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History Corner: They Made Their Mark…

History Corner: They Made Their Mark…

If you have had a visit to the Nathan Bryan-William Andrew house, now the oldest house in Orange, you have been taken back to 1740 to the family of Nathan Bryan, father of eight, farmer and landowner.   At the death of his great grand father Alexander, one of the founders of the Wepawaug colony (Milford), 300 acres were passed to his son Richard with 208 acres being passed down to Nathan’s father.  With these extensive holdings, it is obvious why this area was known as Bryan’s Farms.

Nathan’s inventory is extensive, giving his son Nathan 2/3 of the house, farm, well, barns, and the sawmill* while giving his wife Elizabeth her 1/3 which was then known as her dower right.  The beauty of having his inventory is to see the life of Nathan and his family but better yet is to have the inventory translated by a young Girl Scout, Clare Staib-Kaufman for her Gold Award.  The original is very difficult to decipher.  For instance:  Chec Hollen Ditto is fine, bleached Holland fabric, 1 pr corse shoes were work shoes, truckle bed is a trundle which is a small bed that slides under the regular size bed, pillow bears, meant pillow cases, diaper napkins were dinner napkins, decorated with a small, repeating pattern, brass kittle is obvious while porringers are not generally known but IF you plan a dinner with us at the house, you will be served the soup of the day in a porringer.

Dower right, at this time, appears to be somewhat weighted against the wife but in Nathan’s case, he made sure that in addition to her 1/3 she had “liberty to pass through the other part of the house into the cellar, use of the ovens with liberty to pass to and from as needed.”  Her third, in the house, consisted of the west room known as the parlor, with the cellar underneath, also the bedroom in the linto,** half of the milk room and the chamber over it.  It gets more complicated as it goes into detail.

His inventory continues with 10 trenchers which actually is the word used today for the wooden dishes that were used as dinner plates.  Can you guess what a box iron is?   How about heaters? Well, it’s a fabric iron and the heaters are the pieces of heated metal placed inside.  Try this one: fier tongues & Peil.  Give up?  Tong refers to the tool used to move logs in a fire and the peil or peel is a flat shovel used to take food in and out of a beehive oven.  How about gridiron?  No, it has nothing to do with football but food.  It’s made of iron with thin bars or grids to cook a slab of meat over the coals.

Now we come to something local and prized by antique collectors and museums alike, black, crown back chairs.  Keep in mind that when our Nathan passed away, his inventory was dated 1767 with King George III reigning over the colonies.   Chairs called King’s Crown were made up and down the coast of our state, from Greenwich to Mystic and beyond. These chairs indeed had a carved crown-like top with a heart in the middle commanding a hearty price.  In the colony of Milford, they were made by the Durand family, painted black or dark brown making this furniture a Connecticut style all its own.  Andrew Durand’s sons John and Samuel also made chairs but later than their father, eliminating the crown and heart.  Their simple, white homestead is still standing on the south end of North Street, next to the Baptist church.

Since he had a malt chest, and 2 dozen black, glass bottles, we know he made his own beer, thinking that water was not healthy to drink so beer and cider were more acceptable. His inventory bounces around with some groups of items together while others out of order.  The reason being that the neighbors would help to list the items and since his inventory is more than 6 pages, some things were bound to be missed. What is very intriguing is all of the furniture he had.  When you come to visit the Bryan-Andrew House, you will see many of the items on his inventory.  When Clair put her report together, she gave a group of us assembled at the house, a list of items to look for in our inventory.  Through the years, we have accumulated almost his entire list!

Just read on for the furniture listed:  table with 3 drawers, a round table, small square table, chest with two drawers, great elbow chair, small table, 2 pair old chairs, (How old could they be?), square table, chest of drawers, round table, tea table, great chair, little table, plain table, the six black heart & crown chairs, case of drawers, 7 beds, trundle bed, 5 plain black chairs, chest with two drawers, great elbow chair, 2 six-board chests, 1 trunk and 8 plain chairs.  Oh my gosh, where did he put it all?

Now, in as much as all of this speaks well of Nathan, one cannot neglect the family history that came before him, mainly his great grandfather Alexander Bryan.

As one of Alexander Bryan’s duties, he and others were agents on behalf of the early Milford planters to secure property in 1638 from the Native American Paugussetts. He and his son Richard were heavily into shipping, outfitting several ships by 1645 sailing to Virginia, the Azores, Nova Scotia and England.  In fact, in a historical book about Stratford, it was noted that Alexander Bryan was due 19 pounds, 14 shillings and 8 pence for window glace (glass) he brought back from England that had been ordered for their 2nd meeting house.

In 1654, Thomas Wheeler of Stratford, bought 40 acres in Derby, along the water, from the Paugussetts, establishing a shipyard in 1657. After 3 years, he sold it to the Bryans whose credit was so good in these faraway places that only his signature was needed to show payment.  He held various offices in Milford over the years and was the assistant governor for the Connecticut colony.  In 1668, he and his son Richard purchased a tract of land in Huntington, Long Island for 200 pounds, known as Eaton’s Neck. The deed read with “all the dwelling houses, barns, outhouses, land, woods, meadows, pastures and marshes.”


The history of this area goes back to Theophilus Eaton, one of the founders of New Haven.  As a wealthy merchant he was able to acquire vast tracts of lands from the native inhabitants. The Eaton purchase, from the Matinnecock tribe, was the first concerning Long Island’s north shore in 1646.  When he died, he left his holdings to his son who in turn deeded his holdings to his sister.  After a period of 3 years, it was sold to Captain Robert Seeley, the chief military officer of Hartford.  Again, it was sold to George Baldwin in 1663.  After some arguing and lawsuits, Baldwin had clear title to the land and set about establishing his home but by 1668, sold it to Alexander and Richard Bryan.…such a fuss about who owned what and when!

Unlike the previous owners, the Bryan family held onto this land until 1711. The Alexander who started it all died in 1679 leaving his wealth of 712 pounds and 5 shillings with 8 pounds given to the town of Milford for a bell to be hung within 3 years.  If not, the money was to be given to the poor.

In colonial times, royal manors were established throughout New England for cultured, wealthy landowners.  On Long Island, a total of 6 royal manors were created with Eaton’s Neck being one of them.  Typically the “lord” of the manor became a loyal agent of the crown.  In 1686, the next generation Alexander and his son Richard petitioned James II for a manorial patent and in August of 1686, it was granted and to be known as the Manor of Eaton.  The manor house was a marvel for its time.  It was modified from the Baldwin house adding with high ceilings, large windows, Dutch ovens, rooms for servants and a full basement, oh my.

By 1710, the Bryan family decided to sell the manor to a wealthy man from Fairfield, CT by the name of John Sloss for 1,650 pounds but kept 21 acres on Duck Island. Since there were several Alexanders and Richards, you need a scorecard to keep it all straight and I hope I have. Phew. Since the owning of land in Long Island covered several generations it is speculated that the first Alexander merely went to Long Island as an investment but did not stay there, returning to the Milford Colony where he died leaving his son Richard to settle the claim.

*The sawmill was as the corner of Porter and Lambert road as seen on an 1868 map.

**Linto is the sloped portion of a house.  The Bryan-Andrew house had such a linto but had been taken down at some point in its history.

Come visit the home and see how many items from Mr. Bryan’s inventory you can find.



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