by J. A. Buxton
Chapter IV - Resettlement of Brookfield
After the desertion of the town in 1676, it lay empty for ten years. The year 1686 is the earliest date named in the records that showed that the resettlement of Brookfield had actually begun. The first comers were mostly young men looking for a place to start in life; or those who had been soldiers in King Philip’s War, and who had seen the lands from their garrisons and on various marches.
The settlers came largely from Marlborough, Essex County, Suffield, Springfield, and Hadley. Thus, coming from different parts of the country, the second settlers lacked the social ties and accord of purpose, which characterized the Ipswich colony. This lack of social unity proved a source of weakness for many years, and it greatly hindered the growth of the town.
In 1688, Fort Gilbert was built at what is now the intersection of North Main and Maple Streets. The fort was surrounded by a stockade of considerable size. A marker on shows where Fort Gilbert once was located.
There were many other forts or garrisons around that region. At the southwest end of Lake Wickaboag was situated Marks’ Garrison. Mrs. Marks, one day being left alone at the garrison, saw hostile Indians nearby. She put on her husband’s wig, hat, great coat and, taking his gun, marched back and forth on the top of the fortification, crying aloud at intervals like a vigilant sentinel, “All’s well! All’s well!” The Indians, believing that they couldn’t take the fort by surprise, retreated without doing any harm.
All the garrisons and forts in that area were merely bullet-proof houses with heavy wooden frames, linings of logs or planks, heavy plank doors and window shutters that could be closed from within, and occasionally a few bricks here and there.
In the summer of 1693, a band of about forty Indians hid in ambush for about a week and surprised the families of Woolcott, Mason, and Lawrence. In the ensuing battle, Thomas Lawrence, Joseph Mason, and his son, and the family of Joseph Woolcott were killed. Carried away by the Indians were young Daniel Lawrence and the wife and infant of Joseph Mason.
A detachment from Fort Gilbert pursued the Indians, killing four and chasing the rest away. Mrs. Mason and Daniel Lawrence were rescued, but the infant had been killed the first night out.
On October 13, 1708, John Woolcott, twelve or fourteen years of age, was riding in search of cows. Attacking Indians killed his horse and took him captive. Men from six different garrisons, hearing of the capture, set out after them but were waylaid by more Indians. Knowing an Indian couldn’t look them in the face and take right aim, all except one stood their ground; Abijah Bartlet fled and was killed.
The white men were saved by the following stratagem. A dog, hearing the shots, came to the men. To intimidate the Indians, one of the men called out, “Captain Williams is coming to our assistance, for here is his dog.” The Indians, seeing the dog and knowing Williams was a famous warrior fled.
John Woolcott was carried to Canada where he remained six or seven years. He lost his native language and was unwilling for a while to return to his native country. He did return later to Brookfield, married, and settled there.
The third major incident of that time occurred on July 22, 1710, when six men were surprised and killed while mowing hay on the meadows opposite the present town of Brookfield. The six men were the following: Ebenezer Hayward, John Grosvenor, John White, Joseph Kellogg, Stephen Jennings, and Benjamin Jennings. All but John White were unmarried. After killing five of them, the Indians took John White captive. When he saw some of the town people pass close by, he ran toward them but was killed.
That evening, settlers got the bodies, placed them in a boat, and rowed the five miles down the Quaboag River to Lake Wickaboag. On a hill overlooking the lake, the bodies were buried in what is now the Old Burying Ground at the end of Cottage Street. Since that beginning, the graves of notable men in our country and state—a Consul to the Netherlands, state senators, judges, ministers, doctors, and many heroic women –have been placed beside and around the original five graves.
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The trend during and after the resettlement of 1686 was to settle in “the plain.” This was west and at the foot of Foster Hill and extended to the south and east end of Lake Wickaboag.
In 1667, the first grist mill was built on the east branch of Sucker Brook by John Pynchon. It was burned by Indians but was rebuilt to operate continuously until Mr. Pynchon’s death in 1705. The second grist mill was built in 1706 by John Hayward off Ware Road on the Old Warren Road. The remains of the dam might still be seen. Gradually, six more grist mills came into operation.
The first saw mill in this area was built in 1709 on Sucker Brook. It was followed by five more saw mills built in various parts of Brookfield.
In the early days of the stagecoaches, there was a blacksmith shop on the left side of Ware Road; here, all the coach horses were shod. Later, there was one more blacksmith shop on Mechanic Street operated by Albert Bliss. Another, torn down only a few years ago, was located at the junction of Lake and Church Streets.
A tannery, owned and operated by Tilly Mirich, was located at the foot of Foster Hill on the bank of Tanny Brook, which was another name for Coy’s Brook. Here, hides were converted into leather by treating them with an infusion of tanning material derived from the bark of oak and hemlock trees.
Up to the close of the eighteenth century, the children learned to write on birch bark paper, with quills plucked from Brookfield birds, and with homemade ink of adder bark. By 1717, the town had granted two hundred acres for a school. In 1728, the people voted to build one schoolhouse near where the new country road came across Coy’s Brook. The schoolhouse wasn’t built until 1733 near the place where Foster Hill joins the new road.
There were many other schools operated in private homes and small, one-room schoolhouses. The “Stone Jug” was located at the head of Lake Wickaboag. Another schoolhouse stood on Ragged Hill, and another was located on Winter Street. What is now Dot and Dick’s Restaurant once contained a one-room school. The School Street school was built in 1861, and the Milk Street school was built on land acquired by Augustus Makepeace a number of years later. A town high school was operated briefly from 1892 until 1899.
Prior to 1826, the Classical Female Seminary was founded by Reverend Joseph I. Foote, Jess Bliss, and Allen Newell on South Main Street. Particular attention was paid to manners as well as to the mind. The school year was divided into two terms or 25 weeks each. The first term commenced on the first Wednesday of May, while the second term started on the first Wednesday of November. Only girls were admitted to this school at first, but later, without too much success, boys were allowed to enroll.
There have been six buildings called the First Congregational Church in what is now West Brookfield. The first church was built on Foster Hill in 1667. It, along with all its records, was destroyed during the siege of 1675. For a few years after that and during the beginning of the resettlement of Brookfield, Fort Gilbert was used for church services. The second church was built in 1715 and was used until 1754 when a controversy caused the building to be divided between the first and second parishes.
From 1755 to 1794, the third building called the First Congregational Church was located on the plains below Foster Hill. The building was built on the northeast corner of the town common, which was then a plow field owned by John Barnes. By 1793, a new sanctuary was needed. In 1794, the old building was moved opposite Fort Gilbert and used as a Town House.
The new church was dedicated on November 10, 1795, and the church bell was hung in 1796. In 1818, a stove was put in, an organ was obtained a few years later, and a better organ was put in the church in 1838. It had been sideways to the road; now it was turned to face the road and common and was completely modernized. During an electric storm on February 28,1881, the building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
On the site of the previous church, the next and fifth church was build and dedicated on September 5, 1882. The church cost approximately $22,000. It was destroyed in the hurricane of September 21, 1938. The last and present First Congregational Church was dedicated on April 12, 1942. Only recently, a few rooms were installed in the basement of the church for Sunday school classes. The Sunday school also meets on the second floor of the church. The present minister is Reverend Edward Berry.
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There have been two important ministers, connected with the Methodist churches of that time, who have preached in the town of West Brookfield. On September 16, 1740, George Whitefield preached to the 500 people on Foster Hill on what is now called Whitefield Rock. This is a rock situated in the center of the Rickardson’s pasture. Every Easter, Sunrise Services are held near it.
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Reverend Elijah Bachelor, while passing through the town in 1789, stopped to deliver a sermon in the home of Mr. Leonard who lived on the west side of Ragged Hill. This was probably the first Methodist service that most of the Brookfield people heard.
In November of 1823, a church, measuring 32 X 40 feet, was built on the west side of Ragged Hill near the Ware town line; the church cost only $600. This church was taken down in 1864, and services were held in halls, the Pritchard Tavern, and what was once a market on Central Street.
Later, the congregation bought an abandoned Universalist church in Templeton for $145 plus $50 erecting cost. The building was erected in Brookfield on September 12, 1859. What was once called the Methodist Episcopal Church is now known as the Methodist Church of West Brookfield. The history of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of West Brookfield is told in a later chapter of this essay.
There are many taverns in the history of Brookfield and West Brookfield, but the most well-known tavern was built in 1760 by David Hitchcock in the center of town. It was known as the Hitchcock Tavern and was occupied by him as a hostelry until 1811. This building has been an inn since then and is now called Ye Old Tavern.
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On October 23, 1789, President George Washington, with staff and escort, dined in the tavern while passing from New York to Boston in his first year of the presidency. Here, in 1799, President John Adams was lodged for the night. Jerome Bonaparte and his bride stopped at this inn in the year 1804. Another famous man, General Lafayette, stayed here one night in the year 1824. Many other distinguished men in the political and military history of early times have visited this inn. The leader of Shay’s Rebellion, Daniel Shays, who once was a resident of Brookfield and married a Brookfield woman, stopped once in a while at this inn.
Isahiah Thomas was the Merriam’s predecessor and published in Brookfield the “Massachusetts Spy.” In 1798, Dan and Ebenezer Merriam, printers, came and maintained from 1798 to 1823 a partnership in a printing and publishing house. This business was carried on by the deaths of Ebenezer and Dan until 1858. Hundreds of volumes of standard works were printed in this town. After working in different buildings in the town, the Merriams had built, in 1820, a brick building on the corner of Central and Main Streets. This building was later used again in 1950 by Mr. L. C. Cobb as a printing shop. The building now contains apartments and Dot and Dick’s Restaurant.
The Merriam family was a family rarely equaled in excellence of character, public spirit, and business capacity. George, Charles, and Homer Merriam helped to publish the Webster’s Dictionary in their publishing house, while Lewis Merriam was an eminent printer of Greenfield, Massachusetts.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the town of Brookfield was no longer a frontier town. When the French and Indian War broke out in 1744, this town’s part in the war was chiefly to furnish officers for field expeditions and solders to defend the distant frontier forts.
Most of the old garrisons of the town, Fort Gilbert particularly, were still in good condition. At least one new fort was built. This was the Old French Fort on the top of Coy’s Hill. The Indians killed and captured many of the Brookfield people, and, because the officers wouldn’t let them, the inhabitants of Brookfield were not allowed to bury the dead settlers.
General Joseph Dwight of Brookfield wrote a letter to the government complaining of the situation that the town was forced into and requesting four more forts and more soldiers in this area. About 150 men from Brookfield and the area participated in this war against the French and Indians, which lasted until the peace treaty was signed at Aix Chapelle on October 7, 1748.
This treaty was little more than a truce. The Indians re-commenced their hostilities in May 1754. To help this war along, Brookfield sent her full quota of men to help fight it. The treaty of peace in this last French and Indian War was signed in Paris on February 10, 1763.
In the struggle that resulted in the separation of the American colonies from the mother country, the record of Brookfield is an honorable one. In December of 1774, 47 Brookfield men signed up as Minute Men for a term of six months. On January 1, 1775, the town provided for two other companies of Minute Men. The news of the British advance on the towns of Lexington and Concord appeared to have reached Brookfield on the afternoon of April 19; the three companies of Minute Men started immediately for the scene of conflict.
Also, a group of men from Brookfield and Spencer called the rangers under the command of John Woolcott marched to Lexington and Concord when the alarm came.
At a town meeting held in Brookfield on May 22, 1776, the people of the town were asked if they would support a congress if the colonies managed to get their freedom from the mother country; the answer was an affirmative, almost unanimous. Thus, our “Declaration of Independence” anticipated the national Declaration, by me than a month!
Some of the places that Brookfield men were ordered to were the following: Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga Mills, Bennington, Half Moon, and Providence, Rhode Island. One division of Burgoyne’s surrendered army, under the escort of General James Brickett, on the march to Cambridge, halted for the night at Brookfield. The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown on September 19, 1781, and the treaty of peace of August 30, 1783, caused the army to be disbanded, and the men of Brookfield to return to their homes.
About this time, a tragedy occurred in the town of Brookfield that is still noted in the criminal annals of the state. The Spooner house stood on the north side of an old stage road, one half mile east of Brookfield, near where the road to North Brookfield center strikes off. On the evening of March 1, 1778, Mr. Joshua Spooner, age 32, was returning from a nearby tavern about nine o’clock. He was struck down by Ezra Ross, James Buchanan, and William Brooks. After throwing his body in a well, the three murderers were rewarded for this infamous deed by their victim’s wife, Mrs. Bathsheba Spooner.
After being caught, the four were tried in the April term of the Court of Worcester and sentenced to hang. Just before they reached the gallows, one of the most terrible thunderstorms that had ever occurred in that area came up, filling the 5,000 people watching the hanging with understandable horror.
The common, eight actress in all, was quitclaimed to the first parish of Brookfield by Dwight Foster and David Hitchcock on November 7, 1791, and it was never to be sold to any individual or individuals, but was to remain forever an open field. George Merrick Rice gave the town a large fountain, which is located in the center of the common, plus a smaller drinking fountain at the north side of the common. These two fountains were given in memory of his parents.
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A group of 25 women, who wanted to contribute to the benefit of the poor and needy and to improve the manners, cultivate the mind, and reform the heart organized the Dorcas Society on August 22, 1818. They took their name from Dorcas—a Christian female disciple who made coats and garments for the poor. (Acts 9: 36-41)
In 1830, the members voted to meet regularly and to take tea for “convention’s sake.” In 1833, a member, Miss Adeline White, became a missionary. The society, which claims to be the oldest benevolent church society in the state, continues to meet and contribute to the needy in sections of the country and locally through the Red Cross.
Also in 1818, Lucy Stone was born in Brookfield; she was later to become a leader in the fight for woman suffrage.
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In 1741 and 1742, about 12 square miles of the southwest part of Brookfield was incorporated into the town of Western, later called Warren. New Braintree became a town in 1750, while Ware was formed in 1823. In 1812, one-third of the remaining territory of Brookfield was set off and incorporated as the town of North Brookfield. In 1848, West Brookfield was incorporated, leaving a little over 25 square miles as the town of Brookfield.