History of Great Barrington, (Berkshire County,) Massachusetts

This volume of Great Barrington History is the result of researches begun long ago, and continued at intervals of leisure through many years. These researches were undertaken, not with the original intention of gathering material for a town history, but for the gratification of my own personal tastes. My interest in the matter was heightened in searching the records of land titles and ancient boundary lines, for business purposes, and the desire to know more of the town and its early dwellers was thereby increased. In process of years, notes, memoranda, and old manuscripts accumulated to such an extent as to appear to me worthy of preservation; and these were, eventually, written out in some form of historic order. I then concluded to follow my examinations with greater thoroughness and to write, in part at least, the history of the town, which I did, as leisure permitted, and arranged my gatherings in chapters.

The work had thus far progressed, when Clark W. Bryan, having purchased The Berkshire Courier, applied for permission to print, in that journal, what had then been written, and accordingly did print, in short weekly articles, most of the matter which was then prepared. The publications in The Courier, beginning on the first day of January, 1879, extended over a period of fourteen months.

For the purpose of encouraging the publication of the History in book form, the Town at its adjourned annual meeting, April 2d, 1881, on the motion of Merritt I. Wheeler, Esq., voted that a committee of three be appointed and authorized to procure the writing and publishing, for the use of the town, fifty copies of a Town History, and that a sum not exceeding seven hundred and fifty dollars be raised and appropriated for that purpose of and Clark W. Bryan, J. Milton Mackie and Justin Dewey were appointed as such committee. This action of the town was taken under an article in the warrant, inserted without consultation with or the previous knowledge of the writer. I then revised and corrected that portion of the History which had been printed, and added to it much new material. The result is this publication.

In the preparation of the History, I have made examination more or less extended of the town records of Great Barrington and Sheffield; the Proprietary records of the Upper and Lower Housatonic Townships; the records of the Registries of Deeds at Great Barrington, Pittsfield and Springfield; the records of the County and Probate Courts at Pittsfield; and the records and archives in the office of the Secretary of State at Boston. Much material has been gathered from ancient manuscripts and books of accounts in my own possession or which have been furnished me by my townsmen. I have also received valuable assistance from others, to all of whom I wish here to express my thanks. I am particularly obligated to Isaac Seeley, Esq., Town Clerk and Register of Deeds for many acts of courtesy in facilitating the examination of the records in his office; to Merrit I. Wheeler, Esq. for the manuscripts and account books of his grandfather, Capt. Truman Wheeler the Town Treasurer and Muster Master in the Revolutionary period; and to Mrs. Caleb B. Culver, for a copy of the diary of Rev. Samuel Hopkins. From Henry W. Taft, Esq., of Pittsfield, I have received many kind attentions, copies of records, and of interesting papers from the files of the County Court. Henry Holland, Esq., of Westfield, has assisted with much genealogical information of the early settlers from that town; and Isaac Huntting, Esq., of Pine Plains, N.Y., has contributed many items of Indian lore and history. The Rev. George Mure Smith, formerly of Lenox, now of Edinburgh, Scotland, has rendered valuable aid in notes gathered at the offices of the Secretary of State, both in Boston and Albany. Frank L. Pope, Esq., of Elizabeth, New Jersey a native of Great Barrington has taken a great interest in the preparation of this history, and has rendered very material assistance by furnishing abstracts from the state archives and from rare publications, but above all in compiling and drawing, from data gathered by himself, the map which accompanies this work. In the map, the ancient boundary lines of the Upper and Lower Townships and of the Indian Town are delineated from original plats and from the records of early surveys; the geographical features are from Walling's map of the state; the old roads laid down and some of the town lines are from a very well executed though long forgotten map of Great Bairrington, made by David Fair child in 1794, which Mr. Pope discovered in the office of the Secretary of State.


Table of Contents

Westenhook, or the Patent of Westenhook 1

Talcot's Fight - The Housatonic River - Derivation of its Name 8

The Upper and Lower Housatonic Townships - 1722-1733 14

The Upper Township, 1722 1742 24

Geographical and Topographical 37

Aboriginal Inhabitants - The Housatonic Indians 50

The Indian Mission, 1734-1736 55

The Indian Reservation and Indian Claims 69

Great Barrington as the North Parish of Sheffield, 1742-1761 77

Early Settlers Their Families and Locations, 1726-1743, 101

Alarms of the French and Indian Wars, 1744-8-1753-60 135

Great Barrington as the North Parish of Sheffield, 1743-1761 144

Great Barrington Derivation of the Name of the Town Town Organization Early Town Meetings, 1761-1770 166

Water Power and Israel Dewey's Mills, 1762-1791 178

Religious Dissensions Quarrels over the Minister's Salary, 1757-1769 184

The Organization of the Episcopal Church The Erection of the Church Rev. Gideon Bostwick, 1760-1793 196

Changes and Improvements New Inhabitants and New Locations, 1761-1776 208

The Revolutionary Period, 1768-1783 225

Great Barrington the Shire Town of the County, 1761-1787 279

Constitutional and Political, 1774-1780 299

Incidents of the Shays Rebellion, 1786-7 304

Support of Preaching Formation of Religious Societies, 1769-1800 320

New Families and New Locations Old Roads and Old Inhabitants, 1780-1800 328

Early School Houses Support of Schools Formation of School Districts Select Schools - High School 347

Early Industries Merchants The Post Office Stages Taverns Magistrates Lawyers and other Notables 356

Days of Recreation Militia - Changes in Inhabitants Politics Lieutenant George Wainwright William Phillips 374

Churches, Religious Denominations, and Cemeteries 384

Improvement of Water Power below the Great Bridge The Kellogg Mill The Leavenworth Marble Works The Seekonk Distillery, 398

Improvements at Van Deusenville 408

Housatonic and its Industries 415

Town and Village Improvements and Institutions 424

Great Barrington in the War of the Rebellion 443

Roll of Soldiers 471
Appendix 488
Index 495


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It is well known that the province of New York originally claimed all that part of Massachusetts which lies west of the Connecticut river, including the whole of Berkshire and a large part of Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties, and that the divisional line between the two provinces was long a subject of controversy between their respective governments. But, whilst New York - not without apparent good reason insisted upon the Connecticut river as her eastern boundary, she neglected to extend her settlements east of the Taghkanick mountains, and Massachusetts by occupancy obtained possession and eventually established her right to the disputed territory. This divisional line, after long and vexatious quarrels sometimes resulting in bloodshed, was finally agreed upon, in 1773, and temporarily established at a general distance of about twenty miles east of the Hudson river, but was not permanently settled until 1787.