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Buried History: Douglas Lane site reveals some of the region’s stories from long ago

Two lonely gravestones stand in the corner of a large grassy field on the corner of Douglas Lane and Route 85.

At one time there were at least 20 graves on the grassy site, according to the late Waterford town historian Margaret Stacy. Most likely during the centuries farming and construction work on Hartford Road damaged the area, resulting in lost stones and graves.

The areas to the south and west of that pasture are quite swampy. The constant and gradual settling of the road into "Boggy Swamp" made periodic repairs to the road necessary. The constant revamping of the road may have gradually encompassed more and more of the cemetery land.

Both the Douglas and Morgan families were among the first settlers in New London. Both arrived in the area around 1660–1670 and established farms and large families. They were among only three families who actually settled on the land they were granted back in the early days of New London. Most of the others who bought land in the early days were speculators hoping to resell their property for a profit.

Most members of the early Douglass family were interred in Ye Antientist Burial Ground in New London, one of the earliest graveyards in New England. The burial ground on Douglas Lane was not used until the early 19th century when some family and friends created a burial ground on the Douglas Lane family farm. Sometimes it is called "The Sandpit."

James Douglass was one of the first to be buried in this field. His father was a farmer who settled in Plainfield. His was a large family of boys.

James and his brothers worked on the farm in summers, but were sent to school during the winter months. It was said that James possessed an active mind and he made use of the opportunity to gain a good common school education.

A curious newspaper story, on Nov. 18, 1744, announced that James Douglass and Lydia Tubbs intended to marry. That wedding, however never took place. A year later, however, James married a different woman, Sarah Gee of Lyme. The couple had at least nine children. Sarah lived to the age of 98, and is buried here next to her husband, James, and their daughter Phebe.

James Douglass's great-grandfather, William, was born into an old Scottish family, in England in 1610. He emigrated from Northamptonshire to Boston in 1640 during the Puritan Great Migration along with his wife, Ann Mottle, their three children, and his brother, Robert.

The family landed first at Cape Ann and lived in Gloucester for a while, but soon moved again to Boston. They were welcomed into the new town on Aug. 31, 1640.

While there, William learned the cooper's trade, and purchased and sold properties as investments. William soon decided to move on to New London with three of their five children while Robert chose to remain in Plymouth.

When William, his wife, Ann, and two children, Ann and Robert, arrived in New London in 1659, it was a fledgling community: small and vulnerable. He purchased a house on New Street, where many recent arrivals first settled. William, an educated and ambitious individual, bought several other houses, possibly for investments or perhaps for his children as some were becoming young adults with families of their own.

William's talents and skills proved invaluable, and he soon became one of the more prominent citizens of the town. He was consulted on important matters pertaining to New London, as he proved to have a lively interest in the welfare of the town.

In 1662 William was appointed one of the Appraisers of Property for New London, and in 1670 he was elected one of the two deacons of the church. He was also chosen deputy to the general court at Hartford in 1672, and once or twice later. Among other positions and committees, he served as townsman, recorder, moderator, and dealer from year to year.

In remuneration for his services in 1667 William was granted by the town 100 acres of land west of Cohanzie Road (Vauxhall St. Ext.) on the plain of today's Industrial Park in Waterford extending to what is Cross Road today. He and his family built a home and settled on his farm on what was called Fargo Road.

Some of his children also built houses nearby. While the road was abandoned as a town road about 100 years ago, it still exists as a dirt path through private property parallel to and west of today's Route 85.

At first glance the foundation looks much more recent, like it was constructed from poured concrete. However an examination of the interior walls of the foundation will show the original stones where the grout veneer has broken away. The property included a dwelling house, barn, orchard and upper farm. It also included a lower farm house and an orchard.

Another grant of 100 acres was presented to Douglas. It was located "towards the head of Jordan brook about four miles from town," on the northeast side of the swamp called "Cranberry Meadow." Across the farm ran an Indian path from Mohegan to Nayhantic.

In "An Illustrated History of Waterford, Connecticut," Robert Bachman writes that "Deeds were important to the Douglas family — Deacon William had the original grant recorded three times in the town records. Perhaps Anne Douglass (this is the first generation to use the double "s") did not like country living, even in a new "mansion house," since her husband Nathan sold the land back to his brother Robert just eight years after he purchased it."

William purchased other farming land in the area of today's Hartford Road and Douglas Lane. Much of this land was inherited by his second son, William. Most of the property remains in the Douglas/Morgan family.

An interesting story about early times on the Douglas farm was often told by Douglas Morgan:

"When the doors were often left unlocked at night during cold weather or during storms, it was not unusual, in the morning, to find several Mohegan Indians, wrapped in their blankets sleeping on the floor, in front of the large, central fireplace; refugees from the cold or storm. It is said that many Indians traveled the Path, and that they came all hours of the day or night."

1675 King Philip's War

Often called "America's Most Devastating Conflict," the 17th century King Philipps War erupted suddenly in New England following many years of peace. The news of an impending "Indian war" brought terror to all the people of New England.

A widespread combination of many Massachusetts tribes had been formed with the design and desperate hope of exterminating the English settlers from their lands. According to one telling, "Suddenly ... King Philip with his fierce horde of warriors, burst out of the dark cloud like a thunderbolt."

An army of 1,000 men was raised in New England. New London was designated a rendezvous point. Our city was soon in a state of commotion, and during the remainder of the war, continued to be a camp for the troops, a store-house for supplies, and a hospital for the sick — full of disturbance, discomfort, and complaints.

William Douglas was appointed Commissar to the army, to see that provisions, arms, and ammunition and other things needed for war were purchased and stocked in New London. Although actual battles did not take place in this area, our small town was greatly impacted by the war.

Robert Douglass, the son of William, was a cooper, taught by his father and he, in turn taught his son, whom he named William.

Like most of the early settlers in New England, William and his children usually had large families. Many of Robert Douglass's 12 children remained in the New London area.

Hannah, the oldest, married Captain Nicholas Bishop, Thomas married Grace Richards, Sarah married Edward Raymond and lived in the Pine Neck farm, now called Oswegatchie. She was buried in the private cemetery located next to her house in 1812 in Oswegatchie.

Her son, Caleb, was town clerk of Waterford for many years in the early 19th century.

In the early days of the settlement, despite being so far from town, the Cohanzie, Lakes Pond, and Way Hill Road areas became well inhabited for the times and there was much activity there.

The road between the Way and Douglass farms was laid out in 1738. The Hartford Turnpike was not in existence then and the old road connected the old Colchester road out of New London (now called Vauxhall Street, Extension) with the Head of the River District, near the Niantic River.

Over the years, the Douglas family grew large and often played an active part in the local government and the church. According to famed local historian Frances Caulkins, (the first) William became an "unnamed deacon" in the Congregational church and "held the box at the door for contributions." William's son, Robert, head of a large family, became a pillar of the Congregational Church. The Rev. Mr. Adams preached often in the Douglas house, and the numerous Douglas children were baptized there.

Meetings of neighbors were often held in the great front room of the Douglas house, and Joshua Hempstead, as well as many others from town, went out there for elections of the officers of the Fifth Company militia forces. At one particular meeting Jonathan Latimer was chosen captain, Joseph Prentis, lieutenant, and Abraham Morgan, ensign.

Joshua notes, "We were very handsomely entertained, a good supper at Robert Douglasses."

All the officers of the informal group lived comparatively near the Way farm. Joseph Prentis settled on the west side of Lakes Pond Road, Jonathan Latimer in Chesterfield parish and Abraham Morgan in what is called Gilead near the present day Cross Road and I-95.

Of one particular meeting, Joshua says: "We had a very peaceful day." A harmonious meeting was evidently so unusual as to be news! Many of those "ancient worthies" loved to fight — -the court records are full of their broils, comments Margaret Stacy.

According to Frances Caulkins, in March 1777 New London town records were moved to George Douglass' farm, miles from town, to be kept safe. The records remained in his care at his homestead until after the end of the war.

By this wise precaution, these documents escaped the destruction which swept away a portion of probate records and documents in the Custom House, on the 6th of September, 1781.

Captain Richard Douglas, a son of Stephan and Patience, was one of William's grandsons born in 1746. He was a successful cooper in New London when he joined the local militia and marched alongside Nathan Hale to Bunker Hill. His company appeared again in the defense of New York. It is said: "he suffered the atrocities of the British" and was taken prisoner, and eventually escaped from a prison ship in 1776.

Richard fought at the defense of Philadelphia, Monmouth, New Jersey, Germantown, and Brandywine, alongside many other Eastern Connecticut men.

Unfortunately not all was well with the New London unit. It was rumored that it was poorly led and was outflanked during battles. It is believed Richard was taken prisoner with many others from New London by the British at Germantown. Somehow he managed to escape a few months later. He achieved the rank of Captain in the Continental Army and was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, created for officers of the Revolution — a real honor and a group headed by George Washington himself!

Richard served throughout the war and fought when Benedict Arnold attacked Fort Griswold and burned New London in 1781. The assault eventually claimed the lives of 83 men on the Groton side and six more on the New London side.

Richard finally returned home and resumed a normal home life. He married and he and his wife had eight children, many of whom became well respected doctors, lawyers and politicians as well as a Whaling Master (Alexander). Richard, a well respected member of the Church and later Deacon, moved to his country farm, believed to be near Old Colchester Road. He died in 1828.

James Douglass, buried on Douglas Lane, also served in the French and Indian War (1754–1763). The second marker at James's grave is a veteran grave marker, placed much later.

Brig. General John Douglas served during the French and Indian War of 1754–59 and again during the Revolutionary War. He was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Eighth regiment of the Continental infantry, raised in 1775; and in May 1777. He is said to have been "a man of dignified and imposing stature," and of a large and well-formed frame. He used to wear knee-breeches with silver buttons, and silver buckles on his shoes. His hair was worn with a fashionable "cue" at his neck.

Colonel William Douglass, called a "Forgotten Warrior of the American Revolution," was born in Plainfield in 1742, and enlisted in the state militia at the age of 16, serving under Israel Putnam.

At first he worked as a clerk in the army and later participated in General Wolff's successful capture of the city of Quebec and the speedy termination of the war in 1759. Afterwards William returned home where he flourished, married, and became a successful merchant mariner and later a farmer. He was considered a prominent member of the community in North Branford.

When war broke out in 1775, he abandoned his successful business and raised a military company in New Haven. He took command of a flotilla on Lake Champlain, where his men captured large quantities of provisions, arms and, most important, canons.

Henry Knox then took responsibility for hauling these vital armaments over 160 difficult miles across two states to be used in the defense of Boston. It was quite an achievement and helped win the Battle of Bunker Hill.

William then joined the Continental Army under George Washington and participated in the disastrous campaign of Long Island, and took part in battles at Harlem Heights, White Plains, Philips Manor, Croton River, and New York. These were the early first battles of the war and a very challenging period in the war.

In the battle on Sept. 15, his clothes were perforated by bullets and his horse shot out from under him. He became so exhausted that in the following weeks of exposure he lost his voice, and was never able to speak a loud word.

From the day of this battle he thought he was constantly on duty and rarely slept beneath a roof.

When William Douglas finally returned home to New Haven in early 1777, he was forced to move his family out of the danger from the Tory troops on the Connecticut shore to a farm about eight miles inland. His injuries proved grave and he passed away at the age of 35 in May 1777. He is considered a true wartime hero and patriot!

Douglas was buried in the Northford Old Cemetery in Northford, Connecticut.

Another young New London resident, Captain William Douglas, born in New London in 1750, enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He received an ensign's commission in the First Connecticut regiment and captain in the Fifth regiment of Connecticut in 1780. He fought at Bunker Hill and subsequent battles and was a prisoner for more than a year, confined on a prison ship in Brooklyn. After the war, in 1797 he was appointed postmaster in New London.

A daughter of Captain Ebenezer Douglass (1746–1798) tells the following story about the family's experience during the British attack on New London. She says her mother repeated this story to the children on each Fourth of July: "You don't know what this day cost, but I do."

"On the day New London was burned, my father, as was his practice, rose early in the morning and went out to look around, as the British were expected at any time. He soon came back in great haste, saying that the enemy were coming and he must get out his company; and that mother must take care of the three children. Anticipating such an event, they had already prepared a place of safety a few miles out of town, and taking a loaf of bread in a bag, and the youngest child in her arms, my mother started thither. When they proceeded some little distance one of the children could go no further; but a man came along just then and carried her out of danger. When they returned, after the British had left, they found the house was standing but everything was destroyed.

In 1731, James and Robert Douglass divided the Douglas farm, with James getting the south part and Robert getting the north part, all on Fargo Road. James' house was probably the same one referred to in the deed from Robert which reads "with Mansion House in which my grandfather, Mr. Robert Douglas, did live."

Thomas Douglass (1734–1826), son of Robert Douglass (1705–1786) and Sarah Edgecomb (d. 1798) married Grace Richards (1736-1831) in 1761 and lived on a Douglas farm on Fargo Road Extension. In his leisure time Thomas engaged in tanning and shoemaking. Four daughters of his nine children (two sons and seven daughters): Sarah, Hannah, Grace, and Abigail were afflicted with loss of hearing. At this time, there was no formal schooling or training for hearing loss. Their other children included: Guy, Elizabeth, Mary, Esther, Robert, Grace, and Abigail. Three of the four daughters with hearing loss were buried on the Douglas Farm.

One of the first schools for the deaf in this country, The Whipple Home School for the Deaf, was developed in Ledyard in 1869, years too late for these children.

Son, Robert Douglass, (1774-1834) inherited the home of his parents, and married Abiah Douglas (a distant cousin.) They lived in the homestead on Fargo Road Ext. and were prosperous farmers.

Robert owned and operated a sawmill near his home which remained for many years after his death. Their children included: Abiah, who married William Gorton, John, who married Ann E. Raymond, and Henrietta, Thomas, Albert Gallatin, John, Robert, and Elizabeth.

Benjamin Douglas (1816- 1894) was a businessman in Middletown. Together with his brother, William, he founded a very successful machine shop and foundry, W&B Douglas Company. In 1842 the two brothers patented a hand pump design for use in farms, homes, and businesses. This was the first of many patents relating to pumps that became the basis of their success.

Their Middletown Pumps Works consisted of 21 buildings. They also made pumps and fire hydrants. In 1876 the company employed 300 people and had over 700 projects displayed at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Benjamin's home on Main Street in Middletown is listed on the Connecticut Freedom Trail as an Underground Railroad Stop.

Robert and Abiah's son, Albert Gallatin Morgan Douglas (1809-1885) married Lucy Fox. Albert was an acknowledged leader in the community whose advice was often sought. In disposition he was quiet and reserved, but possessed a genial, pleasant manner, by which he gained many staunch friends.

He was charitable and benevolent, always ready to assist the needy and unfortunate. He is said to have been an old time Whig, active in Republican Party politics.

He was a selectman several years and held other town offices of trust, representing the town in the State Legislature for two years.

In the summer of 1876 Albert tore down their old house, which had been standing for over a century. He erected a new one of "modern style," on Douglas Lane.

Frances Caulkins, the historian, speaking of the old house in 1865 says: "The house is very ancient, and a part of it, which has heavy timbers overhead and is propped with rude posts in the area, probably belongs to the first dwelling built upon the spot, which was before 1670."

"It was a large house, two and a half stories with a central chimney and a saltbox lean-to. It is said that when it was pulled down, the old frame gave forth groans of anguish; never forgotten by any who heard it," according to an observer.

Douglas-Morgan families

When Albert and Lucy's daughter, Julia Alice (b. 1850) married Stanley Morgan, a member of another old Waterford family, the two old families combined. Stanley Morgan is a descendant of Richard Rose-Morgan who settled in the area in 1678. His family's farm was located in the area of Cross Road and I-95 today. The two families were neighbors for over 200 years at that time.

When Albert passed away in 1889 the farm was passed to his daughter and son-in-law, Julia Alice and Stanley Morgan⁵ Albert died in 1889, and Stanley and Julia Alice took over ownership of the farm. Thereafter the farm on Douglas Lane became known as the Morgan farm.

One of Stanley and Julia's children, Judge Stanley Morgan, took over ownership in 1931. He was appointed by the governor and served in the State Senate. Active in the community, he founded the Cohanzie Fire Company and generously donated acreage on Dayton Road for its firehouse and financed the building.

Stanley's sister, Ann Haven, was a remarkable woman with an outstanding academic career. Julia grew up in Waterford, attended local schools and went on to earn a Ph.D in 1912 in biology at Cornell University. She was a notable teacher of zoology to college students and the general public. Known as "Mayfly Morgan," her "Field Book of Ponds and Streams" was for 40 years the freshwater handbook most heavily used by both professional and amateur naturalists, and fishermen.

After over 30 years as a professor at Mt. Holyoke College she retired and moved to California. She authored three books on zoology and became known for her contributions to environmental conservation. The 1933 edition of "American Men of Science" listed her along with two other women in the 250 total entries. She was awarded research fellowships from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences.

Judge Stanley's son, Stanley Douglas Morgan Jr. continued with his family's close ties to the environment and worked for the State of Connecticut's Forestry division. He continued his father's ties to the Cohanzie Fire Department and served as Chief.

The history of the Morgan farm in the 20th century is summarized by Robert Bachman in his book, "The History of Waterford":

Douglas "kept a herd of 38 Ayrshire cattle in addition to working full time with both the state Park and Forest Commission and the state Fish and Game Department. To pay taxes on the deficit-producing land, he reluctantly sold an occasional building lot. His was the last dairy farm in Waterford.

"His sons continued to harvest hay following his death in 1994. To keep ... his 272-acre farm intact, they opted to sell its (gravel) soil instead of its land."

Other family members who lived in the area were school teachers: Dorothy Morgan Ramistella who taught at nearby Cohanzie School, and Betty Morgan Kenyon who also taught school in Waterford.

One more Morgan deserves to be mentioned. Reba Kenyon Morgan is loved and remembered by her grandchildren, all of whom remember her fondly. Waterford resident, and grandson, Richard Morgan, explains: "She was a wonderful person...a real sweetheart!"

Eileen Potkay Olynciw is a lifelong resident of Waterford, a member of the Waterford Historical Society and the Waterford Properties Commission.

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