May 21st 2013
Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House Museum
History of Lebanon, CT
Settlement of the Town
The town of Lebanon was formed by the consolidation of a number of tracts of land when the town was incorporated by the General Assembly on October 10, 1700. The tracts of land included early land grants by the General Assembly, cessions by Mohegan Indians, and proprietary purchases by settlers from the Mohegans in the 1690s. The area encompassed nearly 80 square miles. It included the modem town of Columbia and a small section of the town of Andover.
In 1663, the General Court granted to Major John Mason of Norwich a tract of 500 acres of land for services to the colony. Mason selected a tract northwest of Norwich, in what is now the Goshen section of Lebanon, at a place along the Yantic River that the Indians called Pomocook. It was on the Hockanum Path, the Indian path from Norwich to the Connecticut River.
The tract officially confirmed and surveyed in 1664, was the first land grant in what would later become the town of Lebanon. It contained extensive stands of white cedar, valuable for shingles, clapboards and cooperage stock, and was called Cedar Swamp. In 1666, the colony granted the Rev. James Fitch, the minister in Norwich and Mason's son-in-law, a tract of l20 acres adjoining Major Mason's land.
Captain Mason's Mile, as it is first referred to in colony records, was a one-mile wide, seven-mile-long grant from Joshua, son of the Mohegan sachem Uncas, to Captain John Mason, Junior, in March 1675/76. This large tract was adjacent to the earlier Mason and Fitch grants.
Before he died in September 1676, John Mason, Junior, conveyed half the Mile to his father-in-law, the Rev. James Fitch. John Mason 111, as the heir to one half of the Mile, and his grandfather, James Fitch, surveyed the land in 1695 and distributed the land. The area is also called "Fitch's and Mason's Mile."
Five Mile Purchase
The Five Mile Purchase was the largest of the tracts of land included within the original boundaries of Lebanon and encompassed much of the area of present-day Lebanon. It was also called the Five Mile Square because it was supposed to be five miles on each side. It was purchased from the Mohegan sachem Oweneco, son of Uncas, in 1692 by Samuel Mason, son of Major John Mason, and John Stanton, both of Stonington, and Benjamin Brewster and John Birchard of Norwich.
This purchase by private individuals is typical of the second phase of town founding in Connecticut. Prior to 1685 the colony created new towns as local corporations and bestowed the land on the "inhabitants." The towns then enacted their own criteria for distributing land and gave land to those people the towns chose to admit as inhabitants.
This method of township creation was challenged during the short-lived reign of Sir Edmund Andros as governor of the Dominion of New England (1685-1689). The colony quickly decided to grant lands by patents to individuals, not to corporations, to forestall the challenge to land titles that had occurred in Massachusetts.
Private investors and land speculators were now permitted to buy land directly from the Indians. The legal form of ownership was vested by the colony through a patent to individual proprietors. Title to the undivided lands rested in the individual proprietors specifically named in the patents as their fee simple estates, and not in the town. The proprietors had ownership to the land and could distribute it by gift, bequest, or sale to assigns.
They also could dispose of their rights to future divisions of the undivided lands by the same methods. Usually, the rights to undivided land were conveyed with the home lots when they were sold or bequeathed but these rights could be reserved by the proprietor to gain the benefit of future land divisions.
The Clarke and Dewey Purchase
On September 25, 1699, two Massachusetts men, William Clarke of Northampton and Josiah Dewey, Snr., originally of Northampton and later of Westfield, purchased a large tract of land from Thomas Buckingham and John Clarke of Saybrook, who were acting on behalf of Abimelech, the young son and heir of Joshua. The tract adjoined the Five Mile Square on its northern boundary, across the Ten Mile River
On May 2, 1700, this tract was conveyed again to Clarke and Dewey (who had already settled in Lebanon) by Oweneco, who also claimed the land tat his brother Joshua had bequeathed to Abimelech. This section of Lebanon was known as the North Society or Lebanon Crank. It is now the town of Columbia.
These large tracts with the later addition of several gores and town boundary adjustments made up the town of Lebanon. The town was incorporated by the General Assembly on October 10, 1700.
Land Distribution and Settlement
Settlement of the town began in the 1690s. Tradition holds that the first house in Lebanon was built on a site near Cedar Swamp, now called Red Cedar Lake. Four sons of the Rev. James Fitch of Norwich were early settlers in Lebanon and at least one made his home near Cedar Swamp. There were Mason family homesteads nearby. There are no records that indicate exactly when an individual actually cleared land and built a house. Fitch retired to Lebanon in 1701 and died here in 1702.
In 1695 the four original owners of the Five Mile Purchase or Square began distribution of land within the tract and settlement soon followed. The initial grants were very large, averaging 42 acres each. These large lots extended for several miles from what is now the green, south to the vicinity of Waterman Road, northwest to the vicinity of Mack Road, and north to Village Hill along Route 289. Village Hill is referred to in early deeds and records as "the Village."
Lebanon was not settled as a nucleated village. The nuclear village of small lots in a village center with large outlying lots was the first phase of colonial settlement but that practice was not followed after about 1685. The mile-long green that remains today is only apart of the "great broad street" along which many of the lots were distributed.
The settlers in the Square were primarily from towns in the Norwich area and from a number of Massachusetts towns, including a large group from the Northampton area. Many of the families were closely related to each other, either through marriage or direct kinship. The first ten allotments were granted to a group of these Massachusetts men, who assigned these lots on their own. How they came to acquire these ten allotments has yet to be discovered.
Almost a third of the 51 proprietors who were granted land in the Five Mile Square did not settle in Lebanon. They either gave their allotments to relatives or sold them to other buyers. Only one of the four original proprietors, John Birchard, Snr., actually settled in Lebanon. Another, Benjamin Brewster, received two allotments, which he transferred to his sons Benjamin, Junior, and William in 1701. Both sons were already living in the Square and may have been the first to settle here. Benjamin was in Lebanon when the birth of his eldest son was recorded in 1697.
While the majority of the original proprietors did settle in Lebanon, a few of these resident proprietors moved away within a few years and sold their land to other people.
Land Titles Contested
Many of the land titles in eastern Connecticut were clouded because of conflicting claims over the purchases and grants of land from the Indians to settlers, particularly the sales and grants made by Oweneco and his nephew, Abimelech. Individual grants by Oweneco and Abimelech overlapped in the area of Lebanon. For a number of years, their continuing disputes over this territory raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the deeds and conveyances made by the proprietors.
Furthermore, the General Assembly did not favor large grants and sales to land speculators and preferred to have actual settlers own the land. Therefore, the four original ownersMason, Stanton, Brewster and Birchard formally conveyed the Five Mile Purchase to 51 proprietors, including themselves, on January 4, 1699/1700. The disputes between Oweneco and Abimelech, however, continued to cloud the land titles in the Square.
In May 1705, responding to complaints by the Five Mile Purchase inhabitants and proprietors, the General Assembly finally confirmed Oweneco7quot;s 1692 sale of the Five Mile Purchase to Samuel Mason, Benjamin Brewster, John Stanton, John Birchard, their heirs and assigns, and the subsequent conveyances made to the other named proprietors and their heirs and assigns. This action validated any transfers of land the initial proprietary group had made over the years.
The proprietors also had rights to a proportion of all the undivided or commonly-held land remaining in the Five Mile Purchase. There are deeds recording only the sale of these rights as well as the deeds conveying these rights with the distribution of land parcels. The Lebanon proprietors seem to have retained an open proprietorship but only for about ten years after settlement. Newcomers could be admitted as proprietors, entitling them to share in land divisions, but by about 1708 the proprietorship appears to have been closed. Later divisions of the land in the Five Mile Square were made only to owners who held the rights to the undivided land.
Source: Alicia Wayland, Remembering Lebanon, 1700-2000 (2000), 3-5.