The Cemetery at Reuben Jepson's Farm by Jon Fitch

In the south-easternmost corner of Vermont, there exists a maze of old roads, old homesteads and an old cemetery called the Cemetery at Reuben Jepson's Farm. Many of the old roads, the cemetery, and the histories of the residents of the cemetery are overgrown with the trees and atrophication of almost two centuries of inattention. Consequently, any speculation about the routes that brought these people together can be little more than an interesting story. So take the following for what it is; parts of this are documented, most of it is fairly self-consistent, but, in truth, much of it is circumstantial, and some of it may not even qualify as a good story.

Today, if one drives from Williamstown, almost to the end of what starts out to be White Oaks Road, one meanders past the homestead that once was Reuben Jepson's Farm. At just about the highest point in what remains of the road, off to the south (left), behind an outcropping of granite, one will find a small cemetery that contains the graves of eight people who died between 1834 and 1858.

The road to Reuben Jepson's Farm is what is left of a connector between the old "High Road" (from Williamstown to Bennington) and what was once a labyrinth of roadways interconnecting the small farms south and east of Pownal, Vermont. Today, the road ends just a few hundred yards beyond the cemetery. The remains of the old road, past where today's road ends, are barely distinguishable . . . much like the histories of the residents of the Cemetery at Reuben Jepson's Farm. And like the road, one can, today, only speculate about the original path that brought these eight people to Reuben Jepson's Farm.

It would seem likely that the original road past the cemetery probably ran on the south side of the cemetery, rather than on the north side as it does today. It appears that until fairly recent times, the road followed a more gentle incline than the up-and-down route that it follows now. With the advent of bulldozers and motor powered vehicles, it probably became more popular to run the road between properties, rather than through them.

The harvested fields on Reuben Jepson's Farm have apparently been on the hill on the Massachusetts side of the property for many years. In the nineteenth century, the conventional wisdom for establishing towns on the prairies was to locate the housing on one side of the road or railway, and the businesses on the other; if a severe fire occurred, one might lose his home or his business, but not both. If a similar "wisdom" prevailed at the close of the eighteenth century, then the farmstead at Reuben Jepson's Farm might have been organized with the fields along the south side of the road, and the buildings along the north side. Or, the barnyard may have been along the south side of the road, next to the brook that runs (at least in the springtime) through the northwest comer of the property.

If the road did indeed run along the south side of the promontory upon which the cemetery sits, then the cemetery would have had a commanding view of the hills surrounding the Hoosic River and the convergence of the New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont state lines. To any picnic enthusiast, this and another similar promontory along the old road would have been \ would be lovely places for picnics. Perhaps it was a favorite place for Minerva Seeley to picnic as well.

The people interred at the Cemetery at Reuben Jepson's Farm are:

Minerva Seeley died 22 May 1834 at age 19
HiramB.Horton died 28 October 183 8 at age 26 years, 28 days
Lyman Houghton died 8 January 1840 at age 22 years, I month, 4 days
Joseph Horton died 26 August 1840 at age 62
Amy Houghton died 5 April 1850 at age 61
Sarah A. Houghton died 8 April 1850 at age 20
Benjamin Houghton died24Junel850\55 at age 73
Harriet Horton died 26 October 1858 at age 69

The Jepson family, starting with David and Priscilla, established themselves in Pownal in the 1760s; the Seeleys (spelled Seelye in the Pownal town records, and likewise for the remainder of this document) seem to have come from the Northampton area at about the time of the Revolution; the Houghtons were an established Lancaster family, and apparently arrived in Pownal as a family in the late 1770s; and the Hortons showed up in the first decade of the 1800s.

According to information in Book III of the Pownal town records, Reuben Jepson was the second of twelve children of David and Priscilla Jepson, and he was born in Pownal on 4 March 1788, and died on 15 January 1824. Pownal records indicate that Reuben had an older brother, but by the early 1800's, Reuben had clearly assumed the role of eldest son. In October of 1808, David Jepson sold one parcel of land to Reuben, and indentured another parcel contingent upon David and Priscilla being allowed to live thereon for the remainder of their lives.

The known families of the people interred in the cemetery are

Joseph Horton and his wife. Harriet
and their children,
Russell born 15 July 1807 died 16 May 1826
Mary born 5 August 1809
Hiram born 21 Sept 1812 died 28 Oct 1838
Harriet born 28 Jan 1815
Louisa born 23 Mar 1817
Elinor born 17 Feb 1822
Malvina born 29 Feb 1824
Aurela born 29 Dee 1826
Joseph Jr. born 27 Tune 1828 died 19 June 1829

Benjamin Houghton and his wife, Amy (perhaps originally Cummings) and their children, Emelia born 23 Jan 1809
Betsey born 3 Nov 1811
William Towner born 7 Dee 1814
Laura born 18 Mar 1816
Lyman born 23 Nov 1818
Maria born 12 Jan 1820
Rachel born 19 June 1826
Sarah A. born 11 April 1830 died 8 April 1850

There does not appear to be any direct marital connections between the families connected to the cemetery; Reuben Jepson's "cousin", Thomas Jepson married Betsey Houghton, the daughter of Benjamin and Amy Houghton, and later, a John Jepson married Joseph and Harriet Horten's daughter, Aurilla. But none of Benjamin Houghton's family married any of the Seelyes, or the Hortons, or any immediate relatives of Reuben Jepson. And none of the other marital combinations seem to have occurred either.

Minerva Seelye is reputed to be the daughter of Barnes and Anna Seelye, but the Pownal town records do not support this; the town records indicate a Barnes Seelye family of

Barnes Seelye and his wife, Bethiana And their children,
Sylvanus Danforth born 7 July 1822
Ephraim, 2nd born 3 Sept 1824
William born 27 Feb 1827
Mason born 1 Apr 1830

Furthermore, the Williamstown Vital Records indicate that Barnes Seeley and Bethana Shaw were married on 3 September 1820. Minerva, born in about 1815, would have been born prior to the marriage of Barnes and Beth[i]ana, and somewhat early to fit nicely into the Barnes Seelye family. It would seem possible that Minerva could have been a daughter of the Reuben Seelye, mentioned as a neighbor of Joseph Houghton in a land transaction in 1799. Both a Barnes and a Reuben Seelye are shown as sons of Ephraim Seelye and wife in the Williamstown Vital Records. Later references to the Ephraim Seelye children refer to his wife as Eleanor.

TheEphraim Seelye family included
Ephraim Seelye and his wife, Eleanor (Eleanor died 19 July 1821)
And their children,
Sarah born 16 Jan 1773
Reuben born 7 Jan 1775
Barn[e]s born 22 Apr 1777
Moses born 8 May 1779
Miranda born 18 Nov 1785
Minerva born 21 Apr 1787
Ephraim born 27 Aug 1789
Damon born 23 Oct 1791
Eleanor born 23 Nov 1793
Electa born 20 July 1799

Regardless of which of Ephraim's sons was Minerva' father, she was apparently the namesake of her aunt.

The Pownal - Houghton census data are shown on the following page, along with lots of relational data that are about as verifiable as the road beyond Reuben Jepson's Farm just after a snow, on a foggy morning!

The 1790 census data show two Joseph Houghtons, and then, in 1800, there is only one Joseph Houghton who was too young to have been either of the 1790 Josephs. So, the 1800 Joseph could have been a son of either of the 1790 Josephs. Assuming that the Joseph Houghton of 1800 is one and the same as the Joseph Houghton of 1810, then this Joseph Houghton would have been born between 1765 and 1774.

According to Bennington County records, a Joseph Houghton died in about 1818, and left four minor children to be placed into the guardianship of Eunice Yates and Sylvanus Danforth. These minor children were Charles born -1802
Eunice born -1804
Joseph born -1807
Betsey born -1810

This matches very nicely with the census data for the Joseph Houghton of 1800 and 1810.

Assuming that the Benjamin Houghtons recorded in the census data from 1810 through 1850 are all the same person, then Benjamin would have been born in either 1785 or 1786, and he would have been about 4 years old in 1790 and about 14 in 1800. So he could have been any one of the three males under 16 years of age listed as members of the combined Joseph Houghton households in 1790.

Information in a journal written by Betsey Houghton would lead one to believe that Benjamin would have been the son of a Joseph (and Martha) Houghton. Since the only possibility for a 14 year old Houghton male in 1800 Pownal would be in the Silas Houghton household (not shown), perhaps Benjamin was living with brother\uncle Silas in 1800, or perhaps he struck out on his own, or perhaps he happened to have returned to the home of his grandparents or other non-Pownal relatives in 1800.

There is a point to all of this rambling about who the ancestors of Benjamin Houghton could or might have been: In trying to assess "how" and\or "why" the residents of the Cemetery at Reuben Jepson's Farm wound up in Pownal, it becomes helpful to know "who" really got there first. And, one Joseph Houghton shows up in the pay records of Captain Seth Pomeroy in July of 1746, and again in August through October of 1747. Particularly significant is that on 7 July 1747, General Dwight directed Captain Pomeroy that "find[ing] myself obliged for the safety & protection of Fort Massachusetts to send recruits there to relieve such as have been long there on hard duty . . . You must immediately repair there with thirty of your men & take the command of that fortress."

Since it would appear that Joseph Houghton enlisted in Captain Pomeroy's regiment explicitly for said purpose, he was most likely at Fort Massachusetts (five miles south of Reuben Jepson's Farm) in the autumn of 1747. Since the protection of Fort Massachusetts eventually proved uneventful, it is quite likely that Joseph Houghton had a fair chance to enjoy an autumn in the hills of northwestern Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont.

It would seem to be a fair possibility that the Joseph Houghton born in 1720 might also be the ' Joseph Houghton with three sons and two daughters in the 1790 census, and might be Captain Pomeroy's Joseph Houghton, and might be the same Joseph Houghton who also later appears, stationed at Fort Number 4 (now Charlestown, N.H.) This repeated involvement with the military and the French and Indian War might make social life for a young man somewhat unstable, and would seem a plausible explanation for why a Joseph Houghton, apparently born in 1720, would wait until 1762 to wed Martha Snow, and start a family.

Joseph and Martha (Snow) Houghton produced three daughters before Martha died in about 1766. Joseph then married Suzanna Brooks, and had five children, whose ages would correlate very nicely with the five children associated with the first Joseph in the 1790 census: In 1790, son, Sanderson would have been about 23; daughter, Anna would have been about 21; daughter, Mercy would have been about 19; son, Joseph would have been about 18; and son, Henry could have been under 16.

Note that this Joseph and Suzanna's eighteen year old son, Joseph, could very easily have been the same Joseph that orphaned four children, above. However, I would happily lead you down the path to believe that Joseph and Suzanna packed up their family shortly after 1790, and moved back to eastern Massachusetts, and that the younger Joseph that pops up in the 1800 and 1810 census was the son of the second 1790-Joseph Houghton and his wife, Martha.

These explanations for one of the 1790-Joseph Houghtons and for the 1800/1810 Joseph leaves the other 1790-Joseph, and Martha, and Benjamin (the object of this line of investigation) still in question. The Joseph born in 1720 had a cousin-once-removed, Joseph, born in 1746 who could satisfy the equations, although at this point there is little information to corroborate such a notion. The Joseph of 1746 seems to have been orphaned at the age of about 17, and may very well have welcomed the opportunity to move to the frontier with his "uncle". The overall picture might be that Joseph married Suzanna in Bolton, Massachusetts, and at the wedding party or some other big family gathering, talked his "cousin" into joining him in the move to Pownal.

Regardless of whether the Joseph Houghton of Pomeroy's regiment was also Suzanna's husband, Pomeroy's regiment was typically mustered in Northampton and Northampton was the home of several Seelye families in the mid 1700's. It seems fairly probable that an expedition of Seelyes and Houghtons left the Northampton area to establish roots in Pownal and Williamstown. Then, a couple of Seelye generations later, Minerva Seelye would be growing up in the same neighborhood as the Houghtons . . . near the Reuben Jepson Farm.

Following the assumption that both of the Joseph Houghton's of the 1790 census had sons that they also named Joseph, that would provide four, mature Joseph Houghtons in the same neighborhood during at least a portion of the 1790s. Certainly this might lead to some confusion, and it could be the justification for one of the young Josephs to change his name to Joseph Horton. There has been some speculation that such a name change occurred, and the age of either of the young Josephs could be coincident with the census data for Joseph Horton. However, the "disappearance" of this Joseph in the 1800 census is puzzling, and there may be reasonable statistical evidence that Joseph Horton is one of the Joseph Hortons in the 1800 New York census. In fact, the earliest emigration routes into the Pownal area were established by the Dutch ' coming into the area from New York. It is much easier to imagine a horse drawn wagon carrying one of the seven New York Joseph Horton families of 1800 through the relatively low hills south and west of Pownal than to imagine pulling the same wagon of Massachusetts' one-and-only Joseph Horton of 1800 through the Berkshires.

Surely, by this point, you have recognized that this random walk through the backroads of Vermont history (and mythology) has brought you no closer to any verifiable answers than when you started reading. Certainly, there are lots more paths remaining to be tested: There have been a couple of Wisconsin people who have claimed (in the early 1990s) family ties to Joseph and Harriet Horton . . . But, they don't live in the same places any more. The link of Joseph Houghton to the Northampton area might afford a trail to the definitive solution of Benjamin Houghton's ancestry. Or, most likely, someone will read this, and when they finish chuckling at all of this speculation, they will respond with clear evidence regarding the routes that truly led these people to Reuben Jepson's Farm.