A small burial ground tucked in next to a rambling old farmhouse is the only sign that this farm was once the home to the Richard Dart family over three hundred years ago. A low stonewall surrounds the small square burial site with three gravestones next to the house. A wrought-iron gate guards its entrance to the burial site of three members of the Dart Family who were residents of the property over three hundred years ago. The identity of those buried is unclear.
In the early days of New London, living as they were on the edge of a great wilderness, colonists’ fears of a sudden attack from Indians had not yet subsided in the 1660s. Men armed themselves even when they went to their house of worship. The pervading fear was not limited to an Indian attack. Early in 1664, court orders were published warning townspeople “not to entertain strange young men.” These colonists were always concerned for their security, especially when large groups of men arrived in town: “Idle men can be up to no good!” was a common saying. Newcomers were ordered by a vote of the town council either to become citizens or to move on. Among a group of strangers who appeared in town in 1662 was Richard Dart. He chose to become a citizen and soon married Bethia Calkins. They purchased a house and property far outside of town on September 12, 1664.
While Richard and Bethia are considered early settlers of New London, there were others who arrived even earlier. The Darts were not even the first owners of their property. William Welman and a large group of investors had purchased the land and built the house. Welman, a seaman/mariner and trader, arrived in New London with a group that had traveled from Gloucester. He purchased the land and built a tidy house on the property.Records say he and a group of men purchased land on what is now Oil Mill Road. A tidy cape style house was built on the property which was quite remote from town. After he sold the property to the Darts he moved to Killingworth where he lived until he died a few years later.
Richard and Bethiah were not typical in early New London. Only a few colonists at that time ventured far from the safety of the village of New London, and none of them brought their families!
Need for Stone Houses as Refuge
The fear of Indian attacks were still common in the 1660s, according to Waterford historian, Robert Boucher. He notes: “it must have taken a great deal of determination to pull up roots from a house and lot in town and plant them in the remote wilderness.” Boucher goes on to say that in the days before King Philips’ War, the Indian problem was alive and very real.
Boucher notes that land records show the sprinkling of farms and the great distances between them in Connecticut. Keenly aware of the potential seriousness of the Indian threat, the colonists built nearby “Stone Houses” or “Indian Forts.” These were structures made out of stone (sometimes with no roof.) They were usually built on a hill and centrally located in relation to existing farms. The stone construction eliminated the possibility of being incinerated in the case of an Indian attack. Pioneer families could remain safely inside with other families and collectively defend themselves together.
Boucher states that he has found the location of three such structures in Waterford. One is on the southwest side of the Post Road, opposite the site of the old Blonders’ used auto parts. Another location is at the top of Niles Hill Road. It is sometimes called Fort Hill. The third location has not been disclosed by Boucher.
The Large Dart Family
Undeterred by the distance from town, the Dart family seems to have thrived. Their family grew to eleven children, including four sons, Daniel born 1666, Richard 1667, Roger, 1670, and Ebenezer 1672. In addition, there were six daughters. Caulkins mentions that “their descendents are numerous.” The mother of all Richard’s children, Bethia, passed away around 1705; and Richard remarried within a short time to widow Mary Roe Dudley Dart.
Richard became a man of influence. His name appears frequently in the town records and his will indicates that he accumulated considerable property in those early days of New London.
Some of the properties he obtained are on the east side of Cohanzie Road (Vauxhall Street Ext.) at the top of Great Hill (refers to the hill just past Douglas Lane going north). Other properties were on the land between Fog PLain Road and Gilead Road (where I-95 would one day be constructed.) His children and grandchildren would settle and prosper on the property Richard left to them in these two areas. A foundation and some old timbers can still be found at a Dart homestead site at the very end of Old Barry Road.
He died September 24, 1724. Caulkins notes that his death “was sixty years and twelve days after his first purchase of the house.”
Richard ’s will, dated April 4, 1711, distributed his property among his children. Apparently Richard felt some animosity towards his oldest son, Daniel. In his will he refers to Daniel as having been “ungrateful and treacherous to me” and accordingly Richard left most of his property to his second son, Roger. The other sons Solomon, Ebenezer, and the five daughters each received a share of Richard’s property.
Son Daniel married Elizabeth Douglas in 1716 and moved to Bolton in the Hartford area. Many of the other Dart children joined him there. The Darts in Bolton, Tolland, and surrounding areas multiplied many times over the years.
Richard’s second son, Roger, remained at home with his parents. He was a rather unusual individual for those times. He remained unmarried until he was 47 years old, thus creating what might have been an alarming precedent in those days of early marriages, joked Margaret Stacy. She adds: “early and often” was apparently the slogan of those times. Finally Roger, the long time bachelor, married Prudence Beckwith and they had nine children.
Son, Ebenezer, fourth son, born 1673, was considered “something of a character in town. He was openly admonished before the church for excessive drinking and other scandalous behavior. He was cast out of the church.”
Solomon inherited the farm, and married Elizabeth Comstock, of Montville. Solomon was said to have considerable influence in the district and was captain of a “Train Band” or militia in Connecticut during the Revolution. Francis Caulkins reports there were two companies of Train Bands from New London at Bunker Hill. Local Waterford author, Robert Bachman explains:
“In those days of Train Bands, the “soldiery” consisted of all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45, who were required to furnish a musket, powder horn, and other accoutrements. Later the training became as frequent as four times a year and earned the civilian soldiers a tax credit. During the War of Independence most locals enlisted in area militia companies.”
Seventeenth Century Home Fireplaces
Shortly after Waterford became incorporated as a town in 1809 Solomon’s son, Comstock Dart, was listed as the owner of the farm on Oil Mill Road. Town records say the property at that time consisted of 28 acres of land and a house with two fourth class fireplaces.
Houses were taxed by the number and class of fireplaces: first, second, third, or fourth class. Strange to say, no first class ones in the New London area are on record. The theory has been advanced that probably all fireplaces smoked so badly that there were no first class ones and the others varied in degrees of smokiness. Imagine the state of a house containing four class fireplaces only! Stacy notes: No wonder we find the woodwork of many of the old fireplaces painted black. “It was a surrender to circumstances and a great labor saving tactic.”
Various stories have circulated regarding the fate of Darts’ house. One suggests that the house in which they lived stood until 1900, when it was torn down and another built in its place. Others suggest the house was replaced years earlier.
Comstock Dart died in 1856 at the age of 76 and was buried in the family burial ground on the old farm, near his grandparents, Richard and Bethia Dart.
The small cemetery remains next to the present house as evidence of the hardy Dart settlers in Waterford. Some of the Dart children, including Ebenezer, bought land built houses and settled their families on a road off Vauxhall Street Ext. Later ones built in the surrounding area. Others chose to live near each other in the Fog Plain Road area. The family of Daniel, the eldest son, was concentrated in the general Bolton, CT area.
Besides this small tidy burial ground on the original Dart property, there exists another Dart Burial ground on Faulkner Drive in Waterford, off Vauxhall Street Ext. Hidden away on private land, the stones date back to the early to late nineteenth century. Buried here are later descendants of Richard and Bethiah.
For more information about later branches of the Dart family in New London, see the chapter on the “Dart Family Part 2.” (This chapter has not yet been published.)