Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Tolles Family Visit to Weathersfield, VT

On Saturday, September 11, 2010, Ellen Tolles (b. November 15, 1942, Philadelphia, PA) made a return visit to Weathersfield to look further into her Tolles family roots. She was accompanied by her sister, Katie Tolles (b. May 7, 1949, Philadelphia, PA), Katie’s partner, Savanna Ouelette, and Ellen’s husband, the Rev. Larrimore Crockett. Ellen and Katie’s brother, James (b. November 21, 1944, Philadelphia, PA), who lives in Maine, was unable to be present on this occasion, but hopes to make a visit in the future. These three siblings are the children of Frederick Barnes Tolles (b. April 18, 1915, Nashua, NH; d. April 18, 1975, Wallingford, PA). F. B. Tolles was an eminent historian of colonial Quaker history and Director of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, PA).

Before meeting Edith Hunter (an amazing 90-year-old who is the town historian) at 2:00pm, the party visited the Plain Cemetery, which Ellen and Larrimore had visited on Sept. 3rd (but which Katie had never seen), where Henry Tolles 2nd (1783-1849), and Clark Tolles (1758-1832), Ellen and Katie’s ggg grandfather and gggg grandfather, respectively, are buried, with their wives. The main purpose of today’s visit was to go to the Tolles Cemetery to see the graves of Capt. Henry Tolles [IV] (b. August 2, 1736, New Haven, CT; died May 5, 1810, Weathersfield, VT), and his wife, Hannah Clark, their ggggg grandfather and grandmother.[1] They met Edith a little after 2pm and she led them up Goulden Ridge Road to the entrance point to the Tolles Cemetery.

The Tolles Cemetery is currently on land belonging to the Dale Gurney and Gene Limlaw family, who operate a horse farm there. Accessing the cemetery involves going under a chain onto an old road which the town of Weathersfield “threw up” decades ago, now a lovely grassy lane (an area which in olden times was a broad, open, training ground for the militia, now overgrown), and then going through a gate into a paddock, and then across the paddock to another gate, and finally through a third gate into the cemetery. Edith had made the necessary arrangements for this “trespass” with the owners. There were at least a half-dozen horses curious about this invasion of their turf, and they quickly came and surrounded the party, but they proved to be very friendly horses, and the party regretted not having picked up a few pockets full of apple drops, which they had passed on the old road, to thank the horses for their friendly greeting. Once inside the Tolles Cemetery, Edith took her ease on a convenient rock (this was perhaps her longest walking tour since her hip replacement in March), while the others searched out the headstones. The stones in the nearer end of the cemetery proved to be members of the Dart family (some of whom intermarried with the Tolles), but at the farther end, they found what they were seeking: the graves of Capt. Henry Tolles and his wife Hannah. They were saddened to discover that the headstone has split in half, with the top half now sitting in front of (and obscuring) the bottom half. Perhaps that can be repaired.

Capt. Henry Tolles was one of the earliest settlers of Weathersfield, coming with his large family in 1780. He was an extensive landowner, owning at one time over 1200 acres in Weathersfield, and was also a town leader, holding several town offices and serving on several committees, the most important of which was the one which determined the site of the first meeting house, and built that meeting house, the parsonage and settled the first pastor, the Rev. Dan Foster (all on land deeded the town by Capt. Henry Tolles). Ellen and Katie had had no previous inkling of their connection with this distinguished early citizen of Weathersfield. You can imagine their excitement in finding his grave site and learning about him from the extensive holdings at the Weathersfield Historical Society Library, which was the next stop after the Tolles Cemetery.

At the Library, the party perused the large “Tolles” file, containing, inter alia a detailed narrative about Capt. Henry Tolles written by the meticulous Weathersfield historian, Raymond Beardslee (a resident Congregational minister in the earlier part of the 20th century); looked through (and ultimately purchased) copies of John L. Hurd’s 2 vol. Weathersfield Century One and Two (1978), and E.W. Butterfield’s A Record of Inhabitants (1940/1990); and peppered Edith with many questions, for which she usually had an immediate answer. Larrimore (who has himself authored a 450p. history of the Guilford (VT) Congregational Church), made photographic copies of many pages of the files, and averred that he would like to return and settle into the Library for a few days of browsing, study and research. With the coming of winter, that will probably have to wait until next spring. In gratitude for her gracious assistance, Ellen presented Edith with a copy of Frederick Barnes Tolles’ book Meeting House and Counting House, The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia 1682-1763 (W.W. Norton & Co., 1963). The Tolles party can now look forward to weeks of assimilating all the information about their ancestors which they obtained in this brief but productive visit, and undoubtedly will return to track down new leads and hunt for an old Tolles family cellar hole or two. Many thanks to Edith Hunter and to the Weathersfield Historical Society for their excellent assistance and record-keeping.

[1] The line from Capt. Henry Tolles [IV] to Ellen, Katie and James Tolles is Henry Tolles [IV] to Clark Tolles to Henry Tolles 2nd, to Horace Clark Tolles to Henry Joel Tolles to James Ulysses Tolles to Frederick Barnes Tolles, their father.

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