Windham Life and Times – May 27, 2020

South Windham – The Corliss Family

The Corliss Cellar on Marblehead Road
The Road to Salem NH

Morrison says the following about the Corliss family of Windham: “One of the earliest , but now forsaken, homesteads in Windham was situated at the junction of two roads, one leading from Simpson’s mill to Salem, the other leading from the cemetery on the hill to that town. Only a few things mark the spot where for two generations large families of children grew up and passed out into the activities of life. The cellar remains and the well from which arose ‘the old oaken bucket’ is still there, and a few large stones where the barn stood; this is all.”

     George Corliss, the founder of the family, was born about 1617; came from Devonshire, England, in 1639 he settled in Newbury, MA; soon removed the Haverhill, where he died in 1686. He married Joanna Davis, Oct. 26, 1645, a sister of Thomas Davis, of Marlborough, England. They had ten children—

     John Corliss was born in Haverhill on March 4, 1686; married Ruth Haynes and had 14 children together. His seventh child, Joseph, married 1746, Mary Emerson, and they had seven children one of whom was Joseph, the founder of the Windham branch. “Joseph was born November 29, 1747; married about 1767 Miriam Emerson. He was the ancestor of the Windham Corlisses. Leaving his life and child in Haverhill, he came to then wilds of Windham, to make himself a home. He had already earned one hundred dollars by peddling linen thread for the Londonderry settlers. With this he bought of one Thompson, who lived at the corner, one hundred acres of land with a small house. His family joined him. He built a large house, which remained there until 1840 when it was moved to Lowell, MA. His wife dying, leavening nine children, he married Betsey Utinox, daughter of Francis and a descendant of Huguenots. Her father left France for England, where he married Mary Lee, descendant of Harry Lee, who Walter Scott made historic. He and his wife and son sailed for America. Betsey the daughter, was born on the voyage. On their arrival the father and son died; the young mother followed, but on her deathbed she remembered the dear old faith of her fathers; had her child christened and left in charge of a god-mother, who used to buy her thread and linen of the Londonderry settlers. She thought it would be a fine thing to have her young charge sent among these good people and learn to spin and weave, and be brought up in their quiet industry; so the little waif drifted into the family of Mr. Gregg, of Londonderry; was catechized by Rev. David MacGregor. She seldom realized that she had no kith or kin in all the wide world. Having learned the weaver’s trade, she went among the settlers and wove for them when needed. After a time she drifted into the town of Windham, and was brought under the influence of the saintly Williams.” (The Rev. Simon Williams who was the head of Williams Academy in Windham).

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough hew them how we will.’

    “In those days there was a law, that every transient person should be warned out of town by the constable; so that if a person ever needed public aid, the county, and not the town, would be responsible. Joseph Corliss was constable, and it became his duty to perform the disagreeable task. He found Betsey Utinox, the young, friendless French girl, weaving at the house of his mother-in-law, dressed in her red dress, for she was French in all her ways. The stern constable read her the dreadful law, with the penalties affixed, to which she was liable, if she did not leave town within the stated number of days, With frightened eyes she listened, and for once in her life the loneliness of her homeless and friendless condition burst in upon her mind with overpowering might, and the floodgates of her soul were broken down. They soothed her by saying that the law was a mere form. She never forgot that scene, and in her old age would relate it with fire and indignation shining in her faded eyes. It was an event too, that the constable, Joseph Corliss, never forgot, for when, years afterwards, his wife died, he was glad to ask her to be a mother to his motherless children, and by her presence to brighten his home and life.”

     This is about the only romantic incident I have found in this early settlement, and that scene is worthy of a painter  to sketch upon enduring canvas, or for Whittier to weave into verse immortal.”

     The funny thing is that Mr. Corliss may never have met Betsey Utinox except that fate would play its hand in his being forced to become a constable in Windham. Morrison says, on “August 29, 1780— Joseph Corliss was chosen constable at the annual meeting, in 1780, and refused to accept. At an adjourned meeting he gave his reasons, and the town refused to excuse him from serving. The minister rates were assessed and he declined to collect. The matter was brought before the town, and the selectmen were authorized to prosecute said Corliss for his not paying the Rev. Simon Williams agreeable to his warrant according to law.” It is recounted again that “In 1780, Joseph Corliss was a constable, and in the discharge of his official duties warned out of town an attractive, young French girl, who subsequently became his wife…Its funny that thing he did not wish to do; becoming a constable,  led to his meeting Betsey Utinox.

     Mr. Corliss by his second wife had five children. (In case you’ve lost count, John Corliss had 19 children by his two wives.) He left this farm to his son Solomon and bought a farm near the school-house in District No. 7. The house stood some thirty rods south of the school-house, and the old cellar is still there. On this farm he lived till his death in 1820. Solomon married Annis Houghten of Haverhill and lived upon the farm until 1820 when he removed to Bath, Maine.

     Joseph Corliss was revolutionary war veteran who fought through much of the war; “a member of the first military company formed in Windham by Captain James Gilmore.” He was also part of Colonel Matthew Thornton’s regiment.

     From about 1807 through 1819 Joseph Corliss was licensed by the selectmen to be a “taverner or public innkeeper” which he conducted “near T.W. Simpson’s mill. 

     The Joseph Corliss cellar of his first house is “at the corner of the road leading from Windham to the Richard Woodbury farm in Salem. 

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