Barkhamsted Settled Late

Compared to Other Connecticut Towns, Barkhamsted Was Settled Late

The first legal settlers probably came to Barkhamsted during the 1730s following the initial division of land by the Windsor proprietors.  Prior to that there were undoubtedly a few squatters, timber hijackers and assorted desperados living on the fringe of society without true title to the land they occupied.


 By 1760 Barkhamsted still had much of its land unoccupied, but had sufficient population that it could be considered a settled town, although it would be almost 20 more years before it was officially incorporated as a Connecticut township in 1779.  From our perspective today, the early pioneers carving out a new life in the wilderness that was Barkhamsted did so ages ago in the deep reaches of our past.  But compare the settlement of Barkhamsted with the other towns in the state of Connecticut.  It quickly becomes clear that Barkhamsted was not only settled late compared to other towns, it was just about the last area in the entire state to be settled.


One way to view the settlement of Connecticut is in three phases and Barkhamsted was definitely in the third phase.  The first towns to form were along the coastline and major river valleys from 1635 to the 1670s (for example Windsor, Hartford, Wethersfield, New Haven and New London).  Later, from the 1680s to the mid 1730s the interior uplands and secondary river valleys were settled (for example Waterbury, Windham and Litchfield).  In the third phase extending from the late 1730s to about 1760, the northwest section of the state was settled (for example New Hartford, Salisbury and Barkhamsted) plus some other pockets that filled out the modern borders of Connecticut.  If we use 1760 as the date of settlement for Barkhamsted, the town was at the tail end of the last wave.


Why was Barkhamsted one of the last towns in Connecticut to be settled?  Was it because the town was far removed from other settled areas?  Probably not, since two older towns are close neighbors of Barkhamsted, these being Simsbury (1670) and New Hartford (1738).  Was it because Barkhamsted was on the edge of the howling wilderness?  Probably not, since even Salisbury, in the far northwest corner of the state, was incorporated twenty years before Barkhamsted was settled.  It is very possible that the answer may be found in the perceived quality of Barkhamsted land for farming.


During the 1600s and 1700s well before the growth of industry, farming was king: it was the primary occupation by far.  Almost everyone farmed for a cash crop and/or for their own table.  You could not only stay alive by farming, with hard work and some luck you could get rich by farming, a situation that we find hard to appreciate today.  The colonists were very perceptive when it came to evaluating land quality for farming, and apparently Barkhamsted did not make the cut.  This is not surprising, since Barkhamsted is noted for its quantity of hilly, rock infested land of poor soil quality.  New settlers moved first to areas with better land and better soil, bypassing Barkhamsted until virtually all other towns in Connecticut had been established.


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