Forgotten Waterford Burial Sites: Darrow Cemetery (Great Neck)

Gravestones of Abiah Rogers Darrow, Hannah Lester Darrow

Great Neck Road in Waterford was one of the first areas outside the small New London settlement settled in the late seventeenth century when the first colonists arrived. The beautiful flat acres lent themselves easily to large farming areas. The more affluent colonists tended to settle here near the coastline, with slaves to work the large flat fields.

Although there is little evidence left of the Darrow property, their small family cemetery still lies near the corner of Great Neck and Shore Roads. Seven Darrow family members were buried here between 1704 and 1779.[1]

According to an old obituary, the Darrow surname is “not of recent origin” but traces back to England and then the North of Scotland. “The ancestors were large, strong and healthy — quite noted for their size. Several of the men were said to have been about seven feet high and to have weighed nearly three hundred pounds.”[2]

In the early colonial period, to attract settlers to the new colonies, the crown granted specific parcels of land to British citizens. According to Francis Caulkins, Christopher Darrow of England was granted land in New London by King George II in 1663.[3] Christopher never showed up; however, about twelve years later, another Darrow relative arrived to claim Christopher’s land via a long and unusual route.

Shortly after arriving in England from Scotland, Christopher’s son, or possibly brother, George Darrow (born in 1652) was pressed into military service on board a British man-o-war. In Cuba, the young George Darrow managed to escape and climb aboard an American colonist vessel where he hid himself for three days. When the Colonists discovered him, they allowed him to work his way to the mainland. In 1675, he landed in New London, where he was able to claim his father (or brother) Christopher’s land as an inheritance.[4]

The following year, George married Mary Sharwood, a young widow, and bought 51 acres in the Great Neck area from Richard Rogers, established a farm there and raised their family. George and seven members of his family are buried in the graveyard located close to the edge of the Great Neck Road.

Names circled in red are buried in George Darrow Farm Cemetery.

Over the years, the Darrow family grew in size and their descendants made important contributions to the development of New London and to this young country.

Major Christopher Darrow

Sgt. George’s great-grandson, Christopher Darrow

Sgt. George’s great-grandson, Maj. Christopher Darrow (born in 1725) married Sarah Gorton from the Gorton family living in what is today the Oswegatchie district of Waterford. Christopher served in the military in two early American wars and fought valiantly in each. First, he served as an army major in the French and Indian War. Later during the American Revolutionary War he marched with a group from New London to take part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He continued to serve under George Washington, and probably marched with Washington’s troops south from Boston, through his hometown, New London. They continued on to New York and fought against General Howes’ troops in the battles at Long Island, Monmouth, New Jersey, and Germantown. He spent that brutal winter with Washington at Valley Forge in 1778. Major Christopher died February 1783 at the age of 58.

Zadoc Darrow, Mullen Hill Baptists

Gravestones of Zadoc Darrow’s mother (Abiah Rogers Darrow) and wife (Hannah Lester)

Sgt. George Darrow’s great-grandson Zadoc played an important role in the development of the Baptist community of Waterford. Zadoc (born in 1728) was the only son of Ebenezer and Abiah Rogers, from the well-known Rogers family. Although raised in the Church of England, Zadoc Darrow, as a young man showed little interest in religion, until one day he went “out of curiosity to hear Elder Joshua Morse, then known as the great New Light preacher.”[5]

After much soul searching and struggling with his conscience, Zadoc rejected the Church of England, the only respected faith of his day, and adopted new beliefs. “He was led to embrace the Savior… and was not ashamed to identify himself with the Baptist cause.”[6] For the rest of his long life, Zadoc contributed to the development of the Baptist Church in southeastern Connecticut.

At that time, the Baptists of Connecticut were few in number, their churches counting less than twenty, and their total membership less than a thousand. There were few meeting houses and those that did exist were inadequate and inconvenient. After attempting to build up his own group unsuccessfully, Darrow and his small group joined with Elder Howard’s modest group who met in 1756 in a house on what is now Mullen Hill Road. By 1769, the group of worshippers had grown. Zadoc Darrow joined with two others: Nathan Howard and Eliphalet Leste, to lead a developing church.

Creation of Howard Burial Ground

Howard Cemetery on Mullen Hill Rd. See separate article on Howard Cemetery!

When the Elder Howard died of smallpox in 1777, he was buried in a nearby plot of land that he, himself, had given to the church for a burial place. This became known as the Howard Burial Ground on Mullen Hill Road. Additional land was purchased later to expand the cemetery. The grounds were used for many years, but rarely used today.

After Howard died, the Reverend Lester moved to Saybrook. Thus, Darrow became the sole leader of the group. Under Reverend Darrow’s leadership the church slowly grew, then in 1794 a great revival event was held. That year, baptisms numbered 90 and church membership rose to 250. It became known as the Darrow Church.

This Baptist Church, only the second one in Connecticut, and its cemetery served most Baptists in the area for many years. After 1794, the Church was divided into four divisions: Niantic, New London proper, Great Neck, and Harbor’s mouth. Each division had its own leader, but all were under the pastoral care of Rev. Zadoc Darrow.

In 1796, the congregation members, “laboring together,” built its church. The most flourishing period of Darrow’s ministry occurred between 1790 and 1800. He preached on the Sabbath and administered the sacrament monthly. The Elder Darrow was said to be an ambitious and accomplished man. Aside from his duties as pastor of his church and attending to his own farming, he found time to hold meetings to various groups at River Head, Harbor’s Mouth, Great Neck, Lake’s Pond, Jordan, Rope Ferry, and Quaker Hill.

As the years went on, afflicted with palsy, Darrow continued to preach, although always used an assistant. He was the efficient and revered pastor for fifty-two years and died at age 99. The Reverend Darrow was buried in the graveyard beside the church he helped to build.

The Darrow Church continued to be the Waterford Baptists’ principal place of worship for many years. From time to time the building was enlarged and repaired to accommodate the growing congregation. It is interesting to note that the first town meeting of the newly formed town of Waterford was held in 1801 in this building.[7] It continued to be the meeting place for many years until, in 1848, a New Baptist church for Waterford was built in Jordan village and the Mullen Hill church closed.

The growing Darrow family moved to new areas all over this country, but a number remained in Southeastern Connecticut through the years. Zadoc Darrow’s grandson, Francis Darrow, who is said to have embraced religion in childhood and joined the First Baptist Church in Waterford in 1830.[8] Francis followed his grandfather Zadoc’s vocation and was pastor of that same church for forty years.

Darrow Farm Cemetery gravestones only partly visible from the Great Neck road.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Darrows

Other Darrows proved to be significant members of the community. A John Darrow was appointed a Trustee of a savings institute in 1827 and John E. Darrow trustee of the Mariners Savings Bank in 1880.

By the mid-nineteenth century, a number of the extended Darrow family became involved in the mercantile business. Robert Bachman’s History of Waterford mentions that William Darrow was one of Waterford’s first merchants. Most likely he ran a general store.[9] Ebenezer Darrow purchased a store lot at 97 Rope Ferry Road in 1859. His “au courant Greek Revival Style” building in Jordan village is one of several he constructed nearby that make the village distinct today. Later in the twentieth century, Albert Rogers Darrow owned and operated A. R. Darrow Hardware on the corner of State and Bradley Streets in New London.

The Darrow and Comstock Company was founded on Bank Street in the late 19th century when whaling was already a dying business in New London.[10] There was, however, still enough sea trade business to support a ship chandler and dealer in marine and contractor’s equipment. The store originally carried a line of groceries for the ship supplies in conjunction with its business; however, the constantly increasing demand upon the concern crowded out the food products. All possible attention was demanded in the hardware end. In support of the business traveling salesmen began to cover the eastern portion of the state and parts of New York. William M. Darrow, the present general manager, was connected with the company for 32 years.[11]

A present-day Darrow reports that his great grandfather, Arthur Darrow, left his business in New London to join the gold rush in California. Apparently, he died of appendicitis leaving a young wife and two sons who later moved to New Jersey. There is some information found that indicates that Clarence Darrow of the Scopes Trial is a descendent of Jedidiah, who was one of George Darrow’s sons.[12] Without question, the Darrow family has always and continues to contribute to life in southeastern Connecticut as well as to the entire country.

Homeowners recently cleared brush surrounding gravestones.

Notes

[1] “The Darrow Branch,” RootsWeb. http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~ourfamilyhistory2006/genealogy/flbhistory/darrowbranch/p7.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Caulkins. p. 259; “The Darrow Branch,” RootsWeb.

[4] “The Darrow Branch,” RootsWeb.

[5] Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of New London County, Connecticut: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. p. 752 https://books.google.com/books?id=GIs6AQAAIAAJ

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://historicbuildingsct.com/category/towns/waterford-towns/

[9] Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of New London County. p.761.

[10] Bachman, Robert. History of Waterford. p. 86

[11] https://patch.com/connecticut/newlondon/ebay-tuesday-1896-darrow-comstock-bill

[12] “Fortieth Birthday, Bank Street Firm: Darrow & Comstock Company, Founded in 1876 An Institution of This City.” The Day. November 3, 1915.p. 3.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=y_sgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=lXUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5501,281528&dq=darrow+comstock+new-london&hl=en

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