Wendell, Massachusetts: Its Settlers and Citizenry, 1752-1900

Title:Wendell, Massachusetts: Its Settlers and Citizenry, 1752-1900
Author:Richardson, Pamela A. and Sawin, Thomas E.
Publication date:2015
Publisher:Amherst, Massachusetts: An Off the Common Book
Digitizing sponsor:Internet Archive – Permission to digitize this book granted by the author in possession of Internet Archive.
Contributor:Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
RepositoryInternet Archive
Wendell, Massachusetts - Its Settlers and Citizenry, 1752-1900
Wendell, Massachusetts – Its Settlers and Citizenry, 1752-1900

Nothing is greater than to see a relatively new genealogical manuscript make it’s way online for free. Pamela A. Richardson has graciously allowed her “Wendell, Massachusetts: Its Settlers and Citizenry, 1752-1900” to be digitized by Internet Archive and made available to the general public. The reach and expansion of this manuscript has greatly been increased by this action, and researchers of their roots in Wendell Massachusetts are greatly appreciative!

Table of Contents

  • Thomas E. Sawin (1810-1873), Historian: His Origins and Life. 1
  • Pre-Settlement and Native American Presence. 7
  • Topography, Geology, Vegetation and Notable Weather Events. 11
  • Settlement. 17
  • Bezaliel Wilder, First Settler of South Wendell. 22
  • Aaron Osgood, Founding Father of North Wendell. 28
  • The Early Landscape. 35
  • Jonas, Joseph and Ebenezer Locke. 39
  • Henry Sweetser, Early Settler and Revolutionary War Captain. 43
  • Samuel, Johnathan II & William Orcutt and Orcutt Hill. 47
  • Founders of the First Congregational Church. 50
  • Reverend Joseph Kilburn, Faithful First Pastor. 55
  • Subsequent Pastors of the Congregational Church. 58
  • Land Speculators. 60
  • Jonathan Crosby I, II and III and the History of Mormonism in Wendell. 63
  • Zachariah Drury, and his Son, Joel Drury, a Mormon Convert. 73
  • Silas Wilder, I, II and III, Second Branch of the Wilder Family in Wendell. 75
  • Benjamin Glazier and Edmund Stiles, Bear Mountain Settlers; Benjamin Stiles, Carpenter. 77
  • James Tyrer and Ruth Goodale, His Early Death and Her Four Marriages. 81
  • Early Roads. 86
  • Revolutionary War. 89
  • Oliver Wetherbee, Captain in Shays’ Rebellion; John and Ethan Wetherbee. 94
  • Daniel Ballard, Wealthy Farmer and Lumberman. 98
  • Clark Families, Settlers of the Northeast Corner. 104
  • Nathan Brewer I, & his Sons, Nathan II & Samuel, Servants of Town and Church. 112
  • Brothers Abel & Ephraim Howe, and their Sons Asa & John Howe. 116
  • Some Early Questions and Decisions Made by the Town. 119
  • Joshua Green, Esquire, Wendell’s “Most Useful and Influential Man”. 121
  • Benjamin Bufford, Ruth Holmes and Joshua Bancroft, Tragedy on Bear Mountain. 126
  • Fiske Family Including Jonas Fiske, Builder of Farm at Fiske Pond. 132
  • Martin and Charles Hager, Farmers and Lumbermen. 139
  • War of 1812 and Ephraim Sawyer. 143
  • John Metcalf II, Printer. 146
  • Luther Baker, a Decimated Family. 149
  • Baptist Church of Wendell. 151
  • Reverend Samuel D. King, Second Baptist Preacher in Wendell, and His Diary. 155
  • Other Noteworthy Wendell Baptists. 159
  • William Harrison Phelps, Lumber Baron, and Mary Needham Phelps, Benefactress of the Wendell Free Library. 163
  • John, Abraham I & II, and Moses Stone. 167
  • Brothers Elijah, Clark and Levi Stone. 169
  • Luther Stone (1799-1888), Sawmill Owner. 172
  • Samuel Burgess, Wendell’s Only African-American. 175
  • Dr. Lucius Cooke, Physician, Postmaster, and Farmer. 177
  • Earlier Physicians. 181
  • Marcus and Lafayette Stebbins, Civil War Veterans and a Tale of Two Lives. 183
  • Beriah Oakes, and the Methodist Church. 185
  • Population Decline. 188
  • Wendell Cemeteries. 195
  • Old Houses. 208
  • Mills. 211
  • Other Industries and Businesses in Wendell. 215
  • Civil War. 223
  • Schools. 242
  • Maps. 247
  • Paupers and the Almshouse. 257
  • Rufus Sibley, Builder of Rustic Garden Furniture and Mystic. 261
  • Charles M. Ballou, Wendell’s Unofficial Mayor. 264
  • Time-Traveling. 268
  • Miscellanea. 272
  • Conclusion. 280
  • Appendix I
    • Text of Deed Transferring “Wendell” from Province of
    • Massachusetts Bay to John Erving, Esq. 282
  • Appendix II
    • (Partial) Valuation List of 1783. 283
  • Appendix III
    • The Account Book of Levi and Lewis Stone, Lather and Son Tradesmen in Wendell, 1815-1839. 284
    • More Wendell history. 285
    • Bibliography. 286


Not long after moving to Wendell in 1997, I developed a growing curiosity about the people who had come to this place before me. “This place” initially meant the property my husband and I purchased on Bear Mountain, but over time it grew to include the entire town. As the concept of “this place” expanded, so too did my curiosity; what had started out as idle interest soon blossomed into full-blown obsession. The fact that Wendell is one of the few towns in Massachusetts with no written history of its own served to whet my appetite further. A stroke of luck connected me with Dave Allen, a collector of old maps in nearby Greenfield, Massachusetts, who needed help cataloguing nineteenth-century home sites in Franklin County. I volunteered to do the Wendell part of the project and, using maps from 1858 and 1871, spent many happy hours traipsing through the woods looking for old cellar holes.

Sometime after my work with Dave was finished, he discovered a reference to some documents entitled “Materials for a History of Wendell” written between 1843 and 1863 by Wendell resident Thomas E. Sawin. Aware of my passion for uncovering Wendell’s past, Dave emailed me the information. Apparently, Sawin’s papers were received, after his death in 1873, by the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), the renowned research library of American history and culture founded in 1812 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and there they seem to have more or less languished up to the present time. Presumably, over so many decades, at least some people have seen and read these valuable historical papers, but no one has ever used them to put together a history of the town of Wendell. 1

I immediately made the first of what would be many trips to the AAS. As I waited at a long, dark table beneath the majestic glass dome of the Colonial Revival building for the archivist to find and deliver Sawin’s notes to me, I could barely contain my excitement. It seemed to take forever for the young woman to emerge from behind the closed door. When she did, she deposited two small boxes on the counter, each box containing five slim notebooks. I chose to begin at the beginning with the first one, entitled “Topography; Introduction and Reminiscences.” Opening it, I found faded brown ink in an ill-formed and severely slanted scrawl crowding each page, the spacing between lines and paragraphs almost non-existent. The discovery of these historical notes suddenly presented more of a task than I had anticipated. Picking up my magnifying glass, I set about acquainting myself with Thomas Sawin’s script, style, and story of Wendell.

Seven hours later, eyes and back aching, I had skimmed through almost all the notebooks. I was both disappointed and elated. Some of Sawin’s pages were all but illegible, while others were filled with the flowery verbosity typical of a lot of nineteenth century writing. Yet I knew I’d hit pay dirt: pages and pages of maps showing houses, their original builders, and their occupants in the mid-1800s; several first-hand accounts of what happened when the Mormons came to town and how “Mormon Hollow Road” received its name; names of the earliest settlers; when and where the first roads were built; unusual deaths; a report of a spotted fever epidemic – and even a few scandalous stories! Most fascinating to me was the list Sawin compiled of Wendell’s midnineteenth century male residents. Next to each name, he noted the man’s religion, occupation, number of people in his household, and (incredibly) his own judgment of the man’s character. My research had given me a working familiarity with many of Wendell’s inhabitants at that time, so I was thrilled to be introduced to their personalities – no matter how biased the reporting. I knew, for example, that a blacksmith named Samuel French had lived one house down from today’s Senior Center and kept his shop across the street. Thomas fleshed out my picture of the man by describing him as an “iron-hearted and iron-fisted busybody” as well as a religious “skeptic.” Suddenly, Samuel French came alive for me in a way he could not have otherwise – and how pleased Thomas must have been with his clever play on the word “iron”!

In the ensuing months, Sawin’s notes supplied many missing pieces of the puzzle of Wendell’s past and enabled me to dig more deeply into life in early Wendell by providing names, dates, and house locations that I thought had been lost to time. While much remains unknown, it does not escape me that, as I sit down to organize my own pages of notes into some sort of written account, I am the exact age Thomas was when he died. Lest history repeat itself and my notes, too, go unpublished before my demise, I have promised myself to “get this done!” – insofar as such a work can ever be “done.” Thomas also acknowledged that his work was “unfinished.”

This book is above all a cooperative endeavor. Sawin and I share a deep curiosity about the evolution of our town and a passionate urge to record what transpired here. His attention to detail, his personal acquaintance with people now long dead, and his proximity in time to the stories of people and events he recounts complement my love of historical and genealogical research and my access to all sorts of databases provided by present-day technology. Together, he and I paint a fuller picture than either one of us could have done individually. The history of a place is a history of its people, and this principle guided both his and my methods. Sawin’s notes served as my primary resource, but I have supplemented his data with much additional information from many other sources in order to compile genealogies and stories, both factual and anecdotal, about men and women who once lived in Wendell. These are introduced into the narrative as chronologically as possible. Other events and constructs of historical interest, such as wars and churches, are sequentially interspersed among the biographies. I apologize for omissions; there simply was not space for everyone and everything. I also apologize for any departures from conventional form in my footnoting. This is not an academic work and my intention with footnotes was simply to provide a source for the information in the text.

Separated as I am by at least a century and a half from the people Thomas knew and wrote about, I take lightly his severe moral judgments, excusing these – and some racist remarks – as being representative of the mores of his time and place. As strange as it feels to put into words, I am aware of having developed a strong affinity with “Tom” through the course of this project. It was his hope that his notes would be “wrought into something interesting to the popular reader by some future lover of rustic life, or…at least… appreciated by the antiquarian.” Half muse, half mentor, Thomas somehow managed to pass his mission on to me. For that, I am grateful and trust that with this publication he is, finally, gratified.

  1. The exception to this, perhaps, was nineteenth-century novelist and historian Josiah G. Holland who had access to Sawin’s material while Sawin was alive. In his History of Western Massachusetts, Holland included a short history of Wendell.[]


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