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