From the Memorial History of Hartford County, CT
Edited by: J Hammond Trumbull LL.D.
Published by Edward L. Osgood, 1886


By The Honorable Roland Hitchcock Ex-Judge of the Superior Court of Connecticut

THE territory of which this town and Bristol were formed, belonged, many years ago, to Farmington, and was called Farmington West Woods. It was part of the land purchased of the Tunxis Indians by the original proprietors of that town, and was by them surveyed, and divided into tiers of lots; the interest of each proprietor therein being determined by the amount of his interest in the whole purchase.

For many years after the " reserved lands" of Farmington were settled, this territory remained a wild, unbroken forest. Hartford and Windsor, by coionia.l grant in the time of Sir Edmund Andros's attempted usurpation, were the proprietors of Litchfield and Harwinton, which were settled earlier than Farmington West Woods. Credible tradition relates that the path of such proprietors to those towns was through West Woods, and it is possible (as some have claimed) that along this wild path settlers might have been found as early as 1740; but they were very few and widely scattered. it is certain, however, that several permanent settlers were in this territory between 1740 and 1755. Among these were, in the western part, Enos Lewis, Asa Yale, Seth Wiard, Joseph Bacon, and Joseph Lankton, Sr., though the last named afterward lived at the Centre; Abraham and Theodore Pettibone, extensive landholders, and men of much influence, in the northern Part; Nathaniel Bunnel and one Brooks in the southern part; and John and Simeon Strong in the eastern part. But the settlement was slow; the land was infested by Indians as they retired westward from the settlement of the white man along the natural meadows of the Farmington valley, and it was not until about 1750 that the permanent settlement to any considerable extent began. In 1774 the General Court, by separate enactments, established in Farmington West Woods the ecclesiastical societies of West Britain and New Cambridge, each having well-defined limits. In 1775 these were incorporated as the town of Bristol, and thereupon ceased to belong to Farmiugton. In 1806 Bristol was divided; the part of it within the limits of West Britain was incorporated as the town of Burlington, and the part of it embraced in the limits of New Cambridge remained, and was constituted the town of Bristol.

Pursuant to the act of incorporation, the first town-meeting of Burlington was held June 16, 1806. Abraham Pettibone was moderator, and the town was duly organized by the election of the ordinary town officers. Since its incorporation part of the township has been annexed to Canton and part to Avon; its population, as well as its assessment list, has thereby been much reduced, and it is believed that its eastern boundary has been thrown back to the Farmiiigtoii River.

The first religious society organized in what is now Burlington was a society of Seventh-Day Baptists; the Ecclesiastical Society of West Britain was established (as has been remarked) in 1774, but no religious society was formed under it till 1783, when the Congregational Church was formed. It appears from " Clark's History of the SeventhDay Baptist Church in America," that "a church of that denomination was organized on the. 18th of September, 1780, at Farmington West Woods [afterwards (1785) called West Britain; afterwards still (1806) incorporated as the town of Burlington], by the Rev. Jonathan Burdick and Deacon Elisha Stiliman, consisting of nineteen members." They came Ä about twenty families Ä from the town of Westerly, Rhode island, and their settlement and meeting-house were about two miles north from the village now called Burlington Centre. They were exemplary and industrious people, ardently attached to their faith, and had much influence in the affairs of the town in its early history; many of its influential members ultimately removed with their families to the State of New York, and there joined a church of their faith. This weakened the old pioneer church to its ruin, and after a precarious existence of forty or fifty years it became extinct. Many of the dwellings built by these people are still standing, though none of the wellremembered builders, none of their descendants, none of the faith so dear to them, and for which they endured so much, remain to care for the graves of the many they left in the silent city of their dead.

The Congregational Church was formed July 8, 1788, with twentysix members, and still worships harmoniously in the faith of the fathers. The Rev. Jonathan Miller, from Torrington, the first minister, was ordained Nov. 26, 1783, and continued his ministrations until a few years prior to his death (July 21, 1831). The first meetinghouse was located at the foot of what is called Meeting-house Hill, on the northern slope of a hill nearly opposite the corner of the roads where stood the old tavern of Zebulon Cole, and about twenty rods across the road, in a southeasterly direction from it; the locality is now overgrown with wood. The second meeting-house was located about. thirty rods northeast from the first one; the heavy bank wall which constituted its northern foundation still stands, a lasting monument to the sturdy, eariiest men who more than seventy years ago erected it. This meeting-house was dedicated Dec. 25, 1808, and stood, with its lbng row of horse-sheds on either side of the road and its steeple high among the clouds, until 1836, when it was removed to where it now stands, remodelled, and on the 14th of December of that year re-dedicated.

The Methodist meeting-house was built in 1814; it was located in the southerly part of the town, on the elevated, ground a few rods northeasterly from the south cemetery, and was removed to its present location in 1835. Nathan Bangs (afterward president of Wesleyan University), Laban Clark, and Daniel Coe (pioneers of Methodism in the State) were among the early pastors of the church of that faith in the town.

The township is eighteen miles west from Hartford, is bounded on the north by New Hartford, east by Farmington River, south by Bristol, and west by Harwinton, and is about six miles long and five in breadth. In most parts it is well supplied with streams and springs of excellent water; it has hills and valleys, and in many parts is rugged with stones and rocks. The soil is not unlike that of the other granitic parts of the State, produces substantially the same kinds of fruits and cereals, and with proper cultivation yields to the farmer a good return for his industry. The natural growth of timber is walnut, oak, birch, maple, and chestnut, which were quite evenly mingled in the primitive forests.

The inhabitants arc generally engaged in agricultural pursuits, and are intelligent, industrious, thriving, and happy, in their quiet homes. The affairs of the town have been managed generally with ability and good judgment, and it is now free from debt, after having paid all its expenses and met all its burdens growing out of the late Civil War and the depreciation of property consequent upon it.

Convenient access to the town is furnished by a branch of the New Haven and Northampton Railroad, which runs through its eastern part. At the census of 1880 its population was 1,224.

West Britain from its small and sparse population furnished several soldiers for the country in the War of the Revolution. After its incorporation as Burlington the town furnished many in the War of 1812; and though the pensioners of those wars who belonged to the town have passed, with their honorable scars upon, them, to "the undiscovered country," they are held in respectful remembrance by all who knew them. In the late Civil War the town furnished its full quota of soldiers, many of whom will return no more.

"The leaf to the tree, the flower to the plain,
But the young and the. brave they conic not again."

The narrow limits to which this sketch must be confined forbid extended reference to the noble men and women who were the early inhabitants of the town. Much of pleasant reminiscence and merited respect might properly be said of them. Their personal appearamice, their characteristics, and their many virtues awaken in one who knew many of them feelings of mingled pleasure and sadness as they return in memory. The names Alderman, Barnes, Beach, Beckwith, Belden, Bronson, Brooks, Brown. Bull, Bunnel, Butler, Cleaveland, Cornwall, Covey, Crandal, Culver, Curtis, Elton, French, Frisbie, Fuller, Gillett, Griswold, Hale, Hart, Hitchcock, Hotchkiss, Humphrey, Lowry, Marks, Mathews, Moses, Norton, Palmiter, Peck, Pettibone, Phelps, Pond, Richards, Roberts, Session, Smith, Webster, West, Wiard, Woodruff, and many others not less worthy belonged to inhabitants honorably identified with the early history of the town, amid whose energy in their respective spheres contributed much to its first prosperity.

Dr. Peres Mann, the first physician of the town, was a native of Shrewsbury, Mass. He acquired his profession in Boston, and settled in West Britain about 1780. Dr. Aaron Hitchcock was his professional successor; he settled in his profession in Burlington about 1806.

The Rev. Romeo Elton, D.D., was a native of the town, and received his rudimental education in its common schools. He graduated at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, in the class of 1818. Much might be said of him to encourage young men in their struggle against repelling circumstances, did the space permit. He was a modest, retiring man. His chief delight was the study of the ancient and modern languages, to which his unobtrusive life was unremittingly devoted, both in this and foreign countries. It is believed the country has produced few if any more thorough linguists, few of purer literary taste. His fine personal appearance, cultivated diction, and musical voice placed him among the most agreeable of public speakers. He died at Boston, Feb. 5, 1870, at the age of eighty years. His published works, besides occasional sermons, are an edition of J. Callender's "Historical Discourse" (on the early history of Rhode Island) with a memoir of the author, notes, and a valuable appendix; the "Literary Remains of the Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, D.D., with a memoir of his life; and a "Life of Roger Williams," printed in London in 1852.

Simeon Hart, for many years principal of the celebrated Farmington Academy, was a native of Burlington, and received his commonschool education there. He graduated at Yale College in the class of 1823, and soon after became principal of the academy above referred to, to which he gave much celebrity, and in the management of which be gained for himself high reputation as a teacher. His useful life closed at Farmington, where for the most part it had been spent, and where his students have erected a fitting monument to his memory.

Dr. William Elton, a native of the town, has been for several years the resident physician. He is a gentleman of good literary taste, and well qualified in his profession.


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