A History of Lyme, Ct., a Town Once Described as Being Nothing But Rocks, Reptiles, and Republicans
George J. Wilhauer, Jr. (ed.) Lyme Miscellany, 1776-1976. Middletown, Ct.: Wesleyan University, 1977.
In 17th century Connecticut, a town was created by petitioning the colony’s legislative branch, the Common Court, to so approve. The town would have a year to have enough residents enter and pay rates for two to seven years, then enabling the residents land ownership. Each family would have to clear from five to six acres. Homes had specifications of 12 to 16 square feet. The taxes were collected for a ministry, school, highway surveyors, and local officials. Each twon had Selectmen, a Treasurer, and Deputies. If these conditions were not met, the land reverted to the Colony of Connecticut.
The General Court consisted of a Governor who presided over the Upper House, a Deputy Governor who presided in the Governor’s absence, and Assistants who served in the Upper House. Freemen gathered from around the state to elect the Governor and Assistants. They first elected a slate of candidates. From the elected sate, they then elected a Governor, a Deputy Governor, and 12 Assistants from the 20 top vote recipient, A Lower Court was led by a Speaker. Magistrates elected from each town composed the General Court,
Lyme land existed within the town of Saybrook from a 1663 colony grant that expanded Saybrook’s borders across the Connecticut River. Saybrook was formed as a fort community, Most other Connecticut river towns were formed as Bible Commonwealths designed for Puritans. Twenty people were garrisoned at Saybrook Fort in 1670.
A committee in 1666 allowed people to move into Lyme. In 1667 the area was known as Lyme and a paid Deputy was allowed to represent Lyme in the General Court. Lyme though did not sen a Deputy to the General Court untnil 1670. In 1671, Lyme first appears as a separate listing on Colony tax rolls. The Saybrook minister rowed by boat to minister to those in Lyme as Lyme chose not to have its own minister. Thus, the creation of Lyme was the reverse process of the usual settlement process that often revolved around a ministry.
The Connecticut colonial militia had 13 regiments. Lyme was in the Third Regiment with New London and Norwich.
Moses Noyes preached in Lyme in 1666. Lyme petitioned the General Court to create an ecclesiastical society in 1676. An ecclesiastical society allowed male voters to meet and determine what rate to pay a minister and a meetinghouse. Lyme incorporated in 1693. Thus Moses Noyes was not ordained until 1693 and no baptisms or communions were conducted in Lyme from 1666 to 1693. This was unique to Lyme and perhaps indicative of the lack of concern about such religious matters amongst Lyme residents. Lyme records indicate more consideration about land division than religion.
Lyme was valued at 3,500 pounds (then listed as Saybrook’s East Side) in 1648.
Twelve men were listed as proprietors of Lyme The proprietors would turn common land into private land, a matter affirmed by General Court actions in 1685 and reconfirmed in 1704.
Lyme extended its northern and eastern borders by four miles in return for creating new plantations. Two of these four extended northern miles were given to Haddam when it established as a town. New London residents objected to the eastern border expansion. Lyme residents responded with clubs, scythes, and other weapons. The General Court extended Lyme’s eastern border by two miles instead of four.
Lyme settlers initially received large sized farms of about 850 acres per family. These farms were divided and sold. This resulted in Lyme collecting more taxes and affording highways, public fences, civil servants, and militia servicemen.
Lyme may have been unique in granting land to minors held in trust by their fathers.
Lyme home sites were 10 acres each compared to one and a half to three and a half acres in Saybrook. Homesites were built near the meeting houses.
In the early 18th century, Lyme great salt marsh hay. Lyme required a proprietor to move into town with six months (New London required such a move within one year) and grain was required to be cultivated on the land within three years. Otherwise, the land was repossessed.
Lyme’s population was kept down due to Indian/Native American threats. In 1667, there was 50 taxable males in Lyme which means its total population was a few hundred. In 1688, Lyme had 68 taxable males. Of the 68 taxable males, six were listed as non-residents three women were listed, and one was listed as dead. There were about 100 taxable males in Lyme in 1700. These lists did not include those who did not pay taxes, such as children. In 1700, about ten per cent of Connecticut residents owned about half the colony’s land In Lyme in 1700, the wealthiest ten percent in Lyme owned about one fourth the town’s land.
Taxes in Lyme declined from 63 pounds per taxpayer in 1676 continuously until reaching 33 pounds per taxpayer in 1774. This was due to declining property values, Agriculture declined in profitability during this period.
After 12 years of not mentioning issues while serving as minister in Lyme’s First Congregational Church, Rev. Stephen Johnson began discussion public affairs including criticizing the Stamp Act in newspaper editorials. He preached about the evils of the taxation without representation in the Parliament.
The Revolutionary War sparked from a declining economy, religious revivals, the desire for Westward expansion, and the Stamp Act tax imposed by the British on the colonists.
Matthew Griswold, the wealthiest man in Lyme, moderated the town meetings for 18 years and represented Lyme in the legislature. He was active in the Sons of Liberty, He agreed with Connecticut’s efforts to claim western land expansion which clashed with Pennsylvania’s land claims. He supported the Patriots against the British in the Revolutionary War and served as Deputy Governor during the Revolutionary War and later served as Governor.
The British never occupied Connecticut during the Revolutionary War. The British did much damage in Connecticut by attacking salt works in Greenwich in 1776, making several raids in 1776in New Haven, Norwalk, and Fairfield, attacking Danbury in 1777, and making vicious attacks on Groton and New London in 1783. British privateers attacked Connecticut ships.
Many in the Connecticut Army delayed joining George Washington’s fight in New York until they were paid wages owed from for previous military service.
Lyme’s Tories were mostly absentee landlords. Lyme’s Elisha Beckwith was jailed as a Tory and left Lyme in 1781. While imprisoned, Beckwith wrote two threating letters to Matthew Griswold over Griswold opposing a prisoner of war exchange for Beckwith with the the British. Griswold did not consider Beckwith as a prisoner of war.
Some British solders searched unsuccessfully for Griswold at his home. He hid in a metal box. A second time, Griswold hid behind a neighbor’s linens. A girl, Heta Marvin, claimed she honestly told the British soldiers that Griswold had not passed by her, which was strictly true as he had not passed by while hidden behind her.
Connecticut claimed what was also claimed by Pennsylvania. There was violence between Connecticut settlers and Pennsylvanians in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. The Articles of Confederation decided that the land was in Pennsylvania. Yet the decision was made about who owned the land the Connecticut settlers claimed. Governor Griswold and the Connecticut General Assembly urged Pennsylvanians to settle these disagreement by legal means rather than with violence. Griswold sent Samuel Johnson to Pennsylvania to represent Connecticut. Johnson brought peace by getting Connecticut to cede territorial claims to all but the Wester Reserve south of Lake Erie.
Griswold, along with William Noyes, represented Lyme at Connecticut’s ratification of the national Constitution.