Samuel and Ruth 1767–1843

The work of a curious fellow
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By the summer of 1767, at the age of 18, Samuel was a confirmed drunk. His parents in despair and fearing for his influence on the younger children threw him out of the house and he drifted downriver to the coast working just enough to support the occasional roaring bender.

Samuel spent the winter of 1767 and all of 1768 working off and on at the Williams family sawmill and foundry, located in Essex near the mouth of the Connecticut River, making parts for the shipbuilding operations in the neighborhood. This work probably kept Samuel from freezing to death in the winters of 1767-1769 and 1768-1769. Finally in the summer of 1769 the Williams works gave up on him.

cropped-Iron-Foundry (293K)
Iron Foundry

Samuel awoke unaware of where he was or how he got there and convinced he had gone blind since he was last conscious. All was total darkness. Eyes open…eyes shut…eyes open…made no difference.

“O Lord,” he said aloud. “Blind from too much rum. I’ve heard tell of it. Never thought to see it.” He began to giggle. “Never thought to not see it I guess is more like it.”

“Be still man”, whispered a voice to his left. “They will hear and turn us out.”

“Who is that?” said Samuel.

“Hush damn you Sam”.

“WHO’S THERE!” came a loud voice. Followed by a crash as a lid was flung up hitting the wall. Light flooded the stable feed bin where Sam and his friend had hidden to shelter from the wind and rain. Bits of this episode were beginning to return to Sam’s mind.

The stable man who had slammed up lid stood with a rake handle in his hand.

“All right you. Get out of there or I’ll give you the heft of this handle.”

So Samuel and Arthur Poole climbed out of the feed bin and stood with heads downcast.

“I have turned you two out before haven’t I. I know it. You two climb back in that hopper.”

“What?” Arthur and Samuel both said at once.

“Back inside now.”

So they obeyed and sat against opposite walls as they had been before. Down came the lid and they heard the latch made up. A push on the lid confirmed they were locked in. Time passed and the lid was opened again. The constable from South Lyme assisted the men out of the feed bin. They were not pleased to see him. There was a history there. At their last meeting the constable had assured them that they were a public nuisance and if he saw them again they would be transported to Poverty Point.

Poverty Point was a headland on an island just off the east bank of at the mouth of the Connecticut River. It was inhabited by destitute men, inconvenient to the good people of the neighboring towns. They lived by digging shellfish to sell and eat and answering any calls for manual day labor by the nearby businessmen who picked them up in the morning and delivered them back at day’s end.

So Samuel and Arthur joined the Poverty Point men. They were taken to work as often as any but inadequate diet, too much drink and harsh conditions as fall came on took a terrible toll on Samuel.

It was at Poverty point that Samuel was found by Reverend Esau Holmes in December of 1769, nearly dead of exposure and starvation. Reverend Holmes made it a practice each winter to collect the worst cases from the point and try to save them. This effort was financed by donations from his congregation.

Samuel was taken to the men’s shelter in South Lyme, thawed out, fed and preached at until he claimed to have seen the light. Reverend Holmes took his successes around to the employers of South Lyme, Saybrook and Essex to place them in gainful employment. Samuel got a job with a printer in South Lyme. There he worked and remained sober until April of 1772. In that month Samuel fell off the wagon and ended up in the gutter again. He lost the entire summer of 1772 but by October he cleaned himself up and took a job on a dairy farm up-river on the outskirts of Hadlyme village.

It was during this sober period from October 1772 through May 1774 that Samuel met, courted and wed Ruth Ackley, from the neighboring town of East Haddam. They were married in December of 1773.

Ruth and her family were charmed by Samuel. He had his charming side. Ruth’s father Isaac Ackley had recently come into possession of a dairy farm way up in Barkhamsted about 30 miles northwest of Hartford as a result of a long pending lawsuit He made a wedding gift of the place to Ruth and Samuel.

The bride and groom moved to the Barkhamsted farm and lived happily until Samuel disappeared on June 1, 1774. Ruth was five months pregnant when Samuel failed to return as scheduled from a trip to Hartford. She was left to milk the cows and haul the milk through the village for the customers. She gave him five days before she confided in a neighbor that Samuel was overdue. The neighbor woman said that delays might happen on a trip and suggested another five days before sounding a general alarm.

On day nine Samuel stumbled home still not quite sober. Ruth forgave him and so the pattern of their marriage was established. Samuel would remain sober for months, sometimes a year or more and then he would disappear for days, sometimes weeks. Ruth always took him back. Under this arrangement they had 8 children:
Elam Jones 9/29/1774, Barkhamsted, CT
Ruth Jones 11/23/1776, Barkhamsted, CT
Pamela Jones 2/14/1779, Barkhamsted, CT
Samuel Jones 6/29/1781, Barkhamsted, CT
Elijah Jones 5/1/1783, Barkhamsted, CT
Orpha Jones 3/28/1785, Barkhamsted, CT
Electa Jones 6/17/1787, Barkhamsted, CT
Betsey Jones 4/22/1789, Barkhamsted, CT

Ruth ran the dairy operation whether Samuel was there or not. When he was home he worked as hard as any farmer, doing the heavy work around the place. He never went on his binges in the town where he lived but traveled to Hartford or Springfield. Some said it was to spare Ruth embarrassment with her neighbors. Others thought Barkhamsted just did not have enough liquor to meet Samuel’s requirements. Ruth’s parents could not understand her tolerance toward Samuel’s behavior but Ruth explained that when Samuel was around he was as good as any man, and when he wasn’t around Ruth found it restful.

In January of 1791 Samuel was off on a bender. Life on the farm went on as usual. The older children were now able to help out with the farm chores. The five year old girl Orpha was one of the most willing helpers.

Orpha was a sweet natured girl with curly blonde hair and blue eyes. Her most used expression was, “I do it”, when any chore was to be done. Often the older children would laugh to see her taking on a task that was clearly too big for her. She would struggle along with a pail of grain for the hens saying, “Heavy…heavy”. Everybody loved Orpha but her ten year old brother Samuel was her favorite. They were constant companions.

One day Samuel and Orpha were playing in the barnyard when he called out to Orpha to come with him to the henhouse. She darted behind one of the horses grazing on at the hay trough and the startled animal kicked her in the head. She never regained consciousness.

Samuel was devastated. No one could find the father Samuel so Ruth dealt with the funeral and the son Samuel’s special grief alone. When Samuel the father came back two weeks later he swore he would never again leave the family alone at the farm. And he didn’t, nor did he have another drink of alcohol through the day he died, 3/29/1822.

Young Samuel and his father became especially close due to their shared feeling of guilt at the death of little Orpha. The father told the son stories about the boy’s grandfather and his adventures on the frontier. Young Samuel grew up determined to seek his fortune in the West, following in his grandfather’s footsteps.

On Samuel’s death, the farm passed to Samuel’s son Elam who had been living there with his family and pretty much running the place for years. Ruth had enough of the farm and moved to East Hartland to live with her daughter Ruth. She died there at the age of 91 in 1843.

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