Punch Brook Revisited

One never knows what peripheral treasures will appear during deed research. This one focuses on new information about a brook I wrote about less than two years ago.

First, a preface.

The brook reference jumped off a deed last week while I was trying to figure out a fascinating Revolutionary War powder horn owned by a friend. This map horn was carried some 250 years ago by a clever Greenfield Meadows soldier and blacksmith. Upon its face is carved a record of the man’s 1777-78 military travels through the Lake George/Lake Champlain corridor along with symbols of war, patriotism, God, Indians and country.

By tugging at many loose threads of inquiry in an effort to understand the carvings from the “Northern Campaign” that won the war for American patriots, I was led straight to a famous Greenfield character with whom I was already quite familiar. Not the owner of the horn, his name was Captain Agrippa Wells (1738-1809) – son of Deerfield’s Dr. Thomas and Sarah Hawks Wells, older brother of Whately’s first minister, Rev. Rufus Wells, and the leader of a Greenfield militia unit that included men from Bernardston and Shelburne.

Capt. Wells was a swashbuckling downtown Greenfield blacksmith. He began his storied military career as a teenaged member of the elite Rogers Rangers of French and Indian War fame. Captured by Native warriors in June 1757 near Lake George, he lived to tell of running the gauntlet with his typical bold, confident spirit.

Almost a generation later, he led local patriots to the 1775 Lexington Alarm. Then, two years later, he took many of the same fighting men to the Lake George/Champlain corridor, where they participated in the battles of Fort Ticonderoga, Bennington, and Saratoga. His fighting spirit still burning hot as he approached 50, Wells then earned a bold star of dishonor in government circles for marching with anti-government insurgents in Shays’ Rebellion.

“Capt. Grip” settled in Leyden – then the Fall Town or Bernardston Gore – after the Revolution and is said to have moved back to Greenfield in 1793, dying there in 1809. His and wife Mehitable Smead’s (1742-1801) gravesite remains unknown, as obviously planned by the rugged individual. Meanwhile, deeds offer no evidence of him buying a Greenfield home for his final years. Perhaps he moved in with a son, a daughter or a friend after selling his Leyden Glen farm.

Enough said about the pugnacious Captain, though. His is an often-told tale. And the time is not yet right to share what I have learned about the fascinating, travelogue powder horn carved and carried by one of his townsman troopers – one who was a generation younger and eventually opposed him during Shays Rebellion. That discussion will have to wait until further discovery is exhausted.

So, let’s move to the brook reference. I stumbled across it in an 18th-century deed conveying a small parcel of upper Greenfield Meadows land from Agrippa Wells to abutter Samuel Stebbins. Written on April 1, 1786 and recorded nearly 20 years later, Stebbins piggybacked onto his Meadows farm a 6 2/3 -acre parcel that “layeth by a brook known by the name of Punch Brook.”

Aha! Finally a clue.

Punch Brook rises from prolific Smead Hill springs just above Greenfield’s northwest corner and runs through a deep ravine to a wetland meadow once owned by the people who built and owned my Upper Meadows home. Once known by anglers as a splendid little trout stream with a never-ending supply of tasty native brook trout, it passes under Green River Road and curls south and east toward its confluence with Hinsdale Brook, across Plain Road from Brookside Animal Hospital.

Because I pass this little stream at two sites along my daily morning walk, I had no trouble understanding the deed. It describes a strip of land across from Martin’s Farm, bordered west by the brook that passes through the Mary Potter Lane/Plumb Tree Lane neighborhood.

Punch Brook has been an interest of mine for most of my 26-year Meadows residence, and was the subject of a June 2022 column cited above. I suppose its most alluring attraction was historians’ speculation that the 1704 Deerfield captives marched to Canada by their Native American captors camped overnight where the stream crossed the old Indian trail east of my home.

It was also a source of personal interest because I was familiar with its upland spring hole from hunting, and am always interested in old squaretail streams. However, one vexing mystery continued to stir my inquisitive juices: When was it named Punch Brook and, better still, why?

I found no answer in histories of Greenfield by Thompson and Willard, or in Sheldon’s History of Deerfield. Nope. Not a hint. Undaunted, I queried neighbors with deeper Meadows roots than mine. Still, nada.

After probing my go-to neighborhood source to no avail, I caught a pleasant couple from across the brook walking past my home one morning. They live in the home the woman grew up in, built about 1950 for her father on the old Poor House lot. As we got to chatting about this and that, I asked her what she knew about Punch Brook, which crosses the road a short distance from her home.

She said she and her sisters played there as kids, and that their late father often mentioned it as a remarkable rivulet that never froze. Bingo! That little speck of information set my wheels awhirl. Was the brook that never froze a neighborhood tradition? Could it have been the impetus for the name Punch Brook, because, like rum punch, it didn’t freeze even in bone-chilling cold?

I went back to my top neighborhood source, who had nothing to add, then questioned a woman whose childhood home bordered the stream and, likewise, nothing new. Neither of them had heard a whisper about the brook that didn’t freeze.

Maybe my original source’s father would have known something, but he’s been in his grave for many years, would be over 100 today. It’s possible that members of old Meadows families who still occupied historic family homes carried the fading tradition well into the 20th century before it vanished. Very possible, yet difficult to substantiate.

Then appeared that Agrippa Wells deed reference concerning family land originally granted to his Deerfield-proprietor father. Yes, there it was, Book 19, Page 381, 1786: Punch Brook. The name was obviously well-known by then, which suggests a much earlier origin that dated back at least to Dr. Thomas Wells (1693-1743).

That brings us back to pre-settlement Upper Meadows days. Who knows? Perhaps even back to the 1704 Deerfield attack and the overnight stay by the captives, who remembered savoring its water in frigid winter darkness. Those captives who survived the perilous northern trek to return may have pointed out the campsite many times in their travels, and told of the spring that flowed freely across the frozen Indian trail. Maybe they said it flowed like rum punch on cold winter nights. Thus, the name Punch Brook that’s recorded on 19th-century maps, and on the 18th-century Wells-Stebbins deed.

Although I cannot be certain, it makes a lot of sense to me.

I wonder what the Indians called it?

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