Mary (Wilson) Webster
Barkhamsted Lighthouse Descendant
Daughter of William Preston Wilson & Harriette West
b: Jan 1827 (Barkhamsted, CT) – d: Dec 24, 1901 (Silverton?)
m: Solomon Marsh Webster on Oct 06, 1850
in Southington, Hartford, Connecticut, USA
The Old “Lighthouse” and the Strange Tribe of Barkhamsted – Only Two Mournful Survivors of it – The Connecticut Courant, Hartford Connecticut Jan 24, 1900
Was it Founded by a Runaway Wethersfield Girl and a Disappointed Narragansett Indian – Theories as to an Interesting Bit of Early Connecticut History (Special to the Courant) Winsted, Jan 24. A generation or two ago, the “Barkhamsted Lighthouse´´ had a widespread notoriety. It was a queer name to be clinging to a wild spot among the rocky hills of Northwestern Connecticut, sixty miles from the sea. Inquires into its history when they were made by the curious came too late; the true story of one of the last Indian resorts in the state will perhaps never be unearthed, Enough was learned, however to invest the place and people with a kind of romantic interest and many versions of the origin of the founders of the colony and its name grew up. The following is at present the most generally accepted account. Married a Narragansett. Changham was a Narragansett Indian born on Block Island. A young white women of Wethersfield had been forbidden by her father to marry the man of her choice. Reckless in her disappointment she declared, in spite, that she would wed the first man, white or black, who offered himself. Changham heard of it, proposed and Molly Barber kept her word. The strangely mated couple were privately married and then fled. They went over Talcott Mountain to Farmington and then up the river into the depths of the Green-woods as the great forest of what is now Litchfield Country were then called. The settled at Ragged Mountain in Barkhamsted on the upper waters of the Tunxis. Here Changham built a wigwam or hut in which they lived. Years afterwards the Hartford and Albany turnpike was constructed along the river. The stage drivers on the lonely Road passing the place at night and always seeing gleams from the cabin fire shining through the cracks the only light in miles. began to call it the “Lighthouse´´ – and so it was named Changham and his wife raised a family of eight Children whose descendants became the lighthouse tribe. The pretty but willful Molly lived to be 105 years old dying in 1820 and came to be known as old Granny Changham.
The Romance of It –This is substantially the story as given by William Wallace Lee of Meriden historian of Barkhamsted his native town and is one which he considers plausible and prosale. In the latter view, however, it is possible that the able writer falls to catch the spirit of the Lighthouse legend. Even if there were nothing romantic in the rash vow the secret marriage and the hurried flight of the civilized girl, the abandonment of his ancestral home by the Narragansett – descendant of the most powerful tribe of Indians in New England – would be enough to give it color. And then later in his book, the historian speaks of Changham´s grave as “the resting place, so far as we know, the last of the Narragansett´s´´ If Changham had indeed been the last of the race New England would have no spot no more fraught with historic suggestions that the hillside where he sleeps. But it is possible that Changham may not have been Narragansett at all. Historians of neighboring towns do not sustain this theory of his coming. They hold rather that he was “the head man of the last remnants of a tribe of Indians who lived along the Farmington or Tunxis River“ and that the council fires of the tribe kept up for a long time by his descendants were the mythical lighthouse.
Lighthouse a Signal? – Yet the theory is not wholly acceptable to impartial judgment. There is no evidence that the relations between Changham whoever he was and the first white settler of Barkhamsted were ever unfriendly. Nevertheless at the very time when he was living in peace with others in the neighboring town of New Hartford a few miles down the river the handful of settlers had “a house which was forted in” which they were often obliged to resort for safety from the attack of the hostile Indians. Little as is known therefore of the natives which were indigenous to this section (Connecticut histories do not class them with the strong Tunxis Indian at the mouth of the river with whom William Holmes opened trade in 1632 (?) for that purpose sailing (?) bravely by the Dutch Fort at Hartford though ___dered (?) In New York or be fired upon. there is still ground for belief that Changham was not one of them. but was an alien and friendly to his white neighbors. The lighthouse in fact may have been his signal fire to the paleface when danger from the other Indians threatened. Some such belief seems to have been current years ago. Henry L. R. Jones, a former resident of Barkhamsted, writing from Kansas to the Centennial committee of in 1879 (?) says: “I have often met those who had heard of the old beacon light that stood stark and `one upon that old hillside as if to warn the screeching gulls of danger.´´ But who if neither Narragansett nor native, was Changham? To what ancestry did the blood of the half-breeds’ whom he left behind him, revert? They flourished at the lighthouse, wild and rand, a rough and roistering colony, for generations. Their doings were many and strange, but actual crime like that of the murdered Mossock; the exploits of whose ugly band of half-breeds’ gave the name of Satan´s Kingdom to their resorts further down the river below New Hartford, was never laid at their door. Were they from a less savage strain? Eventually the Lighthouse people began to degenerate through intermarriage, They became degraded and in their latter days were “a band of bleached-out basket-making and root gathering vagabonds.´´ Their cabins became fewer and more miserable as the race died out. Finally the remaining members were dispersed and their habitations utterly disappeared.
The Sole Survivors
There are now living, however, near the village of Riverton, a mile from the Lighthouse site, old Sol Webster and his wife, the only survivors of the tribe in that section. Their poverty is extreme. The man says he is about 80 years of age; he may be much older. The women is several years younger. Both are lineal descendants of Changham´s daughters but do not seem able to untangle their genealogies. However, the old man has recollections of many traditions of the tribe. He replies promptly when asked about his ancestor, that his grandfather told him that “Changham was an Indian who came from England with Columbus when he discovered America.´´ He is so persistent upon this point that a theory has been formed that the statement may have some basis of fact and that the mysterious Changham was of Spanish-Indian extraction.
Over 200 Buried Old Sol, as he is called speaks with sadness of his people and of the time when he says thirty-two families lived in the the Lighthouse settlement. He tells with homely pathos that in the woods near the place there is an old Indian graveyard where over 200 of his tribe are buried. The visitor to Ragged Mountain finds it as he says. It is a spot of natural beauty. The mountain is pushed back a little giving room for the Lighthouse flats beside the river. In the brushwood on either side of the road an occasional lilac bush betrays the site of a former hut. To the east on a sandy wooded knoll may be discovered but only by search, vestiges of the ancient cemetery. Few of the graves are marked and these merely by a small stone set on end. Not one has an inscription. Little hollows show that some of the graves have been raided. All trace of the burying ground must be lost in the course of a few more years, but as it is now no place can be more typical of the extinction of the red men’s race than is this somber graveyard of Changham and his tribe.
Note from Coni: Solomon Webster died just a few days after this was printed.