Windham Life and Times – July 8, 2022

Moses Noyes – Zins Farm

Rural Oasis gives the history of this farm: “This property, presently owned by Iola and Margaret Zins Mailloux, is known as the Zins Farm. It was formerly Moses Noyes farm and was occupied by him in 1795. Although the exact age of the house is undetermined, a stone in the foundation was carved with the date 1775 which is possibly the time it was built. The Noyes owned the farm until 1881 when it was transfered to John Worledge. He kept the farm until 1907. Peter Zins bought the property in 1917.

     Morrison says about the Noyes family that, “The family is of Norman descent, and the name was formerly Noyes. The Noyes family of New England was largely, if not entirely, the descendants of James and Nicholas Noyes. These two brothers, sons of a minister in Choulderton, Wilshire Co., England. They emigrated to America in 1634, and Nicholas was the first of the band of emigrants, so tradition asserts, to leap upon the shore. He settled in Newbury Mass.; was born in 1614 and married Mary Cutting, of London, and died November 23, 1701 at 83 years… Moses was the ancestor of the Noyes family of Windham. He was born on December 16, 1743. He was a solider in the French, and also in the Revolutionary war,—in the latter serving as an orderly sergeant. At the time of the Lexington alarm, the door of his house was rudely burst open in the dead of night and rapid orders were given for him to go to town for powder and balls, as the British were coming. He mounted his horse, and without waiting to join any organization, went to hunt the British, as men hunt squirrels. He rode his horse as far as possible, then tied him to a tree, where he stood for thirty-six hours; then stealthily he crept along in his stocking feet, hanging upon the flanks of the enemy, and doing what execution he could while approaching

Concord. He lived to see the realization for his country, and the good which he contended for, made secure for coming generations. He first settled in Wilmington Mass., and married Lydia Carter, either of that town or Windham; it is uncertain which, as her parents lived in Windham; they had three children, one of whom died early. She died and he married 2nd, ___ Jaquith of Windham; died in town; he was married a third time, name not known. He came to Windham in 1786, located near Simpson’s mill, and January 30, 1795, he sold to George Simpson, of the Greenland family, and moved on the farm owned by his father-in-law Carter, and known as the James Noyes farm, on the plain, now owned by J.W.M. Woolridge, where he died March 12, 1824. 

   James was his son and married Abigail Lovejoy of Amherst, March 14, 1816. He “lived upon the home farm on the plains in the south part of town, and cared for his parents in their declining years. He lifted a heavy debt, and reared a family of eight children. He once said ‘I have worn these stones smaller, digging around them to raise corn and potatoes.’ His health was always good, and a physician was called to see him but once. In his old age his mind became much impaired, and he died December 26, 1870, aged 84. His wife “was a woman of cultivated tastes and sterling piety.” His son Moses “was a very active youth, and possessed more skill in training colts than in acquiring an education. He possessed a strong will, and what he undertook, he usually carried to completion. He was not satisfied with the quiet life of the farm, nor digging among the rocks of the old homestead. He became a large railroad contractor, ‘contracting to build miles of railroads, bridge rivers and tunnel mountains. (It is interesting that two, very large, railroad contractors both came from Windham: Moses Noyes and Milton Clyde.)

 “…Our story now shifts ahead to the late 1930’s when a car full of young people left the rutted dirt road and crashed into a stone wall near the Zins Farm (former home of J.M. Worledge). In the process of removing the car several stones from the wall were dislodged and one or two never replaced. Later that fall, as Gene Zins was walking by this wall to go hunting, he noticed what seemed like lettering on one of these rocks. He brushed the dirt from it and rediscovered the stone mentioned by Mr. Harris in his news item. Realizing it might be important he took it into his home for safekeeping. Later the local minister, Dr. Earnest R. Lacheman, became interested in the rock and started to do some research., hoping to determine the meaning of the writing…He reported that he presumes it is a boundary marker, possibly a state line, as Windham was once part of Haverhill MA. He believes that the lettering IP3 could mean either “Independent Province 3” or “Imperial Province 3.” He asserts that the figure four mentioned in the newspaper clipping is a normal error and the correct lettering is 1682-IP3.” (Rural Oasis) Windham was founded after the Crown settled the border dispute with Massachusetts in 1740 and large tracts of land here thereby lost their valid title. Robert Dinsmoor, one of the first three selectmen, ended up with thousands of acres contained in the newly invalidated Rev. Cobbett’s grant. The Nesmiths, Morrisons, Cochrans et. al. all received large grants of land in the new town.

Windham Life and Times – July 1, 2022

The S.L Prescott Farm

The S.L. Prescott Farm was located on the right hand side of Lowell Road, just before the Pelham line. It was owned by the Tokanels for many years and became what is now the subdivision of Presidential Estates. The farm was built by Abram Woodbury who was the son of Benjamin and Hannah (Smith) Woodbury of Londonderry and was born July 3, 1822. He came to Windham when about thirteen years of age. His mother married a second time, Simon W. Wilson, and lived on the farm now owned by Samuel L. Prescott near the Pelham line. Simon W. Wilson was born on August 1789. He died January 10, 1853 at 63 years five months of age. He was deaf and dumb. This was the farm on which Mr. Woodbury spent nearly forty years of his life. He served as a Selectman in 1852-3, ‘58, ‘59, ‘69, ‘70. He sold his farm to S.L. Prescott in May 1873, and now lives in Hudson NH.  “Samuel W. Prescott was born in Madison NH March 10, 1817. He married Sarah Dunlap, daughter of deliverance and Mary (Emerson) Brown, born April 5, 1825. He came to Windham in 1849. He bought the farm now owned by Elisha Worden about 1831, which was sold to Fred Varnum in the summer of 1865. He enlisted for three years in the forty-fourth Regiment of Mass Volunteers, nine months and was discharged on account of disability.  He died January 6, 1865 at 47 years, 9months and 27 days.  His son Samuel purchased this property from Abram Woodbury in 1873, He was a farmer and a butcher. He married December 21, 1870, Ella Almeda, daughter of James and Nancy (Rowe) Emerson.” Like so many old homes in Windham, the house and barn both burned to the ground.

Windham Life and Times – June 24, 2022

The Mill on Golden Brook

The mill on Golden Brook was powered by rights to, if I remember correctly, the top fifteen feet of water in Cobbett’s Pond. Morrison says, “The first grant of right to use the water’s of Cobbett’s Pond was to Samuel Senter for a grist mill. The first mill ever erected there was built by Alexander Wilson, a short distance above the head of the mill pond. This he sold to Samuel Senter in 1790, who built a grist and saw mill near the present site, and carried on business till his death, Feb. 11, 1833. Isaac Senter, about 1833, sold the mill to the father of Stephen Fessenden, of Boston. The latter with his family, came to town about this time, and soon made changes to the surroundings. A saw-mill and grist-mill were then there. He built a shingle and clapboard mill, then a building for Carding rolls, which was enlarged for the manufacture of twilled flannel and frocking. This business he carried on until his death, May 10, 1868. In 1871 the town voted not to increase the valuation of his property for purposes of taxation for seven years, in consequence of any additional buildings he might erect, etc. In 1871, he built the present commodious building.” According to Rural Oasis Neal manufactured cloth at the mill and used both water and steam power until the 1890s. At the time the dam on Golden Brook, which furnished power to the mill, gave way and was not rebuilt because transportation by horse drawn wagons over four miles to the railroad at Windham Depot have proven too expensive. Edwin Stickney acquired title to the property through a mortgage foreclosure and on January 18, 1900 he sold to the Gould Brothers who manufactured Witch Hazel products. Even today, with the buildings long gone, and the hum of machinery long silent,  it is a beautiful and interesting spot.

Golden Brook Road
Mr. Whipple one of the mill managers with two unidentified women.

Windham Life and Times – June 17, 2022

South Windham – School-house No 2

In the early days in Windham, each district has their own one room school-house. The south side of Windham was District No. 2. The school-house was located on what is now Range Road, on a hillside, between Cobbett’s Pond and Golden Brook Road. The school pictured was the fourth building to serve the district known as “the Row” in early times.  James W. Smith, a native of the district was architect and builder. The cost was $1,400. The Rev. Loren Thayer dedicated the building on December 8, 1853, and the town sold the building to William and Gertrude Hazlett in the 1940’s after the construction of the first Center School.

The hand-made award shown to the left was a “Roll of Honor” for the Spring of 1913. The Roll of Honor was for the students at the Number 2 District which was the one room school-house that once stood on a knoll, on Range Road, between Cobbett’s Pond Road and Golden Brook Road. The photograph above was taken right around the same date and the photograph has noted that the Number 2 School was also know as the “Elm Grove” School. 

Windham Life and Times – June 3, 2022

The S.W. Simpson – Cutting Farm

Photograph by Baldwin Coolidge Courtesy of SPENEA

This farm was established and built by Samuel Simpson in about 1815. Samuel Wilson Simpson was the son of William Simpson who was born on February 5, 1748. He owned and lived upon a farm east of T.W. Simpson’s mill; his house stood in a field, a few rods west of the present highway; the old cellar still remains. There he lived until the death of his first wife, when in 1786 he sold the place to Cole, which was soon bought by George Simpson, of Greenland. He then moved to the farm now owned by Eva Cutting, and built the house demolished by S.W. Simpson. He lived there until about 1825, when he moved to a small place now owned by Alfred Lewis. He was killed by falling from a load of wood, October 15, 1830. He was married three times with sixteen children;  Mrs. Ruth Dow, who died July 16, 1786 aged 38; married second, widow Grizzell Wilson who died August 23, 1810 aged 60 years upon her farm now Mrs. Cutting’s; married third June 11, 1811, Sarah Morgan, and occupied the Morgan homestead till his death; she died September 1837, 80 years old.

     “Samuel W. Simpson was born November 14, 1787; he died August 15, 1873. He was unmarried. He owned and occupied the farm now occupied by Eva (Simpson) Cutting, in District No. 2, but was never married. He was often in office, served as collector of taxes, was treasurer in 1840, selectman in 1832, ‘33, ‘34, ‘34, ‘36, ‘37, ‘38 and representative in 1839, ‘40 and ‘57; was much interested in the schools in Windham and in 1852 he gave District No. 2 a school fund of $1,000; later he gave two other school districts $500 each, having raised an equal amount for a permanent school fund. He was a Selectman at the time of the purchase and establishment of the poor farm, where indigent people were sent to live. He lived to an advanced age, and died in Windham August 15, 1873 aged 85 years, 9 moths and 1 day.”

    Eva (Simpson) Cutting was the daughter of John William Simpson. She married Walter P. Cutting who was born in Boston November 10, 1852. She had  John W. born November 22, 1874; Charles W, born March 20, 1876 (died in infancy) and Frederick G. born December 25, 1877; and Albert R, born January 24, 1879, (died in infancy). This was a beautiful farm. Baldwin Coolidge took the photograph about 1886 based on the age of the Cutting children.

Windham Life and Times – June 3, 2022

South Windham- The Emerson Family

The Emerson House on Marblehead Road

This antique colonial located on the corner of Marblehead and Copp’s Hill Road was built by John Emerson in 1820. It is the last of the old family homes still standing, that were located in south Windham on Marblehead Road. It’s interesting that it was occupied by the Emerson family until 1957.

     Morrison says, “Michael Emerson, came from England in 1652, and settled in Haverhill, Mass. He was a commander of one of the garrison houses, and in 1691, he with others repulsed an attack of Indians made upon him. He was the father of fifteen children, and from him most, if not all, of the Emersons in this section descended. His oldest daughter , Hannah, married Thomas Duston, of heroic memory.” (Hannah Dustin was taken captive by the Indians in 1657. She had just given birth and the Indians killed here newborn baby. She and three others escaped by scalping 10 Indians. They were paid 50 pounds for the scalps by the General Assembly of Massachusetts) She was heroic, and her name became historic on account of her bravery and endurance, the story of which is familiar to all.”
     “John, his grandson was the father of Peter, who was born in Haverhill in 1732. The latter served several years in the French and Indian was, and was in Braddock’s defeat. While in Pennsylvania he married Mary Stanton; returned to Haverhill, where they had twelve children, five sons and seven daughters. He came to Windham in 1784, and settled where Isaac Emerson now lives, having bought the farm of the first settler, Abram Annis.”

    “John’s son Isaac married Margaret Dunlap of Bedford. He was the only member of his father’s large family who remained in Windham. He owned as resided on the ancestral acres till about one year before his death; he bought March 1828, of William Davidson, the farm upon which James Emerson lives. He was the ancestor of the Emersons of Windham. Born in Haverhill in 1772; came to town in 1774; married Margaret Dunlap of Bedford in 1793; died 1811. When his wife came from her father’s house in Bedford, to her new home, where Isaac Emerson now lives, in Windham, she brought as a memorial of her early residence, some red rose bushes, that in their blooming season they might gladden the home; and yearly they bloom in the garden, and their fragrance fills the air; but the hands which planted and tended them, nearly a century ago, have long since gone back to dust.”

    Their son John D. was born July 16, 1797. He married Betsey Corliss January 24, 1824. “He lived upon the farm now occupied by his son Isaac Emerson. He enjoyed his farmer’s life. In politics he was a democrat; but never let his party predilections influence him much in town affairs or in choices of town officers. He was Selectman in 1843. On the nineteenth day of January, 1871, at a special town meeting of the town, called to see if the citizens would accept the bequest of Col. Thomas Nesmith, for the establishment of the Nesmith Library, under conditions imposed, some felt unfavorable towards the project, as it would entail a slight yearly expense on the town. Not so felt Mr. Emerson; with his great public spirit, he was earnestly in favor of the establishment of the library, and was willing to give freely of his substance, that those of the rising generation, and of all future generations in town, might have the inestimable benefits of a free public library, something which he had never enjoyed. After the acceptance of the gift, he promptly made the motion, that the town appropriate a proper sum in preparing the library room and cases for the reception of books, which motion was readily passed. Let this recorded act stand as a memorial to him. He was a good citizen and an upright man. He died October 5, 1872. Mrs. Emerson was a true farmed wife; had an intense love of out-door life, and her happiest hours were spent caring for her bees and flowers. She lived to the good old age of and died at 84 years.”

    Their son Isaac, who was born December 13, 1825 lived upon the home farm. He inherited a strong love for fruits and flowers, and became a successful fruit grower. He covered his farm with orchards of apple and peach trees., from which he realized great profits during the war (The Civil War). His farm was reckoned at the time the second in the county for its fruit crops. He was Selectman in 1860 and 61; representative in 1862 (but deprived of his seat by the House), ‘63,’64. In politics a Republican. He married December 13, 1853, Lucetta Reed of Lowell, Mass. She died April 11, 1871, He married his second wife, Mrs. Jane (Bagger) Brown. They had three children including William L. who carried on the farm.

    William Emerson had a long tenure as the town treasurer from 1919 until 1935. He also realized the opportunity to be found in land on Cobbett’s Pond, He developed many parcels into camp lots. William Emerson “is the only known person who had his funeral held from the chapel at “Searles School.” The service was performed by Rev. Lester Evans, with Thomas Waterhouse at the organ and a choir from the Presbyterian Church.  Its interesting that the descendant of John Emerson, Bessie, who also lived in the property after she inherited it from her father in 1940, was “well-known for her long and faithful service as the Windham librarian.

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. 

Windham Life and Times – May 20, 2022

South Windham, Some South Side Residents from the Past.

A flax wheel like those made by Adam Templeton. This photograph was taken sometime, just after, the turn of the twentieth century. As you can see, it is an abandoned farm of which there were many on the south side of Windham, and today just their foundations remain. I believe this is the John Simpson farm, but of course I cannot be sure, and it could be the crumbling remains of any of the family homes of which I have written about recently. There were many farms running along Marblehead Road, the old Simpson Road, and Spear Hill Road running into Salem. Salem was home to many of Windham’s original Scots-Irish residents and they socialized and had family connections across the town lines. I now find myself peering though my windshield looking in the woods for the old foundations on Marblehead Road. There are many there if you look in the winter time.

One of the oldest and most prolific families on the South side of Windham were the Simpsons. Alexander was the emigrant ancestor of most of the Simpsons of Windham; was of Scotch descent; came from the north of Ireland to Windham and bought land of James Wilson, for 105 pounds, old tenor, Nov. 24, 1747. He settled in a meadow (another Indian meadow?) about forty rods southeast of Robert Simpson’s house. His brother-in-law, Adam Templeton, came with him, and they both reared log-houses upon the surface of the ground, with no cellars, within a few rods of each other. Simpson was a weaver, and could do exceedingly nice and fine work. He often said, ‘he could weave anything, when the warp was strong enough to bear the weight of his beaver hat.’ Templeton was a wheelwright, a maker of spinning wheels. These wheels he carried on horseback and sold through out the settlement. While living in their log houses they commenced to hew their farms from the wilderness, and also followed their trades. A slight depression in the soil marks the spot where they excavated for the spring from which they procured their water. After living here several years, Simpson moved about 50 rods southwest, and built a framed house on what is now the highway, only a few yards south of the Deacon Dana Richardson house on the opposite side of the highway. The old cellar is still there. At this place he died December 12, 1788 at 67 years. His wife Janet Templeton, died July 28, 1787 at 68.  They had 9 children.

    John Simpson’s cellar has a historical marker where he lived at the head of Golden Pond…He was a Revolutionary war solider, and at the battle of Bunker Hill he had two of his fingers shot away by a cannon-ball; he was a pensioner the last years of his life; he was a well-to-do farmer, capable and one of the wealthiest men in the southerly part of town, He married Mary Hennessey, a conscientious but high-tempered woman, In those days the justice’s courts were often held to settle neighborhood difficulties, and when she was brought on as a witness she was often too honest and outspoken for the good of her side of the controversy…she died January 3, 1804. John then married Margaret Smith, the alleged Revolutionary war solider who supposed was with the Continental army during the invasion of Canada.

     The interesting thing about Leonard Morrison as a historian is his old Scotch trait of blatant honesty and here he presents the story of Alexander Simpson, another South Windham resident. He was born November 28, 1756. He first settled in Bow, N.H. where he married Mary ______. He returned to town previous to July, 1789 and resided most of the time, till after 1805, on the place owned by William Smith, near T.W. Simpson’s. His wife was particularly unfortunate in being insane (OK so this raises some unanswered questions, did Alex marry her when she was insane…or did she go insane…details, details) She was known to take one of her children in a pillow-case and journey on foot, carrying her child, to visit her native town of Bow; at another time she clandestinely gathered up provisions, took her child in a pillow-case, left home, and before she was found, lived for two or three days in the old Cross cellar, in the woods near Isaac Emerson’s. He removed to New York, with his family, and resided near Watertown. There was quite an emigration at that period to what was called the ‘Black River Country,’ and many Windham people removed there. The then ‘Far West’ was only five hundred miles away.”

Remarks at African American Maker Unveiling

May 14, 2022

Thank you for all coming here today as we take time to remember a part of Windham’s history that was largely forgotten.    

     At least four African Americans are buried in Windham. There may very well be more, because there were over a dozen slaves and free-blacks in town during the late 18th and early 19th century. Their burial in the Southeastern corner of the Cemetery on the Hill, was confirmed by Bob Perry using ground penetrating radar. They are in the exact location as described by Leonard Morrison in his History of Windham.  Every time we enter into that cemetery, we are treading on their graves. And now we know, and the Windham residents that follow us will know, that they are there. I am so grateful to the Cemetery Trustees for the support of this project and the costs associated with verifying the grave sites and preparing the location for the installation of the memorial tablet.    

    The impetus of this ongoing effort was simple; it was based in common decency. The Dinsmore family has rows of memorials to remember the lives of those who were members of this community along with all the other old families like the Morrisons, Cochrans, Nesmiths, Simpsons and Armstrongs. I have come to feel strongly that the contribution and the names of the African Americans who were part of our history and who are buried alongside my ancestors, should also be remembered.  By so doing so, we will preserve their history as part of the town of Windham and the wider Black community of early New England.

     I first learned about Black history and slavery in Windham, over twenty-five years ago, from Leonard Morrison, and I wrote a series of articles about it at the time. During the last few years, with all the racial strife dividing our nation, I went back and dug deeper into Black history in both Windham and New England, and I came to see how the story was far richer and deeper than just a story of slavery.

   The fact that there was a large, vibrant African American community in New England at the time of the Revolutionary war has vanished from our collective memory. William Piersen in “Black Yankees” says that in 1770 there were over 15,000 free-Blacks and slaves in New England, with New Hampshire having 654.

     Until just recently, it was also forgotten by most, that there were large numbers of Blacks soldiers in the continental army.  “Historians estimate that between 5,000 and 8,000 African descended people participated in the Revolution on the patriot side…”  Just think about that for a moment, blacks were fully armed and fighting side by side with whites.  This must have been an eye-opening event for all of them as they both fought bravely for a common cause.  And for Blacks it was an ennobling event of self-empowerment and honor. Many African Americans used what they earned from fighting in the war to buy their own freedom, or as in the case of Barzillai Lew, who was a free black, it allowed him to use his earnings to buy the freedom of his wife in Andover MA.

    I have to tell you my favorite story of a Black man’s bravery in the Revolutionary War.  It is the story of the African American Cuff Whittemore, who faced General Burgoyne twice, both at Saratoga and Bunker Hill. British forces captured him in Saratoga and he was escorted to Burgoyne’s tent, where he was ordered to take the reins of the general’s horse, “like a groom or some such thing.” “Wittemore did take Burgoyne’s horse, but not as ordered. Instead, he mounted it and amidst whizzing musket balls, sped off to freedom on Burgoyne’s own steed!”

    In the old Nesmith Library gleaming white marble plaques are engraved with the names of the people in Windham who fought in the various wars.  I would always marvel at the names and look for my ancestor, Robert Dinsmoor, a 17-year-old fifer who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. But little did I know, until last year, that one of the names engraved in marble was an African American by the name of Nicholas Vicksham, who was a free-black that lived in South Windham, and who fought with his friends and neighbors, in Vermont, at the Battle of Hubbardston.  He was either captured or killed there by the British.

     After the Revolutionary War, slavery in New England slowly faded away, and the strong abolitionist movement of the 19th century was the impetus for the disappearance of both the history of blacks and slavery in New England. When I grew up in New Hampshire in the 1960’s and when I studied history in college, I had no idea that blacks had even existed in New England before the Northern migration of the twentieth century.

    I’ve read that African Americans by enlarge did not patriciate in local religious institutions in the 18th century, but this is not what my research has uncovered. For example, Nancy Gardner Prince, one of the first black published authors, attended the church in Gloucester with her grandfather. She was a devout Christian, who overcame incredible challenges and accomplished great things as an African American woman.  Barzillia Lew, attended the church just south of here in Dracut, which was known as “Black North” on the underground railroad maps, where his children sang in the choir of this integrated congregation. And here in Windham, Jeffry was said to have listened to the gospel message on the porch and did not go inside, but a change came, and beginning in 1785, “Pew 36” was being used by the African Americans in town during worship.“

    Another story from Windham tells an incredible story of the resilience of two women. Agnes Hemphill and her slave Dinah. Agnes’s husband Captain Nathaniel Hemphill died young, leaving 18 children to be raised by this pair of women. Agnes spent long hours with her daughters laboring at their looms, making linen cloth, to sell in Salem, Massachusetts. Dinah took care of the younger children and household tasks.  These two women, working together clothed, fed and kept a roof over these 18 children. Dinah was later freed and continued to work in the Hemphill household until she left to marry.

      We know only a little about Peter Thom, Jeffry, Pompey and Rose. Jeffry was first enslaved by John Dinsmoor who ran a store, was a justice of the peace and a delegate to the Provincial Congress in Exeter. By 1790, we know that Jeffry could write his own name, leading to the tantalizing possibility that he might have been literate. We also know that by 1790 he was earning wages for his work. Jeffry later went on to work for the Nesmith’s who also had a store in Windham and whose family was among the founders of Lowell Massachusetts. Dinsmoor’s account books show that Pompey worked on the old Meeting-house that was once located in the Cemetery on the Hill. Both helped many of the farmers in Windham to establish their farms using oxen to help clear their land.

   I would again like to thank all of the people who worked so hard to make this event happen: I am so grateful for the members of the African American Committee in town who have led this effort. The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. The Windham Presbyterian Church and pastor John Seiders; The Cemetery Trustees; The Windham Endowment; and the Windham Citizens for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

       I hope that as more of the lost history of the African American community in New England is rediscovered, that both blacks and whites will understand the importance of our common history and culture. We as a nation are passing through perilous times, and the only way we are going to preserve this Republic for our children, is by ending the purposeful division and by uniting as one people.

     And now I would like to say out loud, the names of the African Americans who lived in Windham in the 18th and 19th century beginning with those we know are buried in the Cemetery on the Hill. Their names will no longer be forgotten. To tell you the truth, they have all become like old friends to me:  




Peter Thom

Dinah Hemphill

Old Rif: A slave of Robert Smiths. Who was said by Morrison to be the last slave in New Hampshire and died near 1842. He liked to hunt rabbits with his white friend and neighbor George Simpson.

Raphael Smith Who lived with Lieutenant Robert Smith, died while sitting on a wheel-barrow.

Harry and Venus Chew and their family

Nicholas Vicksham the Revolutionary war solider.

And James Jones who fought in the Civil War with the First Regiment of Heavy artillery.

Windham Life and Times – June 13, 2022

South Windham: Indian Trails and Settlements

Indian Trail Map in New Hampshire

Jon Carpenter provided me with this cool Indian trail map of New Hampshire. It clearly shows the major Pawtucket trail which ran through Windham. Its course ran past Big Island Pond from the north Windham line near today’s Route 28 then past the head of Cobbett’s Pond near Indian Rock; then continuing  down between Cobbett’s Pond and Canobie Lake nearly following the path of Range Road. It continued its course north-south on the eastern side of Golden Brook, crossing the Pelham line.  This trail continued into Massachusetts to the falls at Lowell, where Chief Passaconaway held court in the summer months. It seems probable that this was the trail that the Greggs were following when the young boy John Gregg was slaughtered by Indians. Not only did this well used trail pass through Windham, there were also settlements here where the Indians burned the forests in order to plant the three sisters; corn squash and beans. This trail helps to explain the large numbers of Indian artifacts found in town including a 3,000 year old plow near Rock Pond.