Newspaper Accounts Recreate Life in 18th Century Hebron
Your Douglas Library card allows you access to some of the greatest Connecticut research in the world. All you have to do is go to www.iconn.org, plug in your library card number, and a wealth of information is at your fingertips.
One of the many sources available within the ICONN system is historic editions of the Hartford Courant, from 1764-1922. From the humorous to the serious, we can learn a great deal about our town’s first century of existence, especially during the important Revolutionary War era.
For example, the passing of one of Hebron’s earliest residents, Thomas Tarbox, was painfully reported in the December 29, 1766 edition. “[He] went a little distance from his House with a Team, to get a Sled Load of Wood; and he tarrying longer than was expected, one of his Children was sent after him, who found it’s Father dead, with one of the Runners of the Sled lying across his Throat, and the Team standing still. – He has left a Widow and Five Children.” Probate notices of other famous residents filled the Courant on a regular basis, although rarely with such details on the death!
Horses were frequently “stolen,” especially as the state and the nation edged towards war with England. On November 8, 1775, Ebenezer Horton reported his sorrel horse with “white spot between his hind legs, [which] trots and paces well” had either strayed or had been stolen. Horton offered a “handsome reward and reasonable charges” for return of the horse. On July 4, 1776, James Bloss advertised that he would pay a reward of $4 and charges to have his sorrel mare, described as “standing 14 hands high and white spotted” returned to him. Abner Mack, on August 5, 1783, told readers: “Leave word at landlord Fuller’s tavern in Hebron or give information in any other way, that the owner may have her again… [and will pay a] handsome reward and all necessary charges.”
The advertisements became a little more pointed as time went on. Elijah Weston reported his horse strayed or stolen September 22, 1778. “Whoever will take up said horse, and thief, if stolen and return them to the subscriber, shall have twelve dollars reward, and for the horse only, six dollars and necessary charges paid.”
Fuller’s Tavern obviously became a central point for horse returns, as noted by another Hebron resident on October 6, 1779: “Stolen out of the stable of Mr. Roger Fuller, innholder in Hebron, the night of the 6th instant, a Sorrel Colour’d Horse, 6 years old, 14 hands high, white in the face, paces and tracts, shod before; his hoofs something defective; in good health, and a horse of good Spirits. Whoever will secure said horse, (and thief if possible) and send them or intelligence where they may be found, to said Fuller shall be well rewarded.”
Then again, some horses were actually found, as was duly noted in the newspaper. John Ellis, one such finder, and noted in his January 16, 1783 ad, “The owner is desired to pay charges and take her away.”
The Courant also frequently notified people if they had letters sitting in the Hartford Post Office, awaiting pickup. Why is this important? For genealogists, it helps date some of the town’s 18th century inhabitants and their residency in town. For example, Doctor Abner Barker and David Carver are listed in the July 28, 1778 edition, and on March 27, 1781, Eldrack Carver, Solomon Goodrich, Jedediah Jones, and Alexander Mack learned “You’ve Got Mail!”
We also learn specifics about owners and merchandise in Hebron’s earliest stores. On November 17, 1778, Silvester Gilbert advertised that he would be selling the following items for “cash or country produce:” “New England Rum (“by the barrel or less quantity”), sugar, molasses, tea, coffee, mace, ginger, alum, indigo, imported salt, in addition to dry goods such as Irish Linens, sewing sticks, thick cloths, trimmings, and etc.”
On Jan 17, 1779, it was Samuel Blackman’s duty to warn readers about his wife Mehitabel, who was “going about from place to place” because of her “disordered mind.” As of that date, he assured readers he was no longer responsible for any bills she ran up, nor payment to anyone who harbored her or trusted her on his account. He published the notice twice more in the coming months.
Obviously, Hebron had its share of “bad boys,” at least in the eyes of the state. On August 19, 1783, the following news broke about one of Hebron’s most well-established families. “Agreeable to resolve of Assembly, the estate of Asa Hutchinson, confiscated for uttering counterfeit money, &c. consisting of about 70 acres of land, considerable part good mowing, lying near Capt. Benjamin Buell, in Hebron, where the Venue will be held on Monday the first of September next, exactly at two o’clock in the afternoon, it is incumbered with the right of dowry of a widow near 80 years of age. Any one inclined to purchase, may have it giving good security for one year on interest, or for any obligations against the State for hard money which are now due, except so such as to pay some debts due from the estate of the late Moses Hutchinson, to whom the estate belonged, amounting perhaps to 20 or 30 pounds, which must be paid to the satisfaction of the creditors.”
Published November 30, 1784, the Courant noted a particularly sad event worthy of any great tabloid. “The following melancholy accident happened at Hebron on the night of the 18th instant. Two young men, about 20 years of age, one a son of Capt. Elisha Beach, and the other a son of Mr. Thomas Summers, had erected a hut, in the woods, with poles, supported with stakes, thatched with straw and covered with a large quantity of dirt and turf, for the purpose of sheltering themselves from the weather, while they watched the burning of a coal-kiln. Here they slept securely till the last night in which they expected the kiln would require their attendance; when a fall of rain, accompanied with considerable wind, added so much to the weight of the roof, that it fell and buried the two hapless young men in its ruins. Their bodies were taken out next morning, and by the appearances on them, it is supposed they were not crushed to death instantly, but struggled for some time, and were rather suffocated. Their faithful dog lay by the pile and forbid the approach of any person. On Saturday the 20th the deceased were both interred in one grave, and a Sermon delivered from these words in the first of Job; “And the building fell upon the young Men and they are dead.” [Job 1:19]
July 4, 1785: “Whereas Isaac Phelps, of Hebron, on the 4th inst. was taken by me the subscriber upon an execution against him for debt, and being in the custody on the way to Hartford goal on the 5th instant made his escape from me – He is about five feet ten inches high, thick sett, and very talkative. Whoever will take up said Phelps and secure him, that he may be committed to prison on said executive, shall have Four Dollars reward, per me. John Gilbert, Deputy Sheriff published July 6, 1785.” So now we know that Isaac Phelps had a big mouth!
The story of Reverend Samuel Peters also did not escape the Courant’s notice, especially when it came time to lease out his lands following his flight to England, although he was not the only Hebronian to have his lands seized by the state for Tory inclinations.
“Public notice is hereby given, that sundry farms and pieces of land lying in the town of Hebron and county of Hartford, owned by Messrs. Barlow Trecothick and John Thomlinson, Jun[ior] of the kingdom of Great Britain, and conveyed to them by James Apthorp by deed bearing [the] date August 15, 1776 particularly describing the same and on record in said town. Also, the farm and all the lands in said town owned and lately occupied by the Reverend Samuel Peters late of said town and now of the kingdom aforesaid, will be leased to the highest bidders for terms no exceeding three years, pursuant to a late statute of this state, concerning the real estates of aliens &tc. Said business will be attended at the house of Samuel Gilbert, Esq; in said Hebron, on the first day of June next at 2 o’clock afternoon, when further particulars will be given, and ample leases executed by Oliver Ellsworth, State Attorney. Hartford, May 8, 1778.”
Ellsworth went on to become an important figure in American politics, being one of the writers of the Declaration of Independence, and, nominated by George Washington, eventually became the third Chief Justice of the United States.
A cursory examination of the Courant from 1776 to 1783 also reveals a number of runaway slave advertisements. Interestingly, these all claim the theft of clothing by the slave. One in particular involved a Hebron slave owned by the Post family, and noted in the December 29, 1783 edition:
“Run-away from the Subscriber, a Negro servant named ENOCH, had on when he went away from, a felt Hat; blue great Coat, with a brown velvet cape, buttons under the arms and a flappert with button-holes on the shoulders; a brown Boat, with short folds; a striped linen double breasted Jacket, with a belt; old white cloath Breeches; mixed coloured Stockings; silver Shoe and Knee Buckles. He is about five feet high, thick sett, pretty black, a great whistler, about 23 years old, was born in Norwich. Whoever will take up said Negro and return him to me the Subscriber in Hebron (in Connecticut) or secure in any goal in the State and give information to me shall have TEN DOLLARS REWARD and all charges paid by me. Jordan Post, Junior. N. B. All masters of vessels are forbid carrying off, or other persons harbouring said Negro, on penalty of the law.”
One cannot help but note the similarity of the wording in Enoch’s disappearance with the wording of Elijah Graves’ complaint against Cesar Peters. It appears that because of these prior runaway slave stories, we have greater insight on how the Hebron community was able to so quickly come up with the ruse of Cesar’s “stolen clothes” and rescue him and his family in record time.