Bidwell Lore – Timothy Woodbridge

Welcome to week 45 of Bidwell Lore! This week we turn to the story of Timothy Woodbridge, schoolmaster of the Mohican Mission in Stockbridge and friend to the Mohicans in their struggles with the English.

Timothy Woodbridge (1709-1774) School Master of the Mohican Mission in Stockbridge

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.” [1]

As we have discussed in previous issues of Bidwell Lore, in May of 1737 the Province of the Massachusetts Bay issued a Royal Charter creating Indian Town with a size of six miles square or 36 square miles or 23,040 acres. The charter appointed the Rev. John Sergeant as minister, Timothy Woodbridge as schoolmaster, with four other English families assigned the task of providing a good Christian example for the Mohican people. The stated intent was to gather the Mohicans in the area into one location under the influence of a Christian Missionary mirroring the Praying Towns of eastern Massachusetts created by the Rev. John Eliot in the 1600s. Each of the six English participants was given 1/60 of Indian Town or 384 acres. At Rev. Sergeant’s death in 1749 he still had not taken all of the 384 acres allotted to him, and the 17 acres that were a part of his death inventory would go to help pay off his considerable debt. Sadly, all the other five far exceeded their allotment, some of it taken legally, sometimes fairly, and many more acres were dispossessed by a variety of schemes. Timothy Woodbridge, for the most part, acquired land beyond his 384 acres, with the blessing of the Mohican proprietors, including a mile square in what is now the village of Interlaken. Woodbridge stated to the investigating committee led by Colonel Oliver Partridge, father of Dr. Oliver Partridge, that some of the Indians had “importuned” him to buy the tract so that they could have money to build English-style houses. The General Court allowed Woodbridge to keep the land despite the province law preventing Indians from selling land without prior permission from the General Court.[2]
For the purpose of Bidwell Lore articles, the limbs of the Bidwell family tree are heavily laden with somewhat distant “cousins.” However, Timothy Woodbridge is worth the time spent as he consistently supported the Stockbridge Mohicans in all of their struggles with the English colonists, in particular the Williams Family, including Captain Ephraim Williams, Sr., and Colonel Ephraim Williams, Jr. Elijah Williams, Ephraim Williams, Sr.’s youngest son, likely exceeded his father and stepbrother in his poor treatment of the Mohican community as well as a usurper of large plots of Mohican land. An incident involving the Indian school was the center of a tug-of-war between the Williams family and those supporting Jonathan Edwards. Timothy Woodbridge sided with Edwards. By February of 1753, the Mohawks who had been living at Indiantown, complaining of poor treatment, bad food, and being used as farmhands while not receiving any education, started to leave town. Mohawk Chief Hendrick directed them all to leave by the spring of 1754. The Wechquadnach [3] Mohicans decided against moving to Stockbridge and joined with the Moravian community at Gnadenhutten. [4] A young Iroquois student was hit on the head with a cane by one of the Williams group causing further disruption. Arson destroyed the schoolhouse and so ended the Indian boarding school in Stockbridge. The Williams family was suspected of setting the fire.

“Complicating the Williamses’ strategy during this period [5] was the declining physical and mental health of Ephraim Williams, Sr. [6] As the story goes, one fall morning in 1752 he arose at daybreak and with cash in hand awakened several English residents, and then hotly pressed them to sell him their farms, offering high prices but insisting the deals be completed immediately. Unsuccessful in this endeavor, he then roamed for a month throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, at one point imagining that he had been appointed to negotiate Indian affairs in New Haven.” [7]
You are likely already familiar with the legacy of Colonel Ephraim Williams, Jr. In 1746 Colonel Williams moved his headquarters to Fort Massachusetts, but was absent on August 19th, when 950 French and Indians attacked the 22-man garrison. The fort eventually surrendered and was put to the torch. The soldiers and their families were forcibly marched to Quebec. In March of 1748, following the reconstruction of Fort Massachusetts, Ephraim Jr. again takes command of the garrison. On May 5th Ephraim made his first will, which includes £3 annually for the instruction of the Stockbridge Indians in “Christian knowledge.” Williams wrote a second will shortly before heading to Fort Edward in New York State, with the knowledge that the Indian School in Stockbridge had been burned to the ground, he designated money for a free school, which later became Williams College.

“By August, Ephraim Jr.’s regiment has marched north to the “Great Carrying Place” on the upper Hudson, later called Fort Edward, and thence to a camp on the shores of Lake George. On September 8th, Ephraim Jr. in command of 1,000 soldiers, and Mohawk sachem “King Hendrick” Theyanoguin leading 150 Indians, are sent back to Fort Edward to assist the troops there in protecting the supply base from the French who have been sighted in the area. On the road, the company is ambushed by 2000 French and Indians; Ephraim Jr. and Theyanoguin are both killed.” [8]  

View Near Stockbridge, Painting, Frederic Church
Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), View Near Stockbridge, 1847. Collection of Richard and Jane Manoogian.
Courtesy of

Now back to our subject of this article, Timothy Woodbridge. Timothy’s father, John Woodbridge, was born in 1678 and settled as the first pastor in West Springfield in 1698. He married Jemima Eliot on November 14, 1699. John Woodbridge died June 10, 1718. Jemima Woodbridge then spent some of her last years in Stockbridge with her sons, Joseph and Timothy.

Jemima Eliot Woodbridge was the granddaughter of John Eliot (1604-1690), the “Indian Apostle.” According to Electa Jones, “Mr. Eliot established about twenty towns of ‘Praying Indians’’, [9] fourteen of them of such distinction as to attract attention, framed for them a code of laws, formed churches, taught them the arts of civilized life, and translated for them the Holy Scriptures.” [10]

The above-mentioned John Eliot married Ann Mountfort in 1632. Their third son, Joseph Eliot, the father of Jemima Eliot Woodbridge, was born December 20, 1638. Electa Jones provides us with the family pedigree: “Joseph Eliot was graduated in 1658, and after preaching for a time in Northampton, was settled in Guilford, Connecticut, 1664, and married, first, Sarah, daughter of Governor William Brenton of Rhode Island. She died in Newport, in 1674, and Mr. Eliot, married second, Mary daughter of Hon. Samuel Wyllys of Hartford and his wife Ruth Haynes. He is spoken of in a history as ‘That burning and shining light,’ but his successful ministry was closed by his death, May 24, 1694.”

Timothy Woodbridge was born February 27, 1709, the fifth of seven children of the Rev. John and Jemima Woodbridge. There were at least five Rev. John Woodbridges going back to when the family was in England. It seems likely that Timothy may have been asked to be schoolmaster due to his descent from the Praying Town minister John Eliot. Indian Town was constructed, at least in part, on the Praying Town model. In addition, his father was politically connected in the Connecticut River Valley where the decision to hire a schoolmaster would be made.

Timothy was, strictly speaking, the first white inhabitant of missionary Stockbridge. [11] He was also the first deacon in the church, the first magistrate in the town, and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, for which service he received from England a crown a day. He was Judge of his Majesty’s Inferior Court, and after 1761, was Judge of both Probate and Common Pleas. Just before his death, which occurred May 11, 1774, he was chosen as a member of the Governor’s Council by mandamus from the King, but declined the office. [12] Mr. Woodbridge built his first house a short distance to the east of the house of Mr. Stephen Jones; [13] but he afterward built on a site later occupied by Mister Samuel Goodrich. [14] He was married in 1736 to Miss Abigail Day of West Springfield.  Timothy and Abigail had eight children, seven surviving to adulthood.

Next week we will continue Timothy Woodbridge’s story and share how he helped the Mohicans petition Provincial Government because of an illegal town meeting.

[1] Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

[2] The General Court was the provincial legislature, the House of Representatives and Governor’s Council acting with the consent of the Governor.

[3] Sharon, Connecticut.

[4] Pennsylvania.

[5] Abigail Williams Sergeant Dwight and her husband, General Joseph Dwight, had been trying to take over the Indian School and earlier trying to prevent Jonathan Edwards from coming to Stockbridge.

[6] He died in 1754. Descendant John Sedgwick wrote a book: In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness & Desire in an American Family (Harper Collins: 2008).

[7] Patrick Frazier, The Mohicans of Stockbridge (University of Nebraska Press: 1992).

[8] Sylvia Kennick Brown, College Archivist, Williams College.

[9] Electa Jones, Stockbridge, Past and Present: Or Records of an Old Mission Station (Samuel Bowles & Co.: 1854).

[10] For a very different version, read Lisa Brooks’ Our Beloved Kin: A History of King Philip’s War (Yale Press: 2018).

[11] Writing an English history would mean leaving out Dutch settlers. Some argue that the Dutch had “truck houses” but no permanent residence. The Van Shaack family from Kinderhook may have lived in Stockbridge as did Jehoiakim Van Volkenburgh, whose house sat at 1 Ice Glen Road. Truck house was a 17th-18th century term for the locale where Indian trade goods were housed for storage and sale. It derives from the term “truck” – literally meaning to trade in material goods. “Trucking cloth” was a coarse variety of cloth (often linsey-woolsey of duffel) preferred by the Indians and produced in quantity for trade. The term trading post typically applies to the late 19th century western context. “The Massachusetts Bay Truck House in Diplomacy with the Indians,” New England Quarterly 11 (March 1938): 48-65.

[12] In the English caste system in America, the highest rank one could attain was esquire. Woodbridge acquired that not long after arriving in Stockbridge.

[13] Southeast corner of Vine and Pine Street intersection.

[14] 19 Goodrich Street.