In 1690 the Joneses and Meachams, friends and partners for 10 years fell out. Each blamed the other for financial loss that was the fault of neither. In 1703, in spite of the differences between their families, Thomas Jones, age 24, and Mary Meacham, age 19, fell in love. Family ties were strong so Mary resisted the notion of an elopement. Thomas left Enfield on May 10th 1703 with his savings and a horse to explore the West.
In his saddle bags were the essentials for travel: extra clothing, a blanket, a hatchet, a knife, a pistol with powder and shot, a water pouch and food including dried beef, biscuits and honey. He assumed he would find food and water for the horse along the way. The only none essential was a bag of sea shells that his mother had brought from Gloucester.
“For luck Thomas”, she said.
The first obstacle in travelling west from Enfield was water. So Thomas rode south looking for a place to cross the Connecticut River. There was not exactly a road but the path was well travelled, connecting the settlements of farms that had grown along the river over the half century or so that Europeans had been spreading up New England waterways.
Thomas stopped at one of these farms to ask how far it was to a river crossing. There he learned about the ferry a days ride down the river a bit south of a village called Glastonbury. The next day he arrived at the east side ferry terminal in late afternoon.
The ferry, a flat topped barge with room for a wagon and team, was on the far side of the river. A woman was sitting in the shade of a bit of canvas supported on poles. Thomas rode up and dismounted.
“Three-penny for you, sixpence for the horse and tuppence to call.”, she said without preamble.
“I understand the three and six but what is this call?”
“If I call the ferry across for you its tuppence. If you choose to wait for a passenger from the other side you can avoid that cost,”
“How long is the wait likely to be?”
“No way of telling. We usually get a half-dozen or so crossings in a day.”
“The day is getting on and I should rest my horse. Perhaps I will try to take the first westbound trip in the morning. Is there a place to stay the night nearby?”
“I think there is an inn in Wethersfield, just on the other side, and a stable for the horse.”
“Well then, go ahead and call.”
The woman went to the edge of the water and blew a blast on a cattle horn trumpet. Soon there was an answering blast from the opposite shore and two men began to pole the barge across the river. Thomas paid the toll and led the horse aboard when the barge arrived.
On reaching the other side Thomas asked directions to the inn.
The toll taker on that side laughed. The nearest inn is up in Glastonbury on the east side. She took tuppence from you to call didn’t she?”
“She did indeed. I guess I looked simple.”
“Well I have to go back before dark. You can get back over if you want – no charge.”
“No. I intend to go west so I may as well not give up ground gained. I’ll make the tuppence back by sleeping rough tonight. Tell the woman to set that tuppence aside until I come back this way because I’ll expect her to return it then. Perhaps that will temper her enjoyment of it”
So Thomas went on his way passing through forest and meadow, over streams and hills, around lakes, stopping at settlements when he found them, making good a westerly direction as well as the terrain allowed. He hit the Hudson river at the Dutch settlement of Poughkeepsie after crossing a major north-south highway, the Albany Post Road. There he found a ferry to take him across.
West of the Hudson the terrain changed dramatically. To the northwest was mountainous rough country not suited to horses. Also the settlements pretty much disappeared once away from the river. Thomas stuck to the easier travelling skirting the high country to his north. In one of the valleys he met another traveler eastbound.
The man was dressed in rough trousers and a heavy shirt with long hair and beard, carrying only a walking stick and a canvas shoulder bag. Tied around his waist to hold up his trousers was a length of twine.
“How far you traveling?” the man asked.
“Well I’m not sure. I’m sort of exploring the countryside and seeing what fortune brings. Name’s Thomas Jones from Connecticut”
“I’m John Godson, sort of an explorer myself. I am a Quaker from Philadelphia. My meeting house in interested in renewing the tradition of missions and sent me to map some of the western lands so that missionaries to follow would be well prepared.”
“That is interesting”, said Thomas. “Can you bide a while and share some of what you have learned. I have fresh food to share.” So Thomas learned of the four great rivers that drained into the Atlantic; the Connecticut, the Hudson, The Delaware and the Susquehanna. These rivers provided access to the interior and European settlers were spreading upstream and outward from these river valleys.
John told him that it was only west of the Susquehanna that remained untouched by this European expansion. He said that the displaced natives clashing with the natives to their west were becoming more and more militant and hostile to Europeans. He suggested that this was a bad time to be traveling alone in the far west. He himself was heading to Poughkeepsie on his way to Philadelphia with his maps and the advice that his meeting house not send defenseless missionaries into the a bad situation.
“If you intend to continue westward”, said John, “I recommend that you take nothing of value with you. If you appear to be at all prosperous the natives will strip you and leave you naked to die in the wilderness. The native culture does respect, even revere, madmen. You would probably not be molested if you travel without weapons or possessions. Only a madman would go into the wilderness that way.”
“How could a person survive without tools and weapons? What would a person eat?”
“It is amazing what the Lord provides. I learned to travel on berries, roots and an occasional snared rabbit or squirrel. I carry a flint to start fires. I also walk slowly and quietly unless I know there are people around, then I sing or hold a loud conversation with myself. I also find that the natives, if they don’t kill you, are hospitable, sharing people.”
“I wonder”, Thomas said, “If my desire to see the west is worth that sort of life. I am running away from a broken love affair and the woman is still never long out of mind. I do have nearly the whole summer ahead of me. Would you undertake to teach me what I would need to know to survive the summer?”
“Summers are the easiest. In the worst part of the winters I always managed to find natives willing to share their shelter, campfire and meals.”
He opened his shoulder bag and drew out a roll of papers.
“These are the maps”, he said. “I can show you but have no paper for you to copy them. They are walking maps showing roughly where the trails run and the major rivers. They are crude but my walking times in days will give you some idea what you face. If you are going to persist in your quest you should roughen up your appearance a bit. I suggest we retrace your steps to Poughkeepsie and spend a few days preparing you for this adventure.”
“I took three days to get here on horseback but I did a lot of wandering on the way. How long did you figure to walk to the ferry?”
“Not more than three days if we walk along smartly.”
“Well let’s get started.” You ride a while.”
In Poughkeepsie John copied out his maps for Thomas and gave him his walking stick and shoulder bag with some tubers, dried meat and tinder in it. John explained how to find tubers, berries and other edible objects in the wild. He demonstrated how to use the twine that served as his belt to construct and set a snare to catch small game. The flint that John gave Thomas had a sharp edge to serve for a knife to dress and skin anything he might catch. Thomas gave John two of the Spanish silver dollars he had brought from home. Also, on John’s advice he bought 50 feet of sturdy rope to help with river crossings. The rope he would wrap around his waist under his shirt. Everything else including his mother’s bag of sea shells went into his shoulder bag.
Thomas already had the long hair and only needed to untie to achieve a scruffy appearance. He exchanged his clothes and blanket for heavy woolen breeches and shirt and a horse-hide wrap. For his feet he bought native made moccasins to cover his knit stockings . He took all the remaining money he brought with him and that from the sale of his horse and hardware, sealed it in a small wooden box and paid to post it to his family in Enfield with a letter asking them to hold it for him. In the letter he said he planned to take a walking excursion of undetermined length to beyond the Susquehanna.
So on May 29th, 1703 Thomas became a tramp, making his way southwest to avoid the high country. He walked only three hours at a time before stopping to forage for food or for the night so he made good about eighteen miles per day. On June 1st he reached the Delaware near where Port Jervis is today.
He found two driftwood logs, pried them back into the river and bound them together with the rope. With a fallen sapling managed to pole the makeshift raft across the shallows.
On June 3rd Thomas crossed the East Branch of the Susquehanna near the site that would become Wilkes Barre. He came upon his first group of Native Americans a way downstream from his crossing. It was an encampment of four men, six women and five children.
Thomas came down the trail singing loudly and every few steps he stopped and turned round in a circle. The folks in the encampment gathered with the adult men in front and the women and children peering around them in disbelief. At a distance of about 10 yards, Thomas sat down on the ground laying his walking stick aside and slipping his hand into is shoulder bag, withdrew a handful of periwinkle shells. He counted out 5 of them and set them on the ground in front of him in a semicircle.
One of the men approached and Thomas held up his hand to signify a stop. Then he counted the shells, raising a finger on his left hand for each one. Next he pointed to the five youngsters one at a time and raised a finger on his left hand for each child. Then he motioned the man to come forward and pick up the shells while Thomas scooted backward along the ground a bit.
The man came forward and collected the shells then crouching he motioned the children forward. With great ceremony he handed a shell to each child. Each child nodded to Thomas before stepping back to the group. Then the man stood and said to Thomas, “Do you by any chance speak English?”
“Good God almighty!”, Thomas said. “I had no idea to find my native language in the wilderness.”
“We are not all that far into the wilderness. I am called Jason where I work, in New London. I recently came back from a voyage to the West Indies and came home to visit my family.”
“I am Thomas Jones from Enfield. I am on a quest to see the West. I am near six days west of the Hudson. Where does the West begin.”
“Well where it begins is a bit uncertain but where it ends, according to my people, is farther west than we are from London England. This is a huge land, of which the English are mainly ignorant. The French have a better idea but they know of less than half of it. You have just crossed the east branch of the Susquehanna. Beyond the west branch you might say that the west begins. There are very few English beyond there. I am glad to see that you had the good sense to not come down the trail with a musket on your shoulder and a sword in your belt. Did someone give you good advice. ”
“In fact it was John Goodson, a Quaker from Philadelphia who advised me. He had been tramping this region for nearly two years.”
“Well you will be alright in Lenape territory but further west are the Iroquois. They are more inclined to hostility so be careful with them – as you were when you approached us should be safe enough.”
“Excuse me Jason, but you seem very well spoken for a Lenape man who sails in English ships.”
“When I set out to learn English I happened upon a literary fellow who wanted to write a story of the sea so had sailed with us. Come along and enjoy a feast of baked fish.”
The next day Thomas went on his way with a new fish spear rolled up in his horse-hide wrap and a new view of the natives. He walked to southwest to the shore of Lake Erie and was amazed to find that inland sea. There he lived among the natives for a few years, even trying a couple romances but he still loved Mary. In the fall of 1707 he returned to Enfield to find that Mary had not forgotten him. In spite of the continuing unpleasantness between the families they eloped to New London and were married in April of 1708. Hoping for reconciliation with their families, they returned to Enfield when Mary became pregnant.
Both families were unyielding but Thomas and Mary settle in Enfield in poverty within sight of their prosperous families. Thomas took work as a stable-hand to put food on the table.
Mary’s second pregnancy was a difficult one and in April 1711 Thomas took her to Hartford where she delivered her child by caesarian section.
In May of 1711 a drifter left his mare at the stable and never returned. The stable owner gave the horse to Thomas to help out the struggling family. He bred the mare and got a remarkable colt, handsome and strong and exceptionally fast.
The colt sold for a lot of money to a fellow from Rhode Island who happened to see it as a yearling. The mare’s second foal by the same stallion was just as good as the first, which was winning all the two-year-old races at the Sandy Neck Beach track in South Kingston, RI. On the strength of the two colts, Thomas borrowed enough money to fence in a few acres of rolling meadow land on the outskirts of Enfield and start a breeding farm.
Thomas and Mary did well as horse breeders and continued to breed children as well. In the spring of 1714 the reconciliation with Thomas and Mary’s families came about through a tragedy. The fourteen month old baby Bathsheba climbed over a well curb and was drowned. Both the Joneses and the Meachams were shocked out of their anger by the loss of a grandchild that they never knew. From the time of the funeral all old grievances were forgotten.
In 1722 Mary had another problem pregnancy and traveled to her doctor, now in Westfield, CT. for another Caesarian. Their family was completed with the birth of their son Samuel in October of 1724.
Mary Jones 4/22/1709, Enfield, CT
Jerusha Jones 4/8/1711, Hartford, CT
Thomas Jones 3/15/1712, Enfield, CT
Bathsheba 2/16/1714, Enfield, CT died 5/12/1715
Israel Jones 3/18/1715, Enfield, CT
Isaac Jones 1/29/1717, Enfield, CT
Bathsheba Jones 2/25/1719, Enfield, CT
Elizabeth Jones 1722, Westfield, CT
Samuel Jones 10/29/1724, Enfield, CT
Mary died on 11/8/1744 and Thomas, the grand old man of Connecticut horse breeding, died on 4/4/1763.