38. Closing Years at Palmer

When Barnard McNitt served with a committee in 1761 that engaged Palmer's last Presbyterian minister he completed his final service of that nature.  The veteran adjuster of community difficulties, though past sixty, still had his old vim for public affairs as well as for his private concerns.  We have evidence of his part in a town meeting held on June 7, 1762 in the rough minutes he made in his angular scrawl on a single sheet of paper, for copying in revised form into the permanent records.

The meeting was typical of all those held throughout the period, though it was a fairly important one because it authorized the building of the first schoolhouse at the Old Center, and voted L50 for repairing the meeting house.  The prudent thrift of the "freeholders and inhabitants" is manifest in every move they made.  Barnard was thrifty with words, though that is true with anyone who makes notes of a meeting in progress.  His style and spelling should be regarded with tolerance.  He was moderator of the meeting as well as clerk and had no time for niceties.  His text follows:

At a meting of the freehldrs and other Inhabitants Legually Conveaned and assembled at the Publick meeting house on Monday the Seventh Day of June, 1762, at twelve o'clock on sd. Day,

The meting being opened Barnard McNitt was Chosen moderator to Regulate said metting.

2dly, voted that the Committe for Repairing the meetting house shall imploy no man to work att ye inside of the meeting house but those that they think Profitable [ i.e., efficient].

Third artical: Voted that the whol of the price that the pues [pews] was sold for be abeated to the purchasers.  Voted that thear be no pues in the Body of the meeting house, or where the seats should stand.

The 4th artical past in the Negative.

5ly Voted that two shellings per week be Drawn out of the Tresurry by Deacon Seth Shaw and given to Thomas Farrin for his Daughter Janes Suport till further orders.

6ly Voted fifty pounds to be Raised for Repairing the meeting house. [Following words scratched out: and voted a man's Days wages shall he 2s.]

7ly Voted that the Subscribers build a School house at the meeting house on thair one [own] Cost and that they have their porportion of the School money.

8ly Voted that the Committe for Repairing the meting house Shall sell the old Stuff and Glass to the best Advantage and lay out the money in finishing ye meeting house.

BARNARD McNITT, moderator.
(end of page 42)

Barnard McNitt's rough notes of town meeting that voted new schoolhouse in 1762
Barnard McNitt's rough notes of town meeting
that voted new schoolhouse in 1762

Mrs. Marie B. McNitt seated on rock before Palmer schoolhouse voted in 1762
Mrs. Marie B. McNitt seated on rock before Palmer schoolhouse
voted in 1762
Barnard McNitt house as rediscovered in 1917; at right
is 1735 barn
Barnard McNitt house as rediscovered in 1917; at right is 1735 barn

Some of the deliberations so compactly set down in these minutes deserve a little interpretation.  After a year of Mr. Baldwin's term as the new minister, the congregation had decided the meeting house needed overhauling.  Long before, box pews had been built along both sides of the room to be sold to parishioners wishing to pay for evidence of social eminence.  The idea hadn't worked; thrift had conquered whatever faint stirrings of high-toned exclusiveness may have been evident; all but a few preferred the plain benches.  At this town meeting the plan was abandoned, the pews were ordered removed, and money previously collected was ordered abated to the purchasers.  It was voted further that no new pews should be erected in the body of the house, where benches would serve well enough.  When the Congregationalists later took over, they restored box pews, and bought and sold them.

Barnard undoubtedly helped finance and build the little schoolhouse erected at the Old Center at the cost of those who wished it, as four of 'his children were of school age.  Margaret at the time was fifteen, John was thirteen, Andrew twelve, and Jean, eight.  The small building, which remained on the site until a few years ago, was provided with some of the detail that may be seen now in Barnard's 1760 house; in particular, the rope-turned moulding used about his front entrance.  A photograph of the schoolhouse made in 1917, with your author's wife seated on a rock in front, is reproduced in these pages.

Notwithstanding the care to avoid loss or waste, the community still had the will to vote a little money to help with the support of a neighbor's daughter in distress.  We are strongly reminded by the tone and content of the minutes of the acts of kirk sessions in Scotland.

Barnard's land was bounded on the south by the Chicopee River, now the Quabaug.  Just across the river in the Monson district was a tract of seven acres that William Shaw was willing to sell for L7. Barnard fancied the plot, and it was deeded to him on June 8, 1765.

There is reason for believing Barnard gave some help to his son David, who had married a Rutland girl, Martha Patrick.  David bought twenty acres of land in that community for L26:13:4 in December 1758 and sold it in January 1760 for L60:13:4.  On December 11, 1767, Barnard paid Thomas McIntyre L60 for fifty acres in Rutland, Worcester County, "lying on both east and west sides of the road leading from Rutland meeting house to Spencer."  David witnessed the signing of the deed.  Perhaps the farm was bought for his use; if so, the plan didn't work out well, for Barnard sold the tract on January 18, 1771, to Samuel Browning for L73:13:4.  David may have removed to Buckland at this time; his family grew up there.

(end of page 43)

With some of his neighbors Barnard had invested in land in the town of Lyme in New Hampshire Colony; on February 26, 1768, he sold his share to Nathaniel Hews, Jr., of Lyme for L12.  Hews (or Hughes) may have bought the other shares at the same time.

Barnard undoubtedly was meeting some special emergency when on November 9, 1772, he borrowed L60 from John Murray of Rutland, and secured the loan by giving a deed to his farm, and a bond falling due in three years.  He may have been refinancing debt, or helping one of his children.  This borrowing was almost the last of Barnard's transactions.  Within two months and no doubt because of an alarming illness, Barnard on January 2, 1773, sold the homestead of 200 acres to his unmarried son John for L200. John naturally would assume the debt of L60 to John Murray.

Two weeks later, on January 16, Barnard died.  We shall always wonder whether worry over a sharp emergency clouded his final days, for a man in the seventies doesn't often borrow heavily.  All his children were married but two, and the family in the Palmer house now included only the widowed Jean, the son John not yet twenty-four, and eighteen-year-old Jean.

It is evident that efforts were made for a while to keep the homestead and pay off the debt, but John may have found the debt too much for him.  He married Mary Fuller two days before Christmas in 1773, and Jean married Thomas Brown on December 15, 1774.  The shadows were falling on a home from which all the children but John had gone, and Jean could not have liked the prospect of living on in the big house with her memories.

On April 9, 1776, John sold the homestead to his brother Andrew for L200; he signed the deed alone, so Mary already may have died.  Twenty days later Andrew sold the farm to Seth Adams of Wilbraham, formerly of Boston, for L250.  Relinquishing her dower right, Chloe signed the deed with Andrew.  Both brothers named Palmer as their home in the deeds.

We have no way of knowing whether John stayed on at Palmer for a year or two, or went to Murrayfield, where Andrew had begun Revolutionary service the year before at the time of the engagements at Lexington and Concord.  We do know that John bought a farm of 100 acres at Murrayfield, for which he paid L80 to Nathan Wheeler; the deed was dated July 9, 1777.  If Andrew had bought a home there, no deed was recorded to prove it.  Murrayfield long has been known as Rowe; one wishing to visit this spot in the high Berkshires turns off the Mohawk Trail to the road marked for Zoar and climbs six miles to the northward

(end of page 44)

over a paved highway.  Rowe has a remote quaintness.  Beside its steep, winding main street a mountain brook tumbles over rocks on its way to the valley below.

Mrs. Alice V. Truesdell, at present assistant town clerk of Rowe, has discovered old records of town meetings held in Murrayfield in March 1788 that indicate the spot where John's farm was located.  In those days the meeting house was two miles north of the present village of Rowe.  It was voted to build a road two rods wide, starting at the meeting house and curving to the northwest about two and a half to three miles to John McNitt's house, and thence in a northerly direction about a mile or a mile and a half to the present Vermont line.  The nearest Vermont town was Whitingham.  The road eventually was abandoned, and the spot where John once lived is now half a mile from the nearest highway.

It is related of the widowed Jean by her son John's descendants that she lived to be ninety-one, presumably in John's family.

In this story of the dispersal of the family we must remember Alexander and Sarah.  They lived to know ten of their grandchildren at Palmer, including the twins Mary and Adam, born in 1744.  Sarah died later in that year, and Alexander in 1746.  Oliver Perry Allen, a Palmer antiquarian, wrote in 1916 for the Palmer Journal a long historical article about the McNitt homestead and family (see Appendix B), in which he said the graves of Alexander and Sarah were marked with monumental stones.  These stones cannot now be found; they may have been removed in the intervening years.

If no stone remains to mark the spot where their son Barnard lies, a monument to his memory shines like a bright shaft in an unusual passage in the deed by which John transferred the farm to Andrew.  It appears in the description of the property:

". . . . the Home Lot originally granted and laid out to my Honored Father, Barnard McNitt, late of said Palmer, deceased."

When Andrew sold the farm twenty days later to Seth Adams, the reference to the Honored Father was repeated in the new deed.  Notaries and others who draft deeds and make entries in official records are notably without sentiment, and the sons had to ask to get inserted in the deeds the two words of testimonial that convey so much.

Although the homestead had been sold, two parcels of land remained, and details connected with the division of the estate awaited action.  We have no knowledge of how money and personal property may have been divided; all we have is the record of a deed given Andrew by the other heirs on August 9, 1776, by which they conveyed to him for L6 the plot of seven acres south of the river, and another tract of seventeen

(end of page 45)

and a half acres, "laid out to our Father, Mr. Barnard McNitt, decd."

The deed as recorded in Springfield is an enlightening document because it lists in the order of their ages all the living heirs of Barnard McNitt, or at least all who had any claim to rights in the property, or whose places of residence were known.  At the outset the deed names the heirs granting the two parcels to Andrew, the eldest first.  Husbands of daughters appear with their wives.  The list fails to show the names of these sons and daughters whose names appear in the list of births in an earlier chapter:

Joseph McNitt, perhaps living in Nova Scotia.
Elisabeth, presumably died unmarried.
Arthur, possibly then living somewhere in Nova Scotia.
Sarah, living with husband Isaac Farrell somewhere in Nova Scotia.
Adam, probably deceased.
Here are the names listed in order as grantors at the beginning of the deed: Alexander McNitt, James Bolton and Isabel his wife, William McNitt, David McNitt, James McNitt, Josiah Farrell and Mary his wife, Reuben Cooley and Margaret his wife, John McNitt, Thomas Brown and Jean his wife.  All signed the document except William and James; William certainly was in Nova Scotia at the time, and James may have been also; it was not feasible to send the document so far away for signatures in a transaction of more sentimental than material importance.  Isabel Bolton may have been a grand-daughter of Barnard.  On June 15, 1778, Andrew came over from Murrayfield and sold the two parcels of land to Seth Adams, buyer of the homestead, for  L30.

As members of generations moved farther from New England all memory of the first home in America was lost, until its rediscovery in 1917 led to its restoration to family possession in 1922, and its rehabilitation.  For the story of this, see Appendix C. The name of Barnard McNitt now appears on a bronze tablet erected to his memory beside the main entrance to his Palmer house.

While Barnard thought he was building for the long future of his family at Palmer, his sons came to think otherwise.  They may have agreed that the valley amidst the hills, with the brook flowing through the land to the river, was charming; they may have liked watching the summer sun set behind Tamar Hill.  The fireflies over the water and the notes of whippoorwills in the warm summer evenings may have been pleasing.  But the soil was not very productive, and in their valley, frosts often came late in the spring and comparatively early in autumn.  Restless and eager, they pushed westward.

(end of page 46)

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