by Jim Meehan with Additional Remarks by John Oblak
(From “The Mitchell Medley” and sung to the tune: “Annie Laurie”)
Christopher, Dave and Sir Andrew
Were fathers of our clan;
Andrew was the King’s Scotch Chaplain;
Nathan was a minute man;
David was a Governor;
Many Mitchells died at sea;
Stephen was U. S. Chief Justice;
Mitchells — they were proud to be!
Yale University’s roots begin in 1638 as a dream of the Reverend John Davenport to establish a college for educating the leaders of the New Haven Colony. This vision was realized in 1701 when the charter was granted for a school “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.”
In 1710 the Reverend James Pierpont of New Haven led a meeting of ten ministers to found the school at which each clergyman promised “I give these books for the founding [of] a College in this Colony.” The school’s appointed trustees selected Saybrook as the institute’s initial location – but this proved unpopular and it was moved to New Haven in 1716. Two years later it was named Yale College in honor of Welsh merchant Elihu Yale who donated over 400 books, a portrait of King George I, and goods that were sold for about 562 pounds.
(During this period, a number of Yale students were tutored in Wethersfield under the direction of Elisha Williams. According our website article on Williams by John Willard: ‘As a result of a disagreement among the Trustees of Yale College he tutored a number of students, which he performed “to the great satisfaction of the Trustees and the Advantage of the Scholars.”‘ (It’s also interesting how one of William’s students in Wethersfield, Jonathan Edwards, relates to Mitchell’s family. J.O.)
From March 1777 to June 1778, due to financial issues, classes assembled under tutors in the towns of Farmington, Glastonbury, and Wethersfield.
(There was another important reason. The British were now in control of New York City and Long Island. The British conducted raids across Long Island Sound to pillage, destroy and capture prominent individuals for ransom, prisoner exchanges or political concessions. Sons of Connecticut’s leading citizens attended Yale; and New Haven was vulnerable. Bringing Yale students to the interior of the state moved them out of harm’s way. J.O.)
As the only college in Connecticut, Yale educated the sons of the elite – among them Stephen Mix Mitchell, born in a house at the north end of Broad Street in Wethersfield.
In “Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College : with annals of the college history (1885), Franklin Bowditch Dexter writes , “STEPHEN Mix MITCHELL was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, on December 9, 1743, the only child of James Mitchell, who emigrated in early life from Paisley in Scotland, and settled in Wethersfield, by his second wife, Rebecca, third daughter of the Rev. Stephen Mix (Harvard 1690) and Mary (Stoddard) Mix, of that town. His mother, who was a first cousin of Jonathan Edwards, died in his infancy. He was prepared for college mainly by a Scotchman, named Beveredge, who was a man of learning.”
Mitchell graduated from Yale College in 1766 and immediately began a three-year position there as “Tutor” while he pursued the study of law under the honorable Jared Ingersoll (Yale 1742).
At the completion of his studies in 1769 he married Hannah Grant “A young lady of large fortune” – the daughter of Donald and Arminal (Toucey) Grant of Newtown Connecticut.
The nuptials, which occurred on August 2nd of that year, was commemorated by a humorous poem (“Epithalamion Stephan et Hannae”) written by John Trumbull (Yale 1767). The author later went on to become a noted writer of verses – most of them satirical. “Filled with humorous literary allusions, the poem also included some schoolboy snickering about the wedding bed, which (along with a reference to
Miss Grant’s attractive dowry) reportedly angered the groom.” The complete work appears at the end of this article.
Mitchell was admitted to the bar in Fairfield, Connecticut the following year, and lived in Newtown until 1772 when he returned to Wethersfield with his wife. He had a very successful law practice there for the next seven years, and was thought of as a man of diligence and integrity who “won the confidence of the profession and the community….Being, however, by inheritance and by marriage in easy circumstances he was not obliged to practice for a livelihood, and felt at liberty to indulge his inclination for public life.”, according
to “The history of ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut” by Henry Reed Stiles.
So he began a career of increasingly important elected and appointed positions in the state of Connecticut’s legislative and judicial branches:
Representative in the General Assembly of the State, 1778-84
Associate Judge of the Hartford County Court, 1779-90
Presiding Judge of the Hartford County Court, 1790-93
Superior Court Justice, 1795-1807,
Chief Justice of the State in May, 1807, retiring under the age-limit in 1814
During his years in the judiciary he continued as Representative in the General Assembly (where he served one term as clerk) until his transfer to the upper House of the Legislature in 1784. He was re-elected to that upper chamber (“House of Assistants”) for a total of seven more years (1785, 1787- 92), at which time he was selected to fill the unexpired term of the late Hon. Roger Sherman as United States Senator, serving
from December 1793 to March 1795.
In local Wethersfield politics Mitchell (described as an “energetic young lawyer”) served on the town committee which, on December 12, 1774, approved the Articles of Association that had been recently adopted by the Continental Congress – “especially the article providing for town committees of surveillance over persons suspected of being too friendly to the British government and interests.” He was also appointed Justice of the Peace and Quorum (1782) and chaired a committee to establish “a lengthy series of By-laws and Regulations” for the town’s “Public Fair or Mart” in 1784.
Mitchell was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1783, 1785, and 1787, and was the second last survivor of that original Congress – President James Madison being the last. During that time Mitchell corresponded with Doctor William Samuel Johnson -signer of the United States Constitution, Senator from Connecticut (1789 – 1791) and then President of King’s College (Columbia). Johnson had rejected his election to the First Continental Congress believing that the American Revolution was unnecessary and that independence would be bad for everyone concerned. Here are some excerpts from their correspondence as published in the “Letters of Delegates to Congress,
1774-1789”, edited by Gerard W. Gawalt.
“N York Feby. 21. 1786.
“Nothing of Consequence has occurrd. since your Departure. The Assembly of this State after puzling themselves some Days, about the time they should elect Delegates to serve for, the constitutional right they had to elect &c &c &c, Finally determined to erase from their journals all their proceedings on that Subject since the commencement of their present Sessions, consequently their former Members joind. us this Day.
“…indeed you are a very Wickd. Man to run away & leave me a young Pullet in the Care of so many gay Gallants, who at the hazard of every particle of puritanic Credit I was possessd. off have led me to the Concert, in future I shall not have the Impudence at an Election of Deacons to appear on the hustings.
“Will you suffer me to beseige Mr. Wilson, on the score of our western Cession, as soon as I can feel out his hobby-horse? You know we are twa bonny scotch Lads & very national, the weak things of this world often confound the strong; would it be amiss to obtain his Influence in our favor, even by a little verbal abuse of Wyoming?
“Please to give my most respectful Compts. to Mrs. Johnson & family & beleive me your most Obedient & very humble Sert, S. M. Mitchell”
(I would guess that the western Cession is the Western Reserve. “Wyoming” is the Delaware Indian word for “river valley”. Connecticut’s colony in the Susquehanna River valley near Wilkes-Barre was established before the French & Indian War and called the Wyoming Colony. Connecticut’s right to the Wyoming Colony was disputed by Pennsylvania. That dispute went to arbitration shortly after the Treaty of Paris in 1783; and Pennsylvania prevailed. Connecticut then moved on to securing the Western Reserve. J.O.)
In the course of his tenure in that organization Mitchell was instrumental in securing title to the “Western Reserve” for Connecticut in 1786. (Like several other states Connecticut had given up its claim to unsettled land in the west in exchange for the federal government assuming its Revolutionary War debt. Connecticut however retained 3,366,921 acres in Ohio, which became the “Western Reserve”. In 1795 or 1796 Connecticut ultimately sold its title to the Western Reserve land to the Connecticut Land Company for $1,200,000.)
On December 11, 1782 William Beadle of Wethersfield murdered his wife Lydia, and his children Ansel Lothrop, Elizabeth, Lydia and Mary Beadle and then took his own life. Beadle was a friend and neighbor of Mitchell and Mitchell wrote a full account of the event, which was first published as an appendix to the sermon delivered by the Reverend John Marsh at the funeral of Mrs. Beadle and the children. According to Henry Reed Stiles “The history of ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut “, Mitchell reported that the committee appointed to investigate the incident was unable to formulate a conclusion “in consequence of the general consternation and confusion which ensued.”
In March 1783 Judge Mitchell along with schoolmaster Ezekiel Williams, businessmen Joseph Webb and Col. John Chester, and about 60 others established the Union Library Society – Wethersfield’s first public library. It was a subscription library and cost 20 shillings for the initial subscription and 40 shillings for annual dues.
In 1788 he was a member of the State Convention that ratified the Constitution of the United States, was a member of the Electoral College in 1805, and in 1818 he participated in the Convention for the formation of a new State Constitution.
(I believe as head of Connecticut’s courts, Mitchell served as recording secretary at the 1814-1815 Hartford Convention. While there were rumors of New England attempting secession, the minutes show not vote on secession. Politics were rougher then. Jefferson and Madison had the intent of destroying the Federalist party. The Hartford Convention pretty much did that for them. J.O.)
Just as he did at Yale College, Judge Mitchell continued to inspire poetry.
Lydia Huntley Sigourney (September 1791 – June 1865) was an American poetess and author known as the “Sweet Singer of Hartford” who was extremely popular in her own time, but is nearly forgotten today. Some of her works were published anonymously at her husband’s request. The majority was published under the variations of her name “L. H. S.,” “Mrs. Sigourney,” or “Mrs. L. H. Sigourney.”
Among her poems was “Lines addressed to Judge Mitchell on his 90th birthday,” as well a verse to the memory of poet John Trumbull – the aforementioned author of the Mitchell’s wedding epithalamium. The author was unable to locate a copy of the Mitchell work, but the Trumbull piece begins follows:
“To the memory of the Hon. JohnTrumbull, Author of M’Fingal, and other poems; a native of Connecticut: who died at Detroit, Michigan: a tribute to the memory of one who was no less the pride of his native State than of his Country; the patriotic bard, who having left among his native hills the thrilling Harp which had animated every camp, and enlivened every cottage, till its notes resounded across the Atlantic.
“This was he
Whose shaft of wit had touch’d the epic strain
With poignant power.”
Stephen Mix Mitchell died in Wethersfield on September 30, 1835 at the age of 93 having been for two years the oldest living graduate of Yale College. He is buried in Wethersfield’s Ancient Burying Ground. His original epitaph inscribed on “an imposing stone table” read,
“In memory of The Honorable Stephen Mix Mitchell, L.L.D. Born at Wethersfield, December 20, 1743. Died, September 30, 1835 AE XCIII. In early life he represented his native town in the Legislature of the State, and was one of the council during and after the revolutionary War.
He was a member of Congress under the Confederation, and one of the Committee of that body who recommended the calling of the convention which formed the Constitution of the United States. A Representative and Senator in Congress under the Constitution. For many years he held the office of Chief judge of the Supreme Court of this State, in which office he closed his public life at the age of seventy. While in the Councils of the State and Nation, Distinguished for the Wisdom of his Measures, Revered for his devotion to the public good. As a Judge, Ready, impartial and independent. As a Christian, humbly trusting for mercy in the merits of the Redeemer.”
That stone has since been replaced by a headstone which now says, “In Memory of Hon. Stephen Mix Mitchell, L.L.D.
/ Memb’r Cont’l Cong. 1883-5. U. S. Senator 1793-5. / Judge Sup’r Court 1795-1807. / Chief Justice State of Conn. 1807-14. / He Died Full of Years & of Horors Sept. 30, 1835. AE. 93. / His Beloved Wife Hannah daughter of Don’d Grant died / Feb. 11,1830. AE. 81. / Children of S. M . M. & H. G. M. / Don’d Grant, Capt U. S. Army. Died Aug. 1798. AE. 26. / Stephen Mix, Couns’lr-at-law. Died May 1820. AE. 55. / Lewis, Couns’lr-at-law. Died June 1826. AE. 39. / Charles, couns’lr-at-law. Died June 1831. AE. 46. / Rebecca, died Aug. 1831. AE. / Alfred, Rev. buried at Norwich. Died Dec. 1831. AE. / Walter, couns’lr-at-law. Died July 1849. AE. 72. / Hannah Grant, died Dec. 1866. AE. 87. / Harriet, Died July 1878. AE. 85.”
As indicated above, Hannah, his wife died on February 14, 1830, at the age of 81. Stephen and Hannah had six sons all of whom graduated from Yale.
“Those who knew Judge Mitchell best emphasize as most remarkable his quick discernment of character, his union of moderation and firmness, and his sterling integrity and benevolence.”
In 1933 the Griswoldville School, adjacent to what is now called Mill Woods Park, was renamed in honor of Stephen Mix Mitchell. At the same time the Ridge Road School and the Center School were renamed for Colonel John Chester and Governor Thomas Welles respectively. The Mitchell Elementary School was closed in June 1979 and converted to elderly housing after a December 1980 town referendum approved the modification by 110 votes.
Stephan et Hannae
nine great daughters of Jupiter,
of one mother at a litter,
who ne’er submit to wisdom,
sing and fiddle all your lifetime;
verse and rhyme great wholesale dealers,
which we bards are but retailers,
— but chiefly thou, my muse,
never didst thine aid refuse,–
I sung in high bombastic,
sunk to simple Hudibrastic,
in dire dumps proclaimed my moan,
rocks to weep, and hills to groan;
chang’d the style to love and dreary!
even echo blush’d to hear ye,–
mournful themes no longer usurp,
tune to sweeter sounds thy Jew’s harp,
sing of bridegroom, bride, and wedding,
kissing, fondling, love, and bedding.–
from his hammock in the skies,
jumpt up, and rubb’d his eyes,
on his daylight round his ears,
his horse and fixt his spears;
turn’d her b**k**de, so in turn he
and set forth on’s journey:
wedding folks were yet in bed,
dreamt what’s doing o’er head.
leisure now, — for Episodes
introduce our sett of gods.
then, my muse, in lofty crambo,
Hymen came with lighted flambeau,
kindle fire of love between ’em
make their livers burn within ’em.
it seems, by sad mishap,
night with Jove was pulling cap,–
by what way she’s wont to govern
Homer tells) the hen-peckt sov’reign,
now stole off, and left him fretting,
rode post-haste to come to wedding:
was not there that morning,
ready stood at nine month’s warning.
nymphs of ever sort and size
there before the bride could rise:
mountain nymphs skipp’d down like fleas,
crept out from hollow trees;
water nymphs from swamps and flats
tripping on like drowned rats:
birds, around on sprays and thistles,
to light and tune their whistles:
cock, when daylight had begun,
chorister, struck up the tune
sung an hymn in strains sonorous,
ev’ry quail-pipe join’d the chorus–
we must quit this singing sport, else
may seize our sleeping mortals,
now ‘gan jostle, round the fabric,
they’d slept till after day-break.
bridegroom, ere he did arise,
sleep’s soft dews from both his eyes,
out to see what kind of weather,
sprang from bed as light as feather,
as Dick after obtaining
master’s leave to go to training.
did not rhyming greatly harrass one,
a fine place to make comparison;
up the ghosts of heroes pristine–
Trojan, Greek, Philistine;–
sweetly sung in ancient lays;
them in order by our gallant,
prove him handsome, wise and valiant.
now came forth, and stood before
lovely goddess’ chamber door,
her with three gentle halloos!
read, or said, or sung as follows:–
my love, and come away
cheer the world, and gild the day,
fades for want of fresh supplies
the bright moonshine of thine eyes.
beautiful art thou, my love!
all the dames above:
with thee might strive again;
with thee would strive in vain,–
ev’ry muse, and ev’ry grace,
to deck bright Venus’ face:
handsomer than all this trash,
then, my love! and come away,
cheer the world and gild the day,
fades for want of fresh supplies
the bright moonshine of thine eyes.”–
now came forth our lovely bride
in all her charms and pride:–
here, lest we should be misguided,
and bards are so quick-sighted,
ev’ry charm they spy a Cupid,
other people are more stupid;–
our fair bride, her lover swore,
deck’d with Cupid’s o’er and o’er:–
Virgil’s goddess’ Fame appears
head to foot o’erhung with ears.
if our muse did not check first,
might go on to sing of breakfast;
kissing, courting, and thereafter,
all their mouths began to water;
nymphs in gardens picking tulips;
maids preparing cordial juleps;
other matters of this sort, whence
come to things of more importance:–
sun, who never stops to halt,
riding at his usual rate,
hardly pass’d his midway course,
spur’d along his downward horse,
bridegroom, and his lovely virgin,
forth to cherish — without urging:
solemn throng before, behind ’em
lengthen’d cavalcade attend ’em
nymphs and swains; a mingled crew,
every shape, of ev’ry hue:
that more solemn scene of old
in romances we are told
Hudibras, that val’rous knight,
joining dog and bear in fight:
shall we make a pause for stating
odds ‘twixt marriage and bear-bating.
midst of these, with solemn wag,
priest bestrode his ambling nag:
dress and air, right well accoutered,
hat new brush’d, his hair new powder’d:
formal band, of trade the sign,
decent from his chin:
thread-bare coat, late turn’d by Snip,–
scripture-book, and cane for whip:
past amid the throng,
look’d demure, and jogg’d along:
laymen ne’er his power cou’d equal
we shall shew you in th sequel:
when this priest o’er man and maid
set of scripture words had said,
find them closely link’d together
life, in strange enchanted tether,
spirits in Magician’s circle)
friendly death should him or her kill:
up in wond’rous gordian knot
neither can untie or cut;
in cage where all can see ’em
all the world can never free ’em:
once by priest in bonds of wedlock,
tied and hamper’d by the fetlock,
fight, or strive, and fly in vain,
still drag after them their chain;
the earth and moon, at distance great,
t’ward each other gravitate,
many a time and oft invade
dark eclipse and angry shade.–
skip’d o’er, our next proceeding
give description of the wedding,
tho’ we Pagan mix with Christian
gods and goddesses with priests join,
need not stand to make objection–
poets have the right of fiction.
first — great Hymen in the porch
link-boy stood with flaming torch;
in all the vacant places
gods and goddesses and graces:
and Cupid (god of love)
all the rabble from above:
midst our groom and bride appear
wedding guests in wings and rear.–
priest now shew’d his slight of hand
up his eyes, and strok’d his band,
join’d their hands in terms concise
struck the bargain in a trice
for the bridegroom first began he,
— “You Stephen! take her, Hannah”–
then — to make both parties even–
her, “you Hannah take him Stephen:”
told them, to avoid temptation,
do the duties of their station;
state of sickness, nurse and nourish;
health cleave fast, and hug and cherish:
then some queerer stuff he said
keeping clean the marriage bed.
all the parson said or meant
bride and bridegroom gave consent;
bow’d to what the priest did say–
blush’d, and curtsy’d — and cry’d “aye.”
bargain made, he gave his blessing
bad them sign and seal with kissing:
smack being giv’n neat and fresh,
straight pronounc’d them both one flesh.
mathematics ’tis well known
takes two halves to make up one;
Adam, as our priests believe,
but one half without miss Eve:
ev’ry mortal man in life
but one half — without his wife.
hence, by natural co-action,
seeks as much his other fraction;
found, no tinker, ’tis confess’d
splice and solder — but a priest.
rites now o’er, the priest drew near
kiss’d the bride’s sinister ear;
them he hop’d they’d make good neighbours,
wish’d a blessing to their labours.
follow’d every mincing couple,
their lips — to make them supple.
got a smack from one or t’ other
wish’d them both much fun together.
wedding o’er, with joy and revelry
to their bride’s return’d the cavalry;
as when armies take a town
costs them long to batter down,
fame may raise her voice the louder
fire whole magazines of powder,
heaps of fuel lay upon fires
celebrate their joys and bon-fires:
now the bride had chang’d her station,
pris’ner at discretion,
to our heroes fancies
with all appurtenances
well-pleas’d crowd, (for greatest joys
by firing — shouting — ringing–
dancing — drinking wine — and singing:
yet our groom (time march’d so lazy)
hitching, nestling, and uneasy;
daylight never would be gone,
call’d the sun a lazy drone,
sun, just when ’twas time to sup,
to the sea — where he puts up;
his last rays o’er earth to scatter,
div’d down headlong into water–
is the place — if we would chuse
tire our reader and our muse–
name and number ev’ry guest;
tell what fare compos’d the feast;
other things that did betide–
how they kiss’d and jok’d the bride;
frolicksome the liquor made ’em;
how the fidler came to aid ’em;
made his lyre make such a scrapering
set the people all a-capering:
Orpheus fiddled at his guidance,
trees leapt forth and join’d the set dance.
night at length, in sable waggon,
by a sooty bat-wing’d dragon,
till she came right over-head
on the earth her blanket spread.
moon was out upon parole;
danc’d, as usual, round the pole;
nature saw, with drowsy head,
thrown by cares, and gone to bed;
reign’d o’er all, but wolves and rovers,
bats, and ghosts, and thieves and lovers.
maids with madam bride now clamber
stairs, to find the bridal chamber:
of her robes they disarray’d her,
softly in the bed they lay’d her;
groom flew swiftly to her arms,
feast and revel on her charms:
alderman — invited guest
gormandize at turtle feast–
first he sees the dish brought in,
‘gins to dip and grease his chin,
feels such raptures as our lover,
all his fears and griefs are over.
events that afterwards befel,
bashful muse would blush to tell:
Bridegroom, as himself confest,
not a moment’s time to rest;
people lodging in the house
noises loud and ruinous,
started oft from sleep profound,
an earthquake shook the ground:–
they interpret as an omen
something past, and something coming:
what that is (I’m somewhat jealous)
boy will come next year to tell
Wethersfield Historical Society Archives
sketches of the graduates of Yale College : with annals of the college history
of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789”, edited by Gerard W. Gawalt.
history of ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut “, Henry Reed Stiles