by Les Motschman
While researching the Damon essay, I read a sentence in the 1985 application to place Damon Hall on the National Register of Historic Buildings that alluded to a subject in which I have long been interested. After noting that William Damon married Alma Otis of Windsor, the researcher wrote: “Thereafter the couple joined the middle-nineteenth century tide of emigration from Vermont.” Quite a brief aside to describe what really was the depopulating of a whole region.
Hartland was chartered in 1761, but it wasn’t until the mid-1770s that people started to arrive in numbers. They came mostly from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and within a generation transformed the land from forested hillsides into dozens of small farms. When the first Federal census was taken in 1790, Hartland had a population of 1,652, about half what it is today, 225 years later. The makeup of the population was different in the early days of the town from what it is now.
The Gallup family provides a good example. Two brothers came to Hartland [then Hertford] from Stonington, Connecticut, an early seaport. In 1775 William came with his family, which included seven children, and settled in the area of the present White Farm on Route 5. In 1778 William’s older brother Elisha brought his family to what is now Weed Road. There were ten children in that family; the youngest was two when they arrived in Hartland.
By 1810 the population of Hartland was 2,352. In that century it peaked at 2,553 in 1820. From there it declined for one hundred years, reaching its nadir around the time Damon Hall was built in 1915 when only about 1,260 people lived in town. In fact, when preparing the application mentioned above, the researcher wondered if the townspeople thought there was a need for a “substantially larger and more stylistically sophisticated Town Hall,” considering the population was in decline.
One could say Hartland’s heyday coincided with the sheep boom around 1820–1840. Most of the remaining wooded hillsides had been cleared for sheep pasture, and for a time these hill farmers made good money. Many of the finer houses around the countryside and in the villages date from that period.
By the mid 1800s, the Vermont economy was not growing fast enough to provide all the young people born here and now coming of age with work or with opportunities to make something of themselves. Elsewhere, the country was in a period of rapid expansion. Towns and cities in southern New England were industrializing, creating a huge demand for workers. Vast tracts of good land in the Midwest were available for settlement. Many of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the pioneers who settled Hartland had to leave town and strike out on their own, maybe becoming pioneers themselves.
William Damon may have been one of the more successful Hartland farm boys who left town to seek his fortune, but likely quite a few others also found a measure of success. I was curious about William’s several siblings. Did any of the others leave town looking for adventure? Did the women marry well? Did anyone stay and keep the farm going?
Most of the information below about the ten Damon siblings was provided by HHS member Jane Cawthorn, a Lamb descendant, and my Hartland Elementary and Windsor High classmate more than fifty years ago.
Luther and Betsy Damon’s children
1. Luther A. Damon, b. 1820, d. 1821, infant.
2. Urias E. Damon, b. 1822, d. 1877 Served in the Civil War, Co. A, VT 12th Inf. Reg. Must have enlisted in Windsor. At age 40, he would have been one of the oldest “nine months men.” Had five children.
3. Luther E. Damon, b. 1824, d. 1843 in Canton, China Sailing to China is as far away from the farm as a Hartland boy could get.
4. Elizabeth E. Damon, b. 1827, d. 1891 May not have married. As of the 1880 census, she was listed as a head of household.
5. Sarah J. Damon, b. 1830, d. 1893 Was “keeping house” according to the 1880 census.
6. Lucy E. Damon, b. 1832, d. 1913 Lucy married John Quincy Lamb and with him had two children, Charles and Lizzie. The Damon farm was just south of the current I-91 interchange on the west side of Route 5. The Lamb farm was just north of the interchange on the west side of Route 5. The buildings burned in the 1930s, but descendants still live nearby.
John and his older brother Julius sailed to California in 1850 for the Gold Rush, but returned to settle in Hartland. They bought a lot of land with the money they made in California. John died at 29 when the children were very young. Lucy went to live out the rest of her life at the Damon farm with Elizabeth and Sarah, and Lizzie stayed there her whole life as she never married. Charles went to Dartmouth and became a civil engineer for the Federal government in St. Louis. Lizzie died in 1924, the last Damon to live on the family farm.
7. Aaron Damon, b. 1834, d. 1835, infant.
8. Lavinia F. Damon, b. 1836, d. 1896 Lavinia married Merrit Farnham Penniman in 1862, and they had six children. A well-respected family, they lived on the main street in Hartland Village.
9. William E. Damon, b. 1838, d. 1911 William was the most notable and successful Damon. He and his wife Alma had no children. He was the prime age for serving in the Civil War. We know he was in Bermuda collecting fish at the start of the War. Did he pay for a substitute to serve? His money kept the Damon farm in fine shape, and he visited it often. His money built Damon Hall. Did he support his sisters and niece who lived at the farm?
10. Mary E. Damon, b. 1845, d. 1854, at age 9.
Several of the Damons are buried in the Old South Church Cemetery in Windsor.
Growing up in Hartland and living here most of my life, I assumed that Damon Hall was named for some rich guy who had built it for the Town. As the 100th anniversary of the Hall approached, I started researching Damon Hall and the Damons. I discovered that William Damon, who probably earned most if not all of the money that built the hall, died in 1911, a few years before it was built. Especially confusing to me was the official dedication of the Hall as a memorial to Luther and Betsy Damon and their children, from Mrs. William Damon and the children of three of William Damon’s nine siblings. Now I see that only three of the ten children of Luther and Betsy had children of their own, and all ten had died by the time Damon Hall was built.
I thank Pat Richardson for her most helpful editing of “More on the Damons” and to my wife Susan for