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EARLY SPRINGFIELD AND LONGMEADOW, MASSACHUSETTS
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George Colton is said to have married Deborah Gardner at Hartford about the time of his settling at Springfield. He named his second daughter Sarah. Is it possible that Benjamin Cooley's wife Sarah was a sister of George Colton? The relations between Cooley and Colton would seem to have been far more binding than a mere Damon and Pythias attachment. If the origins of George Colton could be determined they might shed an important light on the early life of Benjamin Cooley.
There seems to have been nothing precipitate in the nature of Benjamin Cooley, who appears to have always made haste slowly. One of such a nature would not have been apt to accept the first home site offered. A mere four acre strip of arable land from the street to the river must have seemed a pitiful provision for a family, especially if part of the tract was to be occupied by a house and its appurtenances. Along almost its entire length the town street followed the line of the marsh and the artificial ditch which became the town brook, and there seems to have been an official prejudice against the locating of buildings on the marsh side of the street. However, at the south end of the town, the brook turned off to the east for the breadth of six or seven lots, sufficiently to provide a sizeable plot of hard ground east of the street. Cooley was a desirable prospect; one to be encouraged. Therefore on February 23, 1643/44 it, was "ordered and voted that there shall be no barns nor any other housing set up betwixt the street fence and the brook except they have four rod for the highway."1 Thus Thus Cooley's objections were met and he chose the third lot from the south, where the brook course provided the minimum of marsh. East of the street he built his house. At the rear of it was the clear running natural brook. Across the street was his barn. Three lots to the north was a site offering similar advantages and this was chosen by George Colton who also established himself on the east side of the town street.
After his permanent removal to Longmeadow, Cooley sold this property in the town plot to his next-door neighbor, Richard Sikes, on January 12, 1667/68.2 Both the house and the barn were burned by the Indians in the sack of the town on October 5, 1675, so that nothing definite is known of them, but consideration of other buildings of the time provides a knowledge of their nature and construction.
It can be most positively affirmed that the Cooley house was not one of those log cabins, so beloved by poets and painters, that actually were unknown in pioneer New England. An Englishman, coming to America in the early 17th century, would have had about as much knowledge of a log house as he would have had of an Esquimau igloo--and no more. He simply would never have heard of such a thing. In any event, lack of material would have prohibited such wasteful construction for, contrary to general thought, southern New England was then not one huge forest but was an expanse almost entirely of great open spaces, due to the annual burnings of the Indians. There is today, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, far more wooded area than there was when the Pilgrims landed. So scarce was timber about Springfield that the very earliest plantation order prohibited the cutting of a single tree on the town plot.3 As the Indians were exterminated this unnatural condition corrected itself, but as late as 1699, Northampton was forced to consider ways and means for overcoming their great lack of firewood.4
Springfield carpenters and builders planned and built in the English tradition the type of houses they had known in the old country. The home of Anne Hathaway at Shottery which has been made so familiar by modern photography well illustrates the type.
Rather complete details of the house built for the first minister in 1639 are of record.5 It is shown to have been a two and a half-story building with an entrance porch, the second story of the latter being designed for a study. The roof was thatched and the walls were "wattled," that framework being covered with clay with a result not unlike a stucco house in appearance. The rods of the wattling were known as "wales" and the process of covering them with clay was called "daubing the wales."
Such construction was well adapted to the mild winters and damp summers of Old England but here the settlers found that this clay-stucco siding succumbed to the rigors of ice and snow, and for protection they were forced to overlay it with an outside covering of boarding. Continuous winter fires and hot, dry summers constituted a fire hazard that led to the early abandonment of thatched roofs.
Until the coming, about 1645, of Hugh Parsons, the brick maker and chimney specialist, chimneys were built after the English manner, in cob-house fashion of round sticks, daubed with clay.6
The church of 1645 was of similar construction to the parsonage except that the roof was covered with hand riven shingles, eighteen inches in length.7 Seven years later the outside was clapboarded.8
Apparently the "daubed" house persisted for a considerable period for at the hearing in the witchcraft charges against Hugh Parsons, on March 17, 1650/51, John Lombard testified "that one day last summer he set a trowel and a stick which he used to hold to his clay when he daubed, on the ground just without his door; after which two Indians came in and presently went away again. When he also went out to look for his trowel, there was the stick, but the trowel was gone."9 Thus the tools of the trade seem to have been in common use at least as late as 1650.
Diagonally across the street from the Cooley house was the home of widow Margaret Bliss. Across the street to the south was that of Hugh Parsons. Both of these were built about 1643-1645 and both were garrisoned during King Philip's was and so were preserved until the camera could make a permanent record of them, and thus is had a knowledge of the house of the period.
One can surmise that the first Cooley home in America was a substantial and commodious two and a half-story structure of half-timbered, clay-daubed walls. The materials undoubtedly came from his own hillside wood-lot east of the brook. There, with frow and beetle he probably rived his own shingles. Presumably the windows had casement sashes, with tiny diamond panes set in lead.
Benjamin Cooley came into the community at a busy time. In 1645 the first church was built and every inhabitant was obligated to give twenty days work to its furtherance (not twenty-three days as appears in Burt's transcript, Vol. I, page 176). Here is meat for the statistician and the economist. Exclusive of William Pynchon and Pastor Moxon, there must have been forty townsmen who contributed their labor; a total of eight hundred days, or the equivalent of between two and three years of working days for one man. The maximum day for carpenters and similar workers had previous been set at ten hours. Thus, eight thousand hours of labor went into the fashioning of the church. It would seem that either tools were inadequate or labor was inefficient, or that the structure was far more pretentious than the recorded specifications indicate.
Within five years an attic floor was laid in the church, providing a chamber which was used by various individuals for the storage of corn,10 and the records show that on "December 28, 1653, it is granted to Benjamin Cooley to have the use of the meeting house chamber from the innermost side of the pillars to the end of the house and to enjoy it the first Tuesday in November next, in consideration whereof he is to pay seven shillings in good wheat or wampum by the first of November next."11
The earliest of Benjamin Cooley in the Springfield records is dated September 16, 1643, when his daughter, Bethia, was born. The next is February 8, 1643/44 when he was called for jury duty.12 On September 23, 1645, a reference to fences indicates that he was then established on his property and that he was then the most southerly lot occupant, his later neighbors on the south not then having arrived.13 From then on the records are replete with references to his public services, some of which must have been quite arduous. On February 8, 1643/44, when he served as a juryman in a petty case involving a pig, the group reported that "the jury having been held till near midnight hearing the plea and the proofs, desires liberty not to bring in their verdict until the next day, an hour before sun set."12 Here is perhaps something significant and illuminating. Benjamin Cooley was then almost a stranger in town and it was his first experience with a local jury. It was a jury of six, the others being Thomas Cooper, John Dober, Richard Sikes, William Branch and John Harmon. Was it a Cooley insistence on justice that protracted the session until all arguments were heard, despite personal sacrifices? Was here first demonstrated a sense of justice that brought later honors?
In 1667, with Deacon Samuel Chapin and George Colton, he was in charge of the first local "Community Chest" for the distribution of "four or five pounds to help a little against the want of some families."14 He not only had the confidence of the community but he seems to have endeared himself to all classes. The testimony in the Hugh Parsons hearing relates that at the Pynchon store he was "one that was liked." And it was to his neighbor Cooley that the bedeviled and harassed Hugh Parsons went for help when distracted with anxiety over his sick child.
On March 4, 1650/51, there died at Springfield, Joshua Parsons, infant son of Hugh Parsons and his wife, Mary Lewis. The available evidence indicates that the child succumbed to croup or some similar ailment, but the father was accused of witchcraft in connection with the death. He was examined before magistrate Pynchon and the testimony then given sheds such light on the homely affairs of the day that it is here rehearsed, in so far as it relates to Benjamin Cooley.15
Hugh Parsons desired that Goodman Cooley would testify whether he was not affected with the death of his child when he came to speak to him to go to the burial of it. He said he could not speak to him for weeping.
Benjamin Cooley said that when he spoke to him to go to the burial of his child, he cannot remember any sorrow that he showed, for he came to him taking a pipe of tobacco.
Hugh Parsons said that when his child was sick and like to die, he ran barefoot and barelegged and with tears to desire Goody Cooley to come to his wife, because his child was so ill.
One can picture the poor, bewildered maniac, rushing across the street in the middle of the night, barefooted and night-shirted, pounding on Sarah Cooley's door and pleading for help, desperate because his child was choking with croup, while its mother was not a fit person to give it care. Perhaps in his saner moments he recalled the Goodwife's success with her own children.
Goody Cooley testified that this was at the first time the child was taken. There was some speeches used that it might be bewitched, for those that are now bewitched have often times something rise up into their throats that doth stop their breath and it seems by George Colton's testimony that the child was strangely taken.
Benjamin Cooley said upon oath that Mary Parsons told him about a year since that she feared her husband was a witch and that she so far suspected him that she had searched him when he had been asleep in his bed but could not find anything about him unless it be in his secret parts.
Benjamin Cooley and Anthony Dorchester said upon oath that being charged by the constable to watch Mary Parsons this last night, she told them that if her husband had fallen out with anybody, he would say that he would be even with them and then she found that he did bewitch his own child that she might be at liberty to help him in his Indian corn harvest; for he expected help from her and because her time was taken up about her child, he being eager after the world, seemed to be troubled at it and she suspected that he was a means to make an end of his child quickly, that she might be at liberty to help him. Another thing said she made her to suspect her husband to be a witch was that most things he sold to others did not prosper. Another ground of suspicion was because he was so backward to go to the ordinances, either to the lecture or to any other meeting and she had been feign to threaten him that she would complain to the magistrate or else she thought he would not let her go once in the year. Another thing that made her suspect him to be a witch was because of the great noise that she could hear in the house when he was abroad. And she said that last Tuesday, at night, when he was abroad, she heard a noise in the house as if forty horses had been there and after he was come to bed he kept a noise and a calling in his sleep, but she could not understand one word and so he hath done many times formerly and when she asked him what he ailed he would say he had strange dreams and one time he said that the devil and he were fighting and once he had almost overcome him but at last he overcame the devil.
Jonathan Taylor said upon oath, March 21, 1650/51, that when he was at the house of Hugh Parsons this winter he told me that he had been at Mr. Pynchon's to get as much whitleather as to make a cap for a flail, and he was willing, but Simon Beamon would not let him have any. It had been as good, said he, he had. He shall get nothing by it; I will be even with him. Mary Parsons said; husband, why do you threaten the fellow so; it is like he was busy. He answered, if Goodman Cooley or any one else that he had liked had come, he should have had it. But I'll remember him.
Jonathan Taylor on oath said that sometime this winter on a night, a pair of Goodman Matthews pales fell down with a noise and going out presently to see the occasion thereof, could not perceive anything. But going into his house again, it being very dark, Hugh Parsons was at his back, his hand on his door as soon as his was, he bidding him sit down, which he did, Parsons saying, Goodman Cooley's boy nothing but beat my calf. His master will take no order with him, but I will. Anon after, Goody Cooley came and inquired after her boy, whether this deponent had seen him, he telling her no. She replied, I sent him to Goodman Matthews a good while since and cannot tell what is become of him, and desired this deponent to help her look for him, which he did, in all the hay mows and out houses with whooping and hallooing for him but could not find him nor hear of him. At last she gave over looking for him and this deponent enquired of the said Goody Cooley whether Hugh Parsons had not met him and took orders with him and he threatened him for beating his calf. And after they were parted a while, the boy came home, and his dame asked him where he had been. He said, in a great cellar and was carried headlong into it, Hugh Parsons going before him, and fell down with me there, and afterwards he will me into it.
This "boy" was of course not Sarah Cooley's son, but Samuel Terry whom Cooley had taken as an apprentice.
The assessment list of 1646/47 probably closely represents a census of the inhabitants of Springfield in 1645.16 This being of such importance in the story of Longmeadow it is here given in full. No lots had then been assigned to Francis Pepper, John Burrall, James Osborne, Abraham Munden or William Jess. The two latter did not long remain a factor to be considered for they were both drowned in the Connecticut River on October 29, 1645. On the Way to the Upper Wharf (now Cypress street), from west to east, lived Rowland Thomas, John Stebbins and Miles Morgan. On the town street, beginning at the present Cypress street and so south to the Way to the Lower Wharf (York street) were established the following, in this order, from north to south:--
|Thomas Cooper||John Harmon|
|William Pynchon||Roger Pritchard|
|Elizur Holyoke||Nathaniel Bliss|
Sold out to widow Margaret
Sold out to widow Margaret
|John Leonard||Joseph Parsons|
|Thomas Merrick||John Matthews|
|James Bridgman||William Branch|
|Alexander Edwards||George Colton|
|John Clark||Griffith Jones|
|John Dibble||Reice Bedortha|
|Morgan Jones||Benjamin Cooley|
|Rowland Stebbins||Hugh Parsons|
|Samuel Wright||John Lombard|
Here were forty-five inhabitants. Not only was the fifty-family limit being approached but younger sons were nearing maturity. Longing eyes were being cast at the alluvial expanse of the long-meadow, which in spite of all appeals had been sternly held in common for pasturage for nearly a decade. At the long-meadow were physical conditions quite similar to those in the town proper. In the town was a quarter-mile wide strip of hard ground by the river. East of it was a wet marsh extending easterly to the hill or river terrace. Undoubtedly this marsh was the remains of a prehistoric river bed. At the long-meadow was a riverside strip of arable ground though apparently of a lesser width. Between that and the hill to the east was another old river bed, which at that time was a series of bogs called "ponds." A photograph taken in the meadows today, with the river on the west, the marsh bordering the dirt road, and the hill on the east, would well represent Springfield three hundred years ago.
At a town meeting held May 1, 1645, it was ordered that Elizur Holyoke, Thomas Merrick, Francis Ball and Thomas Stebbins should "speedily take a view of the long-meadow and what other grounds they shall think meet for future distributions.17
That they complied with their instructions to act "speedily" is evidenced by the fact that the following week (May 7, 1645) an abortive attempt was made to make a distribution of portions of the long-meadow among the townsmen, but strong opposition developed to details of the plan then suggested and all proposals were vetoed.18
On May 19, 1645, an attempt was made to reconcile warring factions and it was agreed to divide the town into two parts, based on taxable wealth, those of the northern part to participate in a distribution of the Plain-field, north of the town, while those of the southern part were to share the Long-meadow.19 The division came to be made between Robert Ashley and John Leonard, that is, at the present State street. The Book of Possessions gives evidence that no participation was had in the Longmeadow distribution of that date by Robert Ashley or those north of him, while John Leonard and all those south of him did share in it.
That was the birth of Longmeadow--the first distribution of those acres as far as individual propriety is concerned; and the following twenty-five individuals then became the original proprietors, in the order here named, from north to south. It is of interest how many of these grantees were heads of prominent Longmeadow families of after years.
|John Leonard||11 1/2||acres||Bought by Benjamin Cooley|
|Thomas Merrick||17||acres||Bought by Benjamin Cooley|
|George Bridgman||14||acres||Bought by Benjamin Cooley||Alexander Edwards||18||acres|
|John Clark||10 1/4||acres|
|Widow Katherine Jones||6||acres|
|Rowland Stebbins||13 1/2||acres|
|Samuel Wright||15 1/2||acres|
|Roger Pritchard||7 1/2||acres|
|Nathaniel Bliss||19 1/2||acres|
|Margaret Bliss||19 1/2||acres|
|Griffith Jones||6 1/2||acres||Bought by Benjamin Cooley|
|Reice Bedortha||5||acres||Bought by Benjamin Cooley|
As in the town, south of John Lombard's lot was a lot granted to William Pynchon on account of his mill, so at the long-meadow a lot was granted to Pynchon south of the Lombard grant. This came to be known as the "Mill lot" though there was no mill there. This grant seems to have been of fifty-two acres, making a total of 324 3/4 acres; just a fraction over one half a square mile, or about one third of the total area of the meadows. The section granted came to be known as the "Upper Field" and as grants were later made in the southerly section, that was called the "Lower Field."
One provision of the first attempts to allot the planting grounds of the long-meadow is helpful in determining the original location of the proprietors there. In the "disannuled" proposal of May 7, 1645, it was designed that the "allotments in the long meadow shall lie in this order. Mr. Pynchon's Mill Lot (i.e., the "dividend" accruing to the mill lot south of John Lombard's lot in the town plot) shall be laid out about the knapp of pines by the river side and so all other allotments are to lie in order upward as the house lots lie in order."20
In some cases the location of dividends was decided by lot--a drawing of numbers. Otherwise allotments were invariably made in the order of the location of the grantees on the town plot. So universal was this custom that in the absence of other specification one may feel confident that this part of the proposal of May 7, 1645, was included in the final agreement of May 19. Many later transactions show conclusively that this is the order in which the long-meadow grants were made.
The following entries from the Book of Possessions being the key-pieces necessary for locating the earliest Longmeadow grants, they are here given verbatim:
John Leonard is possessed of a planting lot in the Longmeadow eleven acres and half, more or less, in length 60 rods, lying on the outside of the Longmeadow fence, homeward.
This eleven acres and one half is by John Leonard sold and fully passed away to Benjamin Cooley this 13th January, 1657/58.
Benjamin Cooley is possessed by purchase from John Leonard of eleven acres and half of land in the Longmeadow lying on the outside of the fence northward. Breadth, 32 rods, length from the Great River eastward 60 rods, bounded south by Thomas Merrick.
Thomas Merrick is possessed of a planting lot in the Longmeadow being 17 acres more or less, extending from the Great River eastward to the backer fence, bounded by John Leonard north, by James Bridgman south.
This 17 acres is by Thomas Merrick sold and fully passed away to Benjamin Cooley this 2d day of February, 1658/59.
Benjamin Cooley is possessed by purchase from Thomas Merrick of seventeen acres more or less extending in length from the Great River eastward to the backer fence, bounded by the eleven acres above said which Benjamin Cooley is possessed of by purchase from John Leonard.
Also of fourteen acres next adjoining it on the south by purchase from Samuel Marshfield.
Thomas Merrick's deed in conformation of a verbal sale made "many years since" is dated September 27, 1679 and describes the tract as being "a little below Ensigne Cooley's house and bounded on the north by the land which Ensigne Cooley is possessed of by purchase from John Leonard and on the south by land which was Samuel Marshfield's.
James Bridgman is possessed of a lot of planting ground in the Longmeadow, fourteen acres more or less extending in length from the Great River to the back fence east, bounded north by Thomas Merrick, south by Joseph Parsons.
This fourteen acres is passed away to Samuel Marshfield and by him passed away to Benjamin Cooley this 2d February, 1658/59.
[May 17, 1656] There was granted to Benjamin Cooley ten acres of land adjoining unto the parcel of land formerly granted to John Leonard, adjoining to the hither end of said meadows, provided the said Benjamin do allow a cart way of four rod broad.
Benjamin Cooley is possessed by the grant of the plantation of ten acres of land more or less lying on this side of the Longmeadow adjoining to the land which Benjamin Cooley hath bought of John Leonard, which lies on the south side of this ten acres and it is bounded by John Lombard on the north of it. Length from the Great River, eastward to the brow of the hill, there being a sufficient highway through it.
[September 10, 1656] There is granted to John Lombard the remainder of the land betwixt great hill and Benjamin Cooley's his lot above upperside, provided he be no detriment to the highway.
John Lombard is possessed of a parcel of land at the hither end of the Longmeadow, about four or five acres, bounded by Benjamin Cooley south, north and west by the highway, east by the hill and the way, bringing it almost to a sharp point on the north. The grant is upon condition it prove no detriment to the highway so that the highway is reserved forever to be sufficient what ever the river may eat out.
This lot of four or five acres is fully passed away by David Lombard to Obadiah Cooley.
Obadiah Cooley is by way of exchange with David Lombard, land for land, possessed of about four or five acres of land at the higher end of Longmeadow, bounded south by land that was Benjamin Cooley's, west and north by the highway and east by the hill, the highway to be allowed whatever the river may eat away.
Actual measurements determine that the Marshfield-Bridgman tract was well south of Cooley brook and that Benjamin Cooley acquired all of the meadow by the river, from far below the brook up to the last triangular five acre bit, later secured by his son Obadiah.
1Burt, Vol. I, page 173. Return
2Hampden County Registry of Deeds, Liber A-B, folio 112. Return
3Burt, Vol. I, page 162. Return
4History of Hadley, page 99. Return
5Burt, Vol. I, page 160. The transcription is garbled. "Shade" is "study" in the original. Return
6Burt, Vol. I, page 160. Return
7Burt, Vol. I, page 176. Return
8Burt, Vol. I, page 222. Return
9Original manuscript, New York Public Library. Return
10Burt, Vol. I, page 200. Return
11Burt, Vol. I, page 227. Return
12William Pynchon's Court Record Book. Return
13Burt, Vol. I, page 181. Return
14Burt, Vol. I, page 359. Return
15Original manuscript, New York Public Library. Return
16Burt, Vol. I, page 190. Return
17Burt, Vol. I, page 178. Return
18Burt, Vol. I, page 179. Return
19Burt, Vol. I, page 180. Return
20Burt, Vol. I, page 179. Return
SOURCE: The Cooley Genealogy, by M. E. Cooley, pp. 1199; The Tuttle Publishing Company, Inc., Rutland, Vermont, 1941. Pages 75-89
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