Two Thomases

By: Patricia M. Schaefer

In the last newsletter, I wrote about a few children who have headstones in the old burying ground without there being a stone for parents or other members of the family. This time we’ll cover two other children, both named Thomas, who do not have other family members with headstones in the burying ground. Both were named after their fathers, although the circumstances of their lives were quite different.

The first of them is Thomas Avery, whose headstone reads, “Here lyeth the body of Thomas Avery, who departed this life July the 3rd, 1712, in the 8th year of his age.” “Eighth year” meant that he was seven. Joshua Hempstead’s diary gives more information: “Thursd. 3d fair hot. I was at Groaton all day with Brothr Plumbe Laying out Lots att Nowayank [Noank]. a very hot day. Little Thomas Avery drownded in a Swimming.” On Saturday 5th he records, “Tho Avery was buryed yesterday after Lecture.” Lectures were held on a Thursday or Friday before a Sunday on which Communion, or “Sacrament” as Hempstead called it, was served to full church members during the Congregational worship service.

Thomas was the son of Thomas and Ann (Shapley) Avery, part of the vast clan of Averys who lived locally. Thomas and Ann lived in New London. They had been married in 1704. Son Thomas was born March 31, 1705, and baptized July 22 of that year. Daughter Ann was born May 12, 1707, and baptized May 25th. She grew up and married, first, Samuel Griffin, and in 1737 Sylvanus Miner.

The senior Averys appear to have lived in what became New London North Parish in 1723, and the separate town of Montville in 1784. Thomas Sr. was the son of another Thomas and his first wife Hannah (Miner), and was born in 1679. He sold land in Saybrook in 1703 and 1706, the first time referring to himself as “of Saybrook” and then “of New London.”

Thomas senior died about two years before his son. His widow, Ann, married Jonathan Roff November 24, 1711. The inventory of Thomas’s estate was taken a couple of weeks later. The Roffs had at least four children baptized in the First Church, the last one being Jane in 1722. The others were John, Mary, and Jonathan. I do not know if there were no other children or if the Roffs also lived in the North Parish and switched membership when the church there was gathered in 1723. Ann was taken into the church at New London (became a full member) in June of 1718

The Roffs had a few more years together than the Averys had had, but June 15th of 1729 Ann was published to James Morgan of Groton, and married June 24th. Hempstead had business dealings with her a couple of years later, which was unusual. Usually wives were mentioned only when acting for their husbands, but March 23, 1731, Hempstead says, “…I Paid Ms Ann Morgan formerly Roff £4 8s 0d for Jos Lesters debt for Sheep & Rent. 6s 0d of it I pd Brother Plumb & 7s 11d to my Self Roffs Debts.” She seems to have been managing her late husband’s property, possibly as executor of the estate and guardian of the children.

Ann died June 17, 1751. Hempstead says on the 18th, “yesterday Died Ms Ann Morgan of Groton Relict of Deacon James morgan Decd. aged about 68 I Supose. She was Daughter of Benjamin Shaply ye first of this Town. … I Set outt for Stonington by ye way of Poquonuck in order to attend the funeral of Ms Morgan wch by the desire of her Children was deferred untill to morrow at one of the Clock P. M.” He did not attend the funeral. Probably he considered showing up at the expected time to be enough of a show of respect. Ann Morgan is buried in the Morgan/Avery Cemetery off Rte. 1. The Morgan children would have been baptized at the Groton Congregational Church, the one of which their father was deacon. I was unable to locate any online records of their baptisms. The original records are at the state archives in Hartford.

The other Thomas’s headstone reads, “Here lyeth the body of Thomas Fergo, who Died July the 7th, 1734, aged 5 years ___ mo. ___ Ds.” Hempstead again provides more information, “Mond. 8th [July, 1734] fair & hot. … a Bastard Child of Mary Dartes Daughter of Ricd Darte was buried 3 or 4 yr old an Idiot Sd to be Thos fergos.…” (Hempstead was frequently off by a year or two on the age of someone who had died, especially children.)

It would be interesting to know who paid for Thomas’s headstone. Hempstead’s telling of the situation indicates that not only did Thomas Fergo not marry Mary Dart, but he refused to acknowledge paternity (“sd to be”). This means either that Mary did not sue him for support of the child, or that she did and lost the case. The legal system of that day was concerned with bastardy because of the possible charge on the public. If Thomas was not compelled to pay for the child’s upkeep, Mary, and presumably her father, would have been responsible until the child was around five, when he could be “bound out” to another family to raise. If she or they could not support the child, some arrangement would be made for either family members to chip in, or the town to pay for his expenses until age five. Since the child was considered an “idiot”, which was a legal term signifying an inability to maintain one’s self when an adult, it might have been hard to find a family willing to take him.

It is difficult to be certain of much information about either of Thomas’s parents, especially Mary. Hempstead has several mentions of a Mary Dart(e), but they do not appear to be the same person. Thomas we can find out a little more about, with the caveat that all of the mentions of him in Hempstead’s diary appear to be the same person, but may not be.

Moses Fargo, Thomas’s father, was born in Wales in 1649, and came to Connecticut in 1668. He married a Sarah, last name unknown, and they had nine children, of which Thomas was the eighth. He was born in 1699. Moses lived in the North Parish and died, as Hempstead says, “an old man above 83 in the 84th,” in August, 1732.

Hempstead’s mentions of Thomas begin in January of 1725, when he found him and his brother Ralph “getting Timber for Staves” on Mr. Winthrop’s land. His next mention is of the death of Mary Dart’s child. Three years later, “an Infant of Thos Fergoes Still born buried between meetings” on Sunday, March 20th 1737. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of when Thomas was married, which would let us know if he had been married when he fathered Mary’s child. (Adultery was a very serious crime, but it depended solely on the marital status of the woman. Since Mary was not married, they would have been committing the lesser crime of fornication.) The next couple of entries about him were concerned with measuring land and retrieving a cow.

On June 14, 1741, Thomas was one of nine “Grown persons Baptized” by Mr. Adams. This was during the Great Awakening, a religious revival that had a powerful effect on many who had not bothered with baptism or church membership before. An Ann Fergo was listed by Hempstead right next to Thomas in the baptisms noted. This probably was Thomas’s wife, but he did have an older sister named Ann.

The next few diary entries mentioning Thomas were again about land, then in December, 1755, “Thos Fargoes Eldest Son aged (Died).”[sic] Three months later, on March 27, “Thos fergoes youngest Son about 10 or 12 yr old was buryed.” There is nothing further about Thomas in the diary.

Two Thomases, two very different short lives. All that they seem to have in common is that someone loved them enough to arrange for a headstone.



  1. Barbour collection of vital statistics. This is not a complete listing of people in a town, since it relied on family reporting, not modern birth and death certificates:
  2. Blake, S. LeRoy, The Later History of the First Church of Christ, New London. New London: Press of The Day Publishing Co., 1900.Caulkins, Frances Manwaring,
  3. The History of New London, Connecticut to 1860. New London, CT: New London County Historical Society, 2007.
  4. Hempstead, Joshua, The Diary of Joshua Hempstead, 1711-1758. New London, CT: New London County Historical Society, 1999.
  5. Prentis, Edward, Ye Antient Buriall Place of New London, Conn. New London: Press of the Day Publishing Co., 1899.
  7. “It’s About Time”- Colonial History Timeline compiled by Bill DeCoursey 1700-1983. This has multiple references to Averys, most apparently from The Groton Avery Clan, by Elroy McKendree et. al., 1912.
  8. Covering 1650-1698 –
  10. “Our Folk: Fargo Family Genealogy” by Albert D. Hart, Jr. Since the senior Thomas was not an ancestor of Mr. Hart, he is mentioned only in the record of births to Moses and Sarah.



[Oct. 1754] Saturd 5  fair. I was about home all day fitting up Cask for Cyder.  I Rid out to Crossman Lot to water the Cattle.  Thundr & Lightning in the night & a Storm of wind & Rain.

“Thunder and lightning” are fairly common with rain storms in this part of New England all through the summer and into the fall, as they were in Hempstead’s time.  What has changed is our perception of them.

Well into the eighteenth century, it was the thunder that was assumed to be the dangerous part of the combination.  When you think about an age without our capabilities to measure the transmission of sound and light, this makes sense.  If you have ever had a tree or pole near your house struck by lightning, you know that the noise of the thunder accompanying it is impressive—and simultaneous.  Looked at objectively, it does appear that the thunder is more important, since no harm came earlier from clearly visible lightning.

In the earlier parts of the diary Hempstead refers a couple of times to damage done by thunder and lightning.  When the meetinghouse was struck on August 31, 1735, he records “a Terable Clap of Thunder & Lightning Came Struck ye meeting house in Divers places. . .”  By July of 1743 he had changed the order to record “the malocholy News of the Death of 2 Ladds by Lightning & Thunder & the horse. . .”  And in June of 1745 he records a thunder and lightning storm and says “the Lightning Struck Mr Stewarts Windmill on Townhill & Shattered the Arms & Shafts & ye Toyle & Stares.”

Hempstead had an inquiring and rather scientific mind, but it is doubtful that he actually thought of lightning as causing damage separately from the thunder.  Although he does not use it, the term “thunderbolt” was in common usage well in to the nineteenth century.  And we still generally refer to “thunderstorms” even now that we know what part of the storm we really need to worry about.

Being a modern person (even if I haven’t yet mastered Facebook), when indexing the diary I indexed lightning but not thunder.  I assumed, of course, that lightning had struck the meetinghouse, rather than the “Terable Clap of Thunder. . .” that Hempstead and his contemporaries knew had caused the damage and injuries.

Note:  The first chapter of Richard Cullen Rath’s book, How Early America Sounded (Cornell University Press, 2003), addresses the perception of thunder in the seventeenth century, along with other noises of the natural soundscape.

Mowing Down Assumptions

Mowing Down Assumptions

[July 1719] Thursd 16  fair & hot. . .I Stacked Some hay yt grew before ye door.  Thursd 22 [April 1725]  fair.  In ye morning I Sowed Some white Clover Seed betwixt ye Barberry Bush & Cherry trees. . . . Saturd 11 [August 1739] fair. . . Adam Mowed the Little pasture before the Door & Stacked the oats.

Wednsd 13 [March 1751] fair. . .& aftern I Set out for midletown [from Hartford] & bot 2 qrts of Clover Seed for 40s of one Curtiss near the South Side of Wethersfield. . . Tuesd .26 fair.  in the foren I Sowed the oats att home.  7 Bushells & in the aftern I followed the Harrow & Sowed 2 Quarts of hay seed that I bot of Mr Curtice of Weathersfield Near Midletown uper houses.  Tuesd 2d [July] fair.  I was att home foren & aftern I was out to the Cornfield &c.  Raked ye Clover ye most of itt.  Natt Way Mowed itt ys day.

One of the biggest problems in understanding life in times past is our assumptions.  We all carry around mental pictures of objects and activities based on our experiences, which can include reading and watching videos.  Sometimes these assumptions are valid for earlier times, and sometimes not.

Take hay, for instance.  When I think of hay (before the modern rolled-in-plastic version) I think of large stacks dotted around large, open fields.  The grass that becomes the hay is all the same variety and has all grown to the same length.  The stacks will eventually be transported to barns and stowed in the haymow above the animals’ stalls, ready for use all winter.

The picture is all right, as far as it goes, but as usual the reality was more complex.  The diary entries above show that hay was sown in any available space, and that it was not always the long, straw-like grass we think of.  Both white and purple clover were used, as was grass and salt hay, or marsh hay.  And no one was going to hand weed all those acres of hay, which is why Hempstead notes when he pulled up yellow Blossomed Weeds in Smiths lot [June 1730].  St. John’s wort, or hypericum, is apparently harmful for cattle.  Most flowers and other weeds were just left to be mowed also.

Hay was stored wherever the animals were going to spend the winter, in haymows, sheds, fields, and sometimes (in pressed form) on vessels bound for the West Indies that carried horses.  In all cases except out in the fields it had to be completely dry before being stored, so that it did not spontaneously combust.  And just when you were trying to get your hay in (keeping your fingers crossed it didn’t rain—no weather forecasts), so were your neighbors, leading to a greater than usual shortage of available labor.

Actually, “keeping your fingers crossed” is another assumption.  Perhaps good Congregationalists of Hempstead’s day would have found that a pagan superstition.

March … brot home the mare & colt

March … brot home the mare & colt

FOAL[1]Tuesd Mar .1. . . .wee got home [from his farm in Stonington] Sun about an hour high and wee buried the Child at Sun down. . . . Saturd 5. . . I was at home al Day. Josh brot home the mare & Colt & left the young Horses. . . Mond .7. fair & Cold & windy.  I went to Groton to John Averys to Assist in an arbitration . . . Tuesd 15 it Snowed & Rained most of the Day.  I was at home foren. afternoon helping measure 100 Rod of Land for Dea. fosdick Hills Lot Next Jno Plumb taken by Execution for Charlots Debt.  Wednsd 16 fair & warm.  I was at home al day. foren helping Adm draw S[t]ones. aftern pruning Appletrees.  Thursd 24. . . I was Laying out Commons . . . I am to Receive 7s 4d of Dea Fox.  the Rest are pd & I Recd 2s 6d for Abel Moors part of Dea Fosdick.

Something that fascinates a good many people about Joshua Hempstead’s life is its variety.  One day he’s at court acting as someone’s lawyer, the next he may be surveying or working on the highways.  It’s very different from today’s specialization.

The month of March, 1736/7, gives a representative sample of this range of activities.  In that month, Hempstead:

  •  attended two funerals, one for an infant grandchild
  • worked for Madam Winthrop by making up accounts with a tenant and renewing that lease, and assisting in an arbitration involving tenants
  • spent three days in Norwich at a court
  • performed a marriage
  • spent several days surveying commons and land taken for execution of a debt
  • spent another several days engaged in agricultural work such as pruning apple trees, breaking dung, toppoling a fence, and gathering stones and making part of a wall
  • paid the minister’s “rate,” or tax, for two towns where he owned property
  • held a court of probates one day
  • sold some land and wrote the deed of sale; purchased bass and sent money to Guilford to purchase flax
  • shipped two horses to Long Island
  • received news from London
  • attended meeting every Sunday and recorded the publishments (announcements of marriage intentions)
  • spent several days “at home,” with no further explanation.

What didn’t Hempstead do that month?  Well, he didn’t letter any gravestones, an activity that provided income now and then throughout his adult life.  He didn’t write a will for anyone.  He didn’t hold any justice of the peace courts at his house, although he did perform that marriage, also a justice function.  But overall this month gives a very good picture of the scope and variety of Hempstead’s life.

Harvest Time

Harvest Time

 [Sept. 1724] Mond .7.  fair. I fetched a turn of aples fro Holmes’s Lot Ab & Moley. . .Saturd 12 fair. I was picking apples. wee Carted 1 Load to ye mill. . . .Tuesd 15 fair. I was at home all day. I finisht Riming my wheell. Jo Bent[Bennett] & Jno Mowed Rowin & Stackt Stalks. fryd 18 fair. I was about home. I mended highways for the Cart to go to fetch hay to the medows in the forn. aftern Raking hay at Mamacock 20 Cocks in R. Cs medow. Jo Bent & Jno Carted 1 Load from ye Medows & 1 from Mamacock. I help ye Latter my Steers & Horse.  apples

September meant preparations for winter were in full swing in New London. In 1724 Hempstead still had several of his children at home to help. Abigail was 12, Molly 8, and John 14. There were several other days that month of picking apples and taking them to the mill to be made into cider to store for the winter. Lacking modern refrigeration, the cider would go hard fairly quickly, and then eventually turn to vinegar. (There’s a reason besides efficacy for all those old household tips using vinegar.)

Animals were also provided for. Hay was once again being mowed and stacked. “Rowen” was the second, thinner growth of hay. (See blog titled “Tuesd the 4th”) Hempstead had hired Joseph Bennett the previous month to work for 40s p month, using him for agricultural labor like haying and setting up fence at ye old orchard &c at the farm in Stonington. That must have been a large orchard, since fencing, with at least three men working, took Monday through Saturday, and was not quite finished even then. Hempstead had also hired of Richard Christoprs his Salt Medow on August 24. Salt hay was not as nutritious as “English” hay, but there was a lot of it around New London.

The whole month wasn’t spent in agricultural pursuits. The selectmen (of which Hempstead was one) took possession of the ferryhouse and rented it out to new operators. The governor, the Honorable Gurdon Saltonstall Esq. Died Suddenly with a fitt of the Appoplex on Sept. 20th, and was buried with full military honors the 22nd. And Hempstead ended the month on a satisfactory note. After several days at the Superior Court on various cases, he could say Wednsd 30 fair. I was at Court al day about geting Sister Mary Divorced & obtained it. Since Mary Plumb’s husband had deserted her at least fourteen years before, it was high time.

See an index all the Joshua Hempstead Blog postings.