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.
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 fifteenchildren, 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.
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.
South Windham, Some South Side Residents from the Past.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
So I took a walk out to Deer Leap with my son Isaac, and was inspired again by the massive rock out-croppings on the site plus the spectacular view of the pond. It’s a beautiful hike if you haven’t been and the area is even better now with the kayak launch on the adjacent Marston-Finn Dam site. I still remember the howling by some at spending $500,000 for this “rock-pile.” I had forgotten the incredible stone out-cropping which are a prominent feature of the site. Morrison says that, “Deer Ledge (Deer Leap) is situated on a the high, romantic, and precipitous sides of the hill of ledges. Its name is derived by the fact, that an Indian drove a deer over the precipitous sides of this ledge into the water…”
It’s hard to believe that anybody in their right mind would try to farm this parcel of land but the old cellar hole, stone walls and sheep pen prove that they tried to make a go of it. In fact this parcel was once home to Thomas Sargent and his family. Morrison says, “Thomas lived in Windham and was killed about 1830, by being run over by a load of wood.” He lived at Fletcher Corner near Simpson’s Mill.” Oh, I think to myself, wow, that’s a pretty random and brutal accidental death. So I head over the Morrison’s handy chapter on Calamities: “Accidents, Sudden Deaths; Freshets and Fires and learn that lots of people in Windham were killed by falling from wagons. 1832: William Simpson (father of Samuel W.) was thrown form a load of wood and killed at the guide post near J.L. Cottles…another south Windham location. 1837: About this time, James Alexander started in the night for Lowell with a load of wood, He rode upon the spire, fell off, hit his head triggering the wheel. He was dead when found. 1861: Robert Simpson, an aged man, in getting out of his wagon, fell and broke his neck. 1861: Joseph Clyde fell from his wagon at Bartley’s store, and was killed.” Who knew horse and wagons were as dangerous as cars?!
Finally, while it did not take place in South Windham, I have to recount this really touching story of kindness of neighbor to neighbor by the people of Windham. “Moses Sargent, Thomas’s brother, lived in Windham; bought land of Eleonor Clark and built his buildings in 1810…the place was then an unbroken forest, except for a small patch of cleared meadow. On the 28th of August, 1821, his barn was struck by lightning and the hay and grain with which it was filled, was quickly consumed. His neighbors and towns-people rallied to his aid, and the surrounding farmers contributed to his reestablishment. Teams loaded with timber, boards, shingles and nails quickly appeared; and one day sixty men were there at dinner, having brought provisions with them, and made a festive day. The barn was raised, and in one month the new barn took the place of the old, and was equally filled with grain and hay. The people literally fulfilled the scriptural injunction, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens.’ ” From the many acts of kindness I have witnessed in Windham, this spirit is still alive and well.
The top map is from Morrison’s History of Windham. The bottom map is from 1892. What is now the beginning of Rock Pond Road was built in 1845: The town voted to build in “October 11, 1845.—One hundred and twenty-six rods of highway, two rods wide, from Samuel L. Prescott’s running easterly to the road running over Simpson causeway.” Below is the old directional sign from Simpson Road courtesy of Jon Carpenter.
L.A. Morrison explains that, “Golden or Golding’s Brook tradition says is so called from the fact that an ox by that name died upon the banks at an early date. This was the time that the Chelmsford and Dracut people used to turn their cattle into this neighborhood in spring, to get fresh grass and to browse during the summer. They also set the forests on fire to kill the wood, so the grass would grow more luxuriantly, and in early days the hills in that part of town were black with the burned and dead trees, caused by these devastating fires. A Mr. Golding owned land in its vicinity. This undoubtedly gave it its name.”
The fact is that the people of Chelmsford and Dracut were reusing the old “Indian meadows” that were left by the Native Americans who used this land for at least 2600 years prior to the arrival of the Europeans. They would also burn the woods in order to grow the “three sisters,” corn, winter squash and pole beans. More on this later.
These maps from the 1880’s and 1892 show south Windham. At this point many of the families that once had lived in this section of Windham had moved on. There was a large migration to the Black River Valley in New York state. Joseph Corliss, Adam Templeton, Daniel McIlvaine, Cross cellar, Sargent’s cellar, near Dear Leap, George Simpson’s cellar, Robert Smith’s cellar, (also Alexander Dunlap’s) between the causeway across Simpson’s mill-pond and the Robert Simpson cellar. Robert Simpson’s cellar, near Simpson’s causeway. House lost by fire in 1864. Ellenwood cellar, at the corner of the road between J.L. Cottle’s and S.W. Simpson. James McLaughlin. Samuel Senter’s at the top of the hill southeast of Neal’s mill. William Smiley’s cellar, southeast of Senter house near the top of Spear Hill. John Morrow’s is on Senter Hill, south of the Senter house…and many others. On the top map you can see the location of the mysterious “Gold Region,” which would be near where Bear Hill Road, the “Gage Lands” and high school are today.
When I grew up in town, South Windham, the part that borders Salem and Pelham, was a pretty uncharted place, especially the empty wilderness along Marblehead Road and on top of Castle Hill. A few people discovered the quiet solitude of Rock Pond, or made a visit to Moeckel’s Grove, but many didn’t even know any of it was there. It wasn’t until the Tokanels and Red Lamson began developing Shady Brook Park, that the area began to be rediscovered. I began pouring over the family histories in the area in order to find more information about Robert Smith, and his slaves; Raphael Smith, Peter Smith and “Old Rif.” People should have paid more attention to “Old Rif” because in ancient times this end of town did seem bewitched or maybe it was just the copious amounts of rum that flowed through every important and sundry occasion in early Windham. Then again, maybe this was related to the slaughter of the young boy, John Gregg, by Native Americans on Golden Brook that let loose the juju or was the result of it. He remains buried there still. Finally, there is the deeply evocative Deer Leap with it many exotic, bizarre and massive stone outcroppings, which may just be some kind of undiscovered spiritual vortex. Many strange and terrifying events happened in this section of Windham back in the day. In the 18th and 19th century this was a vibrant community made up of the many Smiths, Simpsons, Emersons, Woodburys, Smileys, Corlisses, Fletchers and others whose lives intertwined through marriage and other connections. They had kith and kin in that adjacent section of Salem, reached by Spear Hill Road, that was removed from Windham in 1752.
The photograph above from 1910, shows Simpson’s Pond where it is crossed by Simpson Causeway. It is important to know this site because Morrison uses it repeatedly as a landmark in the area. Simpson Pond at the time was adjacent to Golden Pond. There was the neighborhood of “Golden Row,” located along Lowell Road from the Center to the Pelham line, and another place known as the “Golden Meadow.” The magnificent heights on Castle Hill which was known as “Mount Ephraim;” overlooking the Golden Brook valley was the location of the curiously named “Gold Region.” I hope you enjoy the trip back to a time when this section of Windham was a densely populated community with a rich, yet somewhat mysterious history.
Cutting Down Windham’s Trees – When they were Worth more than the Land the Grew on.
I know you’re not going to believe this, considering the price of real estate today, but there was a time in Windham when land had was worth almost nothing. The value or large tracts of land was in the timber value. Top photo is of a portable mill in West Windham. From left to right below: Timber piled up near the train station in West Windham. The Seavey Mill. A saw mill operated by the Johnson family. Workers at the Seavey mill at the Junction.