Day By Day in a Colonial Town


DURING THE FIRST half of the nineteenth century, there lived in the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts a scholar and country editor with an insatiable curiosity about the region in which he lived. His name was Sylvester Judd, and his work, except for one posthumous and locally printed history of the nearby village of Hadley, Massachusetts, is practically unknown. Yet by indefatigable and lifelong labors in searching old records and interviewing old inhabitants, he was able to bring together an unprecedented amount of information about village life in colonial New England.

Sylvester Judd was born in Westhampton, Massachusetts, in 1789 and went to work in his father’s store at the age of thirteen. Even in childhood he had a passion for knowledge and the discipline for its systematic pursuit. From his diary it appears that he taught himself at least the rudiments of world history, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences, and Latin and French (his diary entry reads: “I bought a French dictionary on December 21 and by the first of January, I had obtained about 1100 phrases by heart but I know nothing about pronunciation”).

For twelve years he edited the Hampshire Gazette, but he was too dispassionate an observer to be swept away by the swirling political tides of the period and gave up his position because, as he said, “I have become too skeptical in politics to be the conductor of a public press.”

After his retirement he devoted all his energies to a study of the early history of the Connecticut River valley. The intensity of his dedication and the frugality of his life are indicated by this typical entry in his diary, made while he was ransacking the records of the General Court in Boston: “For 9 or 10 weeks I purchased my food at a grocery store for about 8 cents a day and ate it in the State House cellar.”

Sylvester Judd died in 1860. Most of the facts that follow are to be found in his posthumous book, The History of Hadley, and his unpublished manuscripts. The book totaled 469 pages, with a genealogical section completed by a friend of 153 pages. All this material is lodged in a big safe in the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts, and nowhere else.

White man meets red man …and adopts his currency


WHEN HADLEY, MASSACHUSETTS, was settled in 1659, there were only about eight hundred Indians within that area of the Connecticut Valley that now lies in Massachusetts. During the first forty years, the attitude of the whites to the Indians was friendly but wary. Squaws and braves, in scanty attire, were common sights in the village streets, and the greeting Netop (“my friend”) was often heard.

In this region the popular belief that the Indians surrendered their lands unwillingly to the whites and were cheated to boot had no basis in fact. On the contrary the Indians sold their lands gladly, and the price they received seemed to them clear profit. Except for their village sites and the scanty cornfields their squaws cultivated, which totaled only seventy acres in the entire valley, land was regarded by the Indians merely as a place to hunt and fish. These rights, in most cases, they reserved. And in return for half the crops, the whites not only let the squaws have their cornfields but even ploughed them, thus more than doubling the yield.

How fairly the Indians were treated is shown by this deed of sale for the land now occupied by the town of Hadley: “Be it known to all men by these presents that Chickwollop alias Wahillowa, Umpanchala alias Womscom, and Quomquont alias Wompshaw, the sachems on Nolwotogg, the sole and proper owners of all the land on the east side of the Quonicticot River … do give, grant, bargain and sell unto John Pynchon, of Springfield … his assigns and successors forever, all the grounds, woods, ponds, waters, meadows, trees, stones, etc., lying on the east side of Quonicticot River within the compass aforesaid … for and in consideration of two hundred fathoms [of wampum] which Chickwollop sets off, besides several small gifts … all and singular the aforementioned land, or by whatever name it is or may be called, quietly to have, possess and enjoy the aforesaid tract of land free from all molestation and incumbrances of Indians, and that forever, only the Indians aforementioned, and in particular, Quomquont, doth reserve and keep one corn field … and also they reserve liberty to hunt deer, fowl, etc., and to take fish, beaver, or otter, etc. [Dated December 25, 1658].”