Conway — Noteworthy Incidents

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

      Many interesting stories are still extant of the peculiar experiences that beset the early settlers of Conway, and the primitive conveniences with which they were compelled to make existence endurable. Of one, William Warren, it is said that his entire stock of goods upon which to begin farming consisted of a cow, an axe, hoe, chain, and one "bung-town copper." Oxen or horses were among the sighed-for but unattainable things, and carrying grist to mill upon his back was, if not a favorite performance by the settler of the period, a common one.
      Amos Allen is reported to have thus conveyed three bushels of rye from Hatfield, from which place, too, Malachi Maynard carried to Conway nineteen shad and two good-sized pigs, all lodged in the same bag. For a wager of £8, John Sherman ran, one hot day in 1785, eight miles on the highway in fifty-six and a half minutes, but there appears no evidence that this pedestrian fever spread throughout the town.
      In 1760, or thereabouts, there was one man at least whose opinion of the value of the territory now occupied by Conway was graded very low. This was Eliphalet Williams, who, upon returning from a prospecting tour through "Southwest," declared he would not give the horse he rode upon for the entire tract.
      The experience which met Israel Rice and William Warren at the outset was a damp and disagreeable one. They settled close together in 1766, Rice preparing a frame for his house and Warren putting up a log cabin. Before either could get his roof on rain set in, and continued almost incessantly for twelve days.
      Gideon Cooley made his first appearance in the settlement on the back of a horse, upon which he carried also his wife and all the goods he owned in the world. Rev. Mr. Emerson, in an early record, wrote:

      "These men planted themselves down on new and unimproved spots of land, and with small property, but good resolution, commenced the arduous but honest and respectable business of earning bread by the sweat of their brows."

      It was the custom in the early days for the young maiden to walk barefoot to meeting on Sunday, carrying her best shoes in her hand, which, just before reaching church, she would put on at some convenient place, and straightway march into the house of worship, conscious of the high respectability, at least, of her feet-coverings. Until a few years ago the curious might have beheld, at the foot of the Jonas Rice hill, a chestnut-tree whose spreading boughs furnished full many a time and oft a covering for the favorite "dressing-place" of these young women.
      When Parson Emerson took up his residence in Conway, his wife sensationalized the community through the possession of a table-cloth and a silk umbrella,—articles which, because of their rarity, continued long to be objects of veneration and awe among the innocent pioneers.
      During the Revolutionary period the Conway fathers endeavored to combat the evils of paper-money inflation by fixing upon a schedule of prices for labor and supplies, as the following examples will show:

      "Men's labor, three shillings per day in the summer season; fresh Poark of the best quality, three pence per pound; good grass-fed beef, two pence one farthing; Best cheas, six pence; good Spanish potatoes, in the fall of the year, one shilling; Yern Stockings of the best sort, six shillings a pare; good Sap berials, three shillings, and all other cooper work in proportion; good common meals of Victuals at Taverns, Exclusive of Sider, nine pence, and other meals in proportion; Horsekeeping a night, or twenty-four hours, ten pence; shoeing horses all round, Steal tow and heal, six shillings four pence; good yerd-wide toa cloth, two shillings three pence;" and so on.

      The plan must have miscarried, for not long thereafter it was announced that $20 a day would be paid for labor on the highways.
      Conway took a stand against the general government in the controversies which led to the Shays rebellion, and in April, 1782, voted "that the Inferior Court, at its last sitting at Northampton, did go contrary to the orders of the General Court and the County Convention." A committee was at once chosen to go to Northampton "to attend upon the Superior Court and to form a Convention." This committee consisted of the following persons: Samuel Wells, Samuel Ware, Thomas French, Elisha Amsden, Oliver Wetmore, Malachi Maynard, Prince Tobey, Elias Dickinson, Elijah Billings, Jesse Warner, Aaron Howe, James Gilmore, Daniel Dunham, Jonathan Dunham, Tertius French, Elijah Wells, Alexander Glover, Noah Tobey, Daniel Newhall, Samuel Shattuck, Jonathan Whitney, Isaac Amsden, Joel Baker, Abner Sheldon, Samuel Wilder, Samuel Newhall, Robert Hamilton, John Wilcox, Samuel Crittenden, Ebenezer Maynard; Sherebiah Lee, Jonas Rice, Caleb Allen, Silas Rawson, George Stearns, Aaron Hayden, Abel Dinsmore, Wm. Gates, Gideon Cooley, David Parker, Mathew Graves, Elisha Clark, Simeon Graves, Elisha Smith, and Jabez Newhall.
      This committee did service at Northampton as an element in the mob raised by Samuel Ely to disturb the sessions of the courts there, and later, when Ely was in prison at Springfield for that offense, Capt. Abel Dinsmore, of Conway, was arrested as one of the leaders of another mob, which sought to rescue him from durance vile. Still later, Capt. Dinsmore took a prominent and active part in raising men for Shays, and obtained not a few in Conway.
      Conway was the proud possessor, in 1798 and 1799, of a village newspaper, published weekly by Theodore Leonard. It was called The Farmers' Register, was published at Pumpkin Hollow, and on its title-page proclaimed its fearless independence in the following couplet:

"Here truth unlicensed reigns, and dares accost
Even kings themselves, or rulers of the free."

      Advertisements were few, and news generally mildewed with age when printed in The Register, although it would sometimes get Washington news only three weeks old, and London items in about ninety days. Its local columns were one day illumined with a bold notice from Asahel Wood, a negro, to the effect that he would "ring the bell but once a day, unless encouragement were given to him by subscription or otherwise."
      The struggles for the possession of the old Deerfield gun were notable events in Conway's history, and stirred up much bad blood between that town and Deerfield.
      The gun was a legacy which Deerfield received in the Indian wars, but the town, showing, after the commencement of the nineteenth century, strong leanings toward Federalism, it was deemed best by Conway—the child of Deerfield—that the precious relic should be transferred to worthier custodians, to wit, the Republicans of Conway, and the latter accordingly carrying off the gun one day to their native hills, awakened the echoes by its deep-toned thunder; which Deerfield hearing, and directly learning of the spoliation, set out to recapture the weapon.
      The invaders, in large force, headed by Gen. Hoyt and Sheriff Saxton, appeared in Conway and demanded the return of the gun, threatening in default thereof to take it by force of arms. Conway carried the apple of discord into the boarding-house of old Bill Redfield, who, determined to have a fight rather than yield, wrought his partisans up to fighting-pitch, and would no doubt have shortly brought on a bloody conflict had not law-abiding citizens interfered with counsels of submission. Happily, therefore, bloodshed was avoided, and Deerfield got her gun back, but found afterward that it required much vigilance and alertness to keep it from the hands of the raiders from Conway and Greenfield.
      Conway has become famous as the home of aged people; two of its residents-the Widow Farnsworth and Widow Crittenden—each lived upward of one hundred years. A list, published in 1867, of the persons in Conway who, up to that time, had lived to be ninety and over, places the number at 48. Of these, three were ninety-nine, two were ninety-eight, one was ninety-seven, two were ninety-six, one was ninety-five, five were ninety-four, four were ninety-three, eleven were ninety-two, eight were ninety-one, ten were ninety, and one was one hundred. There are now in the town three persons each of whom is more than ninety years of age.
      Conway celebrated its centennial, June 19, 1867, in Conway Centre with a gala gathering of citizens, many of whom owned the town as a birthplace, or as the birthplace of ancestors. Merry-making, speech-making, and feasting filled the measure of the day's enjoyment.
      In late years two disastrous floods have visited Conway. The one in 1869 worked serious damage to mill property, bridges, etc., and later, in December, 1878, the waters inundated Conway Centre to the depth of several feet, and, depopulating the village, put a sudden stop to business and inflicted upon that section and the surrounding country a serious calamity.

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