STEPHEN GRAVES, whose family has left the most complete story of those stirring days of the loyalists, was the particular object of Captain Wilson's raids. His home was a storm center, because it was a rendezvous for the loyalists.
Graves was a modest young man, and loved the ways of peace. His father, who lived in Northbury, owned nearly two hundred acres of land in the southeastern corner of Harwinton; and when young Graves decided to marry, he built his cabin there. On the same site, he later built another house which is now the summer home of Professor John C. Griggs.
From the hill-top looking toward the northwest were the hills of Harwinton; away toward the southeast was Chippeny Hill, and close on the north and east lay the Ledges, which to this day is a wild and rocky region. Stephen Graves brought his bride from Chippeny Hill to this place in December of 1778, and there they made their home.
It was probably a number of years after the war commenced when the Sons of Liberty decided that Stephen Graves was a person needing their attention. Whatever opinions he may have had, he seems to have kept them to himself for some time. In 1778, with other good men of Harwinton, he appeared before Daniel Catlin, Esq. and took the oath of fidelity and the freeman's oath. The original oath of fidelity, as he took it, was drastic and compelled a conscientious denial of the king's power; but the one afterward adopted and used was little more than swearing fidelity to the State of Connecticut as an independent state and promising to do one's duty as a good subject to support its rights and privileges. It is a family tradition that Graves was drafted for service in the American army, hired a substitute, and, according to his daughter's statement, "starved his family to pay the wages of his substitute." While this man was still in the field, Stephen Graves was drafted a second time. It is related that Samuel Alcott, the grandfather of Mr. James Shepard, of New Britain, voluntarily enlisted, and upon his return home was three times drafted and served out his period each time. Jonathan Pond also hired a substitute in September, 1777, and was obliged to engage another three months later.
But Stephen Graves vowed that he would neither fight nor continue to pay a substitute. His sympathy with the King thus being made known, the Sons of Liberty undertook to break it. They didn't. Stephen Graves was a quiet man but he was as independent as the rest of Harwinton people. His sympathy for his Church and King was natural. His father was a member of St. Peter's church in Northbury, and the Graves name appeared prominently among the missionaries of the church in New England. Rev. James Nichols was his close friend, so much so that after the war he appointed him his agent in a business matter in which he was interested.
Every attempt to break his loyalism only increased it. A mob once seized him and carried him to a fork of the roads on the northern line of Waterbury town, a half mile south of his house. There was a cherry tree there, and they tied him to it and scourged him with hickory rods. He told his daughter years afterwards that while that stump remained he should remember his whipping. Yet the whipping did not change his mind. Once, while on a visit to Saybrook, the home of his grandfather, he was arrested and brought back to Harwinton, his captors accusing him of desertion. They rode while he walked, and they required him to pay all the tavern bills. Finding that he made no attempt to escape, they relaxed their vigilance and sometimes when climbing a hill allowed him to get some distance ahead. Such were their relative positions one day at dusk, coming up Pine Hollow Hill from New Cambridge, about three miles from home, when he stepped up the steep bank, bade them good evening, and disappeared in the woods. Being well acquainted with the region thereabout, he reached home and lay on a flat rock within hearing of the colloquy that took place between the pursuers, who arrived later, and Mrs. Graves who affirmed that he was not at home but had been absent some weeks at Saybrook. At another time, he escaped capture by climbing a pine tree.
He had an unusual disposition. He was non-combative and peaceful, but almost devoid of fear. He used to tell his children that he had never been alarmed but twice and then when he was a small boy. Once he had climbed a tree to rob a woodpecker's nest, and, putting his hand into the hole, a black snake had thrust its head out. The next instant he found himself on the ground. He was an honorable man and leader, and before his death had held office as selectman of Harwinton and was looked upon as a respected citizen despite his reputation as a Tory. A grandson, Carlos Welton of Thomaston, according to family tradition, strongly resembles him in personal appearance and in temperament.
The wife of Graves was a resourceful woman. She was Ruth Jerome of Chippeny Hill and as a bride of eighteen came to live in the house in the woods. She was a timid woman, of whom her daughter is recorded as saying that she used to tremble with fear when she heard at night the "ooah! ooah!" of the bears in the neighboring wood. He who fishes on the Old Marsh now after dark knows how lonely the Ledges are; but in those days there were loons in the Marsh, and a forest covered the hills.
One day Mrs. Graves, who had just blown her warning conch shell, was surprised by the entrance of Captain Wilson just as she was stooping to hide the shell between the straw bed and the feather bed. With quick wit she took something from under the bed, hid it under her apron, and walked out of doors. The Captain, supposing she was going out to hide the shell which he was quite anxious to capture, closely followed. When he was well outside, she suddenly turned and threw the contents of the vessel in his face. Thus roughly assaulted, the Captain in his wrath threatened the life of Mrs. Graves' young girl companion, with a pistol at her head, until she showed where the conch was concealed. Many years afterwards, when Mrs. Graves heard of Captain Wilson's death, she exclaimed: "I'm glad on't." Her husband reminded her of the Christian duty of forgiveness. She replied that she could not forgive him, for he had not brought back her conch shell that he had stolen.
Stephen Graves could afford to own only one cow, so he was forced to borrow a second from a neighbor. As the Sons were in the act of driving off Graves' animal, Ruth appeared and warned them not to take what was simply a loan. The Sons therefore thought they had made a mistake and were taking the wrong property, so they returned the Graves' cow to her stable and drove off the other. As soon as the sun set, the Graves' household drove their cow down to Chippeny Hill and had it butchered rather than have it fall into the hands of the Sons. What the owner of the pilfered bovine said is not recorded.
This young girl was surely a helpmeet to the good-man Graves. And I venture that she had ideas of her own, even if the ooah! of the bears in the neighboring wood did frighten her. Her aged father, Zerubbabel Jerome and a brother shouldered their guns and marched to the aid of Boston. Another brother fought the British in New York, and one who lived in Wyoming died fighting for Washington in New Jersey. Two of her brothers were loyalists like herself and were not afraid to say so. Captain Wilson found her a typical Jerome. What a striking figure she must have made that day when she turned about in the back yard and soused the Captain! A poor log cabin, one cow, and the simple life of an old time farm! I wish I could have seen the wrathy Captain and the drippings from his aged locks. No wonder that his eyes snapped at the laughing woman. But when he was gone and the excitement was over, there was nothing for her to do but to throw herself down on the bed where her precious shell had been kept. She had not realized how much the shell had meant to her, until she could feel it no longer in its place. How well she remembered when she first put her lips to it and could not blow it. And how proud she was when after trying again and again for the first time the sound came forth and her husband praised her for it. She could hear it now, resounding through the air, she could see the birds among the trees scatter at the noise, and the cows, feeding over on the hill, raise their heads. She wondered where her friends, who always listened for it, were then. She always heard, whenever the women gathered together, how this one stopped the loom to listen, and how that one was picking berries miles away. Then she was proud to blow until her face was red, standing right there where she had faced the Captain. Now she could blow it no more. She hated the Captain,--old meeting house deacon! Poor girl, how could she know that the rebellion was sacred!