Leyden — Noteworthy Incidents

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

      Upon the breaking out of the Shays rebellion in 1786, Leyden voted "to do something about the difficulties and tumults in the State, and to chose a committee for that purpose." It was voted shortly after that "we are uneasie with the present administration of the government, and that if any men are called for and turn out in support of our priviledges they shall be paid for their time and supplied with provisions by the town." Of the three insurgents killed in Shays' attack upon Springfield, in January, 1787, one was Jabez Spicer, of Leyden.
      In 1787 the people chose a committee to lay the circumstances of the district before the General. Court, and to petition for relief, but what relief they obtained is not clear. About this time the district was visited with a disastrous hurricane, which leveled thousands of trees, destroyed houses and crops, and worked much damage, and it may have been because of that calamity. that relief was asked for.
      Shortly after 1790, Leyden was much excited by the advent therein of one William Dorrel, once a private in the army of Gen. Burgoyne, and a settler, shortly after that chieftain's surrender at Saratoga, in the town of Northfield, Mass. Thence he. removed to Leyden, and shortly after his location there began to publicly teach a doctrine alleged to be founded upon free love, and a belief that the taking of animal life under any circumstances was a grievous sin. Although an ignorant man and given to intemperance and other debasing vices, be obtained many adherents, and upon their credulity established a sect known as the Dorrelites. Among other things, he taught that to each generation of man was appointed a Messiah, and that for his generation he was the Messiah. The believers in the faith held property common, repudiated the use of anything whatsoever resulting from the taking of animal life, dressed in tow-cloth, wore wooden shoes, drank, danced, and caroused in their religious exercises, which were led by Dorrel, and conducted themselves, in short, like fanatics.
      The Dorrelites were extinguished by Ezekiel Foster, of Leyden, at a meeting of the sect held some time during the year 1800. Dorrel was holding forth us usual in a wildly enthusiastic manner, and, claiming the protection of a mysterious power, defied mortal flesh to harm him, whereupon Foster lifted his strong right arm and smote the apostle Dorrel to the earth. This broke the charm by which Dorrel had enslaved his followers, and they, realizing that their leader was an impostor, returned to their sober senses, and the sect of Dorrelites became a thing of the past. Dorrel afterward admitted that he had. no faith in the doctrines he promulgated, but undertook their dissemination simply to show how easily he could delude people. After his fall he lived in humble retirement in Leyden, and during the last few years of his life was so reduced in circumstances that he was a town charge. He died in 1846, at the advanced age of ninety-five, from a self-imposed starvation, which he sought on the plea that he had lived long enough, and was buried in the Beaver Meadow Cemetery.
      Other very old persons who have lived in Leyden were the Widow Burns, who died in 1840, aged one hundred, and Mary Ellis, in 1802, at the age of ninety-seven. The oldest person now living in Leyden is Aunt Hannah Mowry, aged ninety. Mr. Jesse Henry, now living, at the age of eighty-five, in Leyden (1879), was a lieutenant in the local militia at the time of the draft in 1814 for soldiers to serve in the second war with Great Britain. The draft in Leyden took place on a Sunday, in front of the old meeting-house; and of the eight persons who were drafted on that occasion, the names of six are here given, as follows: Stephen Doyle, Ira Gaut, Briggs Potter, Adin Eason, Lincoln Fields, and Nathan Buddington. The last survivor of the six named was Stephen Doyle, who died in Leyden in 1876.
      Among the men of mark who have originated in Leyden may be mentioned Henry Kirke Brown*, a sculptor, and John L. Riddell, the inventor of the binocular microscope and magnifying-glass.

*Most well-known work is the George Washington statue commemorating Evacuation Day, in Union Square, New York, NY.

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24 Jun 2005