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History of Killingly, (Windham County) Connecticut

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Local History Notes:

History of Killingly

The manufacturing furor raged with great violence in Killingly, its numerous rivers offering such convenient facilities that her own citizens were able to embark in such enterprises with less foreign aid than was requisite in other towns. "Danielson's Factory" at the Quinebaug Falls enjoyed a high place in popular favor, its twenty liberal-handed stockholders, mostly town residents, prosecuting its various business affairs with much energy. William Reed served most efficiently for many years as its agent. Its well-filled store was managed by the Tiffany brothers from Rhode Island. Once a year, proprietors and managers met to report progress and divide profits, when business was followed by a jovial good time and supper. The "Stone Chapel" on the present site of the Attawaugan, was built by Captain John and Ebenezer Kelley for John Mason of Thompson in 1810, but did not get into successful operation for some years, when John, James B. and Edward Mason, Jun., were incorporated as the "Stone Chapel Manufacturing Company." Messrs. John Mason and Harvey Blashfield had the oversight of this establishment. The tallow candles needed for its morning and evening service were dipped by Miss Harriet Kelley, in batches of forty dozen at a time. The privilege on the Five-Mile River long occupied by Talbot's Grist-Mill passed into the hands of the Killingly Manufacturing Company in 1814. Its constituent members were Rufus Waterman, Thomas Thompson, John Andrews of Providence; David Wilkinson, Henry Howe of North Providence, Dr. Robert Grosvenor, Jedidiah Sabin, Elisha Howe, Benjamin Greene of Killingly, Smith Wilkinson, Eleazer Sabin of Pomfret. The Howes had charge of the business, and the factory soon built was called by their name. The remarkable descent of the Whetstone Brook furnished privileges quite out of proportion to its volume of water. The first Chestnut Hill Company to take advantage of this fall was constituted by Joseph Harris, Ebenezer Young, Calvin Leffingwell, Asa Alexander, George Danielson, Lemuel Starkweather, whose wheels and spindles were soon competing with those of other manufacturers. The greatest spirit and activity prevailed in these growing villages. Everybody was hard at work, building, digging, planting, carting, weaving, spinning, picking cotton, making harnesses, dipping candles, and attending to the thousand wants of the hour. The wives and families of the manufacturing executives entered into their work with jubilant enthusiasm, helping everything forward. Mrs. John Mason was a lady of wonderful energy and vivacity, one who would be a social light in the darkest corner. Very pleasant intercourse was kept up between the families of the several villages, who seemed bound together in a common aim and fraternity. The intense mechanical activity of the time was manifested by a remarkable feminine achievement, the exercise of the inventive faculty, hitherto dormant in the female mind. Mrs. Mary Kies of South Killingly invented "a new and useful improvement in weaving straw with silk or thread," for which she obtained in May, 1809, the first patent issued to any woman in the United States, and she is also said to have been the first female applicant. Mrs. President Madison expressed her gratification by a complimentary note to Mrs. Kies. The fabrication of this graceful and ingenious complication was thus added to the other industries of Killingly. The impulse given by manufacturing enterprise was manifested in other activities. The mineral resources of the town were sought out and brought before the public. The old Whetstone Hills were found to enclose valuable quarries of freestone, suitable for building purposes. Rare and beautiful detached stones as well as extensive quarries were found on Breakneck. "A rich bed of porcelain clay" was discovered on Mashentuck Hill, "pronounced by competent judges to equal the best French or Chinese clay." Indications of lead and still more valuable ore were also reported. Many new roads were demanded to facilitate the opening industries. The town accepted a road laid out from Danielson's Factory to the country road near the dwelling-house of Solomon Sikes (declining responsibility at the same time for the bridge over Five-Mile River), and voted not to oppose a road from Danielson's to the house of Rev. Israel Day, and thence to Rhode Island line. This new road to Providence was very needful for the transportation of goods and cotton. The mercantile operations of Captain Alexander Gaston, who had removed from Sterling to South Killingly, were also greatly benefited thereby. His flourishing store added greatly to the importance of this miniature "city." He was accustomed to buy large quantities of goods at auction in New York market, and farmers would hurry down to Providence with their teams when his ships were expected, that they might reap the profit of hauling them up to Killingly. A new turnpike project forcibly urged by some citizens was most vigorously resisted, and called out the following successful manifesto:- "Whereas a contemplated branch of four miles to the Connecticut and Rhode Island turnpike (petition by Evan Malbone and others) is to meet about a thousand dollars expense upon Killingly without enhancing the interests of the town, or facilitating a convenience to the public; and, whereas, such an obtrusion upon the town would be considered as truly extraordinary and unprecedented as it would be derogatory to its interests; and, whereas it is the unquestioned privilege of a town at all times to defend and protect its interest against that principle of invasion which would sacrifice the interests of town and individuals to its own accommodation-therefore voted, that the town of Killingly will never submit to such an invasion upon these rights while protection can be claimed by the laws of the State." So heavy was the burden brought upon tax-payers by public improvements that an effort was made to secure town division by an east and west line through the centre. Sampson Howe, Captain Gaston and Ezra Hutchins appear frequently as moderators of town meetings; Daniel Buck, John Day, Samuel Sprague, John Kelly, Tiffany and John Adams, Jacob Spalding, as selectmen; Ezra Hutchins, Joseph Adams, Anthony Brown, Ebenezer Young, Penuel Hutchins, Luther Warren, Arba Covill, David Chase, as justices; Luther Warren, town clerk; Hezekiah Howe, constable. Ebenezer Young had now opened a law office in the rising village of Westfield, which with its meeting-house, doctor's office and tavern, was becoming more and more of a town centre. A fine house near the meeting-house was occupied by Captain Evan Malbone and his establishment. Captain Solomon Sikes' popularity as a military officer added much to the fame of his tavern, especially during war-time. Killingly's artillery company was very efficient at this date, commanded by Captain David Bassett. Laban and Barzillai Fisher served as its lientenants. William Alexander, Calvin Day, David Chase and Charles Buck were rising officers. The admired South Killingly company maintained its standing under Simon Hutchins, John Eaton, 2d, and Aaron Rood. Increasing centralization and other causes gave a new impetus to the West Killingly church. Mr. Johnson was dismissed from the pastorate in 1809. His successor, Roswell Whitmore, the son of an old Killingly family removed to Ashford, was ordained January 13, 1813. Ordination services conducted with due form by Reverends Moses C. Welch, Walter Lyon, Israel Day and Elisha Atkins, were very satisfactory as was also the Ordination Ball held the same evening at Captain Silas Hutchins' Assembly Room under the management of the Messrs. Malbone and Hutchins. Many of the young people who graced the Assembly Room on that joyful occasion were among the subjects of the almost immediately succeeding revival and became pillars in church and town. Mr. Whitmore was a man of much life and energy, ready to engage in any form of christian labor and the church was rapidly built up. James Danielson and Shubael Hutchins were elected and installed as deacons in March, 1813. The South Killingly church also enjoyed religious revivals and under its respected pastor peacefully kept the even tenor of its way.

Killingly Hill received its share of the new impetus. Mr. Smith Wilkinson, the Howes, Masons, with many of their managers and operatives, attended worship with the North Killingly church, and identified themselves with its religious and social interests. Very agreeable society was found upon this hill in the families of Captain Howe, Captain Arnold, Dr. Grosvenor and others, and it was a matter of doubt whether the many frequenters at Captain Arnold's were attracted by the new post-office or the charms of his blooming daughter. A select school or class taught by Mr. Atkins was an additional attraction to young people. While performing the ordinary ministerial duties with great fidelity and acceptance, this good minister accomplished much for education and public culture. His skill in stimulating the intellect and raising the tone of character was especially recognized, and young people going out into the world needed no other recommendation than a certificate from Mr. Atkins. Young men went out from his training well prepared for college, business and public life; young women, fitted for any station that might await them. Some of the latter became very successful teachers, perpetuating the impress received from their revered instructor; others adorned high social positions at home and in distant States. The first voluntary benevolent associations in Windham County were greatly forwarded if not originated by pupils of Mr. Atkins. The careless merry-making of the olden time had given place to a more earnest and thoughtful spirit. Young women of culture and aspirations felt that they had some other mission in the world than to dance and frolic. Balls and merry-makings were now less in vogue than reading clubs and debating societies. A tendency to unhealthy sentimentalism was happily checked by an opportunity to engage in works of practical benevolence. The development of missionary enterprise, the formation of the American Board, the sailing of the first foreign missionaries, the fervent appeals for aid and co-operation, awakened the warmest sympathies of thousands of Christian women. "Choice spirits" on Killingly Hill were among the first to give their talents and energies to missionary work. Appeals from Windham Association and their own minister met immediate response. Interest in a foreign field opened their eyes to home demands and necessities. They found that mission work was needed in their own community, that could be best accomplished by the associated efforts of women. It was proposed that the ladies of Killingly North Society and Thompson "should unite on principles of true Christian charity and liberality in a Society that is to be formed for the purpose of communicating moral and religious instruction by the distribution of tracts." A meeting was accordingly held in the South District in Thompson, July 20, 1816. A constitution, prepared for a similar association of ladies in Providence, was unanimously adopted. It declared the present period "distinguished by very uncommon and important occurrences. While there are passing before us many scenes which are extremely disastrous and gloomy . . . . nothing can be more interesting and encouraging than that spirit of benevolent exertion for extending the knowledge and enjoyment of the Gospel which has been extensively excited in the hearts of Christians . . . . . not merely by particular denominations but by Christians of all denominations . . . . in every section of the earth which is favored with the light of divine truth." The object of the society was to promote the interests of evangelical piety and liberality; its title, The United Female Tract Society of Thompson and Killingly. Mrs. Martha Whitman Mason, wife of Mr. William H. Mason-a lady of great intelligence and force of character-was elected president; Miss Mary Atkins, Killingly, treasurer; Miss Nancy S. Gay, Thompson, secretary; directors, Misses Susan Bishop, Lucina Converse, Penelope W. Sessions; receivers, Misses Rebekah Gleason, Elizabeth Copp, Hope B. Gay. A hundred and twenty-two ladies enrolled themselves members of this society. It was then voted that the first annual meeting should be holden at the Presbyterian meeting-house in Thompson, on Wednesday, July 24, and that the Rev. Messrs. Dow, Crosby and Atkins be requested to attend, and that Mr. Dow be requested to preach a sermon on the occasion. "Agreeable to the previous resolution a large number of ladies assembled at Mrs. Dow's at one o'clock, P. M., and at two repaired to the meeting-house where an appropriate discourse was delivered by Mr. Dow, and the exercises concluded by a very pertinent and impressive address to the Throne of Grace by the Rev. Mr. Crosby."

A large number of tracts were promptly distributed among its members, and sent to destitute places. The receivers were required to "peruse the tracts" previous to circulation, and approbate or suppress them according to their judgment. Every family in the two societies was visited by some zealous distributor and supplied with this form of religious literature. After flourishing for two years the society resolved itself into an auxiliary Bible Society, for the general object of disseminating the Holy Scriptures in all languages throughout the earth. Its first meeting was held in Killingly, October, 1818. It was arranged to hold two public meetings a year, one in each meeting-house, on which occasions sermons should be ordinarily preached, and such reports from societies and accounts of the progress and success of the Gospel be read as the officers of the society should think proper to communicate.

A new meeting-house had been completed previous to this date. A vote not to repair but to build, had been obtained in 1815, but the difficulty of raising money without resort to direct taxation delayed the work till the September gale so damaged the old building that repairs were no longer practicable. Proprietors now consented to relinquish their rights. Smith Wilkinson, Robert Grosvenor and Ebenezer Kelly were appointed to exhibit a plan and report expense. "Plan" was more easily agreed upon than site, which excited much discussion. A committee sent by the County Court affixed a place that was rejected. January 28, 1818, the remains of the old meeting-house and step stones were sold at auction-Mr. Wilkinson officiating as salesman. It was then voted that the names of the proprietors should be called; those who wished to have the meeting-house erected on the hill south of Mr. Atkins should answer-"Hill"-and those who wished it on the common-"Common." Twenty two declared for common, eighteen for hill. The accepted site was "that part of the ancient meeting-house lot lying between Providence and Killingly Turnpike and the road leading to the new factory so called, near the east side of said lot." This point decided, the house was built during the following summer under the supervision of Elias Carter. "Spirits" used in raising the frame cost twenty-five dollars. Prosper Alexander, Josiah Deane, Asa Cutler, served as society committee; Augustus Howe, clerk; Joseph Adams, treasurer. Its dedication was attended by all the Úlite of the County.

The Baptists on Chestnut Hill happily united in choice of Calvin Cooper, a native of Northbridge, who brought a suitable recommendation from the Second Baptist Church of Sutton. The day of his ordination, October 14, 1807, was marked by the gathering of all the leading Baptists in the vicinity, viz: Elder Abel Palmer of Hampton; Dea. Henry Wells, Robert Baxter and James Wheaton from Woodstock; Elder Pearson Crosby, Deacon Lemuel Knapp, Thomas Day, James Brown and Joseph Town from Thompson; Elder Zenas Leonard, Deacon Fish and Reuben Stone from Sturbridge; Jeremiah Field, Thomas Brown and Stephen Chapman from Pomfret; William Bachellor and Deacon Whipple from Sutton. Elder Palmer was chosen moderator. The council was "measurably satisfied with the relation of the candidate relative to his conversion from nature to grace, his call to the work of the ministry, and his views of the Gospel, and concluded to proceed to ordination." Agreeably to arrangement, "the several parts were performed at the Baptist meeting-house," and Mr. Cooper solemnly set apart to the work of the ministry with earnest prayer for his success and usefulness. These good wishes were "measurably satisfied." Elder Cooper's ministry was the longest enjoyed by the church, and perhaps the most harmonious and prosperous. The building up of many factory villages in its vicinity brought a large accession to population and church membership, but as had been previously the case many of these members were unreliable and disorderly and the church was constantly agitated with questions of discipline. Many were excluded for neglect of ordinances and open misdemeanors. In 1817, "Brother John M. Hunt was unanimously set apart for ordination to the evangelical ministry of the Gospel." The first council called for this purpose thought the church had been too hasty in this movement, but after farther trial of the young man he was formally ordained to this work by Elders Crosby, Grow, Dwinell and Coles. Elder Cooper, Deacons Jonathan Harrington, Sampson Covill, Edward Chase and Silas Slater, and Brethren Edward Bartlett, Ezekiel Smith and Samuel Bullock, represented the church before this council. During this year it was voted that deacons should be ordained in their offices, but after hearing those then standing in nomination "relate the leading traits of their minds as to the deaconship," the vote was reconsidered and rescinded. The actual membership of the church during this period cannot be ascertained, but the character of its officers and leading men would indicate a good standing and gradual improvement.

Killingly's excessive activity during the war was followed by corresponding depression. Mills owned by men of moderate means were generally closed, and those that still kept at work did so to the pecuniary loss of the proprietors. Experiments in machinery and modes of work were meanwhile tested, power-looms introduced and many improvements effected. A strong conviction in the ultimate success of manufacturing enterprise, and its peculiar adaptation to their own town, encouraged these pioneers to continue their efforts during the darkest days. Companies were re-organized, new men and capital brought in, and when business revived Killingly mills were soon under fresh headway. In 1819, the town had so far recovered from its losses as to report four factories in operation, "all of which contain about five thousand spindles, and were erected at an expense, including buildings, machinery, &c., of nearly $300,000. . . . . At the Danielson Manufactory, water-looms have been introduced, and in general the business is carried on upon the most improved principles and very advantageously. Besides the cotton factories there are one woolen factory, one gin distillery, one paper-hanging manufactory, four dye-houses, three clothiers' works, three carding-machines, three tanneries, eight grain mills, eight saw-mills." There were also in the town six mercantile stores, four, social libraries, five clergymen, six physicians and one attorney. A post-office had been opened at Killingly Centre. Experiments in straw weaving were brought to an untimely end by a sovereign decree from the supreme arbiter of fashion, and hopes of pecuniary profit proved as brittle as the straw with which Mrs. Kies had wrought out her ingenious invention. Her son, Daniel Kies, Esq., of Brooklyn, as well as friends at home, lost heavily by investing in a manufacture which by a sudden change of fashion became utterly valueless.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut. Vol. 1-2. Worcester, MA, USA: 1880.


Biography of William Gaston

William Gaston, governor of Massachusetts, was born in Killingly, Conn., Oct. 3, 1820; son of Alexander and Kesia (Arnold) Gaston; and a descendant on his father's side from Jean Gaston, a French Huguenot; and on his mother's side from Thomas Arnold, who emigrated from England to New England in 1636. He attended the academies at Brooklyn and Plainfield, Conn., and was graduated from Brown in 1840. He was admitted to the bar in 1844 and began practice in Roxbury, Mass. He was a member of the state legislature in 1853-54 and 1856; was city solicitor of Roxbury for five years, and mayor in 1861 and 1862. He was state senator in 1868 and after the annexation of Roxbury to Boston he was mayor of the latter city, 1871-72. In 1874 he was elected governor of Massachusetts and served one term. He was married, May 27, 1852, to Louisa Augusta, daughter of Laban S. and Frances. A. (Lines) Beecher. He received the degree of LL.D. from Harvard and from Brown in 1875. He died in Boston, Mass., Jan. 19, 1894.

From: Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Johnson, Rossiter, editor

William Shadrach Knox Biographical Sketch

William Shadrach Knox, representative, was born at Killingly, Conn., Sept. 10, 1843; son of William and Rebecca (Walker) Knox; grandson of Samuel and Mary (Kimball) Knox, and of James and Hannah (Richardson) Walker. He removed with his parents to Lawrence, Mass., in 1852; was graduated from Amherst college in 1865; was admitted to the Essex bar in 1866, and began practice at Lawrence. He was a Republican representative in the state legislature, and served on the judiciary committee, 1874-75; was city solicitor of Lawrence, 1875-76 and 1887-90; and was representative from the fifth district in the 54th, 55th, 56th, 57th and 58th congresses, 1895-1905, serving as chairman of the committee on territories in the 55th and 56th congresses. He was twice married: first, Septembe.r, 1871, to Eunice B. Hussey, of Acton, Maine, who died March 27, 1897; and secondly, Nov. 26, 1898, to Helen Boardman, of Lawrence, Mass.

From: Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Johnson, Rossiter, editor

Biography of Amasa Learned

Amasa Learned, representative, was born at Killingly, Conn., Nov. 15, 1750; a descendant from William Learned, the emigrant in 1630. He was graduated from Yale in 1772, studied theology, and was licensed to preach. He was a representative from Connecticut iu the 2d and 3d congresses, 1791-95; was a member of the convention which ratified the constitution of the United States; a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1818, and for several years a representative in the state legislature. He married Grace Hallam. He received the degree of A.M. from Yale in 1783. He died in New London, Conn., May 4, 1825.

From: Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Johnson, Rossiter, editor

Charles Lewis Tiffany - A Biography

Charles Lewis Tiffany, merchant, was born at Killingly, Conn., Feb. 15, 1812; son of Comfort and Chloe (Draper) Tiffany, and a descendant of Humphrey Tiffany, who emigrated from England, and was killed by lightning near Boston, July 15, 1685. His father was a pioneer manufacturer of cotton goods. He attended school at Danielsonville, Conn., and Plainfield academy; engaged in business in Brooklyn, Conn., and later joined his father in the cotton manufactory, under the name of C. Tiffany and Son. In 1837 he became associated with John B. Young in the establishment of a stationery business in New York city. They also handled Chinese and Japanese goods, and French jewelry. Mr. Tiffany was married, Nov. 30, 1841, to Harriet Olivia Avery, daughter of Judge Ebenezer Young of Connecticut. In 1848 the firm began the manufacture of gold jewelry. During the panic that followed the disturbances in France in 1848, diamonds declined fifty per cent., and Mr. Tiffany invested all the available resources of the firm in the purchase of these gems. They consequently became the largest diamond merchants in the country. A branch house was established in Paris in 1850. The firm of Tiffany and Company were the first to introduce the English standard of sterling silver into the manufacture of silver ware. Mr. Tiffany was elected a chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France; and received the honor of Pr?mia Digno from the Emperor of Russia. He was a fellow of the Geographical society; a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and a member of the New York Historical society and of the Chamber of Commerce. He died in New York city, Feb. 18, 1902.

From: Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Johnson, Rossiter, editor

Charles Harris Fisher Biographical Sketch

Connecticut Facts:
Tree: white oak
Bird: American robin
Flower: mountain laurel
Nickname: Nutmeg State, Constitution State
Motto: Qui Transtulit Sustinet (He Who Transplanted Still Sustains)
Area (sq. mi.): 5,009
Capitol: Hartford
Admitted: 9 Jan 1788

Windham County Facts:

Seat: Willimantic
Established: 1726
Formed from: Hartford and New London

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Killingly is situated 137 meters above sea level.

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