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History Corner: They All Have a Story...

June 22, 2023
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History Corner: They All Have a Story...

As we bounce around from one part of our lives to another, we may or may not visit with family members, especially if they live many miles away.  A small staff of the Orange Historical Society has made it their mission to find those members of the town who helped make it a town, but are only known to the public by their names on their headstones.

As they clean the stones, with the utmost care and protocol, each one can be identified and in one case became a mystery.  Yes, a mystery.  As they follow the rows, it becomes obvious that members of one family were in some cases, buried together but in the middle of the Merwin family members sits Mehitable Woodruff’s stone...why is she there?  Using various resources at hand, the answer eluded us.  Hmm.  Where to go next.  Since one source mentioned a will, the library at the State of CT gave us the answer.

Mehitable passed from consumption which in today’s parlance is Tuberculosis.  She was only 40 and from the documents provided by the library we read, “In consideration of the kindness shown to me by Mary T. Merwin and her husband Alpheus N.  Merwin, I do hereby give devise and bequeath all my estate of every kind and nature which I may have to Mary T. Merwin to be hers absolutely and forever.  She is to pay for a suitable grave stone & funeral expenses.”

Indeed, Mehitable’s stone is somewhat more elaborate than some, at a cost, in 1878 of $32.00, approximately $973 today.  Opening her grave was $5.00 which would cost $152.00.  We have inventories from both the Bryan and Andrew families which are part of our tours of the Bryan-Andrew House giving us a good view of family life in 1740.  Mehitable’s inventory is simple as it appears and I say appears that she was unmarried.  Mystery # 2....in Susan Woodruff Abbotts’s book she writes that Mehitable was married to Jonah Camp as his first wife with impossible dates!  But this mystery will go unsolved because our first was the why and anything else will remain unsolved mystery # 3.

Mehitable’s inventory says a good bit about her life, as a homemaker.  She had a chamber set which at that time required a group of porcelain items that were related to the bathroom of today.  She had 2 beds and 5 quilts, cotton sheets, linen sheets and 1 woolen sheet.  Her house had a carpet at some point and she could boast 5 table cloths, tin ware and crockery.

In viewing this inventory, a question arises as to what she might have done as a profession or job as she had a savings account of $90 in 1875 and I came up with the possibility of her being a teacher as it lists books and pictures...now granted, owning books doesn’t make you a teacher but it’s a thought needing more research, at another time.

The cemetery has many stories to tell and one that I will mention briefly is the first person to be buried in the North Milford Cemetery (Orange Cemetery) November 2, 1805, 4-month-old, Joseph Treat.  He was the 3rd child of Joseph and Eunice Treat and according to his epitaph, he was the 6th descendent of the Treat name.  His story is short, but he has a story to tell.

Two sisters, lie in the front row, side by side and the saying on Sarah’s stone says “Here sleep two sisters, loving and pleasant in their lives, in death they were not divided.”  Although her sister Lucy died in 1847, Sarah’s stone tells the story.  Lucy’s stone is inscribed on the bottom and one must take time to read it...takes a little time to focus on the words, but they are there...tells her brief story.

For these two stones, a mystery evolves in the spelling of Clark on Lucy’s stone...it has an “e” at the end...hmm.  Could it be that the “e” made it appear to be of royalty or of someone important?  At one point in our recent history, a truck ran into the front of the cemetery, damaging some of the monuments.  It appears that Leverett Clark, whose name is always spelled with an “L” lost its “L” on Lucy’s stone when the stone was replaced, so Lucy’s husband lost an “L” but gained an “e”.  Her father and brother all spelled their names with the “L”.

There is a little stone, yet to be cleaned but known to the staff, of William Casner who was born ca 1844 and died in 1927.  If you are good at math and history, you might wonder if William was in the Civil War...well, you would be right.  He was in Company E 17th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry serving in North Carolina.  With some enthusiastic research by two of our team, his granddaughter’s stone was located as well.  William had several children, not all of them buried in Orange but his son, Joseph, is buried in West Haven.  It’s not known when William joined the army but given his birth date, he was just a kid at the beginning of the war in 1861 when the 17th was organized.

This writing may seem very straightforward but believe me, it’s not.  It takes many documents, many head-to-head talks and a Connecticut State Library card to untangle the details and put them together correctly to tell the story.  Everyone has a story and by the way, our Civil War soldier, after being mustered out is listed in the 1880 census as selling trees.  I was curious as to where he lived and when I looked into the census records, I found his information puzzling as the census was listed as Orange but his address was Campbell Avenue.  Then it hit me...and mind you, I know this info backwards and forwards, until 1921 West Haven was part of Orange.  See?  Research is never straightforward nor can a historian keep it all straight.

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