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On this week's Peace of History:
We will begin to look at the history of the original 40-acre property before it became the Voluntown Peace Trust in 1962, and to do that, we must examine the colonial history of the region, Voluntown itself, and the family that lived here in the colonial period.
Emigrating from Ulster County, Ireland in 1719, the Campbell family first appears in Connecticut in records kept in New London, but the family soon relocated north to Voluntown around the time of its incorporation in 1721. Although the exact date is unknown, the Campbells were among the first European colonists to settle in Voluntown, which had been named for the English volunteer soldiers of King Philip's War. Dr. John Campbell (the second son in the family) is known to have visited Voluntown as early as Nov. 19, 1719, when he and a woman named Agnes Allen got married. The whole Campbell family received a lot of 40 acres, 10 of which they cleared and farmed, and established themselves in the community. In 1723, Robert (the father), and his two oldest sons Charles and John became founding members of the first Presbyterian Church in the town and the state. Robert Campbell passed away a couple years later at the age of 52 in 1725, but the property remained in his family for over a century.
Around 1750, Dr. John Campbell had a house built on the farm -- the very same that still stands at the front of the property today. Dr. John Campbell was the first physician to practice in Voluntown, and many of his descendants carried on in the profession. The house itself offers some clues to Dr. John Campbell’s vocation: the side door and entryway are both unusually wide for colonial houses of the era. Bob Swann believed that may have been the Doctor’s office entrance and waiting area. What is now the bathroom off the hallway is suspected to have originally been the pharmacy. The room across the hall, what is now the Gandhi Reading Room, may have been the original examination room. Former residents have found small antique glass jars buried near the house: old discarded medicine bottles likely from one of the doctors’ practices.
Decades later, people escaping slavery in the South found refuge in the basement of the Campbell Farm as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Although the basement has long since been remodeled, according to a newsletter from the Voluntown Historical Society, there was once “a room behind the chimney in the cellar which several sources report was used as a hiding place for the slaves who came through the underground escape route during the Civil War.”
Next week: we shall dig even deeper into the past to examine the history of the original Pequot inhabitants who lived here before European colonization, as well as the terrible war that led to the town's founding.