Greenfield — Prominent Men

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

      I think I have become more interested in Capt. Agrippa Wells—familiarly known in his day as Capt. "Grip"—than in any other man in our history.
      My interest is increased by the vague, traditionary, and contradictory accounts of him which I have received, and by the unwearied but unsuccessful pains I have taken, case-knife in hand, to scrape the moss from old tombstones, in the hope to find some authentic intelligence of his birth and death.
      My story of him is partly authentic and partly traditional. I have good reason for supposing that he was born about 1735; was a farmer on the Shelburne hills, and sold his farm to David Wells, grandfather of Col. David Wells, in 1770.
      The story has been often told that when a young man he served in the old French war, and was taken prisoner and carried to Canada, where he was compelled to run the gauntlet, as it was called,—i.e., he was compelled to run between two files of Indians, each one of whom was to give him a blow with his fist if he could.
      As an additional insult, they compelled him to strip off his own clothes and put on the chemise of a squaw. He used to tell the story that he got through the gauntlet with little personal injury. When near the end of the line an old squaw dealt him a severe blow, which he resented by giving her a sturdy kick, at which the Indians laughed, as a sign of approbation of his spirit.
      We find that in 1773 he was appointed by the church to "tune the Psalms." We know beyond question that he hastened to the assistance of the colony at the head of his company, at the alarm raised after the battle of Concord, and commanded a company of Continentals at the siege of Boston. Returning home on a furlough, the minister, Mr. Newton, whose zeal in the cause of his country was quite lukewarm, asked the doughty captain, "What they were going to do with the Tories?" "Do with them?" he replied. "Damn them! we are going to hang the devils!"
      The captain was evidently an impulsive, impetuous man. True to his country's cause in the war of the Revolution, in the troublesome times that followed he was seduced from his allegiance to the government he had fought to establish, and joined in the Shays rebellion. He commanded a company in the winter demonstration upon the arsenal at Springfield, in January, 1787. The rebels received a hotter reception than they anticipated. Four men were killed, all from this neighborhood, viz., Ezekiel Root; Ariel Webster, from Gill, then a part of Greenfield; Jabez Spicer, from Leyden; and John Hunter, from Shelburne. I do not know whether they belonged to Captain "Grip's" company or not. As soon as it was seen that Gen. Shephard, the commander of the government troops, was in earnest, the rebels broke up in a sudden and cowardly retreat. Capt. "Grip" was left almost alone. He waved his sword and, in a voice of thunder, called to his terrified men to stop; but in vain. In emphatic terms he reproached them for their cowardice. But he had lost all control of them. It is said that Shays rode at Springfield on that occasion a fine white horse, the property of a Greenfield man, and afterward, when an officer of the government came here to administer the oath of allegiance, he rode the same horse in the service of the government.
      Capt. Wells is remembered at the beginning of this century as a blacksmith, living opposite the burying-ground in the South Meadows, near where Charles Smead now lives. He is remembered, about 1810, as a poor old man. He probably died not long after this, at the age of seventy-five or so. I have searched in vain for his grave or any record of his death.
      At the various town-meetings no name appears more prominently than that of Capt. Timothy Childs. He was moderator of many meetings,—the last, I believe, in 1781. Now, who was Captain Timothy Childs? Who knows? Willard says he resided near the Falls. Mr. Stoughton thinks he owned a farm there, but did not live on it. According to Willard, he led the company that hastened to Cambridge after the Concord fight; which, as I have shown, is not true. But he did command a militia company, which was out for brief periods three times in the year 1777.
      I have sought in vain for any record of him beyond these scanty hints. Who knows anything of Capt. Childs? One of the foremost men in this town one hundred years ago, where did he live? Where did he die? Where was he buried? It is with a feeling of sadness that I speak of one so well known and so soon forgotten.
      About 1772, John Newton, Jr., came from Durham, Conn., a young man, and settled on the farm just north of the old meeting-house, where his son, Deacon Curtis Newton, lived after him. It is reported that he bought the farm, which was a hemlock-swamp, for 7s. 6d. an acre. The house he built has been recently removed. Of him I can only add that he served long enough in the Revolutionary war to secure a pension. A brother, Isaac, came with him, and settled on a farm in the north part of the town near the Bernardston line, and built a house on the spot where Mr. E. C. Osgood now lives. The next year a younger brother of these two, named Samuel, came with his father, and lived on what is now Silver Street.
      Of these brothers, Isaac seems to have been the most prominent. He was doubtless a clear-headed, wise, benevolent man, full of energy and push. He was called to all sorts of offices. For twenty-three years he was assessor, selectman, overseer of the poor, and for many years a member of the Legislature. It is related of him that he cared not at all for public office and never sought it, but his fellow-townsmen, confiding in his integrity and ability, insisted upon his filling these places of trust. He was in the army several times for short periods. He was at West Point at the time of Arnold's treachery, and when, in 1777, Burgoyne attempted to cut off New England by possessing the country from Canada to New York City, and the General Court had ordered out the militia of Massachusetts to resist his advance, Capt. Isaac Newton, then at home, rallied a company of young men and hastened to the scene of action. It is related that, not having a suit of clothes becoming his rank, the women of his household hurried to card and spin the wool and weave the cloth, and cut and make the garments, so that when the company was ready to start, in a very few days the captain was rigged in a full-dress of white woolen, the product of home industry and skill, and it was his boast that he was the best-dressed officer on the field. It would be very interesting if we could trace the history of Capt. Newton and his command in that eventful campaign. I found no record but the official pay-roll.
      It was after the peace and as he reached his maturity that he became prominent in civil affairs. In the old burying-ground, on the Gill road, his grave is still seen. He died Sept. 23, 1826, aged seventy-eight years. It appears that he lost two young wives, both under twenty-five years of age,—one in 1775, and one in 1781. A third died in 1824, aged seventy-five years. It would appear from Willard's history that the father of John, Isaac, and Samuel Newton was a brother of Dr. Roger Newton. The present generation say that the relation-ship was not so near.
      Benjamin Hastings was one of the leading citizens of the town from its incorporation till his death in 1774. He came from Hatfield, and lived in a house that he probably built, and which is now utterly gone. It stood a few rods southwest of where Snow's green-house now stands. He owned a large tract of land extending through the town to the north line. He was moderator of most of the town-meetings for the first fifteen years. He was town clerk from 1753 to 1769. He held the offices of selectman, highway surveyor, field-driver, hog-reeve, and constable. He was the first and only deacon of the church for many years; was often sent with petitions to the General Court for protection and relief, and served on various town committees. He died Aug. 16, 1774, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, and is buried in the old cemetery on the Gill road.
      His son, Lieut. Benjamin Hastings, was hardly less prominent in town affairs than his father. He was elected to some office every year. He was out with the militia for a short time in 1777. He died Jan. 21, 1806, and was buried by the side of his father. In previous histories of the town it has been reported that Benjamin Hastings was the first man to enlist in the Revolutionary struggle, and that he commanded the first company of volunteers. But this is not correct. The senior Hastings died before the war began, and his son was in the war but a short time with the militia in 1777.
      Aaron Denio was a famous man in his day. He was a Frenchman and came from Canada, and was the tavern-keeper of the town for many years. He lived where Richardson's block now is. The country tavern in those days was a place of great interest,—the centre of life for the whole neighborhood. This, of Aaron Denio was no exception. More good stories are told of the landlord than of any other man of his time. He was evidently of a very quick temper, which often got the mastery of him, and which furnished much fun for all with whom he had to do. On one occasion he took his grist to the mill and looked on with astonishment while the miller, Mr. Wells, took toll oftener than he thought was just, till at length he burst out, "I do sw-ee-r, Mr. Wells, if you will take the grist and let me have the toll, I will much thank you." Seeing a load of his grandchildren drive up to his house for a visit, he exclaimed, "You have come to visit us, have you? Well, perhaps your grandmother will be glad to see you." His wife was the possessor of a calico gown,—a rare treasure in those days. One day some cattle got into his yard. "My dear," he called, "come and help me." Mrs. Denio, arrayed in the calico dress, tried to assist in driving them out, but only frightened them into jumping into the garden. Whereupon the irate husband exclaimed, "Get back into the house, you calico devil!"
      On one occasion his daughter had a beau, and a fire was kindled in the best parlor. In the course of the evening the old man intruded, ostensibly to see that the fire was burning well. He remarked, "A very good fire." Getting no response from those who preferred his room to his company, he left, but returned after a while and again remarked, "A very good fire," which was received with provoking silence. The old man retired, and soon came back with a pail of water, which he dashed upon the fire, exclaiming, "I do sweer there is no fire at all!"
      Coming into the kitchen one day, the pot was boiling over the fire. Addressing his wife, he asked, "My dear, what are we going to have for dinner to-day?" "Victuals," was the brief reply. His anger was at once aroused, and, seizing the pot, he cried out, "I do sweer I will know what is in the pot!" and, carrying it to the door, he threw it down into the ravine, the contents scattering along the way. He found what was in the pot, but lost his dinner. Where and when he died is unknown. His descendants are living with us to this day.
      In May, 1781, it was voted, "It is the mind of the town to have a justice of the peace in town," and David Smead was appointed. He lived at the time at the east end of the street, in a house which he sold about 1790 to George Grinnell, father of the late Judge Grinnell, and moved into the meadow, and lived on what we have known as the Solomon Smead house, near the house of his son, Judge Solomon Smead. The esquire was an important man in those days,—his son Solomon, still more important. He held conspicuous positions,—was in both branches of the Legislature, a member of the council and judge of Probate, and a zealous Democrat.
      The Bascoms were a prominent family in the early days of Greenfield. The first one of whom there is any knowledge was Deacon Moses Bascom, who lived for a time in a house where the John Russell house now stands; afterward in the northeast part of the town, where the widow of Ezekiel Bascom lives. The only thing I can stop to relate concerning Deacon Bascom's family is its fruitfulness. He had nineteen children in all. Seven daughters lived to grow up and have families. Eunice had eleven, Rebecca had ten, Martha had only seven, Mary had only seven, Chloe had eleven, Mercy had eleven, Experience had eight; total, sixty-five.
      James Corse was a man of note in the early history of this town. He lived where the Leavitt house now stands. His house was used for public worship and for town purposes till the meeting-house was built, and was one of the houses picketed for defense. Corse was a noted trapper and hunter. Many stories of his prowess have been preserved. He died Sept. 27, 1783, aged ninety years.
      In Hall's "History of Eastern Vermont" there is a record of a journey made by one James Corse, from Fort Dummer to Lake Champlain. It is conjectured that he is the James Corse of this narrative. He had several children. Gad lived near the Ewers tavern, Dan on the Albert Smead place, Ashur where Eber Larabee lives, at Country Farms. Mrs. H. C. Newton and Mrs. William Smead are children of Ashur Corse.
      Gen. Charles P. Stone, son of Dr. Alpheus F. Stone, was born in Greenfield in 1826. He graduated at West Point in 1845, and at once entered the army as lieutenant. He served in the war in Mexico, and was made captain for gallantry at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. In 1851 he was ordered to California, and performed the duties of chief of ordnance on the Pacific coast. Resigning his position in the army in 1856, he engaged in banking in San Francisco. Returning East in 1861, he re-entered the army, and was appointed colonel of the 14th Regiment United States Infantry and brigadier-general of volunteers. In August, 1861, he had command of the "corps of observation" guarding the upper Potomac. In February, 1862, he was placed in confinement in Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor, without any charge preferred against him or any explanation of the cause of his arrest. He was held till August, 1862, and then released, with no trial, explanation, or apology, and ordered to duty under Gen. Banks in the department of the Gulf. Gen. Banks made him chief of staff. He was afterward assigned to the command of a brigade in the Army of the Potomac, but in September, 1864, he resigned his commission in the regular army. In 1870 he entered the military service of the khedive of Egypt.1
      George Ripley, LL.D., was born in Greenfield, Oct. 3, 1802, the son of Jerome Ripley. He graduated at Harvard University in 1823, and from the Cambridge Theological School in 1826. Was pastor of a Unitarian Church in Boston from 1828-31. Published "Discourses on the Philosophy of Religion" in 1839, "Letters to Andrew Norton on the Latest Form of Infidelity" in 1840. He was associate editor of the Dial in 1840-41; was the chief promoter of the famous socialistic experiment at Brook Farm, Roxbury, in 1844-46; became literary editor of the New York Tribune in 1849, and, with Charles A. Dana, edited Appletons' "New American Cyclopaedia," 16 volumes, a new edition of which appeared in 1873-76. Mr. Ripley received the degree of LL.D. from Lawrence University in 1874.
      Dexter Marsh deserves honorable mention among the prominent men of Greenfield. He was born in Montague in 1806. Without education, and by occupation a day-laborer, his attention was attracted in 1835 to foot-prints which he observed in some flagging-stones. He became very much interested in geological studies and in gathering specimens, in which he was very successful. His collection was visited by scientific men from all parts of the world, and, though he supplied many cabinets, his own, at the time of his death, was the choicest collection of fossil foot-prints and fishes then in existence. It was sold after his death for $2700. Many circumstances in his career have led to a comparison with that of Hugh Miller, the noted Scotch geologist. He died April 2, 1853, at the age of forty-seven.
      Few men have been more intimately identified with the interests of Greenfield than Henry W. Clapp. He was born in Springfield in 1798. His early life was passed in New York, and his success was such as to enable him to retire from active business at an early age. In 1835 he came to reside in Greenfield, and for many years his name and reputation have given assistance and strength to almost every important enterprise in this region. He has been called to fill various positions of honor and trust. He was president of the Greenfield Bank, of the Franklin Savings Institution, the Connecticut Railroad Co., the Franklin Agricultural Society, the Greenfield Gas Co, the Cemetery Association, and the Library Association. He was one of the original members of the co-partnership for the manufacture of cutlery, which has added so much to the prosperity of this region.
      The influence he exerted was not acquired by efforts to be popular, but resulted from native force and sagacity, persistent will, and recognized integrity. He died on the 17th of March, 1869.
      Hon. William Burritt Washburn2 was born in Winchendon, Mass., Jan. 31, 1820. He graduated at Yale College in 1844, and soon after engaged in manufacturing at Greenfield, Mass., where he has since resided. He has been for many years connected with the Bank of Greenfield, and in October, 1858, was chosen president, which position he has occupied continuously to the present time. In 1864 the bank organized under the national banking law, and became the First National Bank of Greenfield.
      He was elected to the State Senate in 1850, and to the House of Representatives in 1854. In 1862 he had (probably) the unprecedented honor of being unanimously elected to Congress, and was successively re-elected to the 39th, 40th, 41st, and 42d Congresses. In 1870 he was elected Governor of Massachusetts, in consequence of which he resigned his seat in the 42d Congress on the 1st of January, 1871. He was again elected Governor in 1872 and 1873, but resigned the office to take his place in the United States Senate, to which he had been elected in the place of Hon. Charles Sumner, deceased. His term expired March 3, 1875.
      Among the many offices filled by him have been those of trustee of Yale College, of the Massachusetts Agricultural College at Amherst, and of Smith College at Northampton. He is also a member of the Board of Overseers of Amherst College. The degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by Harvard University in 1872.
      Governor Washburn is prominently connected with the Congregational Church in Greenfield, and was a liberal contributor to the new and beautiful edifice erected by the society to which he belongs. He has recently erected and presented to the Greenfield Library Association a fine building on Main Street for the exclusive uses of the society. He is extensively engaged in manufacturing at Orange and Erving, in Franklin County; is one of the prosperous men of Western Massachusetts, and held in high respect by the people. His home in Greenfield is one of the finest and most commodious in the beautiful valley of the Connecticut.

1 See Chapter III., General History of Franklin County.
2 Note difference in middle name at this link.

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