| As New England residents we live amongst the ruins of an earlier age. These ruins survive today in the form of old stone walls mysteriously darting here and there in the last remaining woodlands, the now-lonely town commons silently watching the automotive traffic, and our old Victorian houses with gables reaching towards the sky. But we must ask ourselves who were these shadowy figures laboriously constructing stone walls, and grazing animals on the town common – living in our houses – just a few generations back?
Mr. John Hazeltine, after whom my street is named, was a man of loud character and influential charm who dealt in seedy business to upstart the quaint hamlet of Upton, Massachusetts. Rising like a ghost from Upton’s past, we have no record of this man’s birth or death – only his living actions.
It’s no surprise that he came to Upton’s virgin forest thirsty for profit as his aristocratic blood stems back to Hazelden Manor in Sussex, England. Acting as the town’s first real-estate agent, Hazeltine bought 166 acres on Mechanic Street for £350 and turned it around for a sizeable £450 – and one hundred pounds profit wasn’t to be scoffed at in those days.
But real estate ventures weren’t the only aces Hazeltine had up his sleeve. Booze was his other big seller. Hazeltine’s Rum Shop in Upton brought some life and character to the up-and-coming town. State archives capture the liveliness at Hazeltine’s during a bar fight between two locals, Clayton and Darling, disputing a debt.
Yet, Hazeltine himself didn’t sport a stiff starch collar in regards to the law. August 10th 1731, he found himself in Worcester County court addressing a complaint from a “Christian Indian Woman” accusing him of “selling strong drink to Indians contrary to law.” Although, he pleaded not guilty, he was found guilty as charged.
Tis, tis John.
Besides legal trouble, the fire-water also brought Hazeltine some unexpected fortunes. It is reported by the Genealogical Sketches of Robert and John Hazelton that on a visit to
Townshend, Vermont John asked some locals, “What is it [a large amount of land in
Townshend] worth to you?”
|| They replied, “Oh, give us a mug of toddy, and I’ll deed you all the right I have to anything up there.” And it was done.
Whether he made his loot by legal or less than legal means, Upton’s forefather was charitable with his goods. His generosity glowed in 1753 when he sold Caesar Toney, “Negroman laborer in token of love and good will,” a 20-acre lot to “encourage him to be a good husband.” As Upton’s Heritage states, “this sort of gift and language were often used for sons and connote a great deal of affection.” He may have scored more brownie points if he had just given the land to him, but who’s counting?
With the onset of the French and Indian War, John found himself undertaking a military career. Although the heights weren’t necessarily reached through good old fashion field combat, he swiftly rose through the ranks. It seems politics were more his cup of tea. In any case, 1748 it’s “Captain
Hazeltine” then “Major”, “Lieutenant Colonel” and finally “Colonel John
Hazeltine” when his men storm Crown Point, New York in 1755 to rescue it from French hands.
These military experiences sharpen Hazeltine into a strong and noble defender of independence. He writes a letter as bold as any of our forefathers declaring Townshend will not be ruled by British Parliament, “We detest and abhor these arbitrary, tyrannic and sanguinary measures which the British Parliament are most industriously pursing against the American Colonies.” Afterwards, the seventy-three year old freedom-fighter marched from Upton, MA to what is now
Townshend, VT to make good on his word by organizing an all-male militia to protect the proud decree.
A regular man with big ideas, we can’t help but see John’s ghost in our friends, neighbors and family. So next time you see a shady deal go down or someone pulls the wool over your eyes fondly reminisce of Mr. John Hazeltine and remember that ultimately he had a good plan in mind.