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History Corner: What’s New At The Academy?

History Corner: What’s New At The Academy?


Nothing is new at The Academy. Everything is old, including me! The Mary Woodruff Research Center, located on the 2nd floor of The Academy, is a treasure trove of historical information, all filed in acid-free document folders available to the public upon request. Some of the more interesting original documents deal with the law and family disputes, local infractions and downright law breaking. One such document deals with a resident, born in 1794, who appeared before Justice of the Peace, Ichabod Woodruff, on a complaint that he was wasting his estate due to idleness, intemperance and bad management.

He had been cited earlier, in 1831, but failed to reform, so in December of 1832 the selectmen appointed Benjamin Clark to take the family, of the said offender, under his care until December of 1835. This poor soul certainly had his troubles but nothing to compare with a complaint to Josiah Colburn Esq, Justice of the Peace in 1834 of a fellow and his brother who “recklessly and feloniously took, stole and conveyed away from and out of the possession of Andrew P. Hine, a certain bay horse with a value of sixty dollars.” It was “against the peace, contrary to the form of the statute and of evil example, wherefore the said grand jury men pray that the pair be apprehended and further dealt with as the law allows.” This was a mighty important warrant as it was sent to the Sheriff of New Haven County or his deputy “to arrest the bodies of said *******and thence, forthwith bring before me the said Josiah M. Colburn, Justice of the Peace.”

The Town of Orange, in a document of 1825, appears to have taken on the payment to residents for those people who were taken in and supported. This is one of the reasons the first mentioned soul was taken under the watchful eye of Benjamin Clark to prevent the town from having the family supported with town funds. In an 1825 document Andrew Hine and Eunice Beecher both had residents in their care, paid for by the town.

A transient did come upon the town “about the hour of 10:00 o’clock in the night with force and arms, feloniously did break and enter the store house of William Woodruff with the intention to steal or commit some other felony and did then and there feloniously take, steal and carry away one blue coat, three shirts, three handkerchiefs, of the proper goods of Thompson R. Gates then residing at said Woodruff’s with a value of fifteen dollars”.

There appears to be several land exchanges within the Law family with one 1843 letter talking about land being deeded from Lyman Law’s sister to himself with Mrs. Woodruff saying “that there is, in the upper piece, 3½ acres & 2½ in the lower, the piece towards Mrs. Boardman’s.” Mr. Woodruff says, “the wood is all cut off except for some small stuff. They both say the land is wroth $40.00 per acre.” Lyman held a note which appears to be on his sister’s account of $271.72 and he states, “Now if you will give me a deed of the land I will give up the note.”

You just can’t make this “stuff” up. 1832, seems to be a very interesting year for felonies as we find two women, upon a complaint from Betsey Woodruff that “with force and arms she said ***** & *****feloniously did take, steal and carry away ten pounds of butter, fifty cents in money and one peck of corn. The horse thief and our butter thief have the same last name, Jacob ****being the only member in the roster of the church at that time with Jane **** not listed. Hmm.

Then there’s the sad letter from Litchfield, informing Orange of a poor family in their town with Litchfield looking for relief of payment for their care. They had just lost a child and the town was called upon to purchase the coffin and bury the child. Since the family lived between Orange and New Haven, no document exists in our collection to verify the result of this request.

Oh my, can you believe this one? A report in July of 1865 tells of a chemical examination of the stomach contents of George L. Gunn of West Haven, who died May 3rd of that year. Grand Juror Merwin Andrew received the report from Dr. George Barker at the Yale College Laboratory in New Haven determining that with a “thorough investigation by the use of the most reliable methods of modern chemistry and obtaining a substance having an intensely bitter taste yielded a conclusion of Strychnia.” Using the physiological evidence obtained from the symptoms he concluded that “the said George L. Gunn came to his death by poison.” It was noted that “they” would look into it.


The census record for George is a possible match for our citizen who was poisoned with his family listed. Using the valuable research tool ICONN, one can search the records in the following years for each of the family members. However, in the case of George, he, his wife and son John were born in Ireland and with the lack of the last two girls in the census records for 1870, one can assume that they returned to Ireland. Having a violent death would make one sorry they came to America. There is, however, another angle that George was done-in by his wife Ann. In that case the children might have been scattered to other families which would make the search a real challenge. Are you up for the challenge?

You recognize the name Maltby from the name of the lakes on Route 34, right? In August of 1831, a letter was sent from Madison about a black woman named Sovisa Morris falling ill in that town, having lived in New Haven on Dogburn or Dogwood Road for a long time and had received help from the town. She died within a few weeks and it came to light that she actually lived in Orange. It was added that “The above mentioned pauper was an old woman and her name before marriage was Sovisa Maltby.” I am inclined to think that she was Native American, living in that area where the Native American graveyard is located along the ridge. Not a fact, just a thought.

One of the oldest documents we have is dated November 30, 1814 whereas Enoch Clark of Milford, (remember Orange was not Orange until 1822) by his last will and testament, gave as a legacy to his son Richard Clark, the sum of one thousand dollars. He made his sons Enoch and Joseph the executors leaving property in their hands sufficient to pay the legacy. I hope there was some left for them.

The best document we have, although very small and written on, carelessly, is the first town meeting held at Orange, June 1822. Charles H. Pond, Esq, High Sheriff for New Haven County presided as mediator. Benjamin Lambert was listed as clerk. There must be an original out there somewhere as this is a torn piece of paper with scribbles on it but the text as written above is legible. A list of townsmen can be read on both sides with a mention of an ear mark and the only one understandable is John Bryan’s where it written “slanting crop underside right and Joseph Prudden’s ear mark is crop on the left. It would appear that each of them had their own special mark as listed on this “scrap” with the larger document elsewhere.

The next document of importance is dated May 15, 1848 where a long list of townsmen are requesting that the Selectmen call a special meeting on May 22 to decide upon dividing Orange into two towns. It wasn’t until 1921 that Orange and West Haven parted company and they were Orange and Borough of West Haven in 1822, so this must have been the predecessor of the division in 1921. West Haven had tried many, many times to part from New Haven from the very beginning of the settlement of New Haven but were not successful until 1822 when Orange asked for its parting from Milford. The deal was to have West Haven become part of Orange so that a look at the tax books shows Parish of Orange, Parish of West Haven and at some point Borough of West Haven.

The research center is open by appointment and we can be reached at 203 795-3106.

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