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Buried History: Jordan Cove, the Browns and a 1753 homestead

The remains of the Brown Family burial ground in Waterford can be found in a wooded area off Gardiners Wood Road.

There are two ways to reach the small abandoned site. One is by foot, a short walk from Jordan Cove Road, through heavy brush and woods. The other access is by boat from the Jordan River.

The burial ground rests along the water, just south of some railroad tracks, across Jordan Cove what from what is now Pleasure Beach in Waterford.

In 1771, Charles Brown of Norwich purchased from his father, Benjamin Brown, about 60 acres of farmland which contained a “dwelling house thereon,” built around 1753. Brown’s was evidently the first homestead built on the section of land known as “Bruen’s Neck,” located on the west bank of “Robin Hoods Bay,” what is today called Jordan Cove.

The main access to the old Brown homestead was probably by a “pentway” that ran south through a farm owned by John Prentis Jr., a wealthy sea captain on Rope Ferry Road, and is now known as Gardiners Wood Road.

Charles Brown, born 1742, probably in Groton, was reportedly a chaplain in the First Connecticut Regiment during the Revolutionary War.

“Charles Brown ended his days there and was buried in the little old cemetery on the edge of the cove. He had set aside this small plot of land for a family burying ground and it was evidently carefully planned and tended at one time."

Today the area is overgrown and heavily tread. A crumbling rectangular fieldstone enclosure (approximately 20 by 22 feet, and standing at around two feet high) remains as evidence of the long-ago burial ground.

The site had already deteriorated with age by the time Margaret Stacy, the late New London City historian, wrote about it in a 1931 article in The Day. Stacy noted it had evidently been carefully planned and tended at one time.

“Before the railroad came it was peaceful and lovely and was disturbed only by birds and little wild things. Now it is so hidden away from the road as to be almost impossible to find unless one has been told of its whereabouts.”

During her visit in 1931, Stacy noted the remnants of a large marble headstone, cracked into three pieces blocking the tiny entranceway. She wrote that “it was once a handsome piece of marble but is now yellow with age and the only part of the inscription left is “died Dec. 20, 1816, aged 75 years.” These pieces likely formed a headstone marking Charles Brown’s grave.

Other marble stones said to have been there a few years earlier were gone. One of these headstones likely belonged to Charles Brown’s daughter Lydia.

The Hale collection, a list of headstone inscriptions copied in 1934 as a New Deal public works project, records the following:

Brown, Lydia, died Nov. 11, 1848, age 64 yrs.

— , — , died Dec. 20, 1816

Stacy completes her description of the Brown cemetery thusly:

As it is now, the poor old place is a wreck, overgrown with brush and bayberries and is as most forlorn and utterly neglected as any old burying ground in Waterford.

Today, all the headstones, even the remnants of Charles Brown’s headstone noted by Stacy have completely vanished from the site. It is possible that the graves themselves remain on the site, although there is an alternative explanation: they may have been moved to Jordan Cemetery.

It would appear something of a mystery remains, which further research may be needed to solve: A monument to the Brown Family can today be found in Jordan Cemetery. It is unknown when this monument was erected, if it is just a monument to the family or if the graves of Charles Brown, his daughter Lydia (and possibly Charles’s wife Sarah) were moved to Jordan Cemetery at some point.

In her 1931 article, Stacy says an older generation in Waterford still remembered Henry, “the last member of the Brown family to run the farm.”

Fifty years or so ago, the contour of Jordan Cove must have been quite different, the banks being less steep. It was the usual thing at the time of cutting the salt hay to see Henry Brown walking barefoot across the cove at low tide, driving a team of great oxen drawing a heavily laden hay wagon.

Henry Brown was the father of 12 children, six sons and six daughters. One of his sons, Elder Joseph P Brown, was a Baptist minister in New London for a generation. Stacy writes that, of 1931, “All of Henry Brown’s large family are gone now and the lovely old place has been subdivided into building lots for a summer resort.”

The identity of the original Benjamin Brown who settled in the New London/Waterford area is difficult to determine because his is a popular name among immigrants to these shores. Frances Caulkins does mention in her account of the history of New London, that, in 1645, a Mr. Brown arrived on these shores with his daughter, the wife of Thomas Lee of Saybrook in 1641. Several others with the same name settled in Rhode Island or Massachusetts around the same time.

Caulkins mentions that a Benjamin Brown was a major figure in the New London Whaling Industry during the mid-nineteenth century. When he entered the business in 1830, he took over two previously owned ships, the Friends and the Mentor, and fitted them for the Pacific. He operated five whaling ships out of New London from 1839 until his death in 1849. Then his sons carried on until 1861.

He also owned a slaughter house and candle factory at 258 Bank Street, built in 1833 (or perhaps as early as 1817). There he cured beef and pork and shipped it in barrels to other ports. The granite ledge outcropping in the river behind his building was the source of the material for his granite building.

Conveniently, sailing ships would tie up at this granite outcropping. The property once had a well that supplied water to whaling and merchant ships. On this property he stored hundreds of barrels of whaling oil while waiting for the market to improve.

It is not known whether this Benjamin Brown is from the same Brown family that settled in the area earlier. Today the number of Brown family members are too numerous to count in the New London County area. Many are probably direct descendants of the Benjamin Brown family. And many are other distant family members.

Eileen Olynciw of Waterford is a member of the Waterford Historical Society.

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