I recently stumbled across something I would never have even thought to look for. In the Repository, a New London newspaper first published in 1858, a correspondent using the pseudonym Pequot wrote two short pieces under the heading “Waterford In Olden Times.”
The first concerns the memories of “Patriarch of Waterford” Stedman Newbury, who had died about 80 years earlier and whose diary the writer was allowed to see. The keeping of the “memorandum-book” had begun with Stedman Newbury’s grandfather Nathaniel Newbury, whose first notation was a record of his marriage to his wife Elizabeth in 1706. He listed their children: Nathaniel, Jr., Elizabeth, Samuel, Mary, Hannah, Nathan, Eunice, Sarah, one name that is illegible, and another I’ll be adding to my roster of outstanding Colonial-era names: Mehitable.
The bulk of Pequot’s story recounts an experience that Nathaniel (the son) had on Plum Island. He’d moved there because his wife Hannah Lester’s sister married Mr. Beebe, who owned the island. On a cold, windy March day, he and some other settlers on the island set out for a mill on Long Island in their only boat. They were quickly overturned by “a flaw of wind.” Nathaniel, a “very strong man and a good swimmer” in his own estimation, managed to help all his fellow passengers onto the capsized craft. But he could not flip the boat over in the rough waves. One by one, despite Nathaniel’s exhortations, they grew too cold and gave up. “One after another,” he related to his son later, “my companions dropped off and perished in the sea.”
He stayed there overnight, close to shore but unheard over the crashing waves. Just before morning his wife thought she heard a voice and led the others to the water. As dawn lit the scene they saw the boat, and at length remembered an old canoe in a barn. They “stuffed the wide cracks with blankets and seaweed” and sailed to rescue Nathaniel. He said, “For months I was not expected to live, but a kind providence smiled, and in about six months I began to recover.”
He later left Plum Island, whether because of that incident or not is unclear, and lived in Jordan (or “on Jordan” as the Repository article has it.) His house there was passed down to his son Stedman, owner of the memorandum-book.
There was something about this story that made me wonder if these people were fictional. True stories of the fortitude of 18th century families can evolve - or devolve - into clichés, mixtures of 19th
century sensationalism and Biblical begats. But the Newburys of Waterford were absolutely real. Nathaniel Newbury’s house had a gambrel roof, and might be the oldest house in Jordan village. Stedman Newbury also liked gambrel roofs, and built three houses himself. He sold his father’s house to “Black Dick” Morgan, who was rumored to have been a pirate, proving, I suppose, that there’d be no need to fictionalize any early Waterford tale. Stedman also served in the Revolutionary War. He is buried on Mullen Hill Road.
I was going to write more here about the Newburys, and the very strange second installment of “Waterford In Olden Times.” But as Pequot found, it really deserves its own column. At the end of his first essay he promised to return with “an anecdote of [Nathaniel’s] wife, Hannah ester, and with your permission bestow a passing notice on their neighbors on Jordan a century ago.” With the addition of another century and a half, I promise to do the same.