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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Rattlesnakes, Norwich, and Simon Huntington IV

It's been over a month since my last post. The pandemic has definitely stifled my writing impulses due to loss of routine, everyone at home, golf, and the effects of humidity on my brain. I thought I would venture out into a random easy story to report on: a rattlesnake attack, on a young man, in the summer of 1707 in Norwichtown.

Famous early New England symbol of fierceness: the rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes were a major problem in early Connecticut. The beautiful hilly and rocky landscape, makes it a prime habitat for these poisonous creatures. No wonder every state in New England has roads, mountains, ledges, and hills named after the famous American snake.

Towns, such as Norwich, had snake bounties. In a list of town debts from Dec. 30, 1718, Thomas Leffingwell, Jr., John Tracy, Jabez Hide, and Thomas Bingham all received payment for killing snakes. The bounty system worked so well that sometimes a town like Norwich could get into financial trouble. Even poor widows would hunt for rattlers. It is no surprise that by the 20th century, the Eastern rattlesnake was endangered.

Today, every once in a while, this protected species turns up in someone's backyard or garbage can (as one did in August 2019 in Glastonbury) in Connecticut.

Glastonbury garbage can. Hello there!

Flashback to July 29, 1707. Simon Huntington the IV (1686-1707) was mowing his father Simon's field of hay in the area called "The Plains." Imagine the horror he felt when he stepped on a freakin' Eastern Rattlesnake who proceeded to bite him. Ouch!

According to local accounts of the time, "The weather was hot, the blood of the youth inflamed with exercise, and the poison exhibited its deadly power almost instantaneously. His body became swollen, his flesh turned purple and he died in a few hours." Soon after this horrible event, he was one of the first people buried in the new grave yard called the "Society Burying Ground." His grandparents, Deacon Simon and Sarah Clarke Huntington, had also been laid to rest in the brand new cemetery scarcely a year earlier.

William Preston Phelps: "Haying in New England"

Simon IV was the eldest son of Simon III (1659-1736) and Lydia Gager Huntington (1663-1737). He was elder brother to Sarah Huntington Lathrop (1687-1730), Ebenezer (1692-1768) and Joshua Huntington (1698-1745). How would his early death impact the family dynamic and inheritances? This is something I will be exploring as my study of this family moves along. We do know that Joshua, later known around town as "The Captain," would leave a hefty estate to his eldest son Jabez who, in turn, would grow the wealth during the merchant boom decades of the 1750s and 60s only to give much of it away to the Patriot cause in the 1770s and 1780s.

Source: Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of Norwich Connecticut, New London, CT: New London County Historical Society, 2009. (Originally published in 1866).

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