Upon the high bluff of land a little east of the present village of Seymour stood, in 1780, a tavern of some celebrity, kept by a man named Tural Whittemore. This locality was, and we believe still is, called Indian Hill, having once been the residence of the remnant of a tribe of the Milford Indians, of whom the lands in this vicinity were purchased. Their sachem was Mauwee, named by the English settlers Joe Chuse, it is said from the manner in which he pronounced the word choose; and from him the settlement was often called Chusetown. It was a part of the ancient town of Derby, which then included what is now Derby, Ansonia, Seymour and the larger portion of Oxford.
About a mile south of Whittemore's tavern resided Henry Wooster, a brother of David Wooster, of Gunntown, of John and Thomas Wooster, in what is now Oxford, and of Daniel Wooster, of Derby. Like his brothers, he was a tory, and had become highly obnoxious to his patriotic neighbors, not only from his political sentiments, but from having, like so many other of the royalists, been ready to harbor and assist those who went from thence to join the British army.
On the Saturday evening preceeding the events recorded in chapter seventh, a number of young men were gathered at the tavern above mentioned. Among them were a son of Mr. Wooster's, Henry Wooster, Jr., his cousin, David Wooster, Jr., from Gunntown, and Samuel Doolittle, belonging in Litchfield, but then living near by, within the limits of New Haven. Other persons of the neighborhood were there also, drawn in by the usual attractions of a country tavern. The blazing fire in the bar-room, with the store of good things in the bar itself, made it a favorite place for passing the winter evenings, while the progress of the war and the latest news from the army and from England were related and all the petty gossip of the town indulged in. Sometimes, though not often, disputes arose between those of opposite politics, for such was the severity of the laws and the danger of expressing sentiments adverse to the popular side, that the more discreet tories were either very moderate in the utterance of their opinions, or altogether silent in the presence of others.
In the course of the evening there entered a couple of travelers, who asked for accommodations for the night. Their request was granted; and after they had had supper, a place was made for them in the circle which surrounded the huge, hospitable fireplace. They were strangers to the town, and one of them, who seemed to be spokesman for both, was, from his speech, apparently, an old country-man. Neither of them entered much into the conversation at first, but sat listening attentively to what was said by the others, and closely observing the persons that spoke.
After a little while the stranger, who had given his name to the inn-keeper as Graham, inquired if any one present knew a Captain Dayton, formerly of Long Island, who, it was believed, kept a store somewhere in that vicinity.
The reply, of course, was in the affirmative. No man, certainly, was better known to the tories of Derby, and none more intensely hated than he.
Without explaining the reason of the inquiry, the conversation turned at once upon the exploits of Dayton in his privateering expeditions. This was a subject with which Graham seemed quite familiar, and he related at length the particulars of one of the latest of these expeditions, in which he was supposed to have brought home a large stock of goods procured by plunder on Long Island. Graham affected much admiration of the adroit manner in which this had been done, and of the just retaliation upon those who scrupled not, whenever they had an opportunity, to plunder the whigs. This drew out from many of those present a strong dissent from these opinions, and unmeasured denunciations of the man and all his proceedings. In the course of the evening the strangers thus obtained full knowledge of the sentiments of all present, while all the same time managing to conceal their own.
At length one after another of the company departed,
and the two strangers, with Henry and David, remained
alone. Even the landlord had retired, leaving
his place supplied by a fellow named Wooding, who
lived near by, and was for the most part employed in
the service of Mr. Whittemore as bar-keeper, hostler,
and general assistant in the establishment. The hour
was waxing late, and the two Woosters rose, as if to
go, when Graham, with a sudden change of manner,
Then, dropping his voice to a whisper, and drawing his chair nearer his auditor, he continued,–
Thus invited, Wooding drew near the party and listened.
It is not necessary to detail the conversation further. The feasibility of the project was fully considered, with its difficulties and dangers. The young men did not think it would be safe to make the attempt without a considerable force. Henry said it was well known that there were other persons from the island stopping at Captain Dayton's, who were doubtless armed, and they did not hope to succeed without having men enough to overcome them at once. David only wished that three or four of his friends, whom he names, were there, and he would have no fear of the result.
The conclusion they finally reached was, that David should go next day to Gunntown and see what he could do in raising a sufficient force for the undertaking. Henry would in the meantime communicate the scheme to Doolittle, and enlist his co-operation, and make also such preparation as should seem necessary. Wooding pleaded that he could not join them because he could not leave the tavern, nor his family, but he would do what he could to help, and Graham and his companion might well come and stay at his house – a small hut on a lonely back street nearly half a mile distant – till David's return.
Accordingly, next morning, David hastened home.
That day was the Sabbath, and a violent storm from
the northeast of
We are slow to believe that the young men who
were persuaded into this scheme of robbery by the
renegade Graham were deliberate thieves in their own
understanding of the term. They would doubtless
have revolted from perpetrating an ordinary burglary.
Their friends, too, – for David did not hesitate to disclose
the scheme to his father and others at Gunntown,
and to consult them as to the course to be pursued in
certain contingencies, – would never have encouraged
an ordinary act of crime. But Dayton had been so
active in plundering the British and their tory sympathizers,
that to plunder him in turn was deemed only
fair play. It was, as they phrased it,
On Monday night, the storm having abated, David Wooster and his two associates started for Derby. Next day, they completed their preparations as secretly as possible, provided themselves muskets, and sacks for holding the goods, and late in the evening repaired to Wooding's residence, which they had agreed to make their rendezvous. All but Doolittle were there. He had been notified that they would call for him on the way and promised to be ready when they should come.