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History Corner: Where Did We Come From?

History Corner: Where Did We Come From?

Although the sign on the Green says Orange 1822, the land was not always Orange but a section of Milford referred to as North Milford. In his will dated November 24th 1720, Richard Bryan, the son of one of the original founders of the colony of Milford bequeathed 208 acres he had purchased from the sachem of the Paugussett’s, Ansantawae in 1700. Throughout the early days of the colony, several purchases were made with Alexander Bryan being conspicuous in all of them.

The first purchase of Native American land took place in 1639 after much discussion and decision making to leave the colony of New Haven where the original Milford group lived for a time. Having left England during the reign of Charles I, believing that the new world would afford them the freedom they sought for their religious beliefs, a group led by Rv. Peter Prudden left the Massachusetts Bay Colony and traveled south. Having arrived in an area to be the New Haven Colony, Rev. Prudden’s group held a separate allotment in the New Haven Nine Squares as the Hertfordshire section. They cleared the land, built houses and planted crops. But the New Haven Colony was headed by John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton of London and it was soon obvious that the Rev. Prudden wanted to establish his own colony.

In the summer of 1638, he preached at Wethersfield and attracted a devoted following, many of whom wished to move on. Their choice was land in the region around the mouth of the Wepawaug River, 10 miles west of New Haven and it was on February 12, 1639 that the first purchase, from the Native Americans was effected. In the native tongue, Wepawaug means small crossing place and indeed, the river is rather narrow in many spots. We often hear about coats, mirrors and such being traded for land but the facts appear to be six coats, ten blankets, one kettle, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, two dozen knives and a dozen small mirrors. The transfer of land used the old English “twig & turf” ceremony where the deeds were signed and Ansantawae was handed a piece of turf and a twig. He thrust the twig into the turf and handed it to the English thus signifying that they relinquished all lands specified in the deeds.

It took another five purchases to complete the area which then included all of the area we know as Orange. Richard’s purchase, in 1700, encompassed what is now the area within Orange Center Road, Old Tavern Road, Lambert Road and Porter Lane. His house, according to the will and word of mouth, was on Orange Center Road near Martin Lane at High Plains. This area was called Bryan’s Farms. The Bryan-Andrew house has had a date of 1720 but research shows that the house is “newer” and the deeds don’t match with the original purchase. A small foundation in back of the house might have been an earlier dwelling, temporary perhaps while the present one was built. Since the will was written in 1720 with Richard dying in 1734, there would be some speculation as to when any land changed hands before that date. Richard had 5 sons and 3 daughters, one being Nathan who was married in 1739.

As was the custom, upon marriage, a house was built and it would seem, without a deed at hand, that Richard Jr. sold or gave part of his inherited 208 acres to Nathan who then built that house we now know as the Nathan Bryan-William Andrew House. The inhabitants of Bryan’s Farms were still part of the Milford Colony, subject to all laws as set out at the first general court held on November 20, 1639.

According to the early records, it was agreed and determined that the power of electing officers and persons to divide land and manage the interests would be the church, only. It was also agreed that all the business of the plantation should be done according to the written word of God. Therefore, the Bible made their code of laws for the present time.

At the first town meeting there was much discussion as to whether or not voting and office holding should be confined to church members and this was passed with Alexander Bryan being one of the chosen. As an interesting sidebar, William East, another one of the chosen, owned property in the area of today’s Webster Bank on Route 1. In 1675 he married a widow, Mary Plum and he gave her the property that was to become a Tavern, known as the Half Way House. Leaving the property to her grandson, John Woodruff who left the property to his son Enoch, who in turn left it to his widow and his four children.

To Polly, he left the bar room and to both Polly and Ann a large quantity of rum suggesting that the house was a public house before the Milford Turnpike, Route 1, was built in 1801. Given the description of the property, being placed at halfway tree, has spawned the thought that the tavern was halfway between New York and Boston. How many dwellings were built in the southern part of what is now Orange in the early 18th century is not readily known but the number would be considerable, considering that in 1750 a vote was taken to set up a school at Bryan’s Farms.

Keeping in mind that Bryan’s Farms was part of the Milford colony, the use of the name North Milford would have been appropriate for those homes near and around where the Green is today. The first church in Milford was, as was said, the heart of the community being used as a courtroom, auditorium and town meetings in addition to the divine services. For almost 100 years members of the north end of Milford made their way to church in much the same weather as we have experienced this year. It wasn’t bad enough to have traveled the distance from home to church but to then endure the cold in church, sitting through its two, long services.

In Mary Woodruff’s book she writes, “Late in the afternoon there was the return trip, back to a cold hearth and after doing the nightly chores, to return to cold sleeping rooms and plunge into icy sheets, perchance offering up a prayer of thanksgiving that Sunday came but once a week”. We should add here, that the fires were never 100% out as the coals were banked to be rekindled and most homes had a bed warmer that when filled with hot coals would be passed between the sheets to make the “plunge” a little more hospitable. In 1792 the feeling of the parishioners was to have services closer to home and to this end was built a meeting house 36’ by 30’ just south of where the Orange Congregational Church stands today, on the Green. A petition by Bryan’s Farms was issued to the First Church in Milford for preaching in the winter months. They were granted six Sundays with a minister from Milford. The next year was increased to 10 services and by 1796 it was increased to twelve.

At this time, there were two Milford churches, as members of the First Church, who disagreed with the manner in which the beliefs were held, founded their own, several blocks away. By 1804 the early fathers, not satisfied with the number 12, presented a petition to the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut and being “deeply impressed with the importance of a constant attendance for themselves and families on public worship and while their attendance is always accompanied with inconvenience, it is sometimes rendered impossible”.

After much debate, the petition was granted and the Society was organized on the first Monday in December 1804. Regular preaching began and on February 24, Mr. Erastus Scranton a student at Yale, a candidate for the ministry preached his first sermon and continued until July when he was ordained pastor of the church and society.

The future of the Town of Orange was now in the hands of the church and by 1822, the General Assembly, receiving a petition in April of 1821 granted that all the portion of Milford known as North Milford and a portion of West Haven was to become a town to “enjoy all the powers, privileges and immunities enjoyed by other towns in the state”. Choosing a name for the town caused a difference of opinion with names suggested as Milford Haven, North Milford, and Westford with Orange being chosen in memory of the kindness and restoration privileges afforded by Prince William of Orange.

The original seal of the Town of Orange is the coat of arms of William, Prince of Orange, and husband to Queen Mary. In recognition of the restoration of the charter privileges given to the Connecticut colony in 1687 and the Charter Oak, Orange was the name chosen for the new town.

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