Timothy and Abigail 1764 - 1812

The work of a curious fellow
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In April of 1764 Timothy Dustin received the 200 Spanish milled dollars promised in his father’s will. He had two things weighing on his mind. He did not approve of his stepmother’s hasty marriage following his father’s death but there was not anything he could do about that. He also had come to learn that his younger brother Moses had an unsuitable young girl in trouble and the girl’s father was on the warpath. He resolved that issue by payment of most of his fortune to the girl’s father. So he left Haverhill with the clothes on his back and a few dollars to see the wider world. By the time he reached Salem, NH, he had become hungry so he took a job with Benjamin Clements, a farmer, clearing the trees from a new lot, pulling stumps and cutting the wood into fireplace length for sale.

Benjamin had a 17 year-old daughter Abigail who was even then the most beautiful woman Timothy had ever seen. He knew she would never be interested in her father's hired man, with no money and no prospects, so he kept his head down and his dreams to himself. He was not afraid of hard work and was a good-natured young man so Benjamin was glad to have him around for that spring and summer of 1764. Timothy received a generous wage as well as room and board for his services.

Abigail, being a normal young woman of seventeen could not help but notice Timothy. She had her own dreams, which she did not share with anyone. With Timothy she was polite but reserved. Only a careful observer would have noticed that she was in his company more than her household chores strictly required. As an only child Abigail had no experience with boys and thought them strange and exotic creatures, able to come and go in the world as they pleased. Surely Timothy had experience with women from the wider world and would not be interested in her. She had never left Salem.

So in late September, Timothy said good-by to the Clements family. Benjamin gave him a letter of recommendation and Benjamin's wife Mary gave him a new suit of clothes she and Abigail had sewn for him. Timothy set off for Portsmouth to make his fortune with the undeclared intention of returning when he was worthy of courting Abigail.

Timothy arrived in Portsmouth and tried a few lines of work to make his fortune. In the spring of 1765 he signed up as crewman on a fishing boat working the Georges Bank. Captain Haney was a high line skipper but he pushed the season, working well into November. They were caught by a no'theaster on the bank with a hold full of fish and the vessel sank. Timothy and one other crewmember, Jonathan Bangs, made it into the tender and drifted helplessly before the gale for over 24 hours. The wind and the temperature dropped together and the men found themselves lost on a calm sea without supplies and with the temperature well below freezing.

They began to row, keeping the sun and moon on the port side so as to make good a westerly course and on the second day, raised a coastline. With the last of their strength they landed on a barren shore in sight of the smoke rising from the chimney on a hut.

They were warmed and fed by the fisherman living there and in a few days transported in his sloop across Long Island Sound from Montauk where they landed at New London on the Connecticut shore.

Timothy wanted to set out at once to go back to Salem. He had found life to be a chancy proposition and decided that he could not wait until he was well-off to marry Abigail. Jonathan sensibly pointed out that they would need some money to survive so they looked for employment in New London. Finding day work meant haunting Bank Street on the waterfront.

In the mid-eighteenth century there was a healthy trade between Connecticut and the Caribbean. Live stock, lumber, food staples and some iron goods flowed to the Caribbean and sugar, molasses and exotic tropical foods flowed back to Connecticut. So work was easily found loading and unloading ships. Timothy and Jonathan shared a room in a boarding house and cleared a bit of money each day.

The first thing Timothy did with his money was post two letters. One to his family explaining where he was and how he got there, promising to make his way home as soon as practical. Another to Benjamin Clements repeating with the same information in his family letter and confessing his feelings for Abigail. He had decided life was apt to be too short to dilly-dally in important matters.

Jonathan wanted to return to Portsmouth by ship, which required more money than an overland journey and possibly more delay in finding a passage. Timothy decided to walk and start as soon as he had decent travelling clothes and a little expense money saved up. He had enough maritime adventures.

The distance from New London to Salem New Hampshire is about 120 miles. By the lower Boston Post Road, established in 1691, and the road from Boston to Salem it was close to 160 miles. The condition of the roads were variable but all much better in the winter of 1765 than the wilderness trails of the previous century. Timothy thought he could make it in about 12 days if he didn’t rest too much.

He and Jonathan continued working at the docks for another three weeks building up their cash reserves. Timothy bought a great coat, gloves and good walking boots from a man sailing for the West Indies with the intention of never returning. Then, leaving Jonathan to take the first available boat to Portsmouth, Timothy began his trip north on December 22.

Timothy caught the first ferry that morning across the Thames to Groton. On the boarding Gales’ ferry he found a freight wagon loaded with small casks. The driver was a tallish, thin, middle aged fellow with a craggy face, bundled in what looked like a moose hide coat.

“Hey young fella”, he greeted Timothy. “You travelling far this morning?”

“As far as I can go by shanks mare today and many days to follow. I’m bound for Salem New Hampshire. Are you planning to pull that wagon yourself? I don’t see any draft animals aboard.”

The driver laughed. “Daow”, he said. “I got a team waiting on the Groton side. This here seat’s got room for two if you want to ride a ways. I’d admire the company. Fella was going to go with me to Providence with the wagonload of … uh salt but backed out last minute.”

Timothy stepped up to the wagon and looked it over.

horses and wagon (350K)
Wagon and Team

“Well”, he said, “I could sure use a ride but I wouldn’t want to travel with a man who didn’t trust me so I would like to clear up a couple things. I been unloading ships from the West Indies for the past few weeks and can easily tell a barrel of salt from a keg of rum. And under your seat I see a blanket covering what could be guns. Now I don’t have a problem with a man being economical with the truth where strangers are concerned, but if we are to travel together it would ease my mind some to hear the nature of your business.”

“By God boy. You’re smarter than you look. A feature I admire. My name is Simon Pillsbury from Rhode Island . My main business is hauling valuable cargo. My partner Billy Sims come down with a bad grippe and couldn’t make this run from New London to Providence. Under the blanket is a carbine, two pistols and a Dutch thunder pipe. Never yet were any of those weapons fired in anger by me or Billy but it seems prudent to be prepared when valuables are under your care.”

“Name’s Timothy Dustin. We are well met. I need a ride and you need a hand to help deliver your cargo safely.”

“And into the bargain I will throw your room and board as far as Providence.” said Simon. “You are sort of taking Billy’s place and the arrangements have already been made. Come on up and set. Tell me how you come to be so far from home.”

So crossing the river Timothy and Simon swapped the stories of their lives. On the far side Simon went ashore and returned with a magnificent team of Conestoga draft horses. He and Timothy harnessed them to the wagon and set off on the Boston Post Road to Westerly, Rhode Island. The team effortlessly pulled the wagon up hill and down, putting miles behind them while Simon showed off his weapon collection and the men chatted.

Along the way they lunched on the provisions Simon had in the wagon and spent the night in Westerly. Next morning they set out at first light and travelled until dark with a few horse rest breaks, arriving at an inn in the village of Wickford, Rhode Island. From Wickford they travelled to Providence the next day and unloaded the wagon without incident.

Timothy thought he would continue his journey alone in the morning but Simon advised him to wait a day till Simon figured where he was going next. It turned out that Simon through his agent in Providence arranged a load of furniture to be transported from Providence to Boston. So after a day layover in Providence to load the wagon and take a rest, they set out for Boston. They stopped over Christmas night at Walpole south of Boston and the next day at noon they unloaded the wagon.

Timothy said good bye to Simon and spent the next two very long days walking to Haverhill with only a short ride with passing traffic each day. He spent the next day at the farm with his brothers, sisters and step parents. While he was there a parcel arrived from Portsmouth. It contained a letter from Jonathan Bangs and the belongings Timothy had left when he went to sea for the last time. It included the savings from the fishing enterprise which made a nice nest egg.

On December 30, 1765 Timothy arrived at the Clements farm Benjamin and Mary took him in at once and after hearing his story, and that he could not live without Abigail, nor she without him, agreed that they could begin courting to see how it went. It went very well and on December 16, 1766 they were married and settled down on the farm that Timothy had bought with the help of his father-in law.

In 1774 Timothy and Abigail became rebels. It happened sort of by accident. A Major Dunfries in the British Army decided to test the new quartering law that extended the quartering of British troops to private dwellings outside Massachusetts. He tried to move a squad into the Billings farm nearby the Dustins. The Billings family had no idea that the quartering of troops in private houses was now the law of the land so they threatened the half dozen soldiers with musket fire. The soldiers prudently withdrew but the Billings husband and wife were declared outlaws and fled, abandoning the farm to the redcoats.

Timothy and Abigail, in a neighborly gesture, hid them on their property until they could slip away to the coast. Ever after, the Dustins took an interest in the conflict between Britain and the colonies and Timothy joined the Sons of Liberty. On 8/1/1775 he joined Captain Henry Elkin’s company and in 1776 he became a fifer in the company of Captain Nesmith.

Abigail's parents were staunch royalists so there was some tension between the generations. Not enough however to prevent the mutual celebration of the continuing stream of grandchildren that included:
Mary Dustin 9/13/1768
Timothy Dustin 11/26/1771
Benjamin Dustin 12/12/1773
Joshua Dustin 8/17/1775
Nathaniel Dustin 9/9/1778
Sophia Dustin 12/24/1780
Thomas Dustin 11/24/1783
Moody Dustin 2/24/1786

Timothy came down with a bad cold in February of 1790 and never fully recovered. He died of pneumonia in April. The widow Dustin never remarried and raised her children by herself, supporting the family by running the farm with the older boys. As the children grew and married, they became neighboring farmers themselves until the region on the outskirts of Salem where they lived became known as Dustinville. Only the second youngest, Thomas broke with farming tradition. He had inherited his great grandfather's skill in woodworking. By the turn of the century, all his family and many of his neighbors owned a chest of drawers or a bed or a kitchen table made by Tom Dustin.

Abigail died in 1812 on the Dustin homestead and was buried on the farm beside Timothy.

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