Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The face of Asahel Griffin

Asahel Griffin was born in Killingworth, Connecticut the son of Samuel Griffin and his second wife Mercy Nettleton. There are a number of spellings used by his extend family. His birth record found in the ledgers of the Killingworth Second Congregational Society spells the name Asahel. In his father's will, published in Essex, Vermont, the name is spelled, Asahel. It was not uncommon in the era to see different spellings used for many names. The portrait that we present here comes to us courtesy of Ken Griffin a great grandson.Ken commissioned an artist by the name of Jacklynn Kelsey to produce this likeness using on old family photograph as a model.The remarkable thing about this image is how many of his features are shared by any number of Griffins scattered down the many family lines.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Griffin Loom

Reference to a loom is woven throughout the family story of Samuel Griffin, 1739-1808. It was part of the family life in Killingworth and was transported to Essex when the family made what was at the time a very arduous journey to a new homestead. It occupies a prominent place in Samuel’s will. There were many tasks that need to be performed to produce the thread that was used in the weaving process. Previously on the Blog we have described the steps that transformed flax into linen thread. The most widely used material was wool. Sheep were very much a part of the farm life in Essex. In my family that tradition of keeping sheep was continued unbroken down to my father. In both Killingworth and in Essex the production of a finished piece of cloth was the sum of a number of smaller tasks. The girls Lois, Polly and Azuba, the boys Joel, Asahel, Worden, Samuel, John, and Dan were all certainly part of the cottage industry of weaving cloth. In the inventories in the wills found in New England records we very often find listed yards of cloth. Cloth was a cash crop for many early American families. While the whole family was involved in preparing the yarn and thread for weaving there was usually only one person who was the weaver. It is my reading of the Griffin family history that the weaver was Samuel a position he passed on to his son John. After all of the preparatory steps were finished the product that came off from the spinning wheel was high quality yarn. This yarn was used much as it is today for knitted items. By adding another attachment, a quill, to the spinning wheel the yarn was spun into the tread that was used to weave cloth. The quill spun the yarn into thread and the resulting thread ended up wound around the quill. In this manner the quill also served in the same role as a bobbin.-------The material that follows was written in Essex by the Castle family On the front of the loom is placed the seat for the weaver, with the bobbin basket at the right to refill the shuttle. To put this loom in motion grandmother (or Samuel Griffin) takes the weaver’s seat, placing her feet on the treadles, in her right hand holding the shuttle, and with the left hand placed on the swing beam that holds the reed. The treadles being attached to the harness, the right foot presses the treadles down; this springs the harness that opens the warp and the shuttle is thrown form the right hand through the warp to the left hand, receiving the shuttle, while in turn the right hand is placed on the swing beam to bring the thread of filling to the proper place that the shuttle left in passing through the warp from the right to the left; the left food then presses the left treadle down, springing the harness attached to the treadles, the first treadle returning to its former place. The left hand then returns the shuttle to the right hand, the left hand on the beam brings the thread to its proper place. Thus grandmother’s feet transmits the power which opens the threads of the warp to receive the shuttle that holds the yarn bobbin for the filling of the warp; her hands swing the beam or lathe that receives and holds the reed that places the filling in its proper place in the warp. ------------- The spooling of the yarn for the shuttle with the old quill wheel and swifts was the work for the grandchildren. The writer has often remained at the old quill wheel and swifts spooling for the loom when the boys of the neighborhood were within hearing having a good time at play. But I had to keep the old thing buzzing until the bobbins were all filled for the shuttle, then grandmother would say: “You are a good boy. I will bake you a nice turnover pie the next time I bake.” And she always remembered her promise. ---------------- Homespun Cloth. The, all wool goods a yard wide, which we so easily purchase to-day meant to the colonial dame or daughter the work of months from the time when the freshly sheared fleeces were first given to her deft hands. The fleeces had to be opened with care, all pitched or tarred locks, brands, dagolocks and feltings had to be cut out these were spun into course yarn to be use as twine. The white locks were carefully tossed, separated, cleaned and tied into net bags with tallies, to be died. Dyeing the wool demanded a process of much skill. Indigo furnished the blue shades; cochineal, madder and logwood the beautiful reds. Domestic dyes of brown and yellow from the bark of the red oak and the hickory nut were universal. Copperas and sassafras also dyed yellow. The flower of the golden-rod set with alum was the foundation color to combine with indigo for a beautiful green. After the wools were dyed the housewife spread them in layers. If a mixed color was desired, the wools were carded again and again. ---------------The wool was slightly greased with rape oil or melted swine or bear’s grease, to be carded a trying process. Finally the wool was carded into small, light, loose rolls about as large around as the little finger, these were then spun into yarn. The yarn was wound as it was spun upon a broach, which was usually simply a stiff roll of paper or corn-husk. When the ball was as large as the broach would hold, the spinner placed pegs in the spokes of the spinning wheel and tied the end of the yarn to a peg, then she held the ball of yarn in her hand and whizzed the big wheel round, winding the yarn on the pegs into hanks or clews. ( A hank is what you are buying when you buy yarn in a store today ) If the yarn was to be woven, the hanks were placed on the reel ( of the spinning wheel) or swifts, a quill was then placed on the spindle of the quill wheel, the yarn wound off the quill cut the exact length of the loom shuttle by which the yarn was to be woven into woolen cloth. When wound full the quill was placed in the shuttle, where it was then ready for the loom.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A pantry in Essex

At the north end of the kitchen was the pantry. On opening the door to the pantry there was to be seen grandmother’s large cupboard, with three shelves well furnished with pewter platters and plates, and the block tin teapot and spoons all polished with great care. On the broad shelf of the cupboard were to be found the table knives and the two fined forks, with wooden handles. On opening the door of this continental cupboard were to be seen the wooden trenches, bowls and plates, while on the lower shelf were placed other table and cooking utensils. This old cupboard still remains at the old homestead in Essex. At the right hand side of the cupboard was placed a long wide table shelf to receive the baking form the brick oven. On the opposite side of the pantry the shelving was arranged after the usual form, under which was placed the maple sugar and dried apple sauce tubs and the brass kettles, etc. ----------The door on the right as you enter the pantry opened to the cellar stairway. On going down to the cellar it was found to be large and roomy, with a platform on the sides near the walls for the purpose of placing the hop and yeast tubs, vinegar and cider barrels, the great hogshead of cider on tap, and many a mug full did I draw for grandfather to dispense to his friends, probably including Samuel Griffin and Samuel Bradley, many of whom were the first settlers in the wilderness of Vermont.----- The potato-bin was well filled with the best of garden truck the farm produced. On the shelving and in the boxes and barrels was placed a large assortment of apples for the winter and spring. A place was prepared for the pork and beef barrels, ( salted pork and beef) the tallow-candle box, and especially the spruce beer tub, for Grandmother Castle was an expert in brewing and manufacturing this most useful and health-giving drink. The writer well remembers the five-pail brass kettle as it hung on the great crane in that great fireplace brewing the materials for the spruce beer that became noted in the Castle family.---- Spruce beer is a beverage flavored with the buds, needles or essence of spruce trees. It can be either alcoholic or non alcoholic. Flavors range from floral, citrusy to cola like. Using evergreen needles to create beverages originated with the Indians who use the drink as a cure for scurvy during the winter months.-------- Material taken from a history written by the Castle family of Essex. The house being described was that of Abel Castle a contemporary of Samuel and Mercy Griffin.----------------------- In the deeds and letters from our Griffin history he find references to apple and cherry trees and maple groves. Apple orchards in particular seem to have been a prized resource. Apples well stored could last most of the winter. They were used in a variety of ways , apple sauces and apple pie probably being the most common. In both Killingworth and Essex we have evidence that the maximum use of the apples was accomplished by turning the excess into cider both soft and hard. Cider was both a source of refreshment and a cash crop. A cider mill was a major economic resource for Azuba Griffin’s family in Killingworth. The apple cider was also the source for vinegar which was an absolute essential in a world that relied heavily on picking for long term food storage.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fireplace in Essex

The great fireplace with the large brick oven required fully one-half of the kitchen. The fireplace was built on the architectural plan known in those days, to burn four-foot wood. On the right side in the fire jamb was placed the crane with its pot-hooks and trammels, all of sufficient strength to swing a five-pail iron kettle over the fire with other pots and kettles. -----The hearthstone for this fireplace and brick oven was early ten feet long and three feet wide. To furnish this fireplace were required two large andirons, a long-handled shovel, and a pair of tongs. ----The back of the chimney near one side is the opening to receive the ashes when removed to the ashpit, built in the foundation of the chimney. ----The stone mantelpiece to this fireplace is seven feet long, eighteen inches wide and six inches thick, place nearly five feet above the hearthstone. ----- To build a fire required first an enormous back-log rolled into place, on top of which is placed a smaller log, called a back stick. The large andirons where then placed against the back-log, then a fore-stick placed on the andirons. The foundation of the fire being laid, the placing of smaller wood to make the fire required skill and experience; and grandfather was an expert in the use of stick chimneys, with large stone fireplaces; he would make a fire that would light the kitchen without the tallow candle. -------The large brick oven, with its stone mantle and sheet-iron door, must be heated often for the baking of all good things for the table in those early days. This oven was about three feet in diameter, with a concave brick top and the flue near the door. To heat the oven required the best of dry wood, The degree of heat required for baking was tested by the hand and if found correct the coal and ashes were removed, the oven swept with a broom, then the baking was arranged within and the door placed. Thus was completed a very important task for the housewife in those early days.------------ This description is taken from, The History of the Castle family. Abel Castle was a neighbor to Samuel Griffin. In all likelihood Samuel’s house contained a very similar fireplace and oven arraignment. There is a fireplace very similar to this description in the Griffin house in Killingworth. The hearthstone in the house in Killingworth sets flush with the floor. ________ We have added a image of a typical design. Click on images to enlarge.

Essex in 1785

A contemporary of Samuel Griffin’s grandsons, who grew up in his grandfather's house, wrote the following description of life in Essex in a history written concerning the Castle family. The Castles were contemporaries of Samuel Griffin. Their farms shared a common boundary. “Our fathers, tried in the fires of the Revolution, which had consumed their substance, were men of nerve and great physical power. They came here to make a home. We have heard and read of their privations, sufferings, and destitution in the first years of their life in the woods; how that many of their rude cabins were without doors and without floors; how the storms beat through their roofs and wild beasts howled around their dwellings at night; how scanty their wardrobe and still more scanty their furniture; how a kettle or two a few pewter plates, and wooden trenches, two or three knives and forks, and some three-legged stools and a straw bed in the corner constituted their household articles; how, worse than all, they would not have any bread for weeks and but a scant supply of meat.” “ Their faming utensils were clumsy, their clothing homespun and course, but durable The men wore tow shirts, striped woolen frocks and leather aprons. In the winter they wore shoes, excluding the snow with woolen leggings, fastened down over the tip of the shoes by strings. Boots were rare; surtouts or overcoats were rarer still. Tea and coffee were almost unknown. Corn, beans and barley broth were in constant use. Hasty-pudding and milk was the standing supper. On the Sabbath for lunch, instances were not wanting when men carried in the pockets a few cold boiled potatoes.”------ The Griffins arrived some 10 years after the first inhabitants that are described in the above monograph. My guess is that circumstance had probably improved somewhat.-------------- Hasty Pudding; ¾ cup maple syrup, 1/3 cup water, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt, ¼ cup brown sugar. ½ cup cream, ¼ cup butter, 1 tsp vanilla, raisins or walnuts. Combine syrup and water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, measure sifted flower. Add baking powder and salt, butter and vanilla and mix until smooth. Poor into greased casserole. Sprinkle with raisins or nuts. Pour boiling syrup over batter. Bake in moderate oven for 35- 40 minutes. Serve warm with cream.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Congregational Chapel in Essex Vermont

Previously on the Blog we noted that Samuel Griffin was appointed to a committee to select a location for a meeting house, stick the stakes, for the Congregational Society. Here is a description of the first church building to occupy that site. “ In the spring of 1803 the meeting house was built upon the same ground now occupies by the brick one. It was 40 by 50 feet, a plain building, having neither portico nor cupola, but entrances upon all sides. The high-back, square pews were in style at that day. A gallery on three sides, with the same high-back pews, which offered a hiding place for roguish boys, and the high pulpit, with the deacons’ seat beneath, presented a marked contrast with the present day furnishings. Here the people of the town assembled from Sabbath to Sabbath to listen to the word of life, sitting in winter without fire, for stoves were not in vogue.” Surviving church records indicate that the extended Griffin family was deeply involved in the affairs of the Congregational Society that met in this building. Samuel Griffin and his 3rd wife Mercy Bailey. Their son’s Samuel, John and Dan along with Joel and Asahel when they were in Essex visiting their father. Samuel Griffin Jun. married Deacon Samuel Bradley’s daughter Sylvia. Deacon Bradley would have occupied his position in the deacons’ seat beneath the pulpit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ellis Stevens 1841-1882 Civil War

Ellis Munroe Stevens was born in Killingworth in 1841. He was baptized in the Second Society September 12, 1841. Ellis was the son of Daniel Stevens and Mercy Griffin (Blog May- August 2012). Ellis would have spent time as a young child in the original Griffin Homestead on Roast Meat Hill now occupied by his grandparents Worden and Rhoda Griffin. I imagine that he heard the stories of his grandfather Samuel Griffin. His oldest brother was named Samuel Griffin Stevens. Ellis is the perfect candidate for a story on the Blog. He like so many of our cousins was a genuine Civil War hero. What makes his story so interesting to tell is that the letters that he wrote home while serving in the Union Army have survived. Across America there was an almost universal sentiment in each community to honor those who served and died in the Civil War. Cemeteries are filled with markers noting Civil War service. Communities commissioned memorials to be written of their young men who went off to serve. In Killingworth someone took steps to conserve the letters written home to Daniel Stevens by his sons Ellis, Emerson and Francis. They are now housed in the archives of the Connecticut State Library under the title “Letters home to Daniel Stevens of Killingworth” In addition to the letters home from the soldiers there also letters written by the rest of the family. These letters give us a first person view of life in Killingworth. The letters paint a picture of a family that was very close to each other. None of the children had made a home in Killingworth instead they had moved to the surrounding communities. From their commentary however they indicated that it was an easy trip to run into Killingworth to see their parents. Almost all of the later letters contain a plea for their by then widowed father to come for a visit. The letters paint a picture of a family that was very involved with each other in various enterprises. There are a number of letters that describe the anticipation of getting together for Thanksgiving. While the letters indicate that their father, Daniel, was a shoemaker there is ample evidence that 1860’s Killingworth was still dominated by agriculture. In one of his letters home Ellis inquires about the state of the hay harvest. There are letters from the girls reminding their father that they had dibs on some of his cranberry crop. There is mention of 2 quarts of chestnuts, picking a hill of beans and planting sweet potatoes. There are pleas to save some of the apples. In a letter from Samuel Griffin Stevens there is a reminder of their upcoming plans to butcher their hogs and plans to get together to make sausage. There is a line in a letter with the wish that Daniel was there to share in the eating of the mince pies. And always there is a rich description of what is happening in the lives of the grandchildren. The letters provide several very interesting insights. The girls of the family were in a constant state of woe for the well being of their brothers. Their sister Sabra is constant in her fears that the boys might not survive the war. There are any number of historical references to the effect that the lists of the dead and wounded published in the newspapers had on the national psyche. Imagine the effect on families as they scanned the papers to see if their kin was among those listed. From a letter written by Ellis’s sister Sabra, “He said that you had not heard from the boys. I see in the list of the wounded Ellis’s name he is wounded in the knee how bad I don’t know. Em (Emerson) I don’t know whither he is dead or alive”. The family was in a state of panic that the boys might reenlist when their initial term was up. But reenlist they did. It is easy to ascertain that their primary reason for reenlisting was for the bonus money that was to be paid. They wanted the bonus money in order to be able to support their aging father. There is almost not a letter written from the battle field that does not mention that they have or will shortly be sending money home to their widowed father. There are pleas for him to hire a house keeper for his comfort. The letters written from Antietam, Fredericksburg and Petersburg are very careful to not to describe the horrors of their surroundings to add to the worries of their father._____________________ Ellis joined the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment in September of 1861. The 8th became part of the command of General Burnside. From February to July of that year they were involved in the campaign to capture the forts that protected the major seaport along the coast of the Carolina’s. There are a number of letters written from Roanoke and New Bern. By the fall of that year they had moved back to the Washington DC area. In August Ellis wrote “Father I am very glad to hear from you it seems as though you spoke it to me. I am going to try to come home after Richmond is taken.” In the early days of the war it was a common sentiment on both sides that the war would not last long. There was very little appreciation for the horrors to come. In September Robert E. Lee went on the offensive and brought the Confederate Army north and the war took on a new dimension. The 8th Ct was in the front lines of the resulting campaign. They were engaged at the battle of Turner’s Gap in the lead up to Antietam. We recorded the events of Antietam on the Blog in September 2013. The 8th CT under Colonel Harland faced the full wrath of the Confederate attack in the late stages of the battle. The unit history notes of the 400 men standing in that exposed forward position 190 were killed outright. In the official reports of the attacking Confederate Army we find the following description of the attack on the 8th CT, “The fire soon became general. It was hot and rapid. The enemy returned it with vigor, and showed a determination to hold their position stubbornly.” From a journal entry of one of the survivors “Great battle fought yesterday. At about four PM we engaged the enemy with infantry. The rebels got a cross fire on our Regt. from three ways our fellows fought with undaunted bravery. John E. Tuttle my chum was shot through the bowels we held the enemy in check until reinforcements came up. We were ordered back across the river to get something to eat having nothing for three days but a few biscuits. We drawed up in line of battle across the river and called the roll our Regt. could muster but 130 men our company but 14. This morning we had fresh meat and coffee and hard bread breakfast and feel much better. This morning my heart is full of thanks to God that I am still alive.” Ellis wrote home to his father “ I am very well except a slight wound on the knee. We have had two very hard fights with the rebels and whipped them. We lost a good many men and the rebels lost a good many also. You can get the particulars of the fight in the papers better that I can write them. Emerson did not come with us as he had no shoes.” The irony of Emerson was that their father was a shoemaker. Ellis’s letters consistently understate the dangers he faced. It is hard to imagine a lead ball striking you anywhere and leaving but a “slight wound”. In a number of subsequent letters Ellis reminds the family of the fate of some of the young men from the community. But after Antietam he does not burden his father with his anguish for friends shot down in the battle. After Antietam Lee withdraws the Confederate Army south behind the river barriers in northern Maryland. In December the Federal Army attacked him in the famous battle at Fredericksburg. The battle lasted 3 days. On the first day the Federal Army forced a river crossing and captured the town of Fredericksburg. On the morning of the second day of battle he writes home to his father, “We had a pretty hard artillery fight yesterday. We have taken Fredericksburg.” During the remainder of that day the Federal Army and the 8th Ct would be on the losing end of one of the signature battles of the Civil War. The Federal’s attacked a smaller Confederate force with disastrous results. The culmination of the battle was the attack on Marye’s Heights where the Confederates, standing behind a rock wall, inflicted terrible casualties on the Federals. The 8th Ct was deployed to draw troops away from the main attack on Marye’s Heights. The Federal Army was forced to withdraw, having suffered over 12, 000 casualties, killed, missing and wounded. Ellis and Emerson were both listed among those wounded. In a letter home that January Ellis describes their “New Years supper” “I had some baked meat baked in an old Dutch Oven some turnips and potatoes smashed, some fried onions and some butter some condensed milk and coffee.” Soon after Fredericksburg Ellis joined the Quartermasters Corps as a Sergeant. The transfer may have been a reaction to his having been wounded. The move to the Quartermasters Corps took him out of the front line fighting. He reported to his father that one of his roles was as the unit postmaster. It appears in the letters that he took advantage of his role as postmaster to keep tabs on his brothers Emerson and Francis as well as all of the solders from Killingworth. He ended the war serving with the units in front of Richmond and Petersburg. His marriage to Sarah M. Burr age 20 of Haddam is found in the Haddam town records dated January 24, 1864. Ellis M. Stevens is listed as age 23 from Killingworth. His occupation is listed as soldier. The war would come to an end in April of 1865. _________________________Ellis and Sarah made their first home in Haddam where their first three children were born. They eventually ended up in North Branford where they began farming. There is a description of Ellis’s farm in an 1880 agricultural census. The census listed 30 acres tilled, 30 acres permanent meadow, 25 acres mowed and 12 acres of hay along with two horses. Looking at the census Ellis’s farm was somewhat larger than most of his neighbors. In North Branford two more children were born. Ellis died at the young age of 41. The detailed death record dated April 22nd 1882 included the following information; Ellis M. Stevens, age 41 years 6 months, married, born Killingworth CT., died North Branford, father Daniel Stevens. His cause of death is listed as “Cardiac Rheumatism.” Modern rheumatic heart conditions are more often than not the result of a bout with infection. It is my guess that Ellis died a young man from the lingering effects of his battlefield wounds. Ellis is buried in the Bear Plain Cemetery in North Branford. His headstone reads, Ellis M. Stevens, Q. M. Sergt. 8 Regt., Conn. Vols, Died, April 22, 1882._______________________ The 1880 census taken in North Branford shows Ellis and his family; Ellis age 39, Sarah M. age 37, Elbert W. age 13, Flora B. age 10 and Willie E. age 2 months. Although the 1880 shows but three children there were actually five children born to Ellis and Sarah. In the town records for Haddam we find a birth record dated October 27, 1866. It notes the birth of a male child born to Ellis M. Stevens age 26, of Killingworth and Sarah M. Burr age 22, of Haddam. The 1880 census identifies the child as Elbert W.. When Elbert was baptized into the Congregation Society in Middletown as an adult the baptismal record identifies him as Elbert Wilmer Stevens son of Ellis M. & Sarah, born in Haddam Oct. 27, 1866. Elbert is buried in the Old Farm Cemetery in Middletown. His death is recorded as April 30, 1940. ________________ The 2nd child born in Haddam was a “F” born January 3rd 1868. Under the heading of, name, the clerk wrote “maiden name”. History seems to indicate a daughter who did not survive very long probably name Sarah after her mother. _____________ Also in Haddam is the record of another female child born March 12, 1869. This is the Flora B. found in the 1880 Census. The town record also denoted that she was the “3RD” child born into the family of Ellis M. Stevens and Sarah M. Burr. Flora’s headstone is also found in the Old Farm Cemetery in Middletown. There is no date given. She is present in town records as late as 1931. Her headstone records her name as Florence B. Fowler Stevens. Flora had married Nathan Fowler. ____________________ The birth of the next child in the family is found in North Branford. Dated July 22, 1874, Adelmer, born to Ellis M. Stevens age 34 and Sarah M. Burr age 31. The clerk noted he was their 4th child. Adelmer’s death is recorded as October 8, 1874 at the age of 2 months. ______________ The 5th child, according to the Clerk’s record, was also born in North Branford. Willie Elmore was born March 29, 1880. In the 1900 census he is part of his sisters Flora’s household. The census taker listed his name as William E. Stevens age 20. __________________________ After Ellis’s early death Sarah remarried. Sarah is buried in the Burr Cemetery in Haddam next to her parents Nelson and Rebecca Burr. Her headstone reads, Clark, Sarah Burr Stevens, wife of Charles A. Clark, died 1903.________________Ellis / Mercy Griffin / Worden / Samuel / Samuel Griffin of Killingworth