Bidwell Lore – Adonijah Bidwell

Welcome to Bidwell Lore! This week we are going to jump right in to the story of Adonijah Bidwell. Those of you familiar with the Museum story know that Revered Bidwell built the house but you may not know what he did before arriving in Western Massachusetts.

Adonijah Bidwell was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1716, and graduated from Yale in 1740. He served for several years as Chaplain of the Connecticut Militia Fleet including the 1745 Louisberg Expedition in Nova Scotia to capture the French fort there. In 1750, he was selected as the first Minister of Township No. 1, serving the pulpit for the next 34 years until his death in 1784.  As first minister, he was given a 40 acre home lot; his first house was along the main road closer to the Meeting House. About 1762 when the Royal Hemlock Road was built, he constructed the main part of the present Bidwell House.

Rev. Bidwell was instrumental in the formation and growth of the township which was incorporated as Tyringham in 1762. By 1765, the town had a population of 325 people, with 55 families in 51 houses. And by 1790, the town population was 1,397 in 140 households. Bidwell baptized 378 people during his tenure here, and the population grew from fewer than 100 people to over 1000.  He sold beef to the army during the Revolutionary War, and his oldest son, Adonijah, Jr, served in the militia.  His younger son, Barnabas Bidwell, was enrolled at Yale. Barnabas was a memorable character and we will spend a couple of weeks delving into  his life.

Transcription of letter from Adonijah Bidwell to son Barnabas, 1782

As minister, Rev. Bidwell was considered to be relatively “well off”, but even for him, hard money was “scarce as hen’s teeth”. For several years during the war, the town declined to pay his salary as minister.

Rev. Bidwell died in 1784 at age 68.  The tax assessment that year listed his property as having: one dwelling house, one barn, 4 acres of tillage, 14 acres of English and upland mowing, 10 acres of pasturage, 8 acres of woodland, 396 acres of un-improved land, 350 acres of un-improvable land, 3 horses and mares three years old or older,  11 “neat” (beef) cattle, 5 (milk) cows, and 12 sheep and goats. He was certainly one of the largest landowners.  The inventory of his estate after his death has been preserved and itemizes all the extensive furnishings of his house and farm.  The interior furnishings of the present Bidwell House were collected to be representative of what was in the house in 1784, based on the inventory.

Next week we will look into the history of the name Bidwell and share a story about Adonijah as Minister.  Until then, be well!

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