on himself the task of detecting the thief unless he aimed to hide his own guilt by throwing suspicion on others?  The meeting broke up in confusion and poor Mr. Bond departed for his hillside farm, bewildered, discouraged, shame faced. Conscious of his own innocence and good intentions, he felt that he had been badly used by his neighbors whose good name he had tried so hard to preserve.

Whether his faith in conjure waned at this time, we have to means of learning, but it must have occurred to him that the conjurer who had been "unable" to attend the meeting in person was a man of discretion, much too sagacious to challenge the intelligence of the early settlers of Cavendish. They were by no means an ignorant, superstitious lot, as the future was to demonstrate.  In the little group that stood for the test were several keen, understanding men, whose sons inherited qualities that brought them great wealth, professional reputation, a seat in the Governor's chair, in the U. S. Senate and in the [case of Redfield Proctor] Cabinet of a President. Could the magic of the conjurer have told him as much?

But no man was to suffer loss or incur disgrace because of the missing money. Shortly after the day of the test, a letter came from Maine. It told how the Reverend Joseph Brown had taken another look into his saddlebags after returning to his home and there, to his great astonishment, was the bank note that he had overlooked in Cavendish, to the grief and confusion of many! And then it came out that William Bond had been the victim of a plot. The three men who had dropped the Bible, skeptics one and all, had done so intentionally in order to make a farce of his test, and to have a little fun with him, at the expense of the superstitious among them. Especially Bond, the little busybody, in their midst. The purchase of the farm was duly consummated and "Priest Brown" as he came to be known, made Cavendish his home for sixteen years. He died in 1840 and the Congregational Society of Cavendish also came to an end at about that time. It is not known that he ever threw any light on his strange failure to see the ten pound note, but the mystery was explained by curious people somewhat as follows: As intimated previously, this middle-aged widower had a variety of hopes and interests in Cavendish. When he arrived in town with business in mind and met the good people who had assembled at the farm to welcome him, his quick eye caught the pretty face of Lucy [Proctor], the daughter of Benjamin Proctor. It was a case of love at first sight. Matters of business lost much of their importance at once as did the sorrows of a widower. This was in April of 1811. In November of that year, say the Cavendish records, the Reverend Joseph Brown and Lucy Proctor were joined in matrimony. It is strange that the fast-working pastor was unable to see a mere bank note while his heart was pounding like mad and his eyes were dazzled by the first sight of his future bride?  

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