Common Ground

Sporting the white, cotton, “Old Hawley Common” T-shirt with red letters that I bought Sunday at the common’s unveiling—hint of bear scent wafting through cool, clear mountain air—inspired inquiries from some folks I bumped into this week in my travels.

“Oh, you went to that?” was a question by some who had seen the event publicized; then, “What, pray tell, is your interest in Hawley?” that seldom-visited hilltown nestled into Franklin County’s southwestern corner, population 337. Well, as is often true in my case, it all comes down to history, place and blood, often intertwined in a geographical setting where one’s roots run deep.

Although I am the direct descendant of no original Hawley settler I know of, a Sanderson great-grandfather of mine was among the original proprietors; not only that, but peripheral genealogical lines run through that landscape like its shaded brooks and streams. Throw in a direct link to the historic building I call home, and my interest heightens. So, I guess you could say that my fascination with Hawley is all about personal connections.

Hawley, it seems, was one of many “frontier” destinations for those defeated rabble-rousers who publicly supported Capt. Daniel Shays of Shays’ Rebellion fame (1786-87). After Shays fled Massachusetts in February 1787, he and his soldiers dispersed to the hinterlands, many touching down in Vermont and New York State, some settling much closer, in places like Hawley, which seemed to hold preferred status for Whately/Conway rebels, possibly because they knew or were related to speculative landowners who did not intend to live there.

Adonijah Taylor and son John were two such men, the elder an early Deerfield miller who established the first Roaring Brook grist and sawmills on a rise overlooking the Mill River section of Deerfield. Today, that site is located in Whately, below the lower Whately Glen dam. Fifth great-grandfather Deacon Thomas Sanderson, the aforementioned Hawley landowner, purchased the home and mill sites from the Taylors in 1803, and they were likely longtime friends. Taylor’s wife, Rachel Sawtelle, and my Sanderson branch grew up in Groton, arrived here at about the same time and were connected by marriage to the Parker family of that town. That Middlesex County Parker family produced Lt. Isaac Parker, second in command at Fort No. 4 in Charlestown, N.H., New England’s northernmost French and Indian War outpost and the probable reason why the Parkers, then my Sandersons chose Deerfield and the Canterbury section of Hatfield (now River Road, Whately) for homes sites. Which brings us to another Hawley connection.

Abraham Parker (1726-1757), son of Lt. Isaac, was probably introduced to the peaceful intervale below Sugarloaf while patrolling on military detail out of Fort No. 4. What was there not to love about that idyllic, fertile plain? By 1748, Parker had built a dwelling there, and four years later, brother-in-law Joseph Sanderson, progenitor of my Franklin County line, was squatting next door. Tragedy struck the Parker family five years later when, on Saturday, March 12, 1757, Parker drowned crossing the Connecticut River ice on his way to or from Sunderland (tavern hopping perhaps?), leaving behind five children, one unborn. I have never found Parker’s grave, but it is probably in Sunderland if his body was recovered, because that’s where he attended church.

Parker’s first son and second child, Abraham Jr. (1752-1837), was one of Hawley’s first settlers; his cellar hole is the outermost of nine identified sites along the Hawley-Common route unveiled Sunday. I met three or four Parker descendants, distant cousins of mine, at Sunday’s dedication. Their family had lived in the original Parker homestead for nearly 120 years, until 1891, when the dwelling and outbuildings were abandoned, soon to be cratered memories. And yes, all that remains today are dark, damp, stone-clad holes. I feel a certain attachment to those Parker ruins because more than likely Abraham Jr., fatherless before his fifth birthday, viewed Uncle Joseph Sanderson (my sixth ggf) as a surrogate father, spending many a day roaming the woods and fields and swamps below Sugarloaf with Joseph’s eight sons, some older, others younger than him. Uncle Joseph, his gravestone the oldest in East Whately Cemetery, died in 1772. Four years later, when Parker Jr. was 24, he set out for Hawley, where his cousins — brothers Nathaniel, Abel and David Parker — were also staking claims, plus, first-cousin and boyhood neighbor Thomas Sanderson, six years older, owned a couple parcels there.

Ah-ha, all about family ties, it is.

Now, as for the link between my Greenfield home and Hawley, well, that was a more recent discovery. The journey began following a brief telephone conversation with Colrain artist Hale Johnson, whose mother, Louise Hale Johnson, published “The History of the Town of Hawley” in 1953, the year I was born. When Mr. Johnson asked about the history of my tavern, I told him the last major “improvements” were made by Ebenezer Thayer, who sold the Charlemont Inn before buying my place in 1836. When I informed him that Thayer had lived in Hawley, it piqued his interest, said he knew all the Hawley cemeteries after visiting them as a boy with his mother. Then, after later finding Louise Hale Johnson’s book in Google Books and reading her Thayer genealogy, I discovered what I believed to be an error. Her profile of Thayer as a good businessman who owned a hotel in Charlemont before purchasing “the expensive Arms Farm in Greenfield Meadows in 1835” differed from what I knew. Because I had done the deed research to document Thayer’s purchase of my Upper Meadows tavern in 1836, I thought Ms. Johnson was mistaken. A trip to the Registry of Deeds proved me wrong.

Thayer did indeed purchase what was known as the Ebenezer Arms Farm in 1835, a little more than a year before buying my place. Then, three years later, in 1839, he purchased the Moses Arms Farm, contiguous with the first Arms farm he had purchased four years earlier. The cost of the three Meadows properties that consumed nearly 1,000 acres was the enormous sum of $30,000, which would compute to millions today. All three homesteads are extant, with the two Arms farms situated in the Lower Meadows. The so-called Ebenezer Arms place stands on Thayer Road, overlooking the long Greenfield Community College driveway and, across it, the so-called Moses Arms Farm, later Myers Farm, today Four Rivers Charter School. My property is named Old Tavern Farm; Thayer bought it from Samuel Hinsdale III and soon added a porch and upstairs ballroom for tavern-keeping son Hollister Baker Thayer, whose name came straight from Hawley; it was there after 1810 that his uncle, Hollister Baker, built a stately, brick, Federal mansion-house that still stands proudly in Pudding Meadow and was recently sold to an “outsider” for a tidy fee.

So, there you have it: a few of the subjects that lured me to the Hawley woods on Sunday and will surely draw me back. A new discovery in the Doane Cemetery caught my interest during a brief stop with a friend and neighbor on the way home. Isolated under a hardwood shade tree just inside the eastern stonewall border of the burial ground stood the lonely, flagged gravestone of Capt. Oliver Shattuck, who died in 1797, age 46. His Shattuck family has an interesting history, one that also weaves through Groton and Fort No. 4 to our slice of paradise known as the upper Pioneer Valley. I think I’ll see what I can find about the man. Who knows? He may even have been a displaced Shaysite, rarely easy to document these days. But even if it can’t be proven, you can usually make connections, ones that provide a pretty good idea of where he stood on the conflict.

Mystery fuels discovery, uncertainty revs the motor, spins the wheels, mine already awhirl and shrill. Before a man can truly understand the little world around him, he must first discover who he is. It’s complex. I’m getting there.

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