History of Glastonbury

In 1636, thirty families from Pyaug (Wethersfield) were settled in Naubuc Farms, a tract of land belonging to Wethersfield on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River bought from the Native American Chief, Sowheag, for 12 yards of trading cloth. The Native Americans of Glastonbury were members of Algonkian-speaking tribes. They lived in clans of approximately100 individuals and each group was ruled by a sachem or chief. Clans took names from features of the land where they were centered. Naubucs lived in the plains to the east, the flat area at the north end of town. Nayaugs lived near the Noisy Water at the mouth of Roaring Brook. Wongonks lived at the Bend in the River behind today’s Town Hall, where the Connecticut River turned in the 1600s. The tribes were peaceful and farmed the land. In the summer, clans lived along the river in longhouses. In winter, they moved to the hills and lived in south- or west-facing caves. In 1672, Wethersfield and Hartford were granted permission by the General Court to extend the boundary line of Naubuc Farms 5 miles to the East, purchasing the land from the natives, forming Eastbury.

By 1690, residents of Naubuc Farms had gained permission from the General Court to become a separate town and, in 1693, Glassenbury came into existence. The ties have not been completely broken: the oldest continuously operating ferry in the United States still runs between South Glastonbury and Rocky Hill, also then a part of Wethersfield, as it did as far back as 1655.

During the Revolution, Glassenbury was home to George Stocking’s gunpowder factory, one of few gunpowder factories supplying George Washington’s troops. After his death in an explosion his wife Eunice continued operating the mill until the end of the war. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Glastenbury was a shipbuilding town, located between the Connecticut River, oak forests and reliable waterpower. The three main shipyards launched a total of 273 ships of record, for use in the West Indies Trade and coastal rivers of North America. The needs of these shipyards were filled by sawmills, charcoal kilns, and forges that created ship’s anchors as large as 3900 pounds. During this time approximately 1785 the Town changed its name to Glastenbury. It would change one final time in 1870 when the Town voted and took the name of Glastonbury. There are only two towns named Glastonbury, Glastonbury England and Glastonbury U.S.A.

As shipbuilding was ending, the early industrial beginning continued. The J.B. Williams Soap Factory started in 1840 in James B. Williams’ drugstore in Manchester, where he experimented with chemical formulas for shaving soap. When he had produced a formula that satisfied him, he moved his business to Glastenbury. Two years later, he was joined by his brother, William Stuart Williams. They formed what is believed to be the first commercial soap manufacturing business in the world. Although shaving soap was their first product, they also made ink and shoe and stove blacking. Products made by the J.B.Williams Company included Aqua Velva and Williams ‘Lectric Shave. Over time, J.B. Williams expanded to Montreal (around 1922), England, and Argentina. When the business was sold in 1957, ten former employees organized Glastonbury Toiletries and continued operation into the 1970’s. Remaining parts of the complex are currently the Soap Factory Condominiums and the Glastonbury Board of Education office.

During the World Wars, Glastonbury factories supplied leather and woolen goods to the military of Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States. Bert Harriman, founder of Harriman Motors, established the first factory in Connecticut built specifically for the manufacture of airplanes. The building still stands on Main Street in South Glastonbury. Our town has also been home to feldspar mines and mills, granite quarries, cotton mills, paper mills, and the first producer of Britania Ware, or German Silver, in the United States.

Also an agricultural town, J.H. Hale Orchards began in Glastenbury in 1866 when John Howard Hale and his brother, George, recognized that their grandfather’s seven peach trees did not suffer from the same difficulties other peach trees did in northern climates. The brothers developed those seven trees into orchards in Glastonbury, as well as Seymour, Connecticut. Known as the Peach King, a special spur of the local trolley stopped at the Hale packing house each evening, and by morning, Hale peaches were sold in New York City and across the country, under the slogan, “UC Top, UC all.” The Hale brothers were the first to grade their fruit. George married and moved to Georgia to expand the peach industry. By 1915, there were 1200 acres in two states.

Although John Howard never went beyond grade school, he understood the importance of a good education. He helped to develop the Glastonbury Grange, the Connecticut State Grange, and is one of the founding fathers of Storrs Agricultural College, now the University of Connecticut.

In 1948, the Saglio Brothers formed Arbor Acres and produced a chicken that was awarded the title “Chicken of Tomorrow” by A&P Food Stores. They were among the first to use genetic engineering to develop chickens that were meatier, matured more quickly, and laid more eggs. By 1958, Arbor Acres had gone world wide: 50% of all chickens consumed in the world were from Arbor Acres breeding stock.

Progressive from early in her history, Glassenbury ended importation of new slaves in the 1780’s, ten years before slavery became illegal in the State of Connecticut. Her first library was founded in 1803. Her first hospital was formed shortly after the Revolution to combat and treat small pox.

During the Revolutionary War, part of the sophomore and junior classes of Yale University was moved to homes in Glassenbury, in case of a lack of food in the city, or attack on New Haven Harbor. Noah Webster was one of the students who were moved to town. Later, he taught here in one of Glassenbury’s 10 one room school houses.

The Smith Sisters, staunch abolitionists and supports of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, from Glastonbury stimulated change in Connecticut and the nation. The five Smith sisters and their parents, Zephaniah Hollister Smith (1759-1836) and Hannah Hadassah Hickok Smith (1767-1850), were an extraordinary and prosperous Glastonbury family. They lived at 1625 Main Street, and owned land that extended to the Connecticut River. Today the home is designated a National Landmark by the Dept. of Interior of U.S. government.

The five Smith sisters were:

Hancy Zephina (1787-1871), who was mechanical and built her own boat, which she sailed on the Connecticut River. She also invented a device for shoeing cattle that was used by local blacksmiths. Her name was derived from a combination of Hannah and Zephaniah.

Cyrinthia Sacretia (1788-1864), who was skilled in needlework and who was a talented horticulturalist. She raised fruit trees, grapes, and strawberries, developing her own varieties and grafting her own apple trees. Her greenhouse stood behind the Smith home on Main Street. Her name reflected her parents’ love of classic Latin and Greek literature.

Laurilla Aleroyia (1785-1857), was an artist. The Victorian cottage across the street from the Smith home was built as her art studio. She painted decorative items and portraits that have sadly been lost, but many of her watercolor painting still exist and can be seen at the Historical Society’s Museum on the Green. Because of her detailed images, we know how the houses on Main Street looked in her lifetime. In fact, Laurilla’s works have been used as references by Glastonbury residents when restoring their mid-nineteenth-century homes. The only Smith sister to have sought some degree of independence, Laurilla taught French at Emma Willard’s boarding school for girls in Troy, New York, and later taught at Catherine Beecher’s Hartford Female Academy.

Julia Evelina (1792-1886), who was a scholar of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, taught also at the Emma Willard school. A member of the religious sect known as Millerism, she, along with her sister Abby and its other followers, believed that the world would come to an end in 1843 or 1844. When it did not, Julia went to work to produce five literal translations of the Bible from Hebrew, Latin, and Greek to find out why those predictions had not been sound. She published her translation of the bible at her own expense in the 1870s to prove the intellectual capacity of women.

Abby Hadassah (1797-1878), who was named for her grandmother Abigail and her mother, Hannah Hadassah. Considered the quietest of the sisters, she became a spokeswoman for women’s suffrage when she was in her seventies.

Intelligent and resourceful, each of the members of the Smith family left their mark on the community. A graduate of Yale, Zephaniah Smith, the eldest son of Isaac Smith and Ruth Hollister, was born in East Glastonbury and was educated to be a minister. He left the ministry to become a merchant for a brief time, then, he studied and practiced law, and was a distinguished local legislator. He held various town government jobs throughout his life and, with the help of his wife and daughters, ran their farm.

In 1872, when Julia was 80, and Abby, 75, a problem arose in Glastonbury that would bring the two remaining Smith sisters national attention. When the Town of Glastonbury raised only the taxes of the Smith sisters and two widows and not those of a single male in town, Julia and Abby refused to pay the taxes and objected to the discrimination and what, to them, was a clear case of taxation without representation.

In fact, the female members of the Smith family had been politically powerless since the death of Zephaniah on February 1, 1836, as only white males, who were citizens, had the right to vote in the United States at this time. Inspired by the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Julia and Abby became ever more determined to challenge the town regarding their taxes.

But their repeated appeals to town officials to be treated as equal to men by the law made no difference. The town confiscated initially seven of Julia’s and Abby’s eight cows and, then, some of their land, eventually taking additional cows and stock certificates to sell to cover their tax debt. The sisters consulted lawyers and after a three-year legal battle, documented in Julia’s book published in 1877, Abby Smith and Her Cows, it was proved that the town had acted illegally in confiscating their land, but not their property. The Smith sister’s struggle drew attention and support from the press and from suffragists throughout the country because they chose to stand up for what they believed.

Julia was the last surviving sister and the only sister to marry, less than a year after the death of Abby. In 1879, at the age of 87, she married Judge Amos Parker from New Hampshire. It appears to not have been a happy marriage, for when Julia died seven years after her marriage, she left a note asking to be buried next to her sisters and requesting that only her maiden name be engraved on her gravestone.

Glastonbury’s involvement during the Civil War was more than military. Before the battles began, forty women, including Hannah Hickok Smith and her five daughters, signed a petition denouncing slavery. On February 5, 1840, it was presented to Congress by the former president, John Quincy Adams, and is believed to be the first anti-slavery petition brought before Congress.

Men from Glastonbury served in the Connecticut 1st Cavalry Unit. Connecticut’s only cavalry unit, it accompanied General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865 to Appomattox Court House where Confederate General Robert E. Lee signed the surrender agreement that led to the end of the Civil War. This unit was the only cavalry unit present at the laying of the cornerstone of the Gettysburg Monument on July 4, 1865.

Glastonbury’s industries supported the Union’s war effort. At Hopewell Mills, cloth was produced for Union troop uniforms. In Curtisville, the Connecticut Arms & Manufacturing Co. produced pistols and rifles used by the Grand Army of the Potomac.

Another important Glastonbury resident was Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, and Father of the Modern Navy. In the troubled war years, Abraham Lincoln and Gideon Welles would not always agree. But integrity bred respect, and friendship soon followed. As the War for the Union became, as well, a war for emancipation, Welles, with Seward, would be the first of his advisors to whom the President would broach his plan for emancipation by presidential proclamation. And it was to Gideon and Mary Jane Welles that the Lincolns would turn in times of tragedy.

That now seems inevitable. Beginning as small-town politicians, each had grown through a struggle with ideas and events, and through a long and often-frustrating apprenticeship, to become a leader with the insight and patience necessary to help guide the nation through its darkest hour. Writing in 1851, Welles had characterized statesmen as those whose “great minds distinguished themselves on great occasions”--and in Abraham Lincoln and Gideon Welles they did.

Glastonbury is a town which is always changing and growing. It has participated in all the great movements of American history and continues to make a mark today. This has been just a short synopsis of Glastonbury’s history and the men and women who built it, continuing to make it a source of inspiration. To learn more about Glastonbury visit the Museum on the Hubbard Green M, T, Thurs. 9am-4pm, the 3rd Sunday of the month from 1-4pm or visit the Historical Society of Glastonbury’s website at: www.hsgct.org.

(History of Glastonbury provided by the Historical Society of Glastonbury)