history about John Griffin, his pitch and tar works and his exploits
in mid-1600s Bloomfield, East Granby, Windsor and Simsbury:
Information courtesy of:
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John was born about 1608/1609 in Pembrokshire, Wales, the son of
John GRIFFIN and Ann LANDFORD, and married 13 May 1647, in Simsbury,
Hartford, Connecticut, Anna BANCROFT the daughter of John BANCROFT
and Jane. She was born about 1627 in Swarkston, Derbyshire, England
and died in Windsor, Hartford, Connecticut. John died August 1681 in
Simsbury Soldiers in the War of the Revolution
Two brothers emigrated to America, Edward and John GRIFFIN, sons
of John and Ann (LANGFORD) GRIFFIN.
John GRIFFIN engaged in business in 1643, with Michael HUMPHREY,
in making pitch and tar in Windsor, Connecticut (eventually moving
into and beyond what is now the Griffin Brook/North Bloomfield area,
in search of additional virgin pine forest for his raw materials).
In 1663 the General Court of Connecticut issued a Grant to John
GRIFFIN "John GRIFFIN haueing made appeare to this Court that he was
the first (to perfect) the Art of making pitch and tarre in these parts
doe Order that the said GRIFFING shall have Two Hundred Acres of
land between Masscoh (Simsbury) and Warranoake, whereof there may be
forty acres of meadow, it is to be had, and be not prejudiciall to a
plantation, and not formorly granted." John GRIFFIN took up
residence in Massaco in 1664. Then, in 1648, he is given land at
Massaco (Simsbury) because Indians set fire to his tar works in
Windsor, thus, he moved on to the Simsbury area and the land granted
He was made a Freeman in 1669 and in 1672 he released to the
propriotors of Massaco (Simsbury) a grant of land, subsequently
known as "GRIFFIN's Lordship." In 1673 he was appointed to command a
traine hand in Simsbury and also represented Simsbury at General
Court in October 1670, May 1671, October 1673, and May 1674.
John married Anne BANCROFT (BANCRAFT).
EAST GRANBY the evolution of a Connecticut town
About ten years after the founding of Windsor, John GRIFFIN began
harvesting the local forests. He and his business associate, Michael
HUMPHREY, cut down pine trees in a swath along the Farmington River.
They progressed from Windsor, where they lived, through what was to
become North Bloomfield and the
Tariffville section of Simsbury. In this search for pine, John
GRIFFIN crossed the river at "The Falls"1
and established his place in the history of East Granby. GRIFFIN was
the first European to settle within what are now the town's
In 1662 after John GRIFFIN had been working at making tar almost
twenty years, the governor of Connecticut, John WINTHROP Jr.,
delivered a paper on the subject to the Royal Society in London. He
stated that in all New England "most tar is made about Connecticut
above 50 miles up the River, where there be great plains of those
pines on both sides (of) the river something up into the land from
WINTHROP was under the impression that most of the tar made at
this time was from pineknots found on the floor of the pine barrens.
These knots were resin-rich limb joints, all that remained of trees
that had fallen years before: whole trees were cut down only for
candle wood, resinous splints used as substitutes for candles, he
says. At this time according to WINTHROP, colonial tar makers were
trying to develop a method for extracting resinous sap from living
trees by girdling them, slashing the trunk so that the sap would
ooze out. They would like to know if anyone from Norway, Sweden, or
elsewhere had found a way to do this successfully, he stated.
Winthrop gave a description of the process then in use to
manufacture tar from pine knots: After bringing several cartloads to
a convenient spot, the tar maker would construct a raised hearth
from stones gathered in the vicinity and paved with clay or loam. He
sloped the hearth to the middle and ran a gutter from the middle out
one side. This was to channel the hot tar into a vessel placed
beside the hearth.
Then the tar maker piled the knots on the hearth in the same
manner used by charcoal makers and completed the kiln by covering
the heap with a coating of clay or loam. He left a hole at the top
through which he introduced fire and allowed smoke to escape. He
also opened or closed at will smaller holes in the sides of the
earthen kiln to regulate the amount of oxygen that got to the fire.
As the knots slowly burned, their sap, transformed into tar, dripped
down to the hearth and out to the waiting pot.
Pitch, WINTHROP says, was made from tar in three ways. Tar could
be boiled down into pitch, or second, tar could be boiled with rosin
added to reduce the boiling time needed. Pitch made this way
differed somewhat in quality from the first, he says. Thirdly, a pot of
tar could be set afire and allowed to burn until it was the
consistency of pitch. Colonial ship carpenters generally employed
this method, he says. The English navy and merchant marine, as well
as colonial shipbuilders, used tar and pitch to waterproof and
preserve ships' hulls and lines.
Some time after this paper was written the colonials began to cut
down the yellow "pitch" pines and manufacture tar from the whole
tree. No one knows exactly what methods John GRIFFIN used in his
manufacturing, but according to the text of a grant of land made to
him by the General Assembly in 1663, John GRIFFIN "was the first [to
perfect] the art of making pitch
and tar in these parts.
GRIFFIN tended his outlying tar works for a number of years from
his home, known as " the old Stiles place," in Windsor. He had come
to Windsor a man in his thirties, during the first decade of the
town's existence. There he married Anna BANCROFT on May 13th,
1647. Six or seven of their ten children were born while they lived
GRIFFIN moved his family to territory now in East Granby about
1664. He moved, most likely, as a natural step in the pursuit of his
pitch and tar business - his "commute" from Windsor to his tar works
probably becoming too wearing as he went farther and farther afield
for new stands of pine.
The prevailing tradition holds that GRIFFIN built his house on
the western slope of a hill that lies north of Holcomb Street almost
across from the entrance to Heather Hollow. This elevation has been
called Welsh Hill from the 1700s. According to the GRIFFIN
genealogy, John GRIFFIN was a Welshman and the hill, which in his
day rose out of a sweep of pine forest, might have been named for
Perhaps, too, GRIFFIN felt it was at last relatively safe to
bring his family to this distant outpost. Other windsor residents
were beginning to build a new community on the fertile flood plains
along both sides of the Farmington River in the Massaco Indian
lands. They were thus beginning the settlement forming the eventual
center of Simsbury. Some were grown sons of the first Windsor
settlers who were looking for a good place to establish their own
families, since the better farmland in Windsor itself was already
taken. Four of this group of pioneers, including Michael HUMPHREY,
were Anglicans who left Windsor shortly after complaining to the
General Assembly about the strictness of the "ancient" Reverend John
WARHAM, Windsor's Congregational minister.
GRIFFIN himself had a vital interest in the Massaco lands, which
stemmed from an incident many years before. In 1646 John GRIFFIN and
others men from Windsor presented petitions to the commissioners of
the United Colonies of New England (this inter-colony agency was
formed in 1643 to promote solidarity among the English plantations
and to deal with their common enemies--the Dutch, French, and
Indians). The men informed the commission that an Indian had
willfully and maliciously set fire to a quantity of their pitch and
tar, bedding, and a cart loaded with candlewood, tools, and other
articles, causing damage valued at £100. They stated they could
prove that the arsonist was MANAHANNOOSE, a Warranoke Indian.
Connecticut magistrates had issued a warrant for the Indian's
arrest and he had been seized by the English, but rescued by a
company of Indians led by CHICKWALLOP, sachem of the Nonatuck tribe
of Connecticut River Indians based near Northhampton, Massachusetts.
The Indians had "jeered and abused" the Connecticut men and had
spirited MANAHANNOOSE into Massachusetts and out of their
The commissioners sent JOHN GRIFFIN and JONATHAN GILBERT, a
Hartford resident, to ask CHICKWALLOP to deliver MANAHANNOOSE for an
impartial trial with assurance that the Indian would have safe
conduct to and from the New Haven Colony where the commission was
currently in session. The commissioners also instructed GRIFFIN,
GILBERT, and the men accompanying them to use force if that seemed
necessary and prudent to bring in MANAHANNOOSE.
GRIFFIN and GILBERT returned to the commissioners with a
disturbing report. They had not been able to locate either
CHICKWALLOP or MANAHANNOOSE. Furthermore, when they went to
Warranoke, the Sagamores and other Indians there confronted them
fully armed with arrows, hatchets, swords, and cocked guns. The
Indians, however, had offered the Englishmen eight fathom of wampum
and promised more in restitution.
Hearing this the commissioners decided it would set a bad
precedent if the Indians were allowed to rescue and protect the
accused man. They declared that thereafter a colony could send its
forces into another colony to apprehend an Indian suspect. Being
very particular, they also declared that the plaintiff in the case
should pay the cost of the mission. Likewise, because it would be an
expense to a colony to keep a convicted Indian in prison and there
was danger that he might escape and cause more trouble, the Indian,
if found guilty was to be turned over to the plaintiff. As his
punishment, the Indian was to serve as a slave or be shipped to the
West Indies and exchanged for a Negro slave. It was under this
ruling that Indians later captured during King Philip's War
(1675-76) were condemned to slavery, if not executed.
Apparently MANAHANNOOSE was eventually brought to trial. A copy
of a deposition made in court by John GRIFFIN in 1662, and now in
the Simsbury town records, tells the outcome of the case. The court
delivered MANAHANNOOSE to GRIFFIN, but luckily for the old Indian,
three of his friends interceded in his behalf. Since they could not
raise the 500 fathom of wampum set as the price for MANAHANNOOSE's
release, they signed over to GRIFFIN all their holdings in Massaco.
GRIFFIN was not destined to exercise his claim in Massaco. A
colonial law prohibited individuals from making land deals with
Indians. In 1661 GRIFFIN surrendered his claim in Massaco "for the
use and benefit of the plantation of Windsor."
However, stating the purpose to be a reward for his perfection of
the tar-making process, two years later the General Assembly awarded
GRIFFIN a grant of 200 acres in the Falls area. Both Pickerel Cove
and the island within it were part of this grant. After Massaco
became Simsbury, the town granted him additional property running
from Pickerel Cove northward 1½ miles, plus scattered outlying lots.
The greater part of GRIFFIN'S land is now within East Granby, with
some also in Granby. The earliest records refer to GRIFFIN's land as
his "Homestead." Later it became known as "Griffin's Lordship." With
more than a thousand acres, GRIFFIN was by far the largest landowner
in the area.
About twenty households, scattered over a 10 mile stretch along
both sides of the Farmington River, made up the frontier settlement
of Massaco in 1668. That May the Massaco settlers petitioned the
General Assembly to be allowed to form their own ecclesiastical
society. The Assembly answered by ruling at its October session that
Massaco "may be improved for the making of a plantation." It
appointed a committee from its members to oversee the settlement's
progress. The following year the Assembly excused the Massaco
plantation from colonial taxes for three years, probably to induce
more families to settle there.
Also in 1669 the General Assembly appointed John CASE to the
office of constable of Massaco. CASE, one of the first settlers, was
to keep the peace and to serve as a representative from the Assembly
to the plantation. The Massaco Plantation elected two
representatives, Constable John CASE and Joshua HOLCOMB, whom it
sent to the next session of the Assembly. During this session (May
1670) the Assembly incorporated the plantation, granting it the
privileges of a town and recognizing the settlers' choice of the
John GRIFFIN was the first permanent European settler of Massaco
and of the original Town of Simsbury, which then stretched far
beyond the boundaries of that town today (including North
Bloomfield). GRIFFIN obviously never knew that would later also be
acclaimed as the first settler of the Town of East Granby. In fact,
he never knew about the settlement of Turkey Hills, the Forerunner
of today's town, which would encompass most of his property in less
than fifty years after his passing.
Falls" is the name given by the early settlers to the stretch of the
Farmington River between present-day Tariffville and East Granby.
It was a shallow near the Northernmost bend of the river in the
days before the river was dammed. An ancient fording place for the
Indians, it was the only spot for miles where the river could be
crossed with any safety when the river was swollen during the spring
thaws. The settlements on both sides of the river were later called
"The Falls" - a name that is no longer used.
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Farmington River near Tariffville Gorge