CAPT. JOHN DENISON
It seems strange that so little should be known among his descendants, of a man so conspicuous in his time as Capt. John Denison He was the first born of Capt. George Denison and his wife, Ann Borodell, married to Phebe Lay, Nov.26, 1667, at the age of 21, after each party bad been duly apportioned by their fathers in a legal contract recorded at Saybrook. They were blessed with nine children, six sons and three daughters, of whom one died in infancy. All the rest lived to be married, and with a single exception, had large families and numerous posterity. Large tracts of land were given to each of the sons, generally during the father's lifetime. And yet there were no stones for his grave, or that of his wife, and it was a long time before we found the place of their burial. A genealogy of the Chesebro' and Denison families, kept by Daniel Chesebro', who lived near the head of the river, incidentally states that they were buried in the burying-ground at the foot of Denison street, in the village of Mystic Bridge. We had looked diligently for these graves in Saybrook, near the village of Essex, where his eldest son, John, settled upon the farm given to them by Robert Lay, but no trace of a grave or stone was to be found there, nor of his son John, nor of his grandsons Daniel and John, who died there. There is a stone at the grave of his grandson James, who died before marriage, and of his grandson Jabez, who had a large family, and died at the age of 90. In those early times gravestones were brought from England, and the building of monuments was so expensive that many of the early settlers' graves were marked by no headstones that had inscriptions.
His five sons were all men of influence, and left families. His descendants numbered in the book are 3,374. Those of his brothers William and George, combined, only numbered 2,405 so far as they are recorded. His son John died at the early age of 30, soon after his settlement in Saybrook, leaving five children, the youngest, Jabez, being but six months old. The second son, George, received a liberal education at Harvard College, was settled as a lawyer at New London, and was for a time clerk of the County Court. Robert settled in Mohegan, near Gardner's lake, now Montville, was a large land holder by purchase from the Indians, was among the founders of the church there, was twice married, and had twelve children by his first wife and two by the second.
William, the fourth son, settled in the northwest corner of Stonington, now North Stonington, upon land owned by his grandfather, Capt. George, and inherited from his father. It remained in the family several generations.
He had twelve children, and was the progenitor of one of the most prolific and enterprising branches of the family.
Descendants are still very numerous in Stonington, though the homestead has passed out of the family. Still more are found in New York State, in Vermont and in Maine. Daniel, the youngest son, remained upon the homestead in what is now the village of Mystic Bridge, and reared a numerous family. The old Denison house was probably built by Capt. John. It is mentioned in the diary of Thomas Miner, a contemporary, as being moved a short time before his death. How long it had stood before the moving we have no means of knowing. It is a venerable pile, probably the oldest house in town ; nearly or quite two hundred years old. The farm originally embraced all the land lying south of the Westerly road and west of Pequotsop brook, extending to the river on the west and south. In this old house six generations of Capt. John's descendants have been born and brought up. The shingles upon the east side are said to be as old as the building. It is now quite out of repair and used as a tenement house. The timbers in it are large and sound, and might last many years if the building were kept in repair.
The items from the inventory which accompanies the will are interesting, as they show the state of society and the simplicity of the early days. 'I'he wearing apparel of the lady of the house is appraised at £15, which, though it may seem small now, represented then a goodly display of "woman's clothes," on Sunday at the Road meeting-house, the only church building in town.
Meager as this is, £6 is still smaller allowance for the " wearing clothes " of Capt. Denison Their mode of travel is indicated by the generous supply of horse-flesh, "2 horses, 2 mares and 4 3-years-old colts."
There were no carriages or four-wheeled vehicles of any kind in those days for pleasure rides. The ambition of the thrifty settlers was to have a horse or colt for each son and daughter to ride as they grew up.
The roads wore rough and hardly suitable for modern vehicles. There was comparatively little travel between Sundays, and most of the people, indoors and out, were busy with the hard problem of sustaining life. It was the age of homespun, and the women had their hands full in carding, spinning, weaving and bleaching every yard of cloth that was to be manufactured into clothing for the family.
Sunday was the great day of the week for the family display, as well as for worship.
The descendants of Capt. John who have a lively imagination can picture the scene as the seven steeds, saddled and bridled, were brought up to the horse-block on Sunday morning, and one after another the parents and children mounted, and took the east road over the hills toward the meeting-house, to hear a discourse from that learned and godly man Rev. James Noyes. The sanctuary was the chief place of concourse, the center of news, and had to answer most of the ends of the newspapers and magazines of various sorts. The amount of time devoted to reading in the family, can readily be guessed from that item in the inventory, '' a bible and other books and a brush, 10 shillings." This very small sum covered all the accumulations of reading matter in a married life of thirty years. The gold ring, £2 12s., was five times more valuable than all the books in the house. This ring possibly was the gift of Phebe to Capt. John when he went wooing in the early days to Saybrook. It ought to he in existence at this day among some of his descendants. Who will produce it?