Archaeology and The Legend of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse

I recently became interested in the  lovely story of Molly Barber, and thought others  would enjoy it too. Its a lengthy story so I will  have to tell it one episode at a time.

According to legend Molly had been a well-to-do young lady from Wethersfield,Connecticut,who eloped with James Chaugham,a Narragansett Indian in 1740. The couple fled to the hills of North Western Connecticut to escape the wrath of Molly’s father. There, near what would become the town of Barkhamsted,they founded a settlement called” The Lighthouse”   The lighthouse was really a village that served as a landmark for stagecoach drivers traveling from Albany,New York to New Hartford,Connecticut,on the Farmington River Turnpike. When the coach drivers saw light from hearth fires through gaps in the walls of the villagers cabins they knew they were only a few miles from their port of New Hartford. They called it “The Lighthouse” and the name stuck. Determined to learn more about this legend. J.E. Mason a reporter for the New Haven Journal journeyed to Barkhamsted where he gained information of a local historian, William Wallace  Lee, who had interviewed Polly Elwell,grand daughter of Molly and James,telling him of her grand parents elopement and the eight children they had raised and how other outcasts had been drawn to the hillside overlooking the river.

From reports which Mason wrote in the New Haven Journal and later reprinted in the Mountain County Herald,alocal newspaper, the articles may have inspired Lewis Sprague Mills, a 20th century historian to write an 115 page poem about Molly Barber and James Chaugham and their desecendant settlement. Mills begins his legend of The Barkhamsted Lighthouse as follows.


Near the winding Tunxis River,

Where the groaning mills and presses,

Flow with sweet and lucious cider

In the sunny days of Autumn

Lingers yet this ancient legend

Told by fathers to their children

Gathered round the supper table

When the candlelight is feeble

And the wind is in the chimney.


Molly born in  1715, reaches marriageable age and falls in love with a man whom her father  disapproves of and forbids her to marry him. Molly gives her father an ultimatum saying, cross me now and I will marry the first man who seeks my hand. 

A while later,James Chaugham has come to work on the  Barber estate:


Tall and straight and very handsome

Was the Narragansett suiter,

Once a savage from the forest

With a face   with paint resplendent.

And a head-dress gay with plumage

From the feathered inmates

Of the forest dense and dusky.


Born on Block Island,off the coast of Rhode Island,  Chaugham is an itinerent labourer who has travelled up the connecticut river,learning the ways of the white settlers and doing odd jobs. Molly carries out the threat made to her father by marrying James Chaugham. They flee  to North Western connecticut making camp on Rugged Mountain. There out of the reach of Molly’s father they build a cabin and begin their life together.


Oft she wispered in the darkness,

Better to face the catamountains(Mountain Lions)

Better to face the bears and panthers

Better to face the wild wolves howling

Than an angry father shouting,


Molly and James had eight children,one daughter sally dies during childhood,and another never marries;

The rest,two sons and four daughters  marry and others move into their community in the latter half of the 18th century. Most of those who congregate in the village and marry into the  Chaugham family are outside the mainstream society, and include other Native Americans,poor whites, and at least one black.

When in the 18th century James Chaugham died he was buried in the community cemetary, and according to Mills  some fifty of the Lighthouse residence remains are also held there. After Molly’s death in 1820 social forces draw children,grandchildren and great grandchildren to other towns,a decade or so after that the village is abandoned.

In 1986 During the Farmington River Archeaological  Excavations a plaque was discovered set into a boulder with the inscription stating that a Portion of the Peoples Forest was given by the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution 1927. The inscription also stated……………..  Nr this spot was the site of an Indian Village.  However, the archeaology team thought otherwise, realising that the crude foundations were in fact the remains of the Lighthouse Settlement and not the Indian village.

The archeaologists research into historical documents indicates that much of the story told by Mills was essentially true. The Lighthouse name for example turns up in records of Barkhamsteds town clerk, a baby was born on My 14th  1858 to Soloman Webster and his wife Mary, who town records show was a great grandaughter of Molly and James Chaugham. Further evidence documents the presence of descendents of Molly and James in Barkhamsted and elsewhere in North Western Connecticut as they were born,married,and bought land,  attended church and school, borrowed money and died.   Molly’s death is listed in records of the First Congretional Church of Barkhamsted. She died in February at the age of 104.

In 1990-1991 during excavations of The Lighthouse site ,the foundations and cover holes of ten buildings were located. More than 12,ooo artifacts were recovered which included pottery shards of Saltglazed stoneware ,creamware and pearlware which may date from the 18th century. Some white ballclay smoking pipes,and stoneware knives. Some 19th century artifacts such as transfer printed whiteware were also found. There were brass buttons,bottle glass,horseshoes, gun flints and gun parts,cutlery and even coins.The lighthouse people lived on the sources of the forest. More than 1,000 animal bones such as cow,deer,mammels,fish and dogs were found.

When Mason visited the village in 1855 James and Molly’s granddaughter Polly Elwell identified herself and her generation as the last of the Lighthouse people saying, We Narragansetts once great,now poor……..Narrangansetts all gone….me last one, but Polly was wrong, because during the excavation a heavy-set tall man in his 60’s visited the site and introduced himself. My name is Ray Ellis  whom,it was discovered was the great great great great great grandson of James and Molly Chaugham.

The Lighthouse “tribe”  had not disappeared. The descendents of Molly and James, like Ray continue to live on throughout Western Connecticut  continuing the history of their ancesters.

Since writing this post Coni Dubois contacted me with the information below. You can also read  The Barkhamsted Lighthouse UPDATE on my blog under categories on my sidebar title Archaeology


Coni Dubois is a descendant of James and Molly Chagum and leading genealogist  of this line, she has done more than 20 years of work of extensive research, and worked very closely with the archaeologist Ken Feder on this lineage. Coni has travelled extensively in her quest for her Native American roots and the story of these Native Americans. The video shows Coni at The Blessing of The Barkhamsted Lighthouse





19 responses to “Archaeology and The Legend of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse

  1. Etienne

    March 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Great story!! Bravo Rita!


  2. ritaroberts

    March 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks for visiting my blog Etienne. Yes I thought it a very touching story too, which is why I wanted to share it with others.


    • Justin Uehlein

      October 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm

      The story of Molly and her husband Mr. Chaugham is a touching one ideed! I read about the archaeology of the lighthouse community about a year ago, and I really enjoyed the story that unfolded from the archaeology, and what documentation existed. I was curious if you found access to the site report for the lightouse site? I am currently looking for that report for class presentation.


      • ritaroberts

        October 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm

        Thankyou for your interest in this post. I will see what I can do about the report for the lighthouse site and get back to you.
        Regards Rita.


      • ritaroberts

        October 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm

        You may be interested in the book called ‘Village of Outcasts’ by the author Ken Feder.It involves the archaeology of the Lighthouse.
        Regards Rita


      • ritaroberts

        November 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm

        Hello Justin. If you are still interested in the story of the Legend of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse go to she is a direct descendant
        Regards Rita.


  3. Tony

    November 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I am becomming very interested in local archeology. This story is very intriguing. I am an amatuer photographer…very ametuer(I have trouble with my camera’s settings and can’t find the manual!) But I love taking pictures of nature, and would LOVE to take a set at this site. Do they allow this? Are there tours, and when?

    Thank you, I appreciate any info.



  4. Tony

    November 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Nice story! I enjoy archaeology myself. I had posted earlier from work, but now it’s gone. I guess work must have blocked it out somehow. At any rate, I would love to go see this place. Is it ever open to tours? Thanks for any info, if htere is any…


  5. Coni Dubois

    October 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I am a descendant of James and Molly Chagum and leading genealogist of this line 20 + years of work – I have done extensive research and work very closely with the Archeologist Ken Feder on this lineage – you can view all the video’s, research books, newspapers I’ve been featured in on my blog which is all about the Chagum/Shaw-gums – I travel extensively in my quest for my Native American Roots and the story of these Native Americans~


    • ritaroberts

      November 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Hello Coni, I have just noticed you left this comment on my blog.Thankyou for the information and more I will read on your blog which I do follow. Good luck with any further research you are doing which must be very rewarding. I have also watched some of your videos where everyone is enthralled by the story of your ancestors.
      Best wishes Rita.


  6. Ronald Breeze

    March 30, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    I’ve worked at The Lighthouse with Ken Feder, on a dig, several years ago. I have a signed copy of “The Legend Of Barkhamsted Light House” by Lewis Sprague Mills, MA. and wrote a screenplay about the story of The Lighthouse. Sadly it was never made into a movie as it is a piece of history that should be told.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ritaroberts

      March 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      I agree with you Ronald. It would make a delightful movie. I have had a lot of interest in this post with people wanting to know more. I envy you working with Ken Feder on the dig it must have been exciting. Did you notice the link on my blog to Coni Dubois who is a direct descendant of the Chaugham tree.


  7. Coni Dubois

    March 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Ronald I would love to hear more on your screen play – I am Coni Dubois the descendant and main researcher/genealogist on the Barkhamsted Lighthouse tribe – I also have a blog on wordpress that is all abt the Barkhamsted Lighthouse People/Long Island Native Americans and my research – also have several videos of Ken Feder during my visits with him and the site which can be found on my blog at: – I am also on Twitter and have a Facebook Group ( where many are sharing their branch of the tree along with helping me in my research~ Feel free to contact me with any questions at
    Rita: Thank you for your wonderful post and getting my families beautiful story out there for us~
    Hugs to you and yours~


    • ritaroberts

      March 31, 2013 at 5:24 pm

      You are most welcome Coni. I try to direct as many as I can to your website. Thanks for your kind remarks


  8. Sheryl Robinson

    July 29, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you for your interest in the Chagum Family and the Lighthouse site.
    My husband (Elmer Robinson) is also a descendant through James’ and Molly’s daughter, Hannah Sands Chagum and her husband, Reuben Barber. We vacation in Barkhamsted every summer and discover more and more magical treasures each time. I also am a friend and fellow researcher with Coni Dubois. I just posted some great photos of our latest vacation on my Facebook page and am writing a historical novel about both my husbad’s and my ancestors. How about joining Facebook as a friend?
    Sheryl Robinson,
    Upstate New York


    • ritaroberts

      July 30, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Hello Sheryl. So pleased to meet you. I love the Story of the Chagum Family and the history to the Lighthouse site. I will contact you by e mail.


  9. ztevetevans

    June 15, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Great story well told. I had not heard of this before so its like finding a gem!


  10. Melissa Hubbard

    June 16, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Great write up. I love reading about the history. Ray Ellis was my grandfather.



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