Fortitude

Strawberries are ripe, hayfields are scalped and the sweet smell of wild rose fills the meadow air … along with a personal sense of accomplishment following a fruitful weekend trip to The Fort at No. 4.

There, in historic Charlestown, N.H., participants from far and wide converged for an entertaining French & Indian War battle re-enactment I attended with wife Joanne and grandson Jordan Steele Sanderson. The event drew quite a crowd — retired Recorder chum Donnie Phillips among them — on a perfect, sunny Saturday. Like me, Phillips may have ancestors who manned that fort at one time or another back in the day when wars were fought for survival, not oil and greed.

We picked up Jordie at our regular White River, Vt., rendezvous point and backtracked to Charlestown, t’otha side the rivva’ from Springfield, Vt., where the reconstructed, 2/3-acre, picketed fort was bustling with fascinating activity for any 5-year-old. When we exited our parked car, he was immediately confronted with an encampment of tents, roaming soldiers, natives and “suttlers,” kids too, all in period dress and inviting discussion while staging a fantasy Jordie was still playing out the next day, skulking around the yard, front and back and sides, with an old Red Ryder BB-gun his late father once proudly toted.

The kid was particularly impressed with the three-story watchtower overlooking the Connecticut River from the fortified village’s southwest corner. He demanded that I accompany him for a visit, up three flights of primitive ladder stairs. It was cool. He had to show me. Prior to that, what most captured his fancy was the upstairs bedroom of his ninth great-grandfather, Lt. Isaac Parker — one of No. 4’s original settlers, second in command to Capt. Phineas Stevens — who had a large, wheeled cannon standing next to his bed in the northeast corner of the fort, a shuttered hole in the wall to poke its barrel through. Jordie stood proudly next to it, bright smile, hand on the weapon for a photo I will cherish.

Later, during the hour-long “Seige of 1747” re-enactment, Jordie got to hear the thunderous, smoky roars of field cannons, some larger than others, along with the reports of flintlock rifles, marching music from fifes, drums and bagpipes, orders barked by Redcoat, Bluecoat and militia officers, and Native war screeches. “Are you a real Indian,” Jordie asked a passing, barebacked, copper-colored man sporting leather leggings, a leather powder bag strapped over his shoulder, and two eagle feathers tied into the back of his long, shiny black hair that seemed to match in color his warm, piercing eyes. “I am,” the man responded. “This was the home of my Abanaki people before they were scattered in all directions. Myself, I grew up with the Apaches in the Southwest. I came home.”

As they spoke, sun high, Jordie firing one appropriate, cognitive question after another, I stood on a gentle bluff overlooking the fertile riverside meadow, just listening, facing west, looking at two lush, green, end-to-end Vermont ridges across the glassy, blue-brown Connecticut. Although I had never physically been there, I knew I was not looking at the distinctive landscape for the first time. Yeah, I may be crazy, but I attribute that revelation to heritage and roots. No. 4 is in my blood, my soul, my core. I hope it will also someday similarly reside in Jordie. When trying to figure out life, its twists and turns, pains and pleasures, joys and heartaches, it never hurts to know who you are and where you came from. It’s settling. Can’t imagine folks who have no clue and never will. Such an unconquerable void, a gaping genealogical hole of emptiness, deprivation and shallow existence.

On our way out of the compound, I, of course, stopped in the gift shop to buy books about the site, including Rev. Henry Hamilton Saunderson’s familiar 1876 “History of Charlestown, N.H.,” which I have often perused online, always chasing information. Skimming through it later that night after a backyard cookout, I found an interesting item listed near the beginning of the chapter titled “Historical Miscellany.” It opens with a list of original No. 4 grantees, another list of original proprietors, a 1737 grid of the village plot, and a list of 1754 landowners. The addendum to that landowner list, an official document adjudicating the estate of “Widow (Rachel Parker) Sartwell and heirs” caught my attention upon noticing a familiar name. Two of the heirs were Adonijah Taylor and wife Rachel, above them two more who raised an immediate flag: Micah Fuller and wife Lois. The two women, Lois and Rachel, were sisters, daughters of Widow Parker and late husband Ensign Obadiah Sartwell, who was “killed by Indians while plowing” outside the fort on June 17, 1749. The Sartwell and Parker families came to No. 4 from Groton. Taylor was born in Leicester.

Adonijah Taylor has for years been to me a person of interest. In 1803, he sold his hillock home, farm and saw and grist mills in the southwest corner of Deerfield to my fifth great-grandfather, Deacon Thomas Sanderson of Whately, a prominent citizen and Revolutionary Lieutenant who found success as a tanner and cordwainer (shoemaker). Eight years after the transaction — following nearly 40 years of unsuccessful petitions by citizens from that irascible southwestern corner to uncooperative Deerfield selectmen — the good deacon was finally able to orchestrate the desired annexation of a sizeable chunk of Deerfield to Whately over hoarse Deerfield objections. It was a brilliantly orchestrated political power play by Sanderson, who had supported victorious Democratic-Republican Gov. Elbridge Gerry against defeated Federalist Christopher Gore in the 1810 election. Gerry was as decisively defeated in Deerfield as he had been victorious in Whately, and he likely did Sanderson and Whately voters a favor historian George Sheldon was still criticizing three generations later in his “History of Deerfield.” Sheldon, from one of the oldest Deerfield families, ripped state legislators for “knocking the town lines about hap-hazard to suit the landowners.”

Where I am next headed could be confusing to readers unfamiliar with local history, but the subject is clear to me and I’ll try to keep it simple. Because of their family connections through Fort No. 4 and Groton, not to mention Parker/Sartwell family links, I have for years suspected that Taylor and my Sanderson ancestor were friends and political allies long before the purchase/sale agreement for Taylor’s property. I have also long suspected that — like outspoken Taylor and many Sanderson brothers and brothers-in-law — Deacon Sanderson was a supporter of Daniel Shays during his brief insurrection against the state’s post-Revolution Federalist elite. My weekend trip to Charlestown solidified this theory and also solved an enduring local mystery surrounding the lineage of Sanderson’s oldest brother Joseph’s wife. It only took a few Internet queries for me to confirm that Joseph’s wife, Lois Fuller, was indeed a daughter of Micah and Lois Fuller listed above as heirs to Charlestown, N.H., Sartwell land. So now all those Joseph Sanderson/Lois Fuller descendants who followed the wild goose chase started by Sheldon’s irresponsible guess that Lois came from Hatfield, and whose searches have ever since borne no fruit, will be pleased to discover that Mayflower descendant Micah Fuller was in fact her father.

Back to Joseph Sanderson, many Shays Rebellion supporters moved to the frontiers of Vermont and New York State after the rebellion was quelled, some sooner than others. There was less structure and no taxes on the frontier. I believe Joseph Sanderson was one of these independent souls. By the turn of the 19th century, he apparently had had enough structure and sold to his farm to son Joseph, packing up his family and settling in Sangerfield, Oneida County, N.Y., where he and wife Lois are buried. Their Deerfield farm stood in Mill River, at or near the old Hillside Dairy farm across from White Birch Campgrounds.

I have over the years fielded many queries about Lois Sanderson’s lineage but have never been able to provide a satisfactory answer. For years that mystery has bothered me like an invisible bayberry thorn under my fingernail. But all it took in the end was a dose of Yankee perseverance and a simple trip to Fort No. 4. And, yes, how about that? Just as I had suspected, old Adonijah Taylor was right in the middle of it all. In fact, it could well be that Joseph and Lois met right there at her aunt and uncle’s home on Indian Hill, today Whately Glen. They came from Groton by way of The Fort at No. 4, a dangerous outpost isolated on our northern frontier, built to intercept Pioneer Valley intruders.

My next trip for little Jordie? How about Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Saratoga. We have deep roots and blood stains there, too.

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