Ashfield — Early Settlement

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      The precise year when the first permanent settlement was made in the town is not known. It is believed that it was made in 1743, and a grist-mill is said to have been erected the same year, and stood about one hundred rods northeast of the present Episcopal Church.
      A few notes from the "Proprietors' Records" will best indicate the date of the first settlement, as well as show the measures taken by the proprietors to induce settlement and make it permanent.
      May 28, 1741.—"Voted that William Curtis be employed in mending The Way to said Township, the Labour done on said way by him not to Exceed ten pounds."
      "Voted that One Hunded & twenty pounds he assessed on ye Proprietors, as an Incouragement to him or them yt shall build a saw-mill in some Convenient place & Convenient to ye Lots allready Laid out; Provided, The Owner or Owners of said mill saw for the Proprietrs for the first seven years For twenty shillings per Thousand; Provided, also, that ye said miller or milleres, viz't, Owner or Owners, do keep said mill in ordr for buisness for seven years, and as he or they shall have water & if said Proprietors do bring Logs, that he or they saw them as aforesd. Past in ye affirmative."
      May, 1742.—"Voted that a good Whipsaw be procured at the Charge of the Proprietors, and that Samuel White Job Porter have said saw delivered to them for sawing bords for the Propietors, Provided they saw sd fords for said proprs For four pounds old tenor per Thousand, and when said proprietrs shall Require To Return said saw to them, or their Order, In good Order and sound. Provided, also, that, viz't, sd White and Porter Give Bond for Returning sd saw in good order and sound & soon as above said."
      The vote to encourage a saw-mill, etc. was rescinded September 1742.
      Same date 18d. per pound was granted to Richard Elis "for a good Iron Crank & grudgeon for a saw-mill."
      June 2, 1733.—"Voted that they will proceed this Present year to build a Corn-Mill in said Huntstown, on the Pond Brook, so Calld, when a Comttee for that purpose shall Think Proper."
      To the person that would engage in this enterprise, 100 acres of land adjoining the mill were voted, and a sum of money not exceeding £100, old tenor, together With the use of the brook for "ponding."
      A committee was appointed at the same meeting "to take Care that no White. pine timber be Cutt and Convey'd out of the Town, and to Prosecute all such offenders."
      April 12, 1753.—One hundred acres of land and the corn-mill on the mill-brook were voted to John Blackmer upon conditions, and a committee was appointed to lay out the land and take security.
      Sixteen acres of land lying near or at the end of Richard Allis' lot, together with the right of the stream called Bear River at that point, were appropriated to Nathaniel and William Church upon condition that they would erect and set up a saw-mill there, etc.
      May 29, 1754.—Voted the mill and appurtenances (together with the land) first built, one-half to Chileab Smith, his heirs and assigns forever; one-quarter to Eliphalet Cary, of Bridgewater, his heirs and assigns forever; and one-quarter to David Alden, Jr., and Barnabas Alden, both of Stafford, their heirs and assigns forever. Also, the 16-acre lot near Bear River (above referred to), one-half to Chileab Smith, his heirs and assigns forever one-quarter to Daniel Alden; and one-quarter to Eliphalet Carey.
      The names of the original proprietors in 1739 were John Hunt, Thomas White, Nathaniel Wales, Benj. Ludden, Gideon Turrel, Richard Foxon, William Crane, Ebenezer Hunt, Rev. Joseph Belcher, Jonathan Webb, Seth Chapen, John Phillips, John Herrick, Zechariah Briggs, Ebenezer Hunt, Job Otis, Jonathan Dawse, Hebr. Prat, Richard Davenport, Ezra Whitman, Solomon Leonard, James Meares, Joseph Good, Thomas Bolter, Ephraim Emerson, Benja. Beal, Barnabas Daily, John Miller, Josiah Owen, Samuel Thayer, Ephraim Copeland, James Hayward, Samuel Gay, Ebenezer Staples, Samuel Staples, John King, Samuel Niles, Jr., James Mears, Moses Penniman, Joshua Phillips, Wm. Linfield, Ebenezer Owen, Samuel Darby, Jonathan Webb, John Bass, _____ Keith, J. French, Atmos Stutson, Joseph Drake, Thomas Wells, Samuel Andrews, John White, Benj. Stuart, Joseph Veckery, Joseph Lobdle, Joseph Milton, and John Bartlet.
      Two lots were set off for the ministry and one for a school lot.
      The first family to locate permanently in the town was that of Richard Ellis, a native of Dublin, Ireland. He probably made his settlement between the years 1742 and 1744. Tradition has handed down the following account of him: Mr. Ellis was the only son of a widow. A wealthy planter, living in Virginia, a native of Ireland, and having no children, made application to a friend in Dublin to send him over a youth of promise, to be adopted into his family and brought up under this care and patronage. Young Ellis was selected, and started for this country. On his embarkation his passage was paid and an agreement made with the captain of the ship to land him safely on the coast of Virginia. But he proved faithless to his trust, brought the youth to Boston, and there sold him for his passage-money. After serving the time thus unjustly extorted from him, he removed from Boston, and at length settled in Easton, where he married. From Easton he came to Ashfield, then called Huntstown.
      The first tree was felled by his hands on White Brook, a small stream which ran a little to the east of the present residence of Samuel A. Hall. He built for his family the first habitation in the northeast section of the town, --a log cabin, partly under-ground, on the side of the hill, a few rods east of where L. D. Lanfair now resides, near the ancient burying-ground. He died Oct. 7, 1797, aged ninety-three.
      A further account of Mr. Ellis is given by Mr. Aaron Smith, of Stockton, N. Y., one of his descendants. From this it appears that he was born in Ireland, Aug. 16, 1704, and was thirteen years of age when he landed in this country. He had a family of eight children, among whom were John, Reuben, Jane, Hannah, and Remember. Jane married a Fulton, Hannah married a Rockwood. They settled in Woodstock, Vt. John lived in Ashfield and had four children,—Dimick, John, Hannah, and Sylva. Reuben had a son—David—who formerly- lived where John H. Mann now resides. The family intermarried with the Smith, Belding, and Phillips families.
      The next pioneer to plant himself in the town was Thomas Phillips, of Easton, whose sister Ellis had married. He built a log house about one-half a mile to the north of the dwelling of his only fellow-townsman.
      Soon a third family was added, that of Chileab Smith, from that part of Hadley known now as South Hadley. He was born May 8, 1708, and died in Ashfield, Aug. 19, 1800, in his ninety-third year, leaving eight children, forty-six grandchildren, and ninety-one great-grandchildren. A large number of his descendants became ministers. He was a brother of James Smith, one of the first settlers of Granby, in Hampshire County, and a great-grandson of Rev. Henry Smith, of Northfield. Mr. Smith settled upon the spot which the house of his son Chileab afterward occupied. This son was about eight years old when his father came to the town, and lived until 1843, reaching the advanced age of one hundred years and eight months. This would fix the date of his father's settlement at about the year 1750. The father was the most prominent man in the town for the first thirty years after its settlement; was a member of many committees; held important offices under the proprietors and the town, and operated one of the first saw- and grist-mills in the settlement, if not the first.
      Among the earliest accessions to the settlement after these three families were Deacon Ebenezer Belding, from Hatfield, and Samuel Belding, from Deerfield, with their families. Other settlers came in from time to time from different quarters. A number of families joined them from the southern part of Connecticut, so that by the year 1754 the settlement numbered from ten to fifteen families and nearly 100 persons.
      The year 1754 was memorable for the breaking out of fresh hostilities between the French and English. This war again let loose the savages upon the defenseless frontier settlements of the north. During the month of June, of this year, a party of men at work near Rice's Fort, in the upper part of Charlemont, was attacked by a body of Indians, two of their number slain, and two taken prisoners. The tidings of the affair, quickly reaching the settlement in Huntstown, occasioned great alarm. Being few in numbers, and with small means of defense, they had no other alternative than to seek safety within the confines of the older settlements. Accordingly, on the same afternoon in, which they received the news from Charlemont, they abandoned their houses, improvements, and stores, except such as could be transported on horseback, and set out for the older towns. A middle-aged woman, the wife of Chileab Smith, traveled ten miles on foot before they encamped for the night. What is now Conway was then a part of Deerfield, a howling wilderness, without an inhabitant or a shelter to protect the refugees. Their first halt was at Bloody Brook, where they spent the night. Early the next morning the few inhabitants of the place abandoned their dwellings and joined them, finally reaching with them places of security.*
      The settlers were absent between two and three years. It is likely that individuals of them may have returned in the meantime on a tour of inspection, but they did not bring back their families until the time specified. After the return of the refugees to their homes in Huntstown, the war still continuing, their first object was to erect a fort for their common defense. This was accomplished on the ground occupied by Mr. Smith, and principally at his own expense. The area inclosed by the fort was a piece of ground containing 81 square rods. It was constructed of upright logs of sufficient thickness to be bullet-proof, set three feet into the earth, and rising twelve feet above. The inclosure had but one gate, opening to the south, which was always shut and strongly barred during the night. Within the fort stood the dwelling of Mr. Smith, which served as barracks, where the settlers felt secure from attack during the night. Upon its roof was constructed of logs a tower of sufficient size to contain six men with their arms. Port-holes were so arranged in its sides as to afford its inmates a fair aim at their assailants without, while secure from their balls within.
      After remaining in this state about a year, laboring by day and keeping watch by night, they solicited and obtained from the authorities of the colony- a squad of nine soldiers, under Sergt. Allen, who was under the general command of Col. Israel Williams. These continued with them, protecting them by day while at their labors, and watching over them by night, for nearly two years, and until the close of the war.
      Before the close of hostilities another fort, six rods square, was built by the settlers, in the same manner as the first, about two hundred rods south, on land now owned by Emory Church & Sun. It was used for the same purposes as the other.
      No Indians were discovered near the settlement, except in one instance, during this period. As a daughter of Mr. Smith was walking out one evening as the sun was setting, she saw an Indian within about twenty rods of the fort surveying it very attentively. In great haste and terror she returned to the fort and cried, The Indians are upon us!" The soldiers immediately rallied and commenced pursuit, but, darkness soon coming on, they returned without discovering the enemy. The next day they discovered the trail of a small scouting-party, which had probably been sent to reconnoitre the settlement, but, finding it well garrisoned, did not attempt to molest it.

*Among the refugees were Chileab Smith and his family. He buried an iron bar and a froe, which he could never afterwards find. After his death they were found, in 1802, by one of his grandsons, aboutt twelve rods from where he supposed he buried them.

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