Waterford Historical Society, Inc.

From the Writings of . . . Margaret W. Hilliar Stacy

Apr 05, 2004

June 10, 1934

The old court records of New London present many interesting highlights on the customs, manners and morals of the early dwellers in the town. Indeed, they seem to have been a somewhat lively group of citizens, prone to high living and free thinking and were curbed with difficulty by the town fathers.

Many pillars of the church came some awful croppers in their youth but after some 150 to 200 years, scandals loose their power of horrifying and become amusing.

They fought, gambled, drank and swore with a freedom which their descendants would be hard put to outdo, the only difference being that the long arm of the law caught them early and often, assisted by eager informants.

In a good many cases interested and scandalized neighbors laid information and in a few their New England consciences got in good work and their confessed their sins voluntarily. A cynical thought is that perhaps they yearned for excitement and publicity. If so, simple confession was one way of getting it.

April 5, 1740, Joshua Moor Jr., a second cousin of the famous Joshua Hempstead appeared before the court and "confest that he was guilty of Drinking to excess on ye second day of ye instant April." He was fined 10 shillings, a goodly sum. His excuse may have been that he needed warming up for there was a heavy fall of snow "more then ?½ Leg deep" and a Cold air."

On July 20, 1739 Jonathan Tinker was "arrested and brot before this court by Warrent to Answer the Complaints Exhibited against him by one of the grand jurymen of New London for selling Strong Drink without Lycence (vix) Rum on or about the 10th day of the Instant month by less Quantity than one Quart at once wch is contrary to ye Laws of this colony as pr the presentment on file and being examined upon the premises confest he was Guilty."

So the court fined Jonathan 40 shillings and he had to pay the costs of prosecution. It sounds suspiciously as if Jonathan had been bootlegging.

In June 1740 Gilbert Foreseth of Groton was presented by one of the grand jurors for "breaking the peace" in fighting with John. Keeney of New London and fined 10 shillings.

There are some records concerning Indians. One in 1739 being particularly interesting: "Caesar, Mustee or Indian servant, slave to Samuel Richards of New London leaves his service . . . and pleads that he should not be holden in service as a slave because he was born of a squa named Betty who was a captive in the late Indian warr and not a slave."
Then in 1743 there was another case, that of Rachel Burton, an Indian woman, who was arrested on the complaint of Samuel Harris of Canterbury who complained "that in the night season next after the 23rd of this instant October he had a barrel of good Blue Fish worth 51 pounds in Bills of Credit old Tenor, taken out of his possession in New London aforsd. on the Bank of the Shore of the land of Job Rathbun and as per the writ on file and the sd. Rachel being examined Confest that she was persuaded by Mary Beckwith to help her role away sd. Barll of "fish and that thay Roled it near the house of William Beckwith where they Lived & put it amongst the Briers there.:

The outcome of the affair was that poor Rachel was judged guilty and was sentenced to pay Samuel Harris five pounds damages, cost of prosecution and a fine of 10 shillings, six pence and Mary got off free after having instigated the theft - another example of the English settlers' injustice to the Indians.

There are queer offenses, such as David Lester bing found guilty of "Bad Husbandry" in 1754. Possibly David did not week his onion patch.

January 2, 1774 Caleb Dart appeared in court and "Confessed . . . himself . . . Guilty of Rud behavior on the Sabboth or Lords Day . . . and incurred the penalty of 4 shillings 1 penny cost for which he owes Judgement against himself."

On January 23, he paid the fine with a load of wood for the poor house, a case in which the good old New England conscience did some good.

May 5, 1776 Sabboth or Lords day, Peter Darrow was brought before the court by constable John Hempstead for the "Sin of Drunkness, Prophaine Swaring and Cursing as also for Sabboth breaking, every of which is against the peace." He was fined five shillings for breach of peach, six shillings for "prophaine swaring" and eight shillings for "the sin of drunkness," all of which were "to be paid into the Town treasury Except by Seting In the Stock one hour for Drunkness and one hower for prophaine swaring."

Amon Crocker on 1778 appeared before the court and confessed that he was guilty of a "Breach of the peace by prophaine Swairing" and was fined six shillings. It seems quite possible that Amon or Amos as his name was usually spelled confessed of his own volition for he lived in the wilds of Butlertown and while it was more settled there then than now, there couldn't have been that much of an audience to hear Amos indulge in "prophaine Swairing."

But the most entertaining rascal of them all was constant Crocker - he did such a variety of things. But his chief trouble was a propencity of supperiority. His general attitude was that of monarch of all he surveyed. The first Crocker in New London was granted land in Butlertown, then "the outside commons" in the early days of the colony and the family holdings increased as time went on.

If Constant wanted wood that happened to be on someone else's land he went and took it and he played no favorites, all the neighbors had legal troubles with him at one time or another. He had a sawmill and a bark house for tanning on his property so perhaps he needed the material.

At any rate it is natural to expect that the most interesting and unique documant should have originated from Constant Crocker's troubles. It might be mentioned that he had a regular feud of lawsuits with the Fosdicks of the Head of the River district of Waterford, whose land abutted on his.

The writ is dated June 1, 1791 and is to be sheriff or his deputies, or the two constables, commanding them to attach the goods, estate or body of clement Fosdick to the value of 100 pounds, and he was to appear at the county court the second Tuesday in June to answer to Constant Crocker in an action on the case.

Constant's estimate of his own character in view of what may be easily learned is rather astonishing. Apparently he had never seen himself as others saw him until Clement offended him. Here is constant's version: "the Plaintiff . . . says that from his youth to the present day, he hath conducted himself in such a manner as Justly to deserve and has in fact sustained a fair and unblemished Character and Reputation among his connections and acquaintance that he was never in fact Guilty of theift and that he never Ware the Garb of hypocriocy under which to Commit Crimes of Abomination but the Deft. Well knowing the Plaintiff to bear a harmless and inoffensive Charactr and Envying the Plaintiff Situation and Station in Life in that partickler and, strongly impelled by motives of` vanity to Exhibit to the public Specimen of his Low Wit and doggerile Verse and intending to ruin and Destroy the Pltifs Good Name and Reputation and thereby to sap the foundation thereof did wickedly maliciously and without even the Shadow of Reason or provocation . . . post, write and publish by setting up in a publick place in the City of New London . . . a Certain false, Scandalous, Malicious and defamatory Libel of respecting and therin expresly meaning the Plantiff in Words following, (viz.)

"Strayed or carried away an Ox Cart from ye ownere near niantick River about the 24th of Janerey Last by Some Indifferent person Supposed with aim to purches the Same as in since been understood by asking a Fidler to lend him som money the Suposed man who drove off Said Cart had on a serus Coloured Veil made up of a Sunday face. His Garments were Sheep Cloathing under which are all manner of abominations. he is Seldom Ever Seen to Laugh but a Smile makes a deep impression on his face. he is much for Joking but renounses vain Jesting. he is Supposed to be the monster who While Confined Built near this place a Cage for unclean Birds.

""And as Some Say
in their Way
for his Cages Use
took their Produce
and if We Give the Devil his due
he will be Constant unto you.""

therefore Whoever Will Return Said Cart which is free of all en-combrances to the ownr Living near the new sine of the Crooked Desciple he Shall be Well rewarded by the Ownr hereof.

Which Scaldulous defamator infamous and false stuff the decendant wrote and published by setting up the same in the most Conspicious place insd. City . . . Expressly Levelled at and pointedly meaning the plantiff all with a view to injure the Plantiffs Good Name, to set him in an odious and reiduculous Light and to Diminish Rippitation among his acquaintance . . . which remained posted up . . . for days in view of the idle and for Sport of the Wicked and the Enemies of the Plantiff by means of wich the Plantiff hath lost friends, increased the number of his Enemies and greatly suffered in his Good Name and Reputation etc."

"Wherefore the Plaintiff Saith he is injured and hat sustained damage to the sum of 100 pounds. . .

There follows an attachment by Joshua Hempstead, constable wherein he attached "one Serting peice of Land containing about 100 acres of Land with the buildings thereon and is bounded as foloows . . . southerly on the highway L& Southerly on Daniel Crocker's Land and easterly on the Plantiff's own lands and Northerely on Daniel Crocker's Lands and Westerly on the heirs of Daniel Calking Dec'd. & Samuel Tabor's Land and allso did attach one third part of a Sawmill known by the name of Fosdick's Sawmill with all appurtenances thear to belonging and allso 1,000 Chesnut Rayles now split and lieing on sd. Lands."

It is sad but true that the Fosdicks lost their land at the head of the river and Constant remained there until he died in 1806. In the distribution of his estate is mentioned land taken by execution from Samuel Fosdick, Clemtn's brother so he evidently had some revenge but lacking another Joshua Hempstead, the details are lacking.

Incidentally, while a good many of the allusions in the writ are not easily appreciated now, "the sine of the Crooked Desicple" probably referes to a tavern and Freeman Crocker, Constant's brother is listed as a tavern keeper and lived in the neighborhood.

At any rate it is a peculairarly interesting insight into the legal troubles of long ago.

[original spelling and punctuation retained]

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