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NICHOLAS DISBROW
1612 - 1683

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                    NICHOLAS DISBROW

     All we know of Nicholas at this particular moment in
history is that he was born at Walden in Essex in 1612,
and that his father too was a joiner in that village.  So
far I have found no mention of when he came to America
but as to what happened after he arrived in Hartford, the
record is surprisingly explicit.
     In the first place, we learn from the later pension
rolls that he had hardly got himself settled before he
had to drop the work of clearing his land and leave with
all the younger men on an expedition which was to wind
up in a burst of glory.  For in the spring of '37 came
the first of the terrible Indian wars that were to cul-
minate in New England with King Phillip's War and were to
continue as the frontier moved westward for the next 250
years.
     This one became known as the Pequot War and was the
settler's introduction to the Indian technique of pillage,
burning and massacre which was to become so familiar
later.  Connecticut acted very promptly and, from the
five or six hundred settlers now scattered along the val-
ley, collected a tiny force of seventy men at Hartford
under Major John Mason who, early in May, sailed down
the river in "a shallop, a pinnace, and a pink" to Say-
brook where they were joined by twenty men from Boston
and seventy Mohegans under their chief Uncas.
     On May 20th they sailed out of Saybrook eastward
past the known location of the Pequot stockade near
Stonington.  They landed near Point Judith and then,
doubling back, surprised the Indians just before dawn on
Friday, May 26th, 1637 - "with the moon as light as day."
Within two hours the place was burned to the ground and
over 700 savages were dead.  Cotton Mather, that first
flower of Puritan divinity, gives us, in his inimitable
17th Century English a brief but vivid flash of what fol-

                        13
NICHOLAS DISBROW lowed. True, he wasn't present in person but his few words show such restrained good taste and such sympa- thetic kindliness toward the poor misguided red brethren that they deserve preservation here. He says - "Twas a fearsome sighte to see them (the Indians) thus frying in ye fryer, and ye streams of blood quench- ing ye same; and horrible was ye stincke and sente thereof. But ye victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave prayse thereof to God." The campaign wound up on July 13th with the Great Swamp Fight (not to be confused with the one thirty eight years later in King Phillip's War) which calmed down the Indians for nearly a generation. From the Pequot War onwards we are able to follow the career of Nicholas with surprising detail. He was a property owner in Hartford by 1639, where he lived at the north end of Burr Street, now North Main Street. In 1640, when he was twenty-eight, he married Mary Brunson though no mention is made of whether he was a widower or a bachelor at the time. Ground for speculation on this romance is provided by the following quotation from the Public Records of Connecticut (Vol. I, p. 45) during his suit against the Royal Governor Allen which we shall touch on shortly. "On April 6th, 1640, in the Particulars Court, Mary Brunson, now wyfe to Nicholas Disbrowe, and....certayne other females....were corrected for wanton dalliance and selfe pollution." In 1660 he obtained permission to build a 16-foot- square shop on the highway - probably the first recorded road-side stand. He held the office of "Chimney Viewer" (Tax Assessor) in 1647, 55, 63, and 69. In 1665 he was Surveyor of Highways, thus preceding your Uncle Don in that office by exactly 270 years. In 1669, Mary Brunson having presumably died mean- 14
NICHOLAS DISBROW while, Nicholas now 57 married again, this time Elizabeth the young widow of one Thwaite Strickland, and the mother of four children. This union of June and December seems to have been the cause of no end of excitement for our Henry Disbrow in the neighborhood of Oyster Bay that same summer as we shall later see; but the marriage itself must have worked out smoothly enough for we find no en- tries to the contrary. For his services in the Pequot War, Nicholas was on May 11th, 1671 granted fifty acres of land. On March 16 1673, at the age of 60, he was freed from further liabil- ity for military service. A little later he was charged with practicing witch-craft, the charge apparently being dragged into the proceedings surrounding a disputed bill for a chest he had made and delivered to Colonel Allyn. It was here too that Mary Brunson's unfortunate girlhood experience was entered as evidence of something or other. Through all these years Nicholas continued his trade of furniture maker and when he died in 1683 he left a to- tal property of £210, a sizeable estate for Hartford in those days. He is today rated highly as the earliest American cabinet maker. In Ormsbee's "Early American Furniture Makers" we find - "A two drawer chest was discovered in the early 1920's ornamented with an elaborately carved all-over design on the front. On the back of the lower drawer of this chest is written in 17th Century handwriting - `Mary Allyn's Chistt Cutte and Joyned by Nich Dis- browe.' This is the earliest piece of American furni- ture of proven origin." Mary was the daughter of Col. John Allyn, Secretary of the Colony (who later, as Gover- nor tried to get out of paying the bill as we have seen above). "In Mr. Lockwood's opinion, Disbrowe was no ordinary carver and his designs are distinguished by undulating 15
NICHOLAS DISBROW bands of carved tulips flowing from stiles to rails with- out breaking...Disbrowe's designs were carefully worked out to fit the individual piece and no two pieces were identical." When we come to Henry Disbrow shortly now, we shall refer again to Nicholas, but before proceeding with our family history, there are one or two things worth jotting down, both as to the Disbrows and as to the political events leading up to what follows. As the Colony of Connecticut grew through the years covering the life of Nicholas, two factions developed a- moung its worthy citizens; one centering around Hartford which we might call the liberals, and one around New Ha- ven which were definitely the conservatives - the demo- crats and the theocrats, the ungodly and the Puritans. The more liberal were irked by the strict blue laws of the Puritans and preferred the laxer viewpoint of the Dutch in New Amsterdam and the regions more under their influence. The Puritans of the Guilford and the New Ha- group feared the back-sliding of those from Hartford. This conflict crystallized upon the uniting of all Connecticut under one governor and the Royal Charter which was granted by Charles II in 1682. This charter defined Connecticut as all that land stretching South from the border of Massachusetts to the Sea, or to Latitude 41 North; and West from Narragansett Bay all the way to the Southern Ocean (the Pacific), thus including all of Long Island, all of New York State north of Manhattan, part of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and all the distant un- known West north of 41. Texas was but a fly-speck be- side this - had there been a Texas at that time. What is today Westchester County as well as all of Long Island, was then Fairfield County Connecticut so far as the Eng- lish were concerned. The Dutch, however, had other ideas 16
NICHOLAS DISBROW and claimed all this land clear to Narragansett Bay. When the British took New Amsterdam in 1664, the local confusion was dispelled somewhat, but there was argument and actual fighting over these Connecticut claims which involved all the other bordering states at one time or another until the Revolution put an end to it. Henry Sterner refers to this in his letter of Dec. 19th, 1932. So, for years before the British occupation of New Amsterdam and for long afterward, the district north and east of Manhattan, particularly Long Island and the main- land bordering the Sound, was filling with settlers from Connecticut who were disgruntled with one group or the other of the two factions. One lot, under Robert Treat, even migrated to the banks of the Passaic, founding Newark and transplanting Puritanism to our own fair State for a brief, a very brief, interval. In 1672 Treat returned home where he won laurels for himself in King Phillip's War, and eventually became the Royal Governor. He it is who figures as the judge in the following bizarre inci- dent. It seems there was a special court, presided over by Robert Treat, Esq., which was held at Fairfield on June 2nd, 1692, convened by order of the General Court to try the "Witche Cases." At this trial it was testified that Mercy Disbrow, wife of Thomas Disbrow of Fairfield County, had bewitched animals and a child. Witnesses told of optical illusions - a pig that looked well on the table but could not be eaten, an enchanted canoe that went upstream of itself, high tide made low, etc., etc. One said Mercy could not read one word of a panel of the Bible in her hand although she could read other books without difficulty. On September 14th 1692 a true bill was found against Mercy Disbrow in these words - 18
NICHOLAS DISBROW "Mary Disbrow is complained of and accused as guilty of witchcraft, for that on the 29th of April, 1692 and in the 4th Y're of their Majesties (William and Mary) Reign, and at sundrie other times, she hath, by the instigation and help of the devill in a preternatural way, afflicted and done harme to the bodies and the estates of sundrie of their Majesties subjects, or to some of them, contrary to the Law of God, the peace of our souveraigne Lord and Lady, King William and Queen Mary, their Crowne and Dig- nity." On September 15th, 1692 test by water was made. Two witnesses testified that Mercy and another woman, Eliza- beth Clawson, bound hand and foot were thrown into the water and swam like corks. On October 8th the Jury was sent out a second time and again found her guilty, seeing no reason to change the verdict. Thereupon Governor Treat sentenced her to die on October 17th although Jos. Eliot and Timothy Wood- bridge made a statement in which they say that to them "the evidence stands on slender and uncertain grounds, some of the statements and some of the witnesses being quite untrustworthy. From the easy deception of her senses and the subtle devices of the Devill, do not think one of the witnesses competent." She must have re- ceived a stay of execution for on May 12th, 1693 Samuel Wills, Wm. Pitkin, and Nathan Stanley request a further reprieve for Mercy Disbrow - say none of the evidence against her amounts to much. There is no record the sentence was ever carried out; on the contrary it would appear that she was still alive in 1707, in which year she is mentioned as Thos. Disbrow's widow when his will was probated. But to return to those, particularly in the Hart- ford group, who became restless under the yoke of Puri- 19
NICHOLAS DISBROW tanism; among whom, unless the tribe has utterly changed, we may safely number the Disbrows. The more adventurous of these malcontents very early started drifting westward toward New Amsterdam. A glance at the map shows how Long Island Sound stretches like a broad, sheltered highway for anyone who possessed even a small sloop (shallop they called them then). Gradually a string of new settlements formed along both shores of the Sound - Fairfield, Nor- walk, Bridgeport, Stamford and Greenwich on the mainland; Hempstead and Oyster Bay on Long Island. Among these westward drifting settlers was a group led by a Peter Disbrow who, after settling temporarily at Greenwich, led a small party still further west and settled on Manussing Island just off what was soon to be the site of the village of Rye. Just when he arrived on the island we do not know but in 1659 we find him associ- ated with his brother Henry operating a ferry between the island and Oyster Bay. And here, while it is Henry who founded our Disbrow line, let us spare a word for this Peter for he was an interesting lad. He was born in 1631 and died May 2nd, 1688 at Rye. "The successors of the Dutch West India Company in 1660 were Peter Disbrow, John Coe, and Thomas Studwell. These were all residents of Greenwich at the time when the first Indian treaty was signed. Their leader was Peter Disbrow, a young, intelligent, self-reliant young man who seems to have enjoyed the thorough confidence of his associates; his name invariably heads the lists of the proprietors; and it is on all the treaties and declar- ations." On January 3rd, 1660 he made a treaty with the Indians of Poningoe Neck for the purchase of that tract of land described as follows - "Lyeing on the Maine between a certain place called Rahonaness to the East and the Westchester Path to the 20
NICHOLAS DISBROW North and Southe to the Sea or Sound." This includes the lower part of the present town of Rye on the east side of Blind Brook. On June 20th of that same year they conclu- ded another treaty which gave them Manussing Island. With- in the next two and a half years they had acquired title to pieces of real estate that included, besides the area now covered by the towns of Rye and Harrison, much of the towns of North Castle and Bedford in New York, and Green- wich in Connecticut. But now to return to our direct ancestor, Henry. 21

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Last updated September 14, 1995.

Todd L. Sherman (afn09444@afn.org)
© Copyright 1995/1996/1997 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.