Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Treehouse guest discovers his roots in an old millstone

In spring 1794, a group of men set their shoulders to clearing land in what is now Lincoln, Vermont. The footpath they blazed into the forest eventually became a road named for the Quakers who came to settle with ox carts holding all their belongings. They were young, strong, and healthy. Once they pried rocks from the fields, they found the soil rich enough to support their crops.
A year later, nearly one hundred residents, mostly from New York and Connecticut, scattered over 24,000 acres of wilderness, most living in tiny one-room cabins made from logs they hewed by hand from trees they had cut on their property. They cooked meals in stick-and-mud fireplaces, spun wool from their sheep, wove fabrics to make their own clothing, and cobbled shoes for their families. They hunted game in the forests and guarded their livestock from wolves that prowled the land. When the crops failed and game was sparse, they went hungry.
Quaker services were held in homes until they built a meetinghouse in 1801. Two years later, Chase Purinton brought his wife and eight children to Lincoln from New Hampshire. He had shod his six cows and four oxen, as well as the two horses, in preparation for the rocky journey. When he arrived, Chase bought land on Quaker Street that held a cabin built earlier by another settler, and immediately he set up a blacksmith shop. His ironwork filled a desperate need for settlers wanting to plow and clear with horses and oxen. Nearby Beaver Meadow Brook flows into the New Haven River, and Chase siphoned water from the brook to operate a gristmill for grinding local grain into flour. He and his services were welcomed by his neighbors.
            This past weekend, Treehouse guest Alli surprised her boyfriend Tyler Purinton with a night high in the trees to celebrate his 23rd birthday. We were surprised and pleased to learn that Tyler is a ninth generation descendant of Lincoln’s own Chase Purinton. Tyler was surprised and pleased to learn that Chase Purinton was one of our town’s early settlers.
He pronounces his last name “Purr-ing-ton.” 
“That’s the way it’s always been,” he said. 
Tyler is handsome with dark hair and friendly brown eyes that gleam with trust and honesty. He and Alli recently graduated from the University of Vermont, where they met. With his degree in political science, Tyler works for the Vermont state government in Montpelier. Alli works with children with special needs in New York State and was visiting Tyler for the weekend.
            Half a mile from the Treehouse up Quaker Street is a millstone that stands as a monument to the Purinton homestead. The round stone etched with the words, “Chase Purinton settled here in 1803” was set by Purinton’s descendants one hundred years after he became a Lincoln resident. Behind the monument, Mount Abraham rises like a sentinel.
             Tyler was raised in Starksboro, a town just to the north of Lincoln, but he had no idea that his ancestor had lived nearby. When we told him about the millstone and Purinton Road just beyond it, he wanted to have a look.
            The skies were threatening rain, but he and Allie hiked up Quaker Street, past the fields where one autumn I saw four moose hanging out, and past the former town clerk’s farmhouse with her ponies grazing in the pasture. Beyond the clerk’s fence, the Purinton landmark sits several yards back from the road. Chase Purinton’s cabin is long gone, but when the snow has melted, someone mows the grass and plants flowers around the millstone.
            When Tyler and Alli returned from their pilgrimage, I asked him how he felt standing in front of the memorial site.
            “It was almost spooky,” he said. “I felt as if I had come full circle.”
            On Sunday, as if to leave his mark on the territory, he and Alli climbed Mount Abe. The mountain is the fourth highest in the state and no easy hike. The day was damp and cloudy, but their spirits were sunny. When they arrived back at the Treehouse, they bubbled with enthusiasm.
“It seemed like we were on the edge of the world,” Tyler said.
As they were leaving, Alli promised they’d be back for another night in the Treehouse and another climb up the mountain. I believe our little town had cast its spell over them as it did the early Quaker Street settlers. The Irish poet John Guthrie felt the spell, too, when he visited Lincoln 1950s and wrote:
                        “There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet
                        as that valley in Lincoln where the cold waters meet.”