The American Revolution was initiated by delegates from thirteen colonies of British America against the British. I know or hope you know that the war was fought over the issue of American independence from the British Empire. You also know, from my previous stories, that England tried to take away the rights of the Connecticut Colony through the return of its charter as a colony, then under British rule albeit loose, but rules nevertheless. So now, where do I go from there? It was a mere 39 years from the end of the war in 1783 that the Town of Orange sought its sovereignty and became the Town of Orange in 1822. In 1821 it was North Milford with a section in the south end named Bryan’s Farms.
There is a series of books that we sell in the Academy about the Ghosts of Connecticut, Revolutionary War Ghosts, and Ghosts of New England, but I can’t find any information in our archives of ghosts in Orange, other than hearsay and some paranormal activity. I suppose if it’s in writing, one would believe it, but…there are legends in Connecticut like Hannah Cranna from Monroe, Capt. Kidd on Charles Island in Milford, and the phantom ship of New Haven, but that direction won’t work for this story either so let me tell you what we do know about Orange (North Milford) prior to 1822. Oh, by the way, the date for the first town meeting was held on the 2nd Monday of June 1822 thus ending its connection with Milford.
Folks are often asked why the name Orange and I suppose that our newer citizens often ask that question so I will answer it here. A committee was appointed to select a name for the “new” town with a difference of opinion. Some wanted to keep North Milford (my favorite), Milford Haven, and Westford were other suggestions but Orange came up using Prince William of Orange (Netherlands) who was instrumental in helping the Connecticut Colony when it was under siege by King James II…remember the Connecticut Charter story? The Orange Historical Society has Prince William’s Coat of Arms on our T-shirts which we all wore at the recent Country Fair, lest we forget that our first town seal was showcased at the sesquicentennial in Orange in 1972.
On Saturday, May 27, 1972, the First Federal Savings Bank of New Haven presented First Selectman, Ralph Capecelatro with the official Town flag designed by Bob Hiza and Curt Thompson, depicting the coat of arms of the 17th century benefactor of the Connecticut Colonies, Prince William of Orange. One of those flags hangs in the Academy with pictures and the story of its beginning.
North Milford sprang out of the need for land, land that Milford was farming and using as it grew out of its 1639 beginning. Land to the north was purchased from the Paugussetts with their chief Ansantawae, the southern part being homesteaded by the Bryan Family. Today, we refer to their land as 208 acres with Lambert Road, Orange Center Road, Porter Lane and Old Tavern Road as boundary lines. John Bryan had a store on the west side of the Green so the town was like Milford with Devon its smaller area and Bryan’s Farms the same idea. Once the North Milford folks had their settlement, Milford was still the hub for church and it became very difficult to manage Sunday services there. Thus, the Orange Congregational Church, 1810.
North Milford had a library, consisting of 144 volumes, mostly religious established in 1804, giving an idea of the character of the citizens. Timothy Dwight in his “Journeys in New England” wrote, “After passing the western boundary of the township of New Haven, we entered the parish of North Milford. The surface is formed of easy undulations. The soil is rich and the inhabitants are industrious, sober, frugal and virtuous. In the early days, there were sections of town with their own names and character. Oggs Meadow to the northwest, northeast, Dogburn, southeast Scotland, High Plains ran south from the Green and the west of there was Town Plain and from Milford to Bethany was Race. White Plain ran between Race and Dogburn, south of the Derby Turnpike (Route 34) was Grassie Hill and over the hill and beyond to the Housatonic was Turkey Hill. Sodom Hill extending into Derby to the extreme northwest and lastly George’s Cellar Hill lying west of the Derby to Milford Road.” This area sounds like it was located in what is now the Turkey Hill Preserve.
Mary Woodruff, in her “History of Orange,” gives us a mirror to the past. In 2022, the Orange Historical Society will be highlighting our history with exhibits, stories, hearth cooking, re-enactments and other events to catch us up for the past 200 years. Two hundred years, 39 years from the American Revolution, a mere speck in time but for a small town, a lifetime of efforts. Mary tells us that in 1820, West Farms (West Haven) having been denied sovereignty from New Haven, approached North Milford to untie the two to form one town. The men of North Milford, being very conservative first took a public opinion poll and after much discussion agreed with three conditions. 1. All town meetings and elector’s meetings would be at or near the meeting house in North Milford (church); 2. For the first 10 years each society would pay such expenses incurred within its own limits in the way of town expenses and concerns and 3. If the General Assembly did not grant the new township, any expenses incurred would not be accepted by the North Milford society.
The petition was filed April 18, 1821 and the resolve to secure the two towns together is dated, May 1, 1822. This alliance held for almost one hundred years until West Haven, growing as a larger town asked to be released from its connection with Orange and in 1921, West Haven became a town, on its own. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year with events commemorating their beginnings and their history as the youngest town in Connecticut.
Mary goes on to tell us of a question that you might ask us in 2022 during our 200th celebration. How did the people manage to live and support large families in 1822? The answer? They grew crops, selling some for cash while others were consumed by the family. Exchange was more likely as butter, cheese and poultry were plentiful and the need for cash less than we would imagine. Livestock was the most dependable source of income.
Cider mills were aplenty on many farms making vinegar and both sweet and hard cider. Candles were made at home as well as soap using wood ashes, lime, straw and water, certainly not Dove. Toothpaste was a mixture of honey and charcoal. The grit would clean off the tartar, but the honey would add the cavities…oh my. So, life in 1822…let’s celebrate it in 2022.