Town of Colebrook,
County of Litchfield,
State of Connecticut, USA
@ 75 Cents
The early settlers looked upon the
tree-covered land as having practically no value, while regarding human
labor as of high value. Because of this view, they sacrificed the
land, as far as was necessary, in order to save labor, systematically
cropping the fields on the principal of obtaining the largest results with
the least expenditure, limiting improvements to what was demanded for
immediate uses, and caring little about returning to the soil an equivalent
of what had been depleted.
Gradually the agricultural lands were pushed
further westward, and with this expansion a portion of the original farm
population went with it, too restless by character and habit to find
pleasure in the work of stable communities. A second portion of the
inhabitants became engaged in raising, upon limited areas, such as the
small, stone wall enclosed fields of Colebrook, small crops, garden
vegetables and orchard fruits, and in producing butter, milk, cheese,
poultry and eggs for the supply of the cities and manufacturing towns that
had been built up out of the abundant profits of the primitive agriculture.
Waterbury, Conn. is an example of this phenomenon. The brass industry there
had its rudimentary beginnings prior to 1810, but didn’t begin to take on
the character of its future greatness until several social and political
events took place.
One such event was the ending of the War of
1812, after which some of the technology so strictly guarded by the British
authorities was brought to our side of the Atlantic, many times by smuggling
highly skilled English craftsmen into this country by budding industrial
communities such as the brass industry.
Another factor was the wealth of the farmers.
Whereas one hundred years before, the residents of Windsor and Hartford
could invest their surplus capital in the wild western lands, now new
horizons presented themselves, but a major obstacle existed. The religion of
the original colonists was very strict, and there was no such thing as the
separation of church and state as we know it today, and the newly emerging
class of manufacturers was in general not a part of the established church,
which in Connecticut was the Congregational Church. Consequently, the
farmers were loath to lend their money out to these “heretics”, no matter
what the profits and incentives were.
Movement toward moderation very slowly was
taking place within the Congregational Church, and as the older members were
replaced by younger, more worldly ones on the governing boards, the church
evolved until in 1818 the church became disestablished and the government,
industry and religion were free to go their own separate ways.
The animosity of former times became a
partnership between the farmer and the town dweller, and as the shops and
factories grew on their way to making this the most dynamic and powerful
industrial complex the world has ever seen, the farmer reaped the benefits
of an ever-increasing population, which relied upon the farmers to supply
most of their food and clothing needs. Winsted, Torrington, Thomaston,
Waterbury, Colebrook, Norfolk and Litchfield all became mutually dependent
and mutually prosperous.
Still another portion of the agricultural
community gradually became occupied in the more careful and intensive
culture of the cereal crops upon better lands; poorer fields allowed to
return to forest. Fertilizers began to be used; deeper plowing and better
methods of drainage were employed and thus began the serious, systematic use
of agriculture in the originally settled states.
European events continued to influence the
development of the United States, and of course Colebrook, being an integral
part, is reflective of some of these.
In 1846 Ireland experienced a famine,
primarily caused by the failure of the potato crop, a mainstay in the local
diet, and in 1848 political troubles in the German states caused an
unprecedented emigration to the United States of highly desirable European
Our town record books clearly reflect this.
Until the 1830s, better than 90% of the family names appearing as investors
or landowners were of English origin. In 1858 we find Fitzgerald, Gleason,
Hurley, Green, McMahon, McInnerney and others listed as residents paying a
poll tax in Colebrook, but not to be found among the names of landowners.
Twenty years later many of these same names are not only land owners, but
with occupations listed anywhere from farmers to paper makers and cotton
Sheep, pigs, cows (including oxen), chickens,
horses, dogs and cats were the domesticated animals that accompanied
settlers when they moved into new, or wild lands. The types, or breeds
varied among species then as they do today. At the end of the eighteenth
century, there was a sudden increase in the popularity of sheep raising.
Sheep arrived in Colebrook with the first settlers, but it wasn’t until
1811, when William Jarvis, the U. S. council in Lisbon, Portugal, received
permission to purchase and export to the United States 200 Merino rams. Up
until that time, New England had basically two different breeds of sheep,
neither particularly noted for the quality of their fleece. The Merinos
purchased by Jarvis were shipped to his home town of Weathersfield, Vermont,
from which hub Merino blood spread throughout New England. The real value
can be ascertained by studying the market value of wool. In Vermont in 1812,
a fleece averaged out at 6 % of the animal’s live weight. By 1844, it was 15
%, and by the end of the Civil War, 21%.
Something peculiar took place in Colebrook
around the year 1812 in regard to raising sheep. The rate books, or tax
ledgers listing every taxable item in town, were kept each year. Not
all have survived, but enough still exist to give the modern researcher an
insight as to the workings of the town. Prior to 1812, and after the
1820s, each farm animal was assigned a value so that the rate-maker could
arrive at a figure and the taxes for the coming year could be set. On
average, a cow was assigned the figure of $7.00, a horse $10.00, an ox
$10.00 and a sheep 75 cents, but not in 1812; that year there were 1,867
sheep in town, but when it came to Merinos, not one person had more than 20,
and the assigned value of .75 cents each was deducted from the owner’s total
tax rate. This is unprecedented in Colebrook’s tax history. It
appears that someone imported merino sheep into town and convinced the town
fathers to give a tax break to all those who agreed to join in the
experiment. This experiment seems to have lasted for only about two or three
years, as the 1815 tax ledger does not indicate any tax credit for merino
sheep. We do not have records for 1813 and 1814. My guess is that
someone in Colebrook was acquainted with William Jarvis, the U. S. diplomat
in Portugal, as it is difficult to justify the large number of Merino sheep
being sent to the small and relatively insignificant farming town of
- Bob Grigg
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