Rededication on August 8, 2009
(Courtesy Footeprints, Volume 10, Issue 3, Summer 2009)
Keynote Address by Damien Cregeau
(Historian and a member of the 5th Connecticut Regiment Revolutionary War reenactment group)
We, the descendants of Nathaniel Foote and Elizabeth Deming, gather this afternoon a few feet from the corner
of the Foote home lot. We congregate at the foot of Wethersfield’s historic green to commemorate and celebrate the 375th anniversary of the arrival on foot of Nathaniel Foote, as part of the founding of Wethersfield in 1634.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the re-founding, undertaken here in Wethersfield, of the Foote Family Association
of America. As we look at the Foote Monument, it is important for us to transport our minds back in time. First, let us journey back a
mere month to when this monument witnessed a terrifying storm that damaged, and in some cases destroyed, many homes in Wethersfield.
One house was chopped in half. Broad Street Green's homes were spared, but many of its trees were not. The 1765 colonial home my wife and I own just over a mile from here was not damaged.
But in the wake of the storm, I flashed back to when I narrowly missed being crushed twice by a falling tree. The first was in 1985 in Connecticut when a tree tore out of the ground during Hurricane Hugo and fell towards me and my family in our kitchen. The second was also in Connecticut in 1988 during which the church my mother had a meeting in hours earlier had its steeple thrown like a spear into the roof of nearby building.
We had a tree fall on our house, and it was not until we came outside that we realized how narrowly we had escaped injury or even death. So why do we remember last month’s tornado, or 9-11, or the 1936 storm that flooded this entire green? Because they are the traumatic events that in some way or another have impacted our lives or the lives of someone we know. And it is in this spirit of remembrance that we gather here today. None of us were witness to September 17, 1908, when approximately 400 people gathered here for the unveiling of this monument to Nathaniel Foote and his family.
But someone in our family, be it a parent, grandparent or cousin, encouraged us to learn more about our family history and how
we connect to Nathaniel Foote (and Elizabeth Deming). It is difficult for us to anticipate the future. No one on the 17th of September in 1908 knew many of them would face the hardships of WWI, the flu epidemic, the Great Depression, or WWII.
Similarly, no one in Wethersfield’s militia in 1808 that trained here on this green anticipated that the United States would be at war with Great Britain in 1812.
So let us now transport ourselves back to 1634. Call it taking footesteps back in time. Nathaniel and Elizabeth Foote and their children had survived the harrowing journey through the wilderness from Watertown, Massachusetts, all the way, yes, on foot, to a wooded area by the Connecticut River that the Ten Adventurers would come to call Wethersfield.
The larger and heavier items like furniture and books were supposed to arrive here by boat via Saybrook. Sadly, those ships and their holdings were damaged in a storm at sea.
So, for just a minute, imagine leaving your old home in England, being in a strange new country, in a strange new settlement, and in the search for religious freedom and desirable land to farm, you have just lost most of what you owned, some of those items very valuable to your soul, as they had survived the long journey across the Atlantic.
And since many of us can easily remember a trip to Deerfield, Massachusetts yesterday, where we saw the town that suffered not one, but many attacks and raids, continue to imagine your shock and confusion as a new resident of this tiny settlement of Wethersfield. You and your family are in a small, one-room cottage with a thatched roof.
You are familiar with the Puritan settlements up in Windsor and Hartford, as well as the Dutch Fort of Good Hope just south of Hartford. You finally begin to recover from what you had to leave behind in England or was lost or damaged AFTER you made it to the New World.
You have lived in town for fewer than three years, but you have managed to build a cottage and the fields begin to bear fruits and
vegetables, including Wethersfield’s famous red onion. Then you wake up - just as Nathaniel and Elizabeth did - one morning in April 1637, and this day is unlike any other in your short time in the New World.
Prosperity and peace are suddenly interrupted by an attack by some 200 Pequot Indians. Nine of Wethersfield’s residents who worked in the Great Meadows that day are killed, as are twenty cows.
Most of the names of those nine people are unknown. But each of those people were neighbors, and some friends, of Nathaniel and
Elizabeth as residents of the small English settlement. How do I study history and remember the past? Besides being a historian, I have taken a journey of my own back in time, along with my wife. It began here in Wethersfield three years ago when I became a
Revolutionary War reenactor.
Since then, I have marched the seven miles from Capt. Isaac Davis’s house to Concord Bridge on Patriot’s Day.
I have marveled at being on the spot and on the anniversary of many battles, including the streets of New London in September and the city of Trenton in late December, to the fields of Saratoga, N.Y. and Monmouth, N.J. Pam and I have taken footsteps further back in time, including the French and Indian War and Queen Anne’s War.
In course of researching my ancestors and traveling for reenactments ranging from Yorktown, Virginia to the south to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia to the north, my wife has heard the stories of my experiences with my family’s history. There was the time three years ago at the library while looking online for more information on an ancestor who fought in the War of 1812.
I could not find much information on his service in the Kentucky militia that marched north to fight the British and Indians. But then I happened to turn to my left and my eyes happened to fall on the binding of a book in the new release section. On that book in bold letters was its title: The War of 1812.
I pulled it off the shelf, and my fingers just happened to part the pages describing the battle where my ancestor and his four brothers
suffered their casualties.
It was the Battle of Raisin River, and the ensuing massacre of American militia by Indians led to the famous expression in those times of .Remember the Raisin, much as years later, in 1898, U.S. citizens remembered the Maine. Maybe few here remember the Raisin, or even the U.S.S. Maine, but I will never forget the night I could not find the information I had hoped for on an ancestor who had fought in two colonial wars, only to have the smell of black powder come through the window screen that summer night, inspiring me to pursue my research and discover in the ensuing hour just what I had hoped to find.
But since many of you have just visited Deerfield and understand its traumatic history, I will share with you my most powerful moment as a historian, descendant and reenactor.
On leap day, February 29th, 2008, my wife and I awoke in a friend.s home in Deerfield to three feet of snow on the ground. Two feet had already been on the ground from a previous storm, and another foot had fallen overnight. It continued to flurry
as the morning progressed.
We reenactors assembled at the reproduction of my ancestors. home, the famous Old Indian House. We proceeded down Main Street, turned right and passed my ancestor Justin Hitchcock.s house, then walked along the edge of the Old Burying Ground, where dozens of my ancestors were buried, including some who survived the 1704 attack and others who did not.
We had our safety inspection of our flintlock muskets, and I stared out at the snow-covered field, by now basking in sunlight. Much like those English settlers of Deerfield who did everything they could to rescue their families and friends from their capture by the French and Indians, we plodded out into the deep snow without snowshoes, and we had our skirmish with the French and Indians. I fired several rounds with my musket, and then, portraying my ancestor David Hoyt Jr., who was shot and killed in that skirmish in the field that morning on February 29th, 1704, I too fell back into the deep snow as if I were landing on a soft white cloud,
I cried as I looked up at the blue sky and heard the shots being fired and the whoops and hollers of the reenactors portraying Indians. My mind and body were perfectly intersected with that morning in 1704.
My wife and I continue to remember this colony's as well as this nation's long history with recent reenactments such as Crown Point
on Lake Champlain, commemorations of the 400th anniversaries of the explorations in 1609 of Samuel de Champlain as well as Henry Hudson in what is now New York State. Despite the efforts of the Quebec government in Canada, some of us remember the
250th anniversary of the defeat of the French by the British at Quebec in July of 1759.
In the coming years we will begin to observe the bicentennial of the War of 1812. And here, we remember 1634 and we remember Nathaniel Foote. Once someone has visited Deerfield, it is easier to remember 1704. But it is also valuable to remember the other attacks on Deerfield and other towns in 1675,
1695, and 1723. It is wonderful that we frequently commemorate General George Washington visiting visiting wethersfield, but we must also remember life here in Wethersfield, 375 years ago, in 1634. I commend the Foote Family Association of America for choosing to reunite here in Wethersfield for this town.s 375th anniversary.
I encourage each of you to take time later today, or on Sunday, or on another trip here, to visit the c. 1710 Buttolph-Williams House that was actually built and lived in for many years by the Belden family. Visit the Wethersfield Historical Society's Keeney Center and the Wethersfield Cove Warehouse. Do not forget that the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum also includes the home of George Washington.s aide, friend and confidant, Brigadier General Samuel Blatchley Webb.
Take time to see the inside of Christ Church, built in 1765, and standing where three previous meetinghouses stood. If you are a Foote descendant, then you must walk around this Broad Street Green, marvel at the trees that fell and those that still stand, knowing that you walk by so many important monuments, and over ground used by Indians, and later, by numerous generations of militia who trained on
these grounds, and numerous farmer's hogs, sheep and cows that grazed on its grasses.
Even the oldest houses are young compared to those that once stood around this common. But they are remembered with stones and metal markers and its most famous residents, Nathaniel Foote and his family, have a wonderful monument that will continue to remind of our rich history.
And because the Foote Family Association of America has such a long, rich history, let us also recall the words of Judge Abram W. Foote, who spoke at the conclusion of the very first Foot family gathering in 1907. He concluded his speech with,
As we travel the ground
that was subdued and tilled
by our ancestors, let us not
forget that they suffered
those privations and braved
those dangers that our
parents, ourselves and our
children should reap the
benefits of living in this
Generations from now, our descendants will rededicate this monument again and again. Hopefully, many of us, or at least our children and grandchildren, will be able stand here in 2034 for the 400th anniversary.
The events of this weekend are recorded for future generations. Should you encounter a few or many of life.s trials, be sure to remember the many stresses, as well as happier times, that Nathaniel and Elizabeth must have experienced. Furthermore, do not forget to remember that we, too, are history!
About Damien Cregeau
(An introduction by John Foote)
It is my pleasure [said John Foote] to introduce our keynote speaker Damien Cregeau. Damien has traveled all the way from Wethersfield Cove at the other end of Old Wethersfield to be with us today.
Before moving to Wethersfield with his wife, Dr. Pamela Hall, in 2006, Damien earned his masters degree in History from
Colorado State University.
From there he went on to teach history, first, in Louisville, Ky. and later in Millerton, N.Y.
He is a descendent of Nathaniel Foote, as well as a Deerfield descendent, and he has 25 ancestors who lived, worked and died here in Wethersfield from the 1600s to the 1700s.
Damien has spoken at numerous historic and genealogical meetings, including a presentation on the Revolutionary War Era life and times of two of his Deerfield ancestors, including one who kept a diary.
He is currently doing research for a family history book, a member of the 5th Connecticut Regiment Revolutionary War reenactment group, and also serves as president of the Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth Branch of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
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Foote Family Association of America
P. O. Box 418, Middlefield, CT 06455
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(Last updated 29 December 2017)