History of Middletown
(Rutland, VT: Tuttle & Co., 1867)
References to the Cowdery family:
H I S T O R Y
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
C I T I Z E N S O F T H A T T O W N;
FEBRUARY 7 AND 21, AND MARCH 30, 1867,
Hon. BARNES FRISBIE,
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST OF THE CITIZENS OF MIDDLETOWN.
Tuttle & Co.
HISTORY OF MIDDLETOWN.
FRIENDS AND FELLOW CITIZENS: -- You have assembled this evening to hear from me the history of Middletown. I should rejoice if I could assure you that I had a full and complete history; but I cannot so assure you. I have recently written it out, although I have for twelve years or more intended to do so, and in the meantime have been collecting the materials, as I had opportunity. I now present it to you, not as a full and complete history, but as the best production I am able to give you.
Much of the early history of the town is in oblivion. Fifty years ago, when many of those pioneer fathers and mothers were living, the most of it might have been gathered up and saved; but such as I have been able to collect in my time is hereby most respectfully and affectionately dedicated to and for the use of my native town.
I wish here to say, that for the literary merits of my production I claim nothing. My desire, and, I may say, only purposes have been to collect all the material facts I possibly could which go to make up your history, and to express them intelligibly and truthfully, conscious that if these facts can be preserved, they may be put in better form by some one more capable than myself, who shall come after me.
In regard to the history of this town, however, I do claim, that with the labor and attention I have given the matter during the last twelve years, that I have collected a good deal more of it than is now in the possession of any other person; hence the importance of my writing it. I fear that unless I should write it,
4 HISTORY OF MIDDLETON.
and leave it where it will be preserved, that a large portion of what I now have, incomplete as it is, would be beyond the reach of mortals at my decease. Eith this view I have written it, and am now happy to meet this full house and read it
MIDDLETON is situated in the south-western part of Rutland County, and is bounded on the north by Poultney and Ira, on the east by Ira and Tinmouth, on the south by Tinmouth and Wells, and on the west by Wells and Poultney. As will be seen from the map, its shape or form is peculiar, which will be hereafter accounted for. The territory of which it is composed was taken from the towns of Poultney, Ira, Tinmouth and Wells. Poultney, Tinmouth and Wells received their charters as early as 1761. The date of the charter of Ira is believed to have been about the same time, though I have been unable to obtain the exact date.
About three-fourths of a mile north of the village of Middleton, a little east of the present dwelling house of Harvey Leffingwell, and in a pasture belonging to Royal Coleman, Esq., is the locality where was the north-east corner of Wells, the south-east corner of Poultnet, the south-west corner or Ira, and the north-west corner of Tinmouth. The line from thence, between the towns of Wells and Tinmouth, run[s] south, passing in its course through the eastern part of the village between the school house and the stream, a little west of the school house; also, in its course further south, it makes the west line of the "old Zenas Frisbie farm," so called, the east line of the "Thomas Morgan farm," and passes very near the west line of the "Burnam farm." now ownws by S. W. Southworth, and the "Perry farm," now owned by Mr. Atwater. The line from thence (the corners above named), between the towns of Poultney and Ira, ran directly north from those corners, and lines running east and west from thence divided the towns above named.
The township of Middleton was created by an act of the Legislature of October 28th, 1784. Prior to that time the town, or the territory of which it is composed, was included in the above named four towns, with the lines as above indicated. The settlement of the town, or the territory, was commenced some years
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 5
before 1784; and in speaking of this settlement, we shall, for convenience, speak of it as in Middletown.
The exact date when the first settlers of the town came here, perhaps cannot now be given. It was before the revolutionary war. Mr. Thompson in his history says, that "the settlement was commenced a short time before the revolutionary war by Thomas Morgan and others," "and mills were erected." Thomas Morgan came here before the war, and so did Richard and Benjamin Haskins, Phineas Clough and Luther Filmore. Mr. Morgan, who lived until 1841, said to me before his death, that when he came here he found his way by marked trees, and that when he arrived not a tree had been cut, but throughout the entire town it was one unbroken forest. He also said to me, that he came about three years before the war commenced, and that when that commenced he left. But he probably treated the stirring events of 1777 in this region, in which we may include the evacuation of Ticonderoga, Burgoyne's invasion, and the battle of Bennington, as the commencement of the war, for he was here until a short time before the battle of Bennington, which occurred August 16th, 1777, over two years after the war had commenced. So that the probability is that the settlement was commenced in 1774.
Mr. Morgan, after he came, like all the early settlers, put up a log house, and commenced clearing up the forest. Mr. Morgan purchased a hundred acres of land about three-fourths of a mile south of where the village now is, and put up his log house a few feet north of where the framed house now stands on the "old Morgan farm." By the summer of 1777, I should judge, he had made considerable progress in clearing up his land, as he had that summer four acres of wheat, some sixty or seventy rods from his house, opposite of where Truman Kibburn now lives, and on the east side and adjoining what is now known as the "Coy Hill road." He was called away to Bennington, and his wheat was never harvested. Richard Haskins had commenced a settlement a little east of the village, near where Lucius Copeland, Esq., now lives. He too, in the summer of 1777, had two acres of wheat which he never harvested, but went to Bennington.
6 HISTORY OF MIDDLETON.
near where Dea. A. Haynes now lives. Luther Filmore had put up a log house on the south-west corner of what is now known as "the green," in the village. Where Phineas Clough first located himself is not positively known; but he very early settled on what has since been known as the "Orcutt farm," now occupied by Mr. Lobdill. Those five men are all who are now known to have been here before the Revolutionary war. They all left in the summer of 1777, joined the militia at Manchester, and were all in Bennington battle.
But were "mills erected" before the war? The mills known as "Miner's mills," in an early day, were built by Gideon Miner in 1782. They were located about a mile and a half east of where the village now is. Mr. Morgan then assisted Mr. Miner, as a workman, in building the mills. Morgan brought the mill irons from Bennington on a horse. Some of the Miner family have informed us that there was "some sort of a mill there" when Mr. Miner came; but Mr. Miner's descendants are confident that he had nothing to do with mills in Middleton until he worked for Miner in 1782. So that we cannot reliably state by whom this some sort of a mill was built. The opinion of the old people seems to have been that it was the work of Mr. Morgan. It might have been; but whosoever it was, the mill never went into operation, and Mr. Miner had to build anew in 1782.
Mr. Thompson says, that the settlers "returned after the war." It is true there was not much done by way of settlement for some three or four years subsequent to the summer of 1777, when the settlers left to meet the invaders at Bennington. But we find Benj. Haskins and Phineas Clough back here in 1778, and Morgan and Filmore were back soon after; and a good many others were here before the close of the war. Azor Perry came as early as 1778. James and Thomas McClure, it is supposed, came in 1779. William and Jonathan Frisbie came in 1781; and Gideon M iner, Nathaniel Wood and his sons, Jacob and Ephraim, Caleb Smith, Jonathan Brewster, Gamaliel Waldo, Nathan Walton, and some others were here as early as 1782. And Joseph Spaulding and some others, it is supposed, came the same year, but we cannot be positive. We find that a Congregational Church was organized
(pages 07 to 042 are not yet transcribed)
Transcriber's Note: The Spalding mentioned above was Joseph Spalding (1744-1840) a son of John Spalding (b. 1707) of Plainfield, CT. Joseph was a distant relative of Mary Spalding PIERCE (b. 1706) grandmother of Keziah Pearce Austin COWDERY, (the step-mother of Oliver Cowdery). This Joseph Spalding was also a distant relative of the historical romance-writer Solomon Spalding (1761-1816) of Ashford, CT.
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 43
growth and prosperity of the town, at that early date, of whom, for my own convenience, I shall speak in the latter part of my discourse.
At the census of 1800, we find the population of the town to be 1066, a gain of 367 in nine years; and again we can see that rapid progress had been made in the settlement. A village had sprung up with about as many individuals, and probably more business than it now has. John Burnam had a village of his own in "Burnam Hollow," and the Miners were doing quite a business in the east part of that town; every part of the town was settled and the farms were cleared up and under cultivation.
About the year 1800, occurred what we have before alluded to, as the "Wood scrape," a term not expressive perhaps of what is meant by it, but a name which has always been given by the people to a strange affair in which the Wood families, then living here, were the leading actors. It was a religious delusion, and at the time was the cause of great excitement here, and of a good deal of notoriety in this part of the State. That there were other denouements besides delusion in the affair is true, but it had its origin, I have no doubt, in a false religion of which Nathaniel Wood was the author, and was sustained and enabled to become what it did by delusion.
Before 1860, I had conversed with more than thirty old men and women who were living here in 1800, and then supposed I had obtained all the information that could be had on that subject, the substance of which was that the Woods dug for money in various parts of the town, and were engaged in this for nearly a year; that they used hazel rods which they pretended would lead them to places where money had been buried, and that they finally predicated that there would be an earthquake on a future day by them named, and that when that day arrived there was great excitement and commotion among the people, such as was never known here before or since.
About the year 1862, some facts new to me came into my possession, since which time I have made use of all the means in my power to collect all the information connected with that matter which could possibly be obtained. On this thorough investigation,
44 HISTORY OF MIDDLETON.
or at least an investigation which has taken much of my time, I have become convinced that the narrations given me by the old people were correct, so far as they went, and they went so far as to include nearly all the open transactions of the Woods; but the origin of that affair and the results are, in my judgment, important and the facts bearing upon these I have obtained, for the most part, since 1862.
The Woods were among the early settlers of the town. They came here from Bennington, had not been there long; they came to this State from Norwick, Conn.; some of them were here as early as 1782. In 1800, they had become more numerous than any family or families of the same or of one name in the town. There were here at this time: Nathaniel Wood, Nathaniel Wood, Jr., Ephraim Wood, Jacob Wood, Ebenezer Wood, Ebenezer Wood, Jr., John Wood, John Wood, Jr., Philemon Wood, Lewis Wood, David Wood and Moseley Wood.
Nathaniel Wood, "the old man of all," as he was called, was the father of Nathaniel Wood, Jr., and of Jacob and Ephraim Wood. Nathaniel Wood was a preacher. After the Congregational Church was organized, he offered himself to them as their minister, but Deacon Jonathan Brewster, having known him in Connecticut, opposed it. Wood persisted for a considerable length of time in his efforts to become their pastor, but Deacon Brewster determinedly opposed it and succeeded in carrying the church with him; but either to gratify some of Mr. Wood's friends in the church, or to appease him, they passed a vote in which they recognized him "as a leader" in the church. He was a member of the church, as would appear from the records, although he never signed the articles, as did others of that time. The records of that church show that for four or five years, commencing in 1784, there was an almost uninterrupted controversy going on between Mr. Wood and the church, or between him and some one or more of its members. In 1789, the church passed the following:
"That Joseph Spaulding, Lewis Wood and Increase Rudd, be a committee to confer with Mr. Nathaniel Wood, and tell him his fault, viz: of saying one thing and doing contrary, and
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 45
persisting in contention, and saying in convention that he wished for a council; and when the church, by their committee, proposed to have a council to settle the whole matter, he utterly refused."
He seemed to have treated this action of the church with contempt, and in October, 1789, the church excommunicated him. It does not appear from the records of the church, that there was any controversy between him and them upon doctrines, but the disputes arose mostly from his charges against members, and against the church, in which he claimed that injustice had been done to him in their action on several occasions. He was a very ambitious man, fond of contention, and had an indomitable will that could not endure defeat; a man of great mental power, and, allowing me to judge from information I have obtained, was as dishonest and unscrupulous in matters of religion as any modern politician has been in politics. When he found he could not rule the congregational church, he seemed determined to ruin it. He was a formidable antagonist; but with such men as Jonathan Brewster, Joseph Spaulding and Gideon Miner in that church, he could make but little progress in that
After Mr. Wood was excluded from the church, he set up meetings of his own, and preached to those who came to hear him, and succeeded, after awhile, in getting quite a congregation, consisting of his own family and family connections, and some others. He held his meetings mostly at the dwelling houses of his sons. His religious doctrines, whatever they might have been while in the congregational church, appeared to be far from orthodox after his independent organization, if organization it was. He professed to believe in supernatural agencies, and dwelt very much in his preaching on the judgments of God, which he claimed would visit the people by the special acts of Providence, as did the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the plagues of Egypt. The judgments of God were his favorite themes. At first his own family did not appear to adopt his new doctrines; but such was his tenacity and perseverance, that by the year 1800 he had drawn them all in, with many others outside of his family and family connections, so that he had at this time a number nearly equal to
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either of the other denominations in town. His peculiar religious doctrines will appear as we proceed. Suffice it to say, for the present, that he regarded himself and his followers as modern Israelites or Jews, under the special care of Providence; that the Almighty would not only specially interpose in their behalf, but would visit their enemies, the Gentiles (all outsiders), with his wrath and vengeance.
In this condition we find Nathaniel Wood and his followers when the hazel rod was introduced, and the money digging commenced; but the Woods did not commence it, that honor belongs to a man of another name; but they were in a condition to adopt this man's rod notions, which they did with great effect in their work of deluding the people.
A man by the name of Winchell, as he called himself when he came here, was the first man who used the hazel rod. From what we have learned of him, he was, undoubtedly, an expert villain. He sought to accomplish his purposes by working upon the hopes and fears of individuals, and by a kind of sorcery, which he performed with great skill. The time he came here I cannot give, but it was, undoubtedly, sometime in the year 1799. He was a fugitive from justice from Orange county, Vermont, where he had been engaged in counterfeiting. He first went to a Mr. Cowdry's, in Wells, who then lived in that town, near the line between Wells and Middletown, in the house now owned and occupied by Robert Parks, Esq. Cowdry was the father of Oliver Cowdry, the noted Mormon, who claimed to have been one of the witnesses to Joe Smith's revelations, and to have written the book of Mormon, as it was deciphered by Smith from the golden plates. Winchell, I have been told, was a friend and acquaintance of Cowdry's, but of this I cannot be positive, they were intimate afterwards; but Winchell staid at Cowdry's some little time, keeping himself concealed, and it is the opinion of some with whom I have conversed that he commenced his operations of digging for money in Wells, but I have been unable to determine as to that. It is well known that there was a good deal of money digging in that part of Wells. Whether it commenced at the time spoken of, when Winchell went there, or afterwards, is, to my mind, unsettled.
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Winchell next turns up in Middletown, at Ezekiel Perry's, in the fall or forepart of the winter of 1799. Perry lived at the extreme south part of the town, on the road to Pawlet. Here he staid all winter, keeping himself from the public eye, practicing his arts of deception as he had opportunity to do so, without attracting too much attention; and here he began to use the hazel rod (whether he had before used it at Cowdry's, in Wells, I cannot say). He would tell fortunes, and do other wondrous things with it. In the spring of 1800, feeling, perhaps, a little more secure from those who desired to find him and bring him to justice, he gathered quite a number about him from the immediate neighborhood, and told them there was money buried in that region, and with his rod he could find it; and told them if they would assist in digging it out, and forever keep it a secret, he would give them a part of the money. This they agreed to, and were all eager to commence digging.
Before we go any further, we should, perhaps, say a word about this rod, which played such a part in Middletown in this eventful year. The best description we can give of it is this: It was a stick of what has been known as witch hazel -- a small bush or shrub very common in this vicinity. It was cut with two prongs, in the form of a fork, and the person using it would take the two prongs, one in each hand, and the other end from the body. From the use of this stick Winchell and the Woods pretended to divine all sorts of things to suit their purposes. It is probably true that a hazel stick, or perhaps any green stick, cut in this form, and held in this manner by some persons, will sometimes move without any apparent cause. There is some natural cause for it. Whether it is attracted by water or mineral substances in the earth, or moved by the imagination of the person holding it, is a matter for the philosopher, not for me. This much is quite certain, it was then a very effectual implement with which to practice
After Winchell had made his proposals to those whom he gathered about him, and they had been accepted, he had recourse to his rod to determine whether they were sincere in their promises to keep the money digging a secret. The rod, as he pretended, told him they were, and then he sallied out; went on to the hill
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east of Perry's house, holding his rod before him in the manner indicated, his dupes following after. On the hill, a little south of east of the upper Wait house, on the Tinmouth side of the line, his rod fell or made some motion, which told him, as he said, that they had reached the spot where the precious metal was buried. The men, with Winchell, immediately prepared themselves with shovels and other implements, and under the direction of Winchell commenced digging. They worked hard for two or three days, and becoming weary, their enthusiasm began to cool, and they began to show signs of giving out. Winchell held up his rod, got some motion from it, and told them the money was in an iron chest and covered with a large stone, and that they would soon come to it. This had the effect to renew their energies, and soon they did come to a stone or a rock, and were at once wild with excitement. Winchell then again consulted his rod, and told his men they must wait awhile before removing the stone or taking out the chest of money. It was now two or three o'clock in the afternoon, and this evil man, the better to accomplish his purposes, kept his dupes away from the place until nearly sundown, when they were then provided with levers, handspikes and bars to remove the stone. Winchell once more astonished them with the motions of his rod, and told them if they obeyed his instructions, they would, in a few moments, be in possession of large sums of money. He impressed it upon them, that the occasion was one of"awful moment," that there was a "divinity" guarding the treasure, and that if there was any lack of faith in any one of the party, or any should utter a word while removing the stone and taking out the chest, that this divinity would put the money forever beyond their reach, and besides he could not be answerable for consequences. Believing every word this vile man said to them, you can imagine, better than I can describe, the appearance and feelings of those men as they were prying and lifting away for two long hours at a stone so large that it was impossible for them to remove from its bed. The spell was broken at last. Some one of the party stepped on the foot of another, the latter crying out in pain, "Get off from my toes." Winchell then exclaimed with a loud voice, "The money is gone, flee for
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 49
your lives!" Every man of the party dropped his bar or lever, and ran as though it was for life. Thus ended the digging for money at this place. Winchell managed to get what little change these men had while they were digging, probably under the expectation, on their part, that they all would soon have money enough.
Soon after this affair Winchell made the acquaintance of the Woods, who, according to our theory, were then ripe for just such a scheme. As an old man told me, who lived here at the time, and professed to know all about it, "They (the Woods) swallowed Winchell, rod and all." I may as well give that old man's name, it was Jabez D. Perry, who died in Middletown in the fall of 1863. Perry gave me this account of Winchell, which I have written out and now read to you, in 1862; also, more of him which I shall read as I come to it. It being then new to me, I must say that I doubted its truth; but in my researches since that time, I have found evidence, the most of it from living witnesses, to sustain Mr. Perry in every particular, except Winchell's management in the digging as above given -- and I might well say that he is sustained in that, for it was all the same, or of similar character in the money digging which followed, and was kept up until the next winter; the same romance attended it, the same imposition was practiced, and there was the same claim to a supernatural agency. The older portion of my audience will agree with me in this, as we heard it from our fathers and mothers, until it became familiar with us.
As I have said, Winchell made the acquaintance of the Woods; and they then commenced using the hazel rod and digging for money, which was in the spring or early in the summer of 1800, and continued in this until late in the fall, and some have said until into the winter. Winchell was with them, but it was not generally known, he being concealed -- the Woods were the ostensible managers. They did not handle the pick and shovel very much in the digging; that part of the work was mostly done by those who were drawn into it by the Woods. A man by the name of Pratt did a good deal of the digging; he then lived on what has since been known as the Barber farm, and either at that time or before, owned it. But the Woods superintended the work, and
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were the men who handled the rod for the most part in those operations. Jacob Wood, known as Capt. Wood, one of the sons of Nathaniel, was the leader in the use of the rod. "Priest Wood," his father, seemed to throw his whole soul into the rod delusion, but his use of the rod was mostly as a medium of revelation. It was "St. John's rod" he said, and undoubtedly was very convenient for him, as he was much more fruitful in his prophecies than before -- but Capt. Jacob was the man to find where the money was buried, and to use the rod at their public meetings, and on other occasions, though all the Woods and their followers, had each a rod, which was used whenever they desired any information. If any one was sick, they sought the rod to know whether they would live or die, and to know what medicine to administer to them. In all their business matters, they followed, as they said, the direction of the rod, and with it they could, as they pretended, divine the thoughts and intentions of men.
The greatest part of their digging for money was on the Barber farm, and on the Zenas Frisbie farm, then owned by Ephraim Wood, though they dug in many other places in town. On the Frisbie farm, the farm on which I was born and raised, there are seven or eight places which still bear the marks of their digging. At one place in the "notch," it has been said they dug to the depth of seventy feet, and from the appearances about the place, I should judge they might have gone to that depth. They were led to these places, or pretended to be, by the rods. Many of the old people have told me, that almost every day during that season, Capt. Wood, or some other one, could be seen with the two prongs of the rod twisted around his hands, in search for buried treasures. Whether they were digging for and expected to find coin or ore, has often been asked of me. They talked the most about money, which they said had been buried in this region, which would mean coin of course, but my opinion is, that they had become so deluded that they had no distinct idea as to whether they were in pursuit of gold and silver in coin or in its natural state, but let this be understood as an opinion. Many not familiar with the facts, have supposed, and have said to me, that they were under the impression that the Woods acted upon the theory that those hazel rods
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may be attracted by metalic substances in the earth, and hence their motion or working; but they had no such theory as that; there was no show of reason in the affair from beginning to end, their idea was, that it was revelation, that it was made known to them through the medium of St. John's rod, and would be revealed to none others but God's chosen people. Nathaniel Wood's Jewish theory, (if I may so call it,) ran through the whole thing from first to last.
Many ludicrous stories which might be amusing to some, could be given, as related by the Woods and others, while they were digging. They dug some time in a cellar on the Barber farm; there they came to a stone, and under it was the chest of money as they said. They ran their bars down, and they would strike the chest; then they would dig awhile -- run down their bars again, and it would not be there. This would be repeated -- sometimes the chest would be there, and then it would not. Once they raised it up and were on the point of taking it out, when their efforts became powerless, the chest would come no further. They then laid a Bible upon it, and went after some one to come and pray over it, but when they returned, the Bible and chest of money were both gone. This result they said was owing to the wickedness or want of faith of some one or more of the party. But this is enough of that kind in connection with Winchell's performances at the first digging for my purpose or yours. There is a good deal more of the same, but it is needless to spend any more time with it.
The rods-men, (such they were called,) became so infatuated as to give up nearly their whole time to this scheme. All the believers became wild fanatics. Besides those in Middletown in this movement, there were several families in the south-east part of Poultney, now known as the Giddings neighborhood; also several families in the north-east part of Wells, in the vicinity of the Giddings neighborhood. These were also digging for money, and were known as belonging to the rod-men.
Some facts may be given to show the delusion of those persons in this movement. Two young ladies in Middletown, whose families belonged to the rods-men, ladies who had hitherto sustained a
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good moral character, had it revealed to them by the rods (as they thought,) that the devil was in their clothing, and by direction of the rod, their clothing was taken off, and they, in a winter night, went across the mountain into that part of Poultney above named.
In this same neighborhood in Poultney, a young lady by the name of Ann Bishop, mysteriously disappeared; no one could give any clue to her whereabouts. The Woods were sent for, and came. It became known, and large numbers had collected, it being on the sabbath day, from Poultney, Middletown and Wells. The rod was brought into requisition, and pointed to a certain place in Wells pond, which runs up into the south part of Poultney. The conclusion was that the lady was drowned in that place, and the next thing done was a preparation to get the body. Ropes, chains and hooks were procured, and logs were drawn up, a horse-blanket and some other matter, but no human body. She was drowned there, the rods-men said, they were sure of that. She afterwards made her appearance.
The Woods at one time had it revealed to them, that they must build a temple. They got out the timber for the frame, got it raised up to the rafters, when they had another revelation that that work must be discontinued, and nothing more was done on the temple. From the time the Woods began to use the rod and dig for money, which we have seen was in the spring or early summer of 1800, they and their followers were every day becoming more heated in their zeal, and by the December following, it became evident that a crisis would soon be reached. "Priest Wood" was becoming so loud and vehement and so frenzied in his favorite theme of God's judgments upon the wicked Gentiles, that it was not difficult to perceive that a paroxysm and collapse were near at hand. It was revealed to them, as they said, that on a certain night there would be an earthquake -- that immediately prior to the earthquake the "destroyer" would pass through the land and slay a portion of the unbelievers, and the earthquake would complete the destruction of them and their worldly possessions. The day on which they predicted that this would occur, was the 14th day of January, A.D. 1801. This I have determined
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 53
from a letter which I have received from an old gentleman who was present on the occasion, and which will be read to you.
When the day arrived for the earthquake, the Woods and their friends all collected at the house of Nathaniel Wood, Jr., who then lived on what has been known as the Micah Vail farm, which is now owned and occupied by Crockee Clift, and as they left their own houses, prepared them for the earthquake by putting their crockery on the floors, and wrote on each of their door-posts: "Jesus our passover was sacrificed for us." The rods-men, or those who handled the rods, among whom Capt. Wood was chief, were at Nathaniel Jr.'s house early in the day. One of their duties on this occasion was to determine who were and who were not to be saved from the approaching destruction or "plague," as they called it, and to admit such into the house, and those only, who were to be spared. The occasion was with them the Passover, and how they kept it will pretty fully appear from the letter above alluded to.
Up to the evening of this day, the people of the town had looked unconcerned upon this folly of the Woods, but now they became suddenly aroused, and many were very much alarmed. They feared some evil might befall some of the inhabitants during the night. They (the Gentiles,) had no belief in the Wood's predictions, but feared that they or some of their followers would themselves turn "destroying angels" and kill some of the inhabitants, or get up an artificial earthquake by the use of power, which would result in injury to persons or property. Capt. Joel Miner was commander-in-chief of the militia in town, and hastily collected his company. Capt. Miner was a very energetic, as well as a very earnest man, and I should judge from all accounts, was at this time very much alarmed for the safety of the inhabitants. General Jonas Clark was at the time one of his subordinate officers, and was teaching a singing school which had assembled at the house of Mr. Filmore. Capt. Miner came in much excited, reprimanded him for his indifference in the matter, and ordered him to duty. He left his singing school at once, and took his place in the militia. The General was not in the habit of neglecting his duty, but he was a philosopher, and it is probable that he "didn't think there
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would be much of a shower." Capt. Miner stationed his company as sentinels and patrols in different parts of the town, with directions to allow no person to pass them unless a satisfactory account of themselves could be given, and especially to have an eye out for the "destroying angels." The town had a quantity of powder, balls and flints, as the law then required; these were kept in the Congregational meeting house in a sort of cupboard under the pulpit. From this the militia were supplied with the requisite ammunition, and Jonathan Morgan was left here to guard the military stores. There was no sleep that night among the inhabitants; fear, consternation, great excitement and martial law prevaile [sic] throughout the night -- but the morning came without any earthquake, or any injury done to any of the inhabitants or their property, except Jacob Wood's crockery was broken up in his house, where he left it on the floor. A journeyman hatter in the employ of Dyar Leffingwell said he thought "the earthquake hadn't ought to go for nothing," and went into the house, (it was where Lucius Copeland, Esq., now lives,) in Capt. Wood's absence to attend the Passover, and broke up and destroyed his crockery. That was the extent of the mischief so far as the destruction of property was concerned, and no individual received any bodily harm. The militia were dismissed in the morning and went to their homes.
I shall now introduce the letter to which I have alluded. It is from Rev. Laban Clark, D.D., a man over ninety years old, as I am informed, who resides in Middletown, Connecticut, and is still in a good degree in the enjoyment of his faculties. Mr. Clark was with the Woods on the eventful night.
"In the year 1801, I traveled in the north part of Vermont, and in Lower Canada. I met at that time a man who told wonderful stories of finding St. John's rod, and the strange things it accomplished. November 1st, 1801, I went to Brandon circuit, which then included all of Rutland County. I heard on arriving there, much talk of the rod-men. People were saying that certain persons were directed by rods to certain plants and roots that they used to cure diseases, in many cases which they thought almost miraculous. In December I went to Poultney for my first
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 55
appointment there; and was informed that two young women had been following the rods in a severe cold and dark night over places where men could scarcely go by day-light. I went thence to Middletown, where I preached in the house of Mr. Done, the only Methodist family in the place. After the close of the services the people began to inquire of Mr. D. about the "girls tramp;" and I learned that his daughter was one of the young women above mentioned. When I could see Mr. D. alone, I conversed with him upon the subject. He told me that many people in America were, unknown to themselves, Jews, and these divining rods would designate who they were. I asked him to let me see one of the rods. After some hesitation, he did so. I asked him to learn by it whether I were a Jew. The rod immediately pointed towards me. I said then, "If that is true, please tell me to what tribe I belong?" He tried several different tribes, but there was no motion of the rod. I then said, "I think I belong to the tribe of Joseph." At once the rod pointed towards me; thus proving to my satisfaction that it was moved by the imagination of the person who held it. I felt anxious for the result of all this, but said little.
"At my next appointment in Poultney, Bro. Done met me there. He looked so very dejected I feared he had come for me to attend some funeral service for a friend. I asked for his family, and for the cause of his sorrow. "O," said he, "the judgments of God are abroad." He then said they had determined to spend the next day as a day of fasting and prayer, and he desired me to go and be with them. Accordingly, accompanied by Mr. Yates and Esquire Wells, I went. When we arrived old Priest Wood was lecturing, on the words, "Thy judgments are made manifest," Rev. 15:4. When he closed I announced my appointment to preach at Mr. Done's that evening. I was asked to change the place to the one we were now in, as seats were there all ready. I consented. I went to Mr. D.'s to tea and found a great deal of secret manoeuvering going on. To give them all freedom I went to the barn for a time. On my return, I found posted on the door, "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us." I said nothing, but went to my meeting. After preaching, several persons commenced
56 HISTORY OF MIDDLETON.
holding up rods, and running from one end of the room to the other. I prepared to leave, when Bro. D. came to me much agitated, and expressed sorrow that I could not stay at his house that night. "Where will I go?" I said. He replied, "O, you will fare as well as the rest of us." So I sat down. We were soon ordered to go to the house fixed up for the occasion -- a school room where they had made a large fire. They all came in much agitated, many weeping. I found they were expecting there was to be an earthquake. I conversed with several respecting those that had the rods. They professed to have been converted, but all the evidence I could gain of the fact was that the rods would work in their hands. We sat there till morning light. As morning dawned they went out and looking upward, kept working the rods. At last the old minister said: "O, I told them I thought it would not be until to-morrow night." Soon after light I went to Bro. Done's and asked to take a nap. On passing through the parlor I found all the crockery setting in the middle of the floor. After sleeping, I was taking my breakfast, when two men came in and said they had found out the whole mistake. They had thought because the rods had directed them to have all their goods packed up, that there was to be an earthquake. But this was the 14th day of the first month, (it was the 14th of Jan.,) and on the 14th day of the first month the children of Israel were directed to keep the Passover with shoes and hats on. So they were directed now to keep that day until they were prepared to go into the New Jerusalem. I made no remark, but concluded they had now something to work on to deceive the people.
"After eight weeks I had another appointment to preach in the same place. When I inquired of Bro. Done respecting the rods. He seemed perfectly honest and sincere, but all in earnest and perfectly duped. He told me the rods were able invisibly to remove gold and silver. He said they had found that there was a vast quantity of it in the earth, and the rods could collect it to one place. They were now doing the work and expected to get enough to pave the streets of the New Jerusalem. I asked if the gold came in its native state or in currency. He said in both. I then asked him if they had any person who understood refining
HISTORY OF MIDDLETON. 57
gold? He said they had one who understood it perfectly well. "Where is he," I said. "He keeps himself secreted in the woods," he replied. I asked his name, and he told me it was Wingate. I remembered at once; it was the name of a man who was detected about two years before in Bradford, Vt., in milling counterfeit dollars. My father having been selectman of the town at the time, I had known the case well. After some reflection, I said to Bro. Done "I fear there is counterfeiting going on, and if you are not careful I fear you will be drawn into it and your reputation and your family ruined." He was alarmed. I said "I think I can tell you how to escape. If my fears are correct, they will call on you for sums of money, and will want it in specie." He replied they had already done so. I advised him then to put away his rod and quit them, or he was a ruined man. Four weeks after that, when I returned, he told me he had not seen his rod since I left. I asked him to burn it. He replied his wife knew where it was, and left the room. She brought it and I burned it.
"I ascertained afterwards that the eldest son of Priest Wood, called Capt. Wood, was the principal religious mover in sight while Wingate kept concealed. Wood was Wingate's outside agent, and got up the religious excitement to aid the scheme."
The foregoing was penned by a friend for Mr. Clark, as will appear from the following, which accompanied the same in Mr. Clark's own hand.
"DEAR SIR: -- My hand is so paralized that it is difficult for me to write. I do not find the manuscript of the notice published, but have related some of the facts by the hand of a friend. I never resided in the town of Middletown in Vermont, but traveling on a circuit preached there once a month for about six months. I had no acquaintance with the Woods other than holding the Passover with them the 14th of January, 1801 [sic]. By what I learned of them, I have no doubt that their movement gave origin to the Mormons, the vilest scheme of villainy and corruption that has ever cursed the country.
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Mr. Clark says, "I ascertained afterwards that the eldest son of Priest Wood, called Capt. Wood, was the princi[p]al religious mover in sight, while Wingate kept concealed. Wood was Wingate's outside agent, and got up the religious excitement to aid the scheme." This Wingate and Winchell the name given me by Perry and others, are beyond question, one and the same person. What we get from Mr. Clark's letter, so far as it goes, of Wingate is the same I obtained from Perry of Winchell in 1862 -- that is, that he was detected in counterfeiting, in Bradford, Vt., came here and was with the Woods in their movement, and kept himself concealed in the time. Perry told me that he changed his name after he came, to avoid discovery by the officers of justice. Whether he did or not, I cannot be positive, but it is established beyond controversy, that a man came, first to Wells, then to Middletown, introduced the hazel rod, and afterwards acted a part with the Woods which we have indicated; and that Winchell, as given me by Perry, and Wingate the name in Mr. Clark's letter, both mean that man.
Now was this wild and mysterious affair a movement to cover up a counterfeiting scheme? Such has been the opinion of nearly all with whom I have conversed on that subject. The old folks who were here at the time, were very decidedly of that opinion. I never got the name of Winchell (so I shall continue to call him,) from any one until I got it from Perry, but many of them have said to me that the Woods had a man with them who understood counterfeiting, and they had no doubt about his being engaged with them in that business. I never have got hold of any evidence of counterfeiting in that affair, other than the facts I am giving you, except this: a large oven was afterwards discovered in an out of the way place, on the premises of one of the Woods, which bore marks of use for other purposes than baking bread. But it is quite probable, in my opinion, that counterfeiting was going on -- that was Winchell's trade; he was an old hand at the business -- it was money that he was after, that was his end and aim in this affair. Was that the purpose of the Woods? Upon this question I find myself to differ from almost all others, including those who were here at the time, and doubtless more competent
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to judge of it than I am. That the Woods were in intimate and close connection with Winchell in his concealment, there is no doubt, and if he was counterfeiting they must have known it; but it has always seemed to me as though they were actuated and borne on in that strange movement by their religious zeal. Nathaniel Wood had been excluded from the congregational church some twelve years before, and had gotten up a new system of religious doctrine, and seemed determined that they should prevail at all events. The use of the rod was not the beginning of it, but by the use of the rod many converts were added, and the zeal of all greatly increased and continued to increase until it amounted to distraction. The conduct of those men does not seem to me like deliberate plotting and planning, but more as though they were carried along by an irresistible current of fanaticism; but this is an opinion, not history.
That Winchell availed himself of this "outside" movement to cover up and aid his nefarious schemes, is very likely. He was cool and deliberate -- he "could raise the wind and not be carried along with it," and turn the effects of it to his own advantage.
In the Wood families, and especially in Nathaniel Wood's family, were some of the best minds the town ever had. Jacob Wood, the oldest son of Nathaniel, was elected one of the selectmen of the town at the first meeting after the town was organized, and almost constantly held some town office after that. He was more like his father than his other sons -- more inclined to be a religious agitator. Ephraim, the second son, was elected constable at the first annual meeting, and had several successive elections to that office. He and his brother, Nathaniel Jr., at first tacitly assented to their fathers religious notions, but after the rod delusion commenced, they were drawn into it, though they never took a leading part as their brother Jacob did. Nathaniel Wood, Jr., was undoubtedly the superior of all the Woods in point of ability and culture. He represented Middletown in the legislature five or six years in succession; was for a long time the active justice of the peace here; was town clerk several years, and held other offices. He was the father of Reuben Wood, who studied law with Gen. Jonas Clark, went to Cleveland, Ohio, about the
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year 1817, got into an extensive practice there -- was made a judge of the supreme court of that state, which position he held for seventeen years, and a portion of that time was chief justice. He had the reputation of being one of the best jurists in the United States. He was afterwards made governor of Ohio, which office he held, I think, four years.
Perhaps I ought to say this of the Woods, excepting Priest Wood, that up to the time this rod imposition commenced, no act of their lives has ever been mentioned in my hearing inconsistent with honesty, industry and good citizenship -- but so much the more mysterious and unaccountable, their disgraceful conduct in the "rod scrape." The Wood families removed from Middletown as soon as they could conveniently after the failure of their earthquake enterprise; they went to Ellisburg, N.Y., and it has been said, that ever after, they and their descendants have demeaned themselves as good citizens.
In connection with this Wood affair, I have one thing more to consider, which is perhaps more important as a matter of history than anything else connected with it.
Mr. Clark in his letter says: "By what I have heard of them, (the Woods,) I have no doubt that the movement gave origin to the Mormons." This opinion of Mr. Clark, I have no doubt will be received by you as a surprise, as it would be to the people generally, both in and out of Middletown. But Mr. Clark is not the only man who has given the same opinion. I first got it from Jabez D. Perry, in 1862. It was a surprise to me then, and I examined and cross-examined him for hours together, to get all the facts I could bearing upon that point -- since which time I have found others, intelligent men, of the same opinion. After receiving the foregoing letter from Mr. Clark, I wrote him again asking him for the facts to sustain his opinion. I reply, he refers me to a work written by Dr. Kidder of Chicago, Illinois, which I have obtained, but says that about 1840 he heard two Mormon preachers in Connecticut, who held to the "same or much the same doctrines which the Woods did in Middletown." In this he is undoubtedly correct. I have no desire to give Middletown the honor of being the birth-place of Mormonism, but I do desire to bring out facts,
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and if from those facts Mormonism may be traced back to this place, as a matter of history, and of curiosity, the people here, and throughout the country should know it.
That the system of religion promulgated by Nathaniel Wood, and adopted by his followers in 1800, was the same, or "much the same," as the Mormons adopted on the start, is beyond question. It was claimed by the Mormons, so says a writer of their history, "that pristine christianity was to be restored, with the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues -- with power to heal all manner of diseases -- that the fulness of the gospel was to be brought forth by the power of God, and the seed of Israel were to be brought into the fold, and that the gospel would be carried to the Gentiles, many of whom were to receive it." These were the doctrines of the Woods, as may be inferred from what appears in the foregoing. The Woods were very fruitful in prophecies, especially after the hazel rod came to their use; so were the Mormons in the beginning of their creed, and both the Woods and the Mormons claimed to have revelations, and sought for them and received them, as they pretended not only in matters of religion, but in matters of business. They pretended to be governed by the Divine will as revealed to them on the occasion.
The question now arrises, how came the Mormons by these religious doctrines of the Woods? Was it a mere accident, that the Mormons afterwards got up a system like that concocted by Nathaniel Wood, years before, as the Wood affair collapsed in 1801 or 1802, two or three years before Joe Smith was born, and they (the Woods,) and their followers were at once scattered in various parts of the country, and Mormonism did not appear to the world, until about 1830. It might have been purely accidental, but it seems to me hardly probable.
Now then, if this system of religion inaugurated by the Woods was transmitted to the Mormons, what is the evidence. I will give all the evidence I have been able to procure on that subject, and it is for you to weigh and give to it such effect as it is entitled to.
In the first place, their religious theories being the same, would have ha[d] great weight, and would be almost conclusive in the
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matter, unless overcome by facts and circumstances, showing the contrary. This same Winchell or Wingate, the counterfeiter, who introduced the rod here, and was with the Woods in their operations, afterwards went to Palmyra, New York, the home of Joe Smith, when he (Smith) set on foot the Mormon scheme. What time Winchell went to Palmyra, I am unable to say, but he was there early enough to get Joe Smith's father to digging for money, some years before Joe was old enough to engage in the business -- but Joe was at it as soon as he was old enough, and if his biographers can be relied on, he followed it until about the time he pretended to have found the golden bible. I have been told that Joe Smith's father resided in Poultney at the time of the Wood movement here, and that he was in it, and one of the leading rods-men. Of this I cannot speak positively, for the want of satisfactory evidence, but that he was a rods-man under the tuition of this counterfeiter after he went to Palmyra has been proven, to my satisfaction, at least. I have before said that Oliver Cowdry's father was in the "Wood scrape." He then lived in Wells, afterwards in Middletown, after that went to Palmyra, and there we find these men with the counterfeiter, Winchell, searching for money over the hills and mountains with the hazel rod, and their sons Joe and Oliver, as soon as they were old enough, were in the same business, and continued in it until they brought out the "vilest scheme that ever cursed the country."
It appears from some of the Mormon histories, that the Mormon organization first consisted of the Smith family, Oliver Cowdry and Martin Harris, the name of the counterfeiter, whether it was Winchell or Wingate, does not appear in any account that I have seen, unless he had by this time assumed another name, but he had been at Palmyra for some years and went with them from Palmyra to Ohio. He was not a man who could endure the gaze of the public, but his work was done in secret; that he was at Palmyra, acted the part I have indicated, and went off with the Mormons when they left Palmyra, has been fully proven by men who were here during the Wood affair, and afterwards removed to Palmyra, and knew him in both places.
What I have now said of the Smiths, Cowdry and Winchell, has
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been obtained from living witnesses, to which I will add a few quotations from authors.
Gov. Ford, in his history of the Mormons, says of Joe Smith, "That his extreme youth was spent in idle, vagabond life, roaming in the woods, dreaming of buried treasures, and exerting the art of finding them by twisting a forked stick in his hands, or by looking through enchanted stones. He and his father before him, were what were called "water wiches," always ready to point out the ground where wells might be dug and water found."
In a work written by Rev. Kidder of Illinois, some twenty years ago, which is the best expose of Mormonism and the Mormons I have ever seen, he has a statement purporting to have been signed by sixty-two credible persons, residents of Palmyra, N.Y. In that statement, those men say of the Smiths, that "they were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money, which they pretended was hidden in the earth; and to this day large excavations may be seen in the earth not far from their then residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures." In Dr. Kidder's work, the first Mormons are frequently characterized as "money diggers," as though that had been their principal avocation, as it doubtless was.
I have perhaps already occupied more time upon this matter than I should, but I have thought it proper and important too, to give what evidence I have been able to obtain, to show that the Wood movement here "gave origin to the Mormons." I am fully convinced that the Rev. Mr. Clark has good grounds for that opinion. It is not claimed that any of the Woods who were here in 1800, or their descendants ever had anything to do with Mormonism after it was known to the world as such, but their religion and their ways of deceiving the people by pretended revelations and otherwise, were brought along down by the Smiths, the Cowdrys, and the counterfeiter. They used the rod, that is, the elder Smith and Cowdry, and pretended by that to obtain revelations, from the time the Wood affair exploded here, and their sons Joe Jr. and Oliver, the most successful imposters of modern times,
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commenced their education with the use of the hazel rod or forked stick, in searching for hidden treasures -- though afterwards used what they called enchanted stones. I ask no one to accept my opinion or that of any other person in this matter as the truth, but must say, that it is my honest belief that this Wood movement here in Middletown was one source, if not the main source, from which came this monster -- Mormonism.