Mansfield House and Family History: A Chance Discovery

Recently, I came across the following text in the drawer of a cherry Shaker table in the Mansfield House. Undoubtedly, it had been left behind from the days when this home was a public house museum. But its author is not known[1]. The type-written paper is quite old and yellowed. I fancied its discovery as the house itself imparting its history to the new owner. What follows is the complete text (in italics), annotated with a few of my own notes and photographs.

NOTES ON THE MANSFIELD HOUSE AND THE MANSFIELD FAMILY

The Mansfield House was presented to the Rev. Richard Mansfield after his admission to the Holy Order in 1748, by a group of dedicated parishioners. It is the oldest existing Episcopal Glebe House in New England. Here, Rev. Mansfield brought his fifteen year old bride, Anna Hull. The surrounding farm, or Glebe, as it was called, provided most of the food for the family and the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel” paid Rev. Mansfield a small salary.

When the building, which originally stood across the street, was moved to its present location in 1925, the year 1672 was found carved on a chimney post. Research and the building structure seem to indicate a later date. Perhaps the dated post was part of an earlier house.

The plank salt box house has all the original paneling, fireplaces, and beams, but only the north parlor chamber retains the original oak flooring.

The bee hive oven in the rear center of the kitchen fireplace indicates an earlier period. A cupboard built alongside of it leads to the attic, supposedly providing a hiding place for children in case of Indian attacks.

[My note: This cupboard and secret pathway to the attic now serve as a chase for a hot air supply duct to the second floor, so are no longer very useful for escaping attacking Indians]

The secret hiding place cupboard by the kitchen fireplace

 

View up the secret passage

Relatively modern flooring now blocks the pathway through the chimney bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only three items belonged to the Mansfield family: the Bible, its pine Bible box, and the 17th century rocking chair.

As you enter, the front hall lamp is a Paul Revere given by Mrs. Bryant. The front door latch came from the Hyde home on Bowers Hill, Oxford, once the property of John Hull.

Revere Lantern And Latch

The box latch on the front door, and Revere lantern hanging from above

In the parlor on the right, the secretary once belonged to Asa Bassett of Derby. Two chairs were donated by Roswell Freeman (last colored governor of Connecticut) which he inherited from is master Ague Tomlinson.

Other treasures to be seen are a 1710 two drawer blanket chest, a four poster rope bed, an 18th century tavern table, and a very early sampler.

Jewett Street was a cart path and Indian trail and Mrs. Mansfield was often left alone with her children for days at a time (her nearest neighbor was a half mile away), while Rev. Mansfield carried out his parish duties preaching, baptizing, and marrying, for an area of 50 miles on horseback.

The Rev. Richard Mansfield was brought up in the Congressional faith. While at Yale, his interest in the Episcopal church convinced him to enter the Episcopal ministry. His family opposed the idea and even expressed a hope that the ship taking him to England for Holy Orders would sink. He returned safely and began in a small church on Elm Street which is now the spot where he is buried.

[My note: The Old Derby Episcopal Church on Elm Street consisted of a small, one room building. In later times, it was moved across the street and added to the south end of the General David Humphreys House. Today, it serves as the Humphrey's House museum gift shop. The Mansfield family grave marker is claimed to be on the exact spot where the pulpit was situated in the old church. The photo below shows the obelisk and cross marking the Mansfield grave site (exact center of photo), the David Humphreys House on the opposite side of the street, and the Old Derby Church building as the small extension at the south end of the Humphreys House. The subsequent photo shows several of the inscriptions on the grave.]

Mansfield Grave Site

Mansfield grave marker, Humphreys House, and the Old Derby Church

Mansfield Grave Enscriptions

Anna Hull and Richard Mansfield Memoriams

Rev. Mansfield, a well-liked, stately gentleman felt obligated to preach allegiance to the king. In 1775, the Committee of Inspection sent a group of soldiers to arrest him. He fled to Long Island, a stronghold of the British.

Several years later, Rev. Mansfield returned in custody of his son-in-law, Major Elijah Humphreys, to find his wife and baby dead. He resumed his duties with a changed attitude.

Dr. Mansfield was one of ten men who met secretly in Woodbury to select Samuel Seabury as first bishop for the colonies. In 1786, the bishop came to the Derby church. Here, for the first time, he submitted to the clergy of the Diocese of Connecticut the office for Holy Communion, which three years later was accepted by all American Episcopal churches.

Dr. Mansfield served a record seventy-two year rectorship. He lived here until his death in 1820 at age ninety-six.

Postscript

[1] I now suspect the above history was authored by Ansonia historian Mable P. Stivers, whose efforts in the early 1920s were instrumental in saving the Mansfield House from imminent destruction. It’s her particular writing style, and the history also includes paragraphs I’ve subsequently read in other articles authored by her.

Post-Postscript

Since I’d published this article, I’d discovered the Captain Mordecai Prindle House, just a short distance up the road, and its significant historical connection to the Mansfield House. My research was inspired by a comment posted here by Janet Geoghegan, who knew it as the Goldstein House, and inquired whether or not it still existed.

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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5 Responses to Mansfield House and Family History: A Chance Discovery

  1. Simira says:

    I trust your project is going well and you are enjoying your journey. I may be a descendant of one Hagar who “served” the Mansfield family. The good Reverend sold one of her sons to Captain John Wooster, probably to finance his flight to Long Island. Besides cooking, cleaning and keeping the 15 children the Reverend sired, Hagar had a husband and two sons of her own. They likely helped pant & gather the crops. I am not sure that Hagar lived-in, but it is likely. So do you think Mrs. Mansfield was left all alone while her husband was out doing his duty?

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Simira,

      Thanks for adding your account here of your ancestor, Hagar.

      It’s a known fact, though not very much touted by present day New Englanders (in fact, and very unfortunately, mostly kept silent) that African slaves where kept in nearly every household of any degree of means back then.

      So, it’s no surprise to me that Reverend Mansfield held slaves (I’d be surprised if it were claimed he hadn’t any). But I personally have not yet come across any solid account of them, until you posted this comment.

      If you have additional genealogical information on your ancestors you wouldn’t mind sharing, I’d love to offer you an opportunity to contribute as much as you’d like here on this blog. Just let me know….

      Thanks again for your comment and insights into the past.

      ~John

  2. I have a description and some historical notes written by Mabel P. Stivers concerning what was known as the “Goldstein House” on Jewitt Street in Ansonia not far from the Mansfield house. Dr. Frederick c. Goldstein was my husband’s maternal grandfather. I have an early photo of the house and am interested in knowing if it still stands.
    Thank you for any information you might have……Janet Geoghegan

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Janet,

      Thanks very much asking. I’m not familiar with the Goldstein House, but I know one or two people who most likely can answer your question. Let me give them a call and find out, and then I’ll email you back.

      Regards,
      John

  3. John Poole says:

    That table isn’t mine. It belong to the DHS. Although I might ask if they want to keep it or would consider selling it. It’s actually a nice piece.

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