What’s in a Name?

Ever wonder how Easton got its name? Well, it certainly wasn’t chosen by the inhabitants who lived here in May of 1845 when the Connecticut Legislature finally accepted a petition requesting Weston be split into two separate towns. That petition was presented by twenty-nine Weston residents, all of whom resided in the old Norfield Parish on the western side of town. The folks living in the old North Fairfield Parish on the eastern side of town were perfectly happy with the status quo, and not one of them had signed that petition asking the State of Connecticut to form a new town. But a new town was what they got, and the name attached to the incorporation documents was Easton.

The land that made up the original Fairfield Long Lots was purchased by the town of Fairfield in 1670. It ran from Hull’s Hill Farm Road in today’s Westport north to Cross Highway in what is now the town of Redding. It was bordered on the west by Norwalk and on the east by the Parish of North Stratford. Divided into 100 lots separated in the middle by a strip of land they called the Mile Common, each lot was a full ten miles deep, running south to north. The first surveyed roads were north-south vertical highways. East-west cross-highways would come later, generally between 1725 and 1734, but the topography of the land made any cross-highways extremely difficult to lay out in anything approaching a straight line. Connecticut’s river valleys and ridges generally run north-south creating natural barriers to east-west travel.

The Long Lots were slow to develop. The first parish to be established in the Long Lots was in Redding in 1729. Norfield Parish in today’s Weston was recognized in 1757, and North Fairfield Parish in today’s Easton was the last to be sanctioned by the state legislature in 1762. Redding’s parish became an independent town in 1767. After the other two smaller parishes of Norfield and North Fairfield agreed to join forces in March of 1787, the state legislature determined that combined, they had enough people – approximately 2,400 – and an adequate amount of taxable property to support a single town government. The original town of Weston was formed on October 11, 1787 when the state legislature met in New Haven and heard the petition from the combined parishes to create the new town.

Map of the Long Lots territory that became Weston and Easton including the Mile Common lands. Source: Schenck’s 1905 History of Fairfield Volume II

It was never a perfect match. The two parishes had been essentially separate communities from their inception. They were built around different religious congregations comprised of separate sets of families and led by different pastors. Their marriage had been one of convenience, not one of desire.

The old North Fairfield Parish was generally better suited for farming and had grown faster. The population on that side of town was sometimes double that of the old Norfield Parish to the west. Demographics alone made it easier for the residents on the eastern side of town to politically dominate their neighbors to the west. Geographical limitations on easy travel meant that almost all the town meetings were held in the old North Fairfield Parish. Not only were there more voters located there, but given the difficult access from the Saugatuck Valley, a larger percentage of townspeople from the east ended up attending.

The very first town meeting would portend the difficulties that lie ahead for adequate political representation for the residents of the western side of town. Held on November 14, 1787, Samuel Wakeman Esq. (North Fairfield) was chosen moderator. The town then voted Nathan Wheeler (North Fairfield) as Town Clerk. The Selectmen were Abel Hall (North Fairfield), John Sherwood (North Fairfield), David Coley Jr. (Norfield), Nathan Wheeler (North Fairfield), Samuel Wakeman (North Fairfield), Benjamin Dean (Norfield), and William Prince (North Fairfield). Samuel Wakeman (North Fairfield) was elected Town Treasurer. Seven out of the nine top political positions went to men from the old North Fairfield Parish.

Transcript of the 1844 Petition to the Connecticut State Legislature containing 29 signatures – all from men who resided in what is today the Town of Weston.

Still determined to breakaway, the men from the western side of town tried once more in May of 1845, and that time they met with success when their petition met no formal objections from representatives from the eastern side of town. On May 23, 1845, the Connecticut Legislature accepted their petition and split the town in two. All the land east of the Mile Common’s eastern border would become part of a “new” town to the east, and that new town’s name would be Easton, while the town to the west would keep the name of Weston. The odd reality is that Weston was really the new town in this division, as it was required to meet in June of that year, exactly thirty days after the state approval of the split, to formally approve the conditions of the division and then elect a slate of new town officials before the deal would be considered final. For the so-called new town of Easton, the only real change besides the new name and smaller land area under its jurisdiction would be the loss of one state representative going forward. The town was not required to immediately elect any new town officials because they were already in place. Thus, the state chose not to instruct Easton to conduct its first official town meeting until the first Monday in August of that year. Below is the entire transcript of the enacted bill that split the town of Weston into two separate towns:

23rd May, A.D. 1845:

Upon the petition of Levi Coley and others, of the town of Weston, praying for the incorporation of a new town: Resolved by this Assembly, That all that part of the town of Weston that lies easterly of a line commencing at the intersection of the south line of the town of Redding and the east line of the Mile of Commons, so called, thence following the said east line of Commons southerly until it strikes the Aspetuck river, thence following the center of said river southwesterly, until it strikes the north line of the town of Fairfield, with all the inhabitants belonging and residing within said limits, be and remain a distinct and separate town, by the name of Easton. And the inhabitants aforesaid and their successors forever, residing and belonging within said limits, shall have, retain and enjoy all powers, privileges and immunities of other towns in this state, with the right of sending one representative only to the general assembly of this state. All the rest and residue of said town of Weston shall continue and remain a town by the name of Weston, with all the powers, privileges and immunities now enjoyed by the town of Weston, except that said town is to have the right of sending one representative to the general assembly only. Provided, nevertheless, that this grant shall be void and of no effect, unless the inhabitants of the town of Weston (not including those within said new town of Easton) shall, at a meeting to be legally warned and held at the academy near the Congregational meeting house in said Weston, on or before the fourth Monday of June, A. D. 1845, pass a vote relinquishing all claim to two representatives, and consenting forever hereafter to have but one representative to the general assembly of this state, and cause a copy of such vote, duly certified by their town clerk, to be lodged in the office of the secretary of this state, to be by him recorded and kept on file as evidence of such relinquishment and consent; which meeting shall be warned in the manner herein after provided for the warning of the first meeting of the town of Weston. And said new town shall pay its proportion, according to the list of 1844, of all debts, charges and expenses, suits, petitions and claims already due and accrued, commenced or existing against said town of Weston, or for which said town may hereafter be made liable by force of any claim now existing. And the poor of said town of Weston who were born within the limits hereby incorporated and have not gained a settlement elsewhere in this state than in said town of Weston, or who have gained a settlement in said town of Weston by residence or otherwise within said limits, shall be deemed inhabitants of said town of Easton, and shall be maintained accordingly, whether said poor are now maintained by said Weston or not. And said town of Easton shall be liable to maintain all such poor of said Weston as are or may be absent therefrom; provided such persons at the time of departure belonged to that part of the town of Weston incorporated into the town of Easton. The collectors of state and town taxes in the town of Weston are hereby authorized to collect their respective taxes already laid and their respective rate books not yet perfected may be made out by the same persons and in the same manner as though this resolve had not been passed.

The said new town of Easton shall belong to and constitute a part of the probate district of Weston; and shall also belong to and constitute a part of the tenth senatorial district. The said new town of Easton shall be entitled to six jurors, and the said town of Weston shall be entitled to four jurors.

The first town meeting of said new town of Easton shall be holden at Staples’ academy, in said town, on the first Monday of August, A. D. 1845, and Walker Sherwood (or in case of his failure, Eli Adams) shall be moderator thereof, and shall warn said meeting by setting up a notification of the same on the public sign-posts of said new town, and such other places as either of said persons may deem proper, at least six days before said first meeting. Said town shall have all the powers at said first meeting incident to other towns in this state, and full right to act accordingly; and the officers elected at said first meeting shall hold their offices until others are chosen and sworn in their stead.

The first meeting of the town of Weston (after the passage of this resolve) shall be held at the academy near the congregational meeting house, in said town, on the fourth Monday of June, A. D. 1845, and David Patchen (or in case of his failure, Oliver C. Sanford) shall be moderator thereof, and shall warn said meeting by setting up a notification of the same on the public sign- posts in said town, and such other places as either of said persons may deem proper, at least six days before said first meeting. And said town shall have full right at said meeting to elect officers of said town, who shall hold their offices until others are chosen and sworn in their stead.

Be it further Resolved, That the town deposit fund of the said town of Weston shall belong to and be divided between said towns in proportion to the number of their respective inhabitants. Always provided, that if, after the organization of said town of Easton the selectmen of the aforesaid towns do not agree in the division of the paupers or funds and property belonging to said towns on or before the 15th day of March, A. D. 1846, the selectmen of either town may apply to Alva Gray, of Westport, George Peck, of Fairfield and Levi Edwards, of Monroe, who, or either two of them, are hereby authorized and empowered to divide said paupers and funds and property in manner and form aforesaid; which division shall be final and conclusive; first notifying the selectmen aforesaid of the time and place when the same shall be made.

A bit stunned, the residents of the new Easton had fully expected to retain both the name of the original town and its land records. While the state-selected town names did make geographical sense – Weston and Easton – why wouldn’t the more populous of the two entities, and the one that had not requested the split, retain the original name? The town that had finally been granted its own identity could have easily been named Norfield, or any other of more than a dozen or so monikers that would have been appropriate. Even the petition submitted by the citizens of the old Norfield Parish had suggested, “that the Towns thereby created may be called by such names as said Legislators may direct…” But when those legislators chose to allow the citizens of the old Norfield Parish to retain the Weston name, they also ordered that Easton relinquish the recorded land records to them.

The residents of Easton objected and filed their own petition to be heard during the next legislative session in May of 1846. The petition was presented by Judson Winton and it asked that the state allow Easton to retain both the Weston name and the land records associated with the town. The arguments by both sides were heard and Easton’s request was rejected on June 3rd of that year. Another order was issued by the state to relinquish the town records to its neighbor. So, the name Easton has been with us for the last 175 years, and for no reason other than the state legislature deciding to grant the town’s original name to the residents of the old Norfield Parish, the official birthday of our town changed from 1787 to 1845. So, today, instead of marking our town’s 233rd birthday, we commemorate its 175th.  Either way, that’s a lot of years.

This Early lithograph of the Congregational Church & the Staples Academy was labeled as Weston, after the Norfield and North Fairfield Parishes had merged to become one town between 1787 and 1845 when they were once again divided.

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