In the Beginning
The lands of Mattabeseck – the Native American name by which Middletown was first called, were owned and occupied by Sowheag and the Wonggom Tribe. and so began the story of Chatham creation. A scant 15 years after the first settlement in Windsor formed, Middletown was invested with town privileges in September 1651, by the General Court of the Colony with 31 taxable persons in the settlement north and south of the little river – the Coginchaug or Mattabasset. This land had been sold by Sowheag to John Haynes, a Governor of Connecticut. In 1662, Sepunnamoe, Terramuggus and other heirs of Sowheag, knowing of the of the Hayes grant, sold to agents of the Colony Samuel Wyllys and others, all of the remaining land in the Middletown township west of the Connecticut River. Included in the bargain was a tract “three miles in breath” across the river except for 300 acres, which was reserved forever for the heirs of Sowheag and the Mattabeseck Indians.
With the Wyllys grant in 1673, Middletown was extended to the east side of the river over a tract nine miles long on its eastern border and between three and four miles wide at north and south ends; but owning to the winding of the river, it was much less at what became known as Knowles Landing at Middle Haddam and almost twice as wide against the town of Middletown.
By an additional purchase in 1683, the township of Middletown was extended still farther east over a tract three miles in breadth with an even length of nearly nine miles. These two tracts east of the great river were known as East Middletown until 1721, when the last tract purchased from the Indians was called the Three Mile Division and so written in the land records.
East Middletown and the Divisions
From Middletown evolved Chatham. Land on the western side of the great river was divided among the first settlers to Middletown as they arrived and took up residence. Records do not exist for this early period, thus the exact nature of settlement in Middletown is not known, but likely was concentrated around a small green, in the conventional New England manner, at the northern end of Main Street, where each town member owned a home lot nearby and some outlying land for cultivation. Middletown's original settlers did not arrive as an organized group. They were from a variety of different places. For this reason, Middletown's establishment was less organized with a proprietor group as elsewhere in founding communities such as Windsor, Wethersfield or Hartford. The fact that this first generation neglected to officially establish who the town proprietors were became an important issue in determining the later disposition of Middletown land of the east side of the river. In 1671, when Middletown decided to allot the undivided land, the proprietor issue had to be resolved providing for the proprietors or their descendants first claim on the land.
It was decided that each of the 52 Middletown householders would be entitled to a share in the undivided land based on their wealth as determined by the tax grand list. The land would be allotted on two occasions: the first according to the tax list of 1670; and the second, by the tax list of 1674. The western portion of East Hampton, including Middle Haddam, was distributed in 1674 as part of an allotment called "The Great Lots," running from Glastonbury to Haddam. Forty of the 52 lots were on the east side of the river, divided somewhat evenly between present day Portland and western East Hampton.
The Three Mile Division
In 1673, Middletown was granted an additional tract on the river's east side, following the same southerly and northerly bounds following the original 9 by 3 mile allotment. This grant would not be apportioned for decades, perhaps in an effort to avoid further entanglements with proprietors' rights. Complicating matters, a 350 acre grant within the bounds of the "Three Mile Division" had been previously granted in 1661 by the General Assembly to Thomas Judd and to Anthony Howkins, a member of the original eighteen members of the "Company of English Colony of Connecticut" without specifying the bounds. The 1673 grant referenced this prior claim, "providing that Mr. Howkins hath liberty to take up his former grant within this aforementioned town." Howkins however, died in February 1673 with his estate selling his allotment to Thomas Hart for ten pounds with it thereafter referenced as "Hart's Farm." In 1687 the General Assembly granted James Wright of Wethersfield 210 acres on the western shore of Lake Pocotopaug requiring Surveyors to work around these two properties when boundaries within the Three Mile Division were finally determined in 1721.
The proprietor issue once again became a source of contention. The problem: the land had not been granted until after the original Middletown proprietors had been finally determined in 1671. Ostensibly, a share in this land reserve would have been an inducement for settlement for those who arrived between 1671 and 1714. These later settlers therefore had a viable claim on this land. After extensive debate, it was decided that the land would be apportioned among all 176 Middletown householders on the 1714 grand list, with those men descended from the original 52 Middletown proprietors entitled to draw an additional allotment according to the assessed value of the property owned by their ancestor in 1670.
Final Apportionment of Three Mile Division
Continuing, all the land north of Lot 227 had been set aside as common land, whose fate explains the slight irregularity in the present East Hampton-Portland boundary. The notch taken out of East Hampton's northwest corner was part of the common land.
The records seem to indicate that each taxpayer’s name was written on a slip of paper and draw, one by one, from a hat perhaps, by some disinterested person and that the surveyors laid out the lots or assigned the names accordingly, or, the slips of paper were numbered and each man drew one for his situation. It doesn’t go beyond notice that today’s lotto or lottery derives from the colonial practice of drawing for “lots.”
In 1734, the Three Mile Division 1,200 acres of the common land was granted to William Whitmore as payment and settlement for building a stone "cart bridge" over the Sebethe River in present day Cromwell. The issue became quite contentious when Whitmore demanded that those crossing the bridge pay him a toll. At length a compromise was reached and Whitmore was paid 300 pounds in land as compensation not to collect a toll.
By 1721, all the land in East Hampton had been allotted, but settlement did not begin immediately. Since heirs to the first proprietors subdivided the original estates under the system of partible inheritance, the system of dividing estates equally among the heirs, this land reserve had been a precaution against an anticipated land shortage. In fact, by 1740 when land actually began to be developed, about half the settlers were from outside of Middletown. Most of the settlers who were from Middletown acquired the land they settled on the east side of the great river by purchase rather than inheritance suggesting that they had arrived after the 1714 allotment.
The Lottery - Choosing the Owners
In apportioning the land, the records indicate that each taxpayer’s name was written on a slip of paper and drawn, one by one, from a hat perhaps, by some disinterested person and that the surveyors laid out the lots or assigned the names accordingly, or, the slips of paper were numbered and each man drew one for his situation. It doesn’t go beyond notice that today’s lotto or lottery derives from the colonial practice of drawing for “lots” or land taxpayers were entitled to as proprietors.
In 1734, the Three Mile Division 1,200 acres of the common land was granted to William Whitmore as payment and settlement for building a stone "cart bridge" over the Sebethe River in present day Cromwell. The issue became quite contentious, however, as Whitmore demanded that those crossing the bridge pay him a toll. A compromise was reached. Whitmore was paid 300 pounds in land as compensation not to collect a toll.
By 1721, all the land in East Middletown in the Three Mile Division had been allotted. Settlement did not begin immediately. Since heirs to the first proprietors subdivided the original estates under the system of partible inheritance, which was the system of dividing estates equally among the heirs, this land reserve had been a precaution against an anticipated land shortage. In fact, it wasn't until about 1740 when land actually began to be developed, with about about half the settlers from outside of Middletown. This explains how East Hampton and Chatham's names were derived as many of the first settlers came from like named towns on Cape Cod. Most of the settlers who were from Middletown acquired the land they settled on the east side of the great river by purchase rather than inheritance suggesting that they had arrived after the 1714 allotment.
Establishing Parishes - the Foundation for new Townships
The early settlements, East Middletown, Middle Haddam, Westchester and East Hampton, outlier communities of Middletown, sought parish rights once sufficient numbers arrived. Ecclesiastical societies were established so that settlements could attend Sunday worship more conveniently. Once a community felt it had enough people, it would petition the General Assembly for a separate parish, invariably citing the hardship of distant Sunday travels as grounds justifying its establishment. Acknowledgment as a separate parish had benefits, exempting members from paying taxes to the central church and occasionally conferred other privileges such as municipal improvement of roads that gave rise to their new meeting house.
Until 1714, any resident on the east side of the river had to attend church in Middletown proper. In that year the Third Ecclesiastical Society of Middletown was granted, whose petitioners all lived within the present bounds of Portland.
The first to break off from the Third Society was the southeastern corner of the Three Mile Division, incorporated as the Westchester parish in 1728, which included all of the easternmost tier of lots south or east of the Salmon River to the East Haddam bound.
In 1739, a second parish was established, including the present Middle Haddam and all of Haddam Neck, roughly followed the course of Old Middletown Road through Cobalt, extending from the Connecticut River and Salmon River to the end of the "Great Lots" on Young Street.
East Hampton, the final parish established, formed in 1746. It included nearly all the remaining land within the Three Mile Division bordering east of the hills now dividing Portland and East Hampton. This ecclesiastical bound became the municipal boundary when Portland separated from Chatham in 1841.
Seeking a New Township
Early in the 18th Century, residents on the east side of the Connecticut River began lobbying for a separate town. In 1736, the residents voted to petition the town of Middletown “that we the inhabitants of the east side of the great river in Middletown might have the liberty to be a town with all the privileges of a town by ourselves.” This initial attempt was unsuccessful; but interest for a separate township grew as more settlers located throughout all the parishes. In 1767, upon petition, the Selectmen of Middletown voted favorably for the creation of a new township on the east side of the Connecticut River. Jabez Hamlin, Seth Wetmore and Mathew Talcob, Esq's. were selected as a Committee to confer with such Gentlemen as the new town appoint and to agree on such measures reasonable in order to make a just division of the part of Each Town. Middletown's Representative Jabez Hamlin, submitted the petition for a new township which was passed by the General Assembly in the October Session of 1767. The Resolution sited, among other things that the inhabitants on the east side of the river are very remote from Middletown where public meetings are held and that the condition of roads and difficulty crossing the river by ferry in many seasons entirely deprive residents from attending the public meetings. Because of these great inconveniences, the residents no longer wish to be a part of Middletown. The General Court Assembled approved the creation of a new distinct town from the area of Middletown on the East Side of Connecticut River, with all the liberties privileges and Immunities which by law the other Towns have and do Enjoy and that said new Constituted Town shall hereafter be Called and know by the name of Chatham.
Making it official - organizing the new town called Chatham
One action remained to make the creation of Chatham official after the General Assembly Act in October 1767. The inhabitants needed to hold their first Town Meeting to elect Town Officers. Held on December 7, 1767, (what I believe would be the Town's actual "birthday"), at the Meeting House - the Congregational Church, Capt. Jeremiah Goodrich, Deacon Benjamin Harris, Silas Dunham, Ebenezer White and Elihew Cheeny were elected Selectman and David Sage Representative to the General Assembly. That first long meeting recessed until December 21 to complete all the work establishing the community – everything from appointing a Constable to Fence Viewer.
Also elected was a Committee to Settle with Middletown. Just because Middletown approved the creation of the new town didn't mean they were going to receive fair compensation for the loss of territory and resources. That Committee was comprised of David Sage, Esq., Nathaniel Freeman, Esq., Mr. Elisha Cornwell, Mr. David Robinson and Mr. Enoch Smith.
One question often arises. Why was the new town named Chatham? One source thought it was done to honor the Earl of Chatham, a staunch supporter of American Colony rights in Parliament. It probably did not come from the English town of Chatham, famous for shipbuilding, as has been speculated for many years because our own shipbuilding industry in Middle Haddam had barely commenced in 1767. Most of the great ship yards came 30 years after incorporation. It is possible that both names, East Hampton and Chatham, were selected because many of the early settlers who purchased lots or land from the initial proprietors relocated from Massachusetts Eastham and Chatham on the Cape. For many of the pre-1767 years the East Hampton section was called Eastham Town when it was separated and received the current spelling.
THE NEW TOWN - CHATHAM
In 1767, upon petition, the Selectmen of Middletown voted favorably for the creation of a new township on the east side of the Connecticut River. Their minutes recorded action as follows:
Committee to Settle with Chatham
Voted & Recorded
Voted that Jabez Hamlin, Seth Wetmore and Mathew Talcob Esqs be a Committee to Confer with such Gentlemen as the Town of Chatham have or shall appoint and agree on such measures and means as are or reasonable in order to make a just division of the part of Each Town and any other affairs that be judged necessary and make report to them at meeting.
Voted and So Recorded
The Representative from Middletown, Jabez Hamlin, submitted to the General Assembly, the petition for a new township which was passed by the General Assembly in the October Session of 1767, which granted:
An Act for making and forming that part of Middletown which lyeth on the East Side of Connecticut River into a Distinct Town - Oct 1767
Whereas the Assembly are Informed that the Inhabitants of that part of Middletown which lyeth on the East Side of Connecticut River are many of them very remote from the main body of the Town of Middletown and place of holding their public Meetings; and that they are by their situation the badness of the roads and difficulty of crossing the ferry over said river at many seasons of the year almost entirely deprived from attending the public Meetings in said Town; and suffer great Inconveniences thereby, and that for them any longer to continue as a part of said Town of Middletown is very Inconvenient ----
Be it Enacted by the Governor’s Council and the representatives in General Court Assembled and by the authority of the same, that that part of Middletown which lyeth on the East Side of Connecticut River be, and they are hereby Enacted made and constituted within the limits and bounds thereof a distinct Town, with all the liberties privileges and Immunities which by law the other Towns have and do Enjoy: and that said new Constituted Town shall hereafter be Called and know by the name of Chatham with the limitation and restriction that but One Representative which said new constituted Town shall at any time choose to attend the General Assemblies Shall be at the Public Expense.
And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid that said Town of Chatham shall have and hold their first Town Meeting for the Choice of Town Officers for the year ensuing sometime in the month of December Next, which Meeting shall be warned by a Warrant Signed by an Justice of Peace in the County of Hartford to be directed to some indifferent person to Serve on which Warrant shall appoint the time and the place at which said Meeting is to be held and shall be Served at least five days appointed for holding said meeting.
Passed in the lower House
Atest: Wm Williams Clerk
Consent in the upper House
Atest: George Wyllys Clerk
One action needed yet to occur to make the creation of Chatham official. The inhabitants of Chatham needed to hold their first Town Meeting in December 1767 to elect Town Officers and their Representative to the General Assembly. Held on December 7, 1767, at the Meeting House, Capt. Jeremiah Goodrich, Deacon Benjamin Harris, Silas Dunham, Ebenezer White and Elihew Cheeny were elected Selectman and David Sage Representative, during a long meeting that recessed until December to complete all the work establishing the community – everything from Constable to Fence Viewer.
At this Town organizational meeting, a Committee to Settle with Middletown was elected.
“Chosen by this meeting a Committee in order to adjust and settle sum accounts with the Selectmen or a committee for the same purpose at Middletown, the persons for the Committee are David Sage, Esq., Nathaniel Freeman, Esq., Mr. Elisha Corwell, Mr. David Robinson and Mr. Enoch Smith.”