Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thomas Taylor and Mary Morehouse—Founders of Wolcott, VT, by Pat Kinsella Herdeg

Remember the three generations of Taylor men who fought in the Revolutionary War( )? Let’s continue on with young Thomas, who at age eighteen enlisted to fight for our fledgling country—

After the Revolutionary War ended, in 1789, Thomas and his wife, Mary Morehouse, left Westport with the Hubbell family and together, both families founded the small town of Wolcott in the newly named state of Vermont.

As nearly as I can tell, Vermont granted 23,040 acres to Capt. Joshua Stanton and sixty-one associates on August 22, 1781. One of the 64 associates was Gamaliel Taylor, so I am assuming that his son, Thomas, took his grant and decided to settle in this very northerly and completely wild part of the country.

Thomas and Mary snow-shoed in with baby Gideon( this baby was my great great grandfather) and Thomas—age four, getting there the day before the Hubbells, and settled in the western side of the town. Seth Hubbell wrote quite the long narrative later in his life (1829), so we know more than usual about what life was like for the settlers:

On the 9th of April I set out for my intended residence in Wolcott, with my wife and two eldest children. We had eight miles to travel on snow shoes, by marked trees—no road being cut. Esq. Taylor, with his wife and two small children, who moved on with me, had gone on the day before. We were the first families in Wolcott. To the east of us it was eighteen miles to inhabitants, and no road but marked trees: to the south about twenty, where there were infant settlements, but no communication with us; and to the north, it was almost indefinite, or to the regions of Canada.

The following winter, Hubbell and our Thomas had quite the adventure to retrieve a mere bushel of much needed food:
We had a remarkable snow-- it was full two feet deep. I was about out of meal, and had previously left a bushel at a deserted house about five miles out.. Esq. Taylor, he being the only inhabitant with, met to start the next day. We accordingly started before sunrise; the snow was light, and we sunk deep into it.

By the middle of the day it gave some, which made it still worse; our snow-shoes loaded at every step; we had to use nearly our whole strength to extricate the loaded shoe from its hold. It seemed that our hip joints would be drawn from their sockets. We were soon worried—could go but a few steps without stopping; our fatigue and toil became almost insupportable—were obliged often to sit down and rest, and were several times on the point of giving up the pursuit, and stop for the night, but this must have been fatal, as we had no axe to cut wood for a fire; our blood was heated, and we must have chilled.

We finally, at about dusk, reached the deserted house. This day's journey is often on my mind; in my many hard struggles it was one of the severest. We struck up a fire and gathered some fuel that lay about the house, and after we had recovered strength, I baked a cake of my meal. We then lay down on some hewn planks, and slept sound till morning, It froze at night; the track we had made rendered it quite feasible traveling. The next day I returned home with my bushel of meal.

And later, Hubbell writes about an unforgettable night while beaver hunting with our Thomas:

“ I determined to try my fortune at beaver hunting. Accordingly, late in the fall, I set out in company with my neighbor Taylor.

In about seven miles we reached the stream, and proceeded up it about three miles farther, and searched for beaver. We set a few traps. Soon after we started it began to rain, and before night the rain turned into a moist snow that melted on us as fast as it fell.

Before we reached the hunting-ground we were wet to our skins; night soon came on—we found it necessary to camp; with difficulty we struck up a fire, but our fuel was poor, chiefly green timber—the storm increased—the snow continued moist; our bad accommodations grew worse and worse; our fire was not sufficient to warm us and much less to dry us; we dared not attempt to lay down, but continued on our feet through the night, feeding our fire and endeavoring to warm our shivering limbs. This is a memorable night to me; the most distressing I ever experienced; we anxiously looked for day.

At length the dawn appeared, but it was a dismal and a dreary scene. The moist snow had adhered to every thing in its way. When light enough to travel, we set out for home, and finding it not safe to leave the stream for fear of getting bewildered and lost, we followed it back. We thus proceeded, though very slowly, down the stream and worried through the ten miles home at the dusk of the evening, nearly exhausted by fatigue, wet and cold, for it began to freeze in the morning; our clothes were frozen stiff on our backs; when I pulled off my great coat it was so stiff as to stand up on the floor. In order to save our traps we had to make another trip, and one solitary muskrat made up our compensation for this hunting tour.

Other accounts of Wolcott early history have this to say about Mary Morehouse Taylor:

“His wife was able to materially aid him, deeming it no injury to her reputation to gather sap in the spring on snow-shoes and to aid her husband in clearing land.”

The first Justice of the Peace in Wolcott was Thomas Taylor; Elected in 1794, he held the office for a period of thirty years. At this same 1794 election our Thomas was also elected town clerk, first selectman and constable, and in 1801, he was elected to the state legislature, holding this office for twenty years (small wonder, for just how many people lived in this village?!).

Thomas died in Wolcott on Valentine's Day 1826, his wife, Mary, having died much earlier, in 1803.

Picture One: Sign on Wolcott townline
Picture Two: map of New England
Picture Three: Covered Bridge in Wolcott
Picture Four: Long ago Wolcott, but Thomas and Mary lived much before even this...


Pat said...

I love this story!!

Who knew that Thomas founded a town, AND snow shoed in to get there!

WHY snow shoe in? Perhaps to get there early enough to get as long a growing season as possible?

And, did LOVE that Mary snow shoed around helping him as they farmed...

Their son Gideon, moved to Oakfield, NY where Woodlawn the house and farm is located, and their son, Daniel was the one we recently wrote about, with one year at Yale and then stayed home to take on the farm.

I have not yet gotten to Wolcott, but cannot wait to make the trip!!

CB said...

I can not even imagine such days! And we complain today!! The Taylors added much to the world they lived in. The ones I knew were very strict and upright and I was always glad that the Bakers added some fun to the mix!!!

Pat Herdeg said...

Gideon was my three times great grandfather. Thanks for catching this, sister Sue!