Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Hebron Historical Society

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While there are now 169 Connecticut municipalities, Hebron is actually one of the oldest. It became our state’s 41st town, officially incorporated by the State of Connecticut on May 26, 1708. Interestingly, Hebron was also only the second town to be incorporated with a biblical name, the first being Lebanon in 1700.

Here are the symbols used by both Attawanhood and Uncas in their legal documents.

Hebron’s History: The Beginning

It’s finally here – the year 2008, and the beginning of many celebrations of Hebron’s 300th anniversary of incorporation. While there are now 169 Connecticut municipalities, Hebron is actually one of the oldest. It became our state’s 41st town, officially incorporated by the State of Connecticut on May 26, 1708. Interestingly, Hebron was also only the second town to be incorporated with a biblical name, the first being Lebanon in 1700.

Hebron’s origins are like many in eastern Connecticut – the result of peaceful land transactions between the Native Americans and the new English settlers. But that peaceful transfer had a turbulent – and often confusing – history.

It is the primary job of history to solve mysteries. In the case of Hebron, the mystery revolves around the direct relationship of Attawanhood (also known as Joshua), a Sachem of the Mohegan tribe, and son of well-known Mohegan chief Uncas, the Saybrook Legatees, and the original founders of Hebron.

The Mohegan website provides a brief summary of Attawanhood’s father, Chief Uncas. “Uncas, son of Owaneco, was a Pequot chief. His wife was the daughter of Sassacus, Sachem of the Pequots. "Uncas was exceedingly restless and ambitious. Five times, the Indians said, he rebelled against his superior, and each time was expelled from his possessions, and his followers subjected to the sway of the conqueror.” (History of Norwich, Connecticut: From its possesion by the Indians to the year 1866, by Frances Manwaring Caulkins)

“Uncas then removed to the interior and placed himself at the head of the Mohegan clans who occupied lands east of the Connecticut river, and west of the great Pequot River now known as the Thames. While Sassacus traded with the Dutch, Uncas developed alliances with the English. War eventually broke out between the English and the Pequot after the murder of John Oldham [from Wethersfield] in 1636 and the punitive expedition by John Endicott. In May of 1637, Uncas with seventy Mohegan warriors joined ninety Englishmen under the command of Capt. John Mason in the famous expedition against the Pequots, sailing down the Connecticut river to Saybrook, then to Narragansett Bay and attacking the Pequots from the eastward. In a series of bloody battles, Uncas and Mason brought the power of the great Pequot nation to an end.”

There is no doubt that Uncas’ decision to support Mason and the new settlers resulted in the ultimate survival of the Mohegan tribe, while the Pequots were virtually wiped out only years after taking on the colonists. It also signaled the start of the permanent settlement of Connecticut as an English colony, usually attributed to Thomas Hooker. The famous Puritan minister, leading a group of 100 settlers, arrived in the Hartford area in 1636, and joined forces with the two existing settlements, Windsor (established in late1633) and Wethersfield (established in 1634.) With Hooker’s arrival, the three settlements set up a “collective government” and soon adopted their “Fundamental Orders” – clearly a constitutional document deemed the first of its kind for guaranteeing individual rights.

It’s not as though peace with the Native American tribes was a given in the mid-17th century; indeed, some tribes began fighting among themselves, and in 1643, Uncas and his Mohegans faced the Narragansetts in battle, with Uncas easily winning. It was about this time that Uncas and his sons, Owaneco and Attawanhood, began a series of land transfers and grants to English settlers who had helped them throughout the tumultuous period.

In 1659, Uncas and his sons, according to the deed filed in Norwich on August 20, 1663, “bargained, sold and passed over, and doe by these presents, bargain, sell and pass over unto the Towne and Inhabitants of Norwich, nine miles square of lands…with all ponds, rivers, woods, quarries, mines with all Royalties, privileges and appurtenances thereunto belonging to them the sayd Inhabitants of Norwich, their heirs and successors forever…” It’s highly doubtful that the Mohegans wrote such language, the basis of which can be found in English law, and according to Forrest Morgan’s 1904 edition of Connecticut as a Colony and as a State, Uncas sold this land in order to fund his ongoing conflict with the Narragansetts.

In 1675, King Philip’s War broke out, causing great damage and loss of life throughout New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It has been described repeatedly as the “bloodiest and most costly war in colonial history,” and should not be confused with the “French and Indian War” of 1754-1763.

Towns throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut and even Rhode Island were being established at a rapid rate, and Native Americans were increasingly concerned about encroachment on their territories. Prior to King Philip’s War (named after the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, Metacomet, known as “King Philip” by the colonists), interactions were often tense, but generally peaceful. But the colonists of what is now southern and eastern New England were soon viewed by some tribes as a threatening presence, especially as their small population grew at a rapid rate over time and the number of settlements increased almost monthly. Metacomet decided to take on the settler’s encroachment challenge, but again with disastrous results.

While most of the fighting occurred in Massachusetts, Suffield, CT was also attacked, and Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, was abandoned by colonists and burned to the ground by the Wampanoags, who by that time been joined by other, smaller Native American tribes. Uncas was now too old to fight in King Philip’s War, but, according to Mohegan history, “Owaneco, with several hundred Mohegans, rendered valuable assistance to the colonists in their fight against the unfriendly Indians. Attawanhood (Joshua), another son, with a band of thirty Indians scoured the woods in the route of the retreating foe, and took active part in the conflict.”

On February 29, 1676, shortly after the “Great Swamp Fight” of December 15, 1675 (in which the combined forces of colonists and Mohegans successfully destroyed a Narragansett fort in Kingston, Rhode Island) and shortly before his death in May of that same year, Attawanhood issued his “Last Will and Testament.” Because the entire conflict had begun over land rights, it is significant to note that this son of Uncas legally granted a significant amount of land to the colonists.

The document begins “I Joshua Sachim Son of Uncau Sachim Living nigh Eightmile Island on the River of Connecticut and within Bounds of Lyme being Sick of Body but of good and perfect memory and not knowing how soon I may depart this Life…” There follows an extremely complicated and confusing description of the lands being given over to a group of men later referred to as the “Saybrook Legatees.” Key names listed in Attawanhood’s will – in terms of Hebron’s ultimate future – were John Talcott, John Pratt, John Chapman, Abraham Post, and Edward Shipman. In the second paragraph of his will, Attawanhood specifically stated: “To Francis Busnell Son & Edward Shipman Son and Mr. John Westall to Every and each of them Three thousand acres…””

In May 1684, Connecticut Governor Robert Treat “conceded that neither he nor [John] Talcott could positively Assert or determine anything concerning the true bounds of said country.” Part of the problem, then and now, was the use of Native American boundary descriptions that consisted of “strange names of places unknown to us.” Yet despite some confusion over the exact boundaries of the land grants, the area now known as “Hebron” was considered by all to be part of the lands granted in Attawanhood’s will.

One of the state’s most famous historians, Benjamin Trumbull, was born in Hebron in 1735 and graduated from Yale University in 1759 with a degree in theology. Trumbull published the first volume of his Complete History of Connecticut in 1797. His recount of Hebron’s settlement provides further insight into our town’s origins:

“Upon the petition of John Pratt, Robert Chapman, John Clark, and Stephen Post, [the governor and council] appointed a committee in behalf of the legatees of Joshua Uncas [i.e., Attawanhood], the assembly granted a township which they named Hebron. The settlement of the town began in June, 1704. The first people who made settlements in the town were William Shipman, Timothy Phelps, Samuel Filer, Caleb Jones, Stephen Post, Jacob Root, Samuel Curtis, Edward Sawyer, Joseph Youngs, and Benoni Trumbull. They were from Windsor, Saybrook, Long-Island, and Northampton. The settlement, at first, went on but slowly; partly, by reason of opposition made by Mason and the Mohegans, and partly, by reason of the extensive tracts claimed by proprietors, who made no settlements. Several acts of the assembly were made, and committees appointed to encourage and assist the planters. By these means they so increased in numbers and wealth that in about six or seven years they were enabled to erect a meeting-house and settle a minister among them.”

In a footnote, Trumbull also wrote that “By the last will of said [Joshua] Uncas, all the lands in Hebron were bequeathed to Thomas Buckingham, Esq. William Shipman and others, called the Saybrook legatees.”

We finally have a direct link between Attawanhood, the Saybrook Legatees, and Hebron’s original founders. Edward Shipman, a veteran of King Philip’s War, must have been in Attawanhood’s close circle, due to the 3000 acres bequeathed to him “in sight of Hartford,” and being one of the larger parcels granted in Attawanhood’s will to individual colonists. Edward Shipman died on September 15, 1697.

That leads us to William, son of Edward and his first wife, Elizabeth Comstock. William was born on June 6, 1656 or 1657, in Saybrook and married Alice Hand on November 26, 1690. There can be no doubt that William Shipman was one of Hebron’s original founders, especially since his name is incorporated into the legend of Prophet’s Rock and he is referenced by Benjamin Trumbull, a dedicated historian born just ten years after Shipman passed away who surely be familiar with his town’s earliest settlers. It is also believed that Shipman was Hebron’s first “minister,” as described in Trumbull’s History of Connecticut.

William and Mary’s daughter, also named Mary, is believed to be the first white girl born in Hebron, either in 1706 or 1707.

William Shipman, one of our founding fathers as a direct result of the relationship between his father and Attawanhood, died in Hebron on September 9, 1725 at the age of 67.