Bidwell Lore – Widow Bingham’s Tavern, Part I

Welcome to week 90 of Bidwell Lore! This week we begin a new multi-week series titled Widow Bingham’s Tavern that should contain a few names familiar to long-time readers of Bidwell Lore.

Widow Bingham’s Tavern
by Rick Wilcox

But all is calm in the eternal sleep
Here Grief forgets to groan and Loves to Weep.
Ev’n Superstition loses every fear,
For God, not man, absolves our frailties here. [1]

To begin the story of “Widow Bingham,” let’s briefly look at a dramatic incident early in her life. From “His Majesty’s Court of General Sessions of the Peace begun and held at Great Barrington within & for the County of Berkshire on the first Tuesday of September being the third Day of the same month Annoque Domini 1765” (Page 61)

Ann Dix of Tyringham Single Woman comes into Court and confesses that on the eighth Day of September Anno Dom 1764 she committed the Crime of Fornication within the Body of the County of the County [2] of Berkshire & the Court having considered her offense order that she pay as a fine to be dispensed according to Law the Sum of Thirteen Shillings and four pence that she pay Costs & Fees taxed at L0:9:0 standing committed till this Sentence is performed.

One of the Jurors was a man named James Dix, apparently not related to Anna, but in any event not a possible conflict as Anna waived a trial by jury and plea before the Justices. Of the six justices, William Williams and Timothy Woodbridge were Bidwell “cousins.”

Anna Dix was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, on August 3rd, 1745. James and Sarah Dix had ten children and Ann was the second child. James Dix operated a store in Watertown. As the story unfolds, it will become apparent that Anna was given an education above the norm for a woman in the 18th century. One example, later in her life, was a choice of poetry for her second husband’s gravestone and, of course, owning and operating an inn.

By 1763, her father, having sold his store in Watertown, moved his family to Tyringham. In 1764, his wife died giving birth to a new baby sister for Anna named Lydia. In the spring of 1765, Anna gave birth to a son. The court record indicates she did not reveal the name of the father. However, on November 14th, 1765, at the Congregational Church in Tyringham, she married Thomas Orton, Jr., the son of a local deacon. Anna’s son was given the name James Orton.

Image of a green hillside covered with wildflowers and trees in Tyringham, Massachusetts
Tyringham today

Anna divorced Thomas Orton, possibly by 1771, and then moved to Great Barrington, taking her son and one of her sisters. While in Great Barrington she met Silas Bingham, who was thirteen years her senior. Bingham was a successful businessman from a prominent family in Salisbury, Connecticut. (Bingham was a nephew of the Rev. Eleazer Wheelock, founder of Dartmouth College.) [3]

During the Revolutionary War, the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Oneida people, brought his family to Stockbridge. Kirkland’s wife Jerusha was Silas’ cousin and Wheelock’s niece. She died during childbirth and was buried near Silas in the Old Section of the Stockbridge Town Cemetery.

As you may remember from previous Bidwell Lore, Indian Town (today’s Stockbridge) was created on May 7, 1737, by a Royal Charter and was a township six miles square or 36 square miles or 23,040 acres. In 1739, the Town of Stockbridge was incorporated and retained the same dimensions, which made up present-day Stockbridge and West Stockbridge. In 1774, West Stockbridge became a separate township.

In 1750 the colonial government in Boston attempted to stem the tide of the dispossession of Mohican land in Stockbridge by creating an Indian Proprietorship, which gave the tribe control over the distribution of land. In June of that year, the Mohican proprietors began to survey and grant property to members of the tribe. The first survey created Main Street lots and they were largely granted to the more important members of the tribe. The size of each lot was a further indication of that person’s standing.
Silas and Anna purchased two lots from the Stockbridge Mohicans; both were home lots, one six acres and the other slightly more than five acres. As it happened, both Mohican owners were important tribal sachems. The colonial government, when setting up Proprietorships, would allow individual proprietors to own more than one parcel of land, the stipulation being that one of those lots had to be a home lot. A home lot had to be improved within a certain time period. A house of minimum dimensions set by the colonial government, land cleared for crops or English grass, and the proprietor was required to live on that lot.
 Abraham Nimham of Stockbridge in the County of Berkshire and State of Massachusetts Bay Indian Hunter In consideration of the just sum of 12 pounds Lawful Money in hand paid before the Delivery hereof by Silas Bingham of the Town County and State aforesaid Yeoman, the Receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge, have given, granted, bargained and sold and do by these presents give, grant, bargain, sell, aliene and fully, freely and Absolutely convey and confirm unto him the said Silas his heirs and assigns forever, One Certain tract or parcel of land lying in Stockbridge aforesaid and is bounded as follows (viz.) Northwardly on Land belonging to Daniel Wauwaupeeqweaut, and Westerly on Land belonging to Asa Bement, Southwardly on Land belonging to Waumpnankusquoh, Easterly on the Highway that leads from the Meeting House to Asa Bement’s, by estimation containing six acres be the same more or less., and is the lot of Land that the said Abraham and his father now live upon. [4]
Abraham Nimham sold the property to the Binghams on April 23, 1778. On August 31, 1778, he and his father Daniel Nimham were both killed at the Battle of Kingsbridge in the Bronx. For safety, Daniel Nimham had moved about 200 Wappingers to Stockbridge in 1756 during the French and Indian War. The Wappingers, stating there was little difference in language and custom, had merged with the Mohican tribe around 1700.

Next week we will continue Anna Bingham’s story and explain about some of the land that changed hands in Stockbridge in the 18th century.

[1] Anna Bingham’s epitaph for Silas Bingham’s tombstone, from Alexander Pope’s love song, “Elosia to Abelard.” Anna may have published poetry under the nom de plume “Philo Sappho.”
[2] Not my error: that is how it was written.
[3] One should be kept in mind that Wheelock ended up taking money raised by Samson Occcom for an Indian School and created a college for non-Indians.
[4] Area of five North Church Street in Stockbridge.