My 10th Great Grandfather in the New England Wilderness

Tracking Samuel Sherman, my 10th great grandfather, through the New England wilderness has been difficult. Fortunately, he was prominent enough to leave evidence of his travels in the history books. Huntington’s History of Stamford and Cothren’s History of Woodbury have been particularly helpful in following Samuel Sherman’s whereabouts in this unsettled country.

In a previous blog, I wrote that Samuel Sherman and his family set out for the relative safety of Stratford, Connecticut immediately following the Pequot attack on their small vulnerable settlement in Weathersfield, Connecticut. Wrong, me was! Two revisions are necessary. First, it seems the Sherman’s were not as afraid of Indians as I assumed. They remained in Weathersfield for several years following the Indian massacre. Second, Samuel and his family first moved to Stamford, not Stratford. They settled in Stamford for four or five years before they moved to Stratford, Connecticut.

It appears that religious differences may have been the foremost reason for the Shermans move from Weathersfield. Starting with their break with the Church back in England, the Sherman family seemed frequently to be in the middle of some controversy when it came to their Puritan beliefs. At Weathersfield, there was evidently an ongoing bitter quarrel within the Puritan church hierarchy. That, not the murderous Pequot Indians, was the major factor that compelled them to leave Weathersfield. If Huntington’s history of Stamford is correct, Samuel, his family, and other disillusioned members of the church left Weathersfield and arrived in Stamford, Connecticut in 1640. This indicates that they remained in Weathersfield nearly three years following the Indian massacre in 1637.

In October of 1640, Samuel Sherman, along with an unknown number of his family members and other dissenters from Weathersfield, organized the Weathersfield Company, and bought land in the southwest corner of Connecticut along the banks of the Rippowam River. They purchased it from Nathaniel Turner, an agent of the New Haven Colony, who was eager to sell it to fellow Puritans. The town of Stamford is on the Long Island Sound only 35 miles from Manhattan, New York.

Samuel Sherman is listed as one of the first freeholders of the town of Stamford.  In 1640, each of the new settlers contributed to the purchase of the Rippowam plantation, which was eventually re-named Stamford. Samuel Sherman contributed five colonial pounds, and “3.1 bushells of corn.” Evidently we’ve dropped the extra “L” in bushel somewhere in the last 378 years. Some of the funds Samuel used to buy into the “Rippowam Plantation,” may have come from the sale of a lot he co-owned with Richard Guildenslieve in Weathersfield, which they sold to a Captain John Talcott.

In the summer of 1641, Samuel Sherman, along with 27 other would-be planters and at least two “Negro servants” began building a meeting-house and their own homes on high land above the harbor in Stamford. In addition to the 28 men, we need to add all of their wives and children. The total number of members in Samuel Sherman’s household is unknown. Samuel’s wife Sarah Mitchell, and possibly Samuel’s father Edmund were in Stamford with him.

Their first son, Samuel Jr. was born in Stamford in January of 1641. I added the Jr. to Samuel’s name to avoid confusion. There are three Samuels in my direct lineage, but this Samuel, the son of Samuel senior is not one of them. Samuel Sherman’s fifth son, John Sherman, is my 9th great grandfather. It is John Sherman’s son, Samuel, who becomes my 8th great grandfather. All these Samuel’s make me want to repeat the only real expletive I heard my grandfather P.A. Sherman blurt out after hitting his thumb with a tack hammer. “Sam Hill!” I’ll revise that curse to “Samuel H. Hill!” Several of the books I’m reading fail to distinguish which Samuel they’re referring to, so I may have scorched the edges of this blog with my own expletives. Serial killer David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, is not related.

Samuel Sherman, the senior, sold his house in Stamford in 1654, but he had previously moved to Stratford, Connecticut before that date. It appears that Samuel took every member of his family with him. After 1654, there is no trace of any Sherman living in Stamford. The dates above throw doubt on historians who claim Samuel Sherman lived in Stratford for fifty continuous years.

Puritan life in the 1600's.

When the town of Stamford was set up initially, it’s interesting how the land was allotted to each of the original 28 settlers. It’s useful to remember that in the Puritan villages government and church were completely connected. One by one, each man to receive property was sent out of the meeting room while the other 27 voted on how much land he was to receive – then called back in to see if that gave him “content?” Samuel Sherman received 10 acres. Eight men received more land than Samuel, based on their age and their standing in the church. Samuel was still a young man of 21, yet he received more acreage than many of the older men.

To follow the path of Samuel Sherman from the time he first arrived from England in 1634, it seems he stayed several years in Watertown, Massachusetts with his father, Edmund. Then he moved, first to Weathersfield, Connecticut, then Stamford, Connecticut. He then finally moved to Stratford, Connecticut, where he played a prominent role in the church and the town’s business. He was instrumental in setting up the town of Woodbury, Connecticut, and even owned property there, but never actually lived there. He sent his son, John Sherman, to Woodbury as his proxy. It is in the history of Woodbury, Connecticut that I find some information on this John Sherman, my 9th great grandfather.

Just shrug the following off if you want. I need a little break from the two digital books I’ve been scanning through like a not so clever gumshoe trying to find breadcrumbs a Sherman might have left in New England. Combined, the books have over 1500 pages of information on Puritan towns where my ancestors were living. Adding to my woes or joy, depending on how bad my neck or eyes hurt, I found another 700 page book authored by our more recent relative, John Sherman, in 1895. It is full of Sherman history and interesting little anecdotes.

I ran across this little story about “Uncle Dan” that caught my attention. I am not sure yet how this Daniel is related to me. By the nineteenth century the New England coast is full of Shermans, due to their tendency to produce many offspring. This “Uncle Dan” is the son of Taylor Sherman.

Taylor Sherman was appointed to survey the region which is now Ohio, which is how his son Daniel got into this little incident. The whole Western Reserve was being gifted to those who suffered from the Revolutionary War. However, it was a wilderness, “with not a single white inhabitant.”

Imagine: 75 miles of this, on foot, with the distinct possibility of hostile Indians hiding behind each tree.

‘Uncle Dan’, in the spring of 1812, when twenty one years of age, was sent by his father to survey and make improvements on land in Huron county, by building a log cabin and opening a clearing. “He had with him a hired man of the name of John Chapman, who was sent to Milan, twelve miles away, to get some corn ground, it being the nearest and only mill in the county. Either on the way there, or on returning, Chapman was killed by Indians. “Uncle Dan” did not hear of this until the next day. When he heard, he started for Mansfield, forty miles away. For thirty miles there was a dense and unbroken forest without a settler. He arrived at a blockhouse, six miles from Mansfield, but concluded that was not strong enough to protect him. He then went to Mansfield, where they had a better blockhouse, but he heard so many stories of Indians that he did not feel safe there, and walked thence to his brother’s home in Lancaster, about seventy five miles away, through an almost continuous forest.”

This anecdote caught my attention not only for the name, but for the realization that if I had been the link to you, you would be as non-existent as an honest politician. I have no sense of direction. If I take the road less traveled I am in trouble. The 700 miles in our village of Bella Vista, AR are a maze that has left me lost within a few miles of my home. A recent study of rats, bats, and monkeys reveals there are problems in the hippocampus region of the brain for directionally challenged people like me.

How “Uncle Dan” found his way through continuous forest to his brother’s house seventy five miles away is a super power I don’t possess. Back in the seventies, I took a group of my Ecology students for a weekend camping trip to a 1600 acre ranch deep in the Ozarks bounded by the National Forest. My brother was caretaking the ranch for a group of Kansas City investors, and he and his family were living in a two story colonial styled house in need of repair. One of the environmental exercises I had dreamed up was for each student to separate themselves and commune with nature silently. The further they could distance themselves into this reverie of the surrounding forest the better. I arbitrarily set one hour as sufficient.

Setting myself to the same task, I enjoyed the quiet birdsong and rustling squirrel sounds, and at the end of the hour realized I had no idea from which direction I had come. With no compass I thought I might orient myself from the moss on one side of a tree, then realizing I wasn’t quite sure how that worked. Had it not been for one of my students calling “Mr. Sherman! Mr. Sherman!” I might still have been lost in the woods to this day. I marvel now at those family members like Captain John Sherman, who set sail from England using a compass and the stars to arrive at exactly where he was headed. If I had been the Captain we would have bounced around on the Atlantic waves until our food supply was exhausted and the passengers had tied me to the mainmast.

I understand the fear that “Uncle Dan” must have felt when his hired hand was murdered, and fearing that every step of that seventy five mile journey could be his last, with hostile Indians behind every upcoming tree. I still think there’s something to that recurrent dream I had as a child where some of that fear of Indians was telegraphed forward in time to my sleeping head. The only close facsimile to an Indian I ever actually encountered was my younger sister, Ruth, nicknamed Shooting Star. Wearing a head band with a feather, she would sometimes sub as one of the murderous Indians that constantly threatened our backyard chicken-house/fort. Other than “Ruthie,” I had no reason to fear Indians, since my Puritan ancestors had diminished the Indian population. There was a full sized Indian carving sitting outside the barbershop in Independence, and there was that great three dimensional movie in Byam Theatre, where Indians threw spears at Lash Larue and me. I remember ducking behind the theater seat.

I’m just saying that, left to me, with my damaged hippocampus, the Shermans would have been lost at sea, or irretrievably lost in the American Wilderness. Thankfully, we had some forest savvy pioneers like “Uncle Dan” who, propelled by the fear of being killed by the Mohicans, was able to get to his brother’s house safe and sound.

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