West Haven’s Earliest Days
We acknowledge the efforts of Lorraine Wood Rockefeller, who originally set these words down in about 1960.
The first settlers believed in witchcraft and its punishment by law.
In 1657, William Meeker was accused of practicing Black Magic, but when his case came to trial, his accuser admitted that he had falsely accused his neighbor.
In the same court, a Thomas Mulliner was rebuked for settling his fence “so near to the edge of the bank by the sea that when the cattle are betwixt that and the sea, and the tide came in hastily upon them, they are in hazard to be drowned as some swine have been, and therefore he has been told that it must be removed and also any other set in like manner.”
The courts united equity and law jurisdiction and administered both from the same bench without much regard to the form of action.
The simple system of procedure in the days when New Haven existed as an independent colony seemed to give general satisfaction to the people although on many occasions the decisions were somewhat arbitrary and evidence was received contrary to the usual rules. The magistrates were honest, God-fearing men who tried to do what they considered the right thing between parties.
These early settlers brought with them the idea, taste and customs of the mother country and these long survived despite the leveling tendencies and free spirit of the New World. They were strict in morals and Gov. Withrop prohibited cards and gaming tables. A man might be whipped for shooting fowl on Sunday. All conduct was shaped by a literal interpretation of the Scripture. Even articles of dress were limited and regulated by law.
Most of the West Farmers were thrifty independent people who became less and less interested in the increasingly complicated affairs of the growing mother town, New Haven.
A rigid social code developed with a definite line drawn between the several classes of society. Under this code the classes had different rights and duties. Society was then composed of church members and freemen, admitted planters who had taken the oath of fidelity, householders, day laborers, indentured servants and apprentices and a few Negro slaves.
The group of servants and apprentices caused much trouble in New Haven Colony with “their coarse, quarrelsome and even beastly practices.” It was against this group that much of the early penal law was directed. In general, the inhabitants of West Farms were middle class householders with few who were very rich or very poor. They had few servants and as the bulk of the trade was in New Haven, still fewer apprentices.
The only district taxes for many were collected by tithing-men from New Haven and were used for the minister’s salary.
To be continued