He was born in the latter part of 1619 or early in 1620, but in which part of England the records do not state, and search thus far has not disclosed his parentage. However, there is strong evidence pointing to a close if not direct relationship to the branch of the family already mentioned, which was then residing in various parts of Worcestershire. We can only wonder at the pious training and educational advantages which surrounded his boyhood and developed in him those sterling qualities which marked his later career.
On reaching manhood, he sought and won the love of Joanne Allen, (spelled "Alling" on the colonial records) the amiable daughter of James Allen, a prosperous citizen of Kempston, in the country of Bedford, England. His lot was early cast with the Puritans, and at about the age of twenty-one, shortly after their marriage, he came with his bride in search of a home in the New World. He came to escape the tyranny of the reign of Charles I., and to secure and enjoy personal, political and religious liberty. A large portion of the "planters" were descended from the landed gentry of England, and frequently could trace their ancestry in a noble line from the time of William the Conqueror. The educated class, headed by the minister, formed their real aristocracy. But little information is to be had of the exodus of many of them from England, as in the eye of the government and Established Church the Puritans were "religious outlaws," unworthy of mention. The well-to-do, fearing confiscation, were glad thus quietly to embark, taking their accumulations, without attracting the government's attention.
Abraham was in Boson as early as 1640, but glowing descriptions of the fertile valley of the Connecticut were attracting many settlers. Companies of them would thread their way on foot over the perilous journey of two long weeks, through the unbeaten and almost trackless paths of an unknown forest, having deep, muddy soil and swiftly flowing streams, without bridge or ferry. During storms the great trees of the thick woods were often strewed across the Indian trails which sometimes led their way. Their furniture, bedding, and a supply of food were sent around by boat when possible. They carried some provisions with them, but counted largely on the fish, game, and wild fruits along the way. An American forest had never before witnessed such scenes. At the commencement and end of each day's march their songs of praise and heartfelt utterance of prayer broke the quiet of those solitudes from their little camps. Thus they journeyed on, driving their cattle before them, and guiding their steps by the aid of compass, seeking as it were the land of promise.
The young couple accordingly removed to New Haven before 1642, where they bought or built for themselves a house and here planted the home of their heart. In a division of land at this village in 1643, his name with nine others is mentioned, each of whom was "to have 1 1/2 acr. In ye first devision within ye two mile and 1 3/4 acres in each of ye other two devissions within ye two miles." His abilities were early recognized by his fellow citizens, and in 1644 he was administered the oath of fidelity in the colony and made its chief executive officer, when scarcely twenty five years old. These were busy years and many questions pertaining to the welfare of the colonists were ever presenting themselves for careful settlement. Its relations with neighboring communities which were springing up here and there, the dealings with the Indians, apportionment of land, public defense, and extension of trade-all occupied their attention. Commerce thrived from the first and while mostly with English merchants, the Barbadoes and Jamaica came in for a share, but cloth with other manufactures were often obtained through Boston. Labor was paid two shillings a day and later a few black slaves were brought to the colony. The settlers were industrious and each found means for support. Their products were various and important, comprising timber, pitch and tar, wheat, rye, barley, Indian corn, peas, hemp, wool and flax, pork, beef, fish, furs, cider, staves and horses.
It was indeed a day of excitement in the settlement whenever a ship came from England. The town was all astir and crowds thronged the wharf, inquiring after the affairs in the homeland, or seeking for someone from their former neighborhood among the crew. We can imagine their joy at the coming of some relative or old acquaintance with tidings or messages from loved ones over the sea, or their enthusiasm on learning of Cromwell's triumphs, and the success of the Puritan cause.
Possibly sometimes the hardships of the pioneer life in the New World would weigh heavily on the heart of the young wife and allow for a moment a yearning within for the advantages and comforts left behind. When the biting cold and deep snows of the New England winter narrowed in their little world, perhaps at times she looked wistfully at the bright stars twinkling above the paternal home in far away Bedfordshire with its familiar group gathered at the hospitable heartstone. But love for their new home and the little family growing up around them filled their hearts and the rising cares of private and public life still further developed and enriched their character.
Abraham's interest in public affairs, comprehensive grasp, and persistent industry opened many channels for his energies. Besides being chosen seven times as a deputy from New Haven to the General Assembly at Hartford, he was often engaged in details of town government and served many consecutive years as selectman. The following quaint entry appears on the records of a court of magistrates held at New Haven, October 15,1662: "Abraham Dowlittle pounded to have five pounds for keeping the Indian Taphanse about seventeen weeks time for all his charges and troubles about him. The court thought it moderate and granted it."
In that olden time when a man was prominent in public affairs it was a guarantee that he was of high character, good habits and the possessors of abilities valuables to the commonwealth.
Joane's father d. in Kempston, England, in 1657. His will made the year before mentions "My daughter Joane the wife of Abraham Dowlittle now living in New England."
After some of twenty years of married life death came to claim Joane and leave besides the sorrow and vacancy in the family circle, the want of tender motherly care and help and encouragement of a loving wife.
On July 2,1663, after a proper time, he married again and found Abigail Moss one to take the place left by Joane. She was born April 10, 1642, daughter of John Moss of New Haven. He was afterwards one of Abraham's colleagues in founding Wallingford and died in 1707 at the remarkable age of 103 years. The new couple continued to reside at New Haven until after the birth of their second son, when they laid out a tract of land about twelve miles north of the village and soon removed thither. It is recorded that they paid the Indians for the property, although the colonists already held the title to all that section, through a treaty made with the sachems Momaugin and Montowese by Rev. John Davenport and Governor Eaton in 1638.
The homes of the early settlers were good and substantial, at least 18 feet long and 16 feet wide, with 9 feet between joints, and were built of untrimmed logs, as ax and auger were the principal tools used in their construction. The floor, roof, and doors were formed from rough, undressed slabs, hewn from logs, and fastened in place by wooden pins. The ponderous door swung on wooden hinges and fastened with wooden latch and bolt. Later black smith shops supplied wrought nails and saw mills on the swift streams worked up the lumber. At the side of the house the large chimney was erected, and built of stone or sticks, well smeared with clay. It had a large, open heart, on which roared the hospitable log fire during the long, severe winters. Glass rarely seen and oiled paper closed the window openings.
It is said Abraham was the first white man to explore the forests beyond the Quinnipiac River. Other families gradually came to locate in the same neighborhood, and, in 1669, when it was decided to form the community into a new settlement, the planters of New Haven selected Abraham as one of the committee of three to manage its affairs. The "new settlement" was incorporated as a town May 12, 1670, and received the name of Wallingford, but the committee looked after its management till 1672. This charming little village, planted in the forest, on the brow of one of the hills of Connecticut, may well be called "the Cradle" of our family. In time it became the home of many by the name of Doolittle, and from here the family has spread out over the country.
At the outset the planters of Wallingford entered into the following interesting Covenant.
"We whose names are underwritten being accepted by the committee of New Haven for ye intended village as planters and desiring that the worship and ordinances of God, may in due time, be set up and encouraged among us, as the main concernment of a Christian people, promise and engage ourselves that we shall not neither directly nor indirectly do any thing to hinder or obstruct any good means that shall be used by the said Committee or others instructed by them to promote the premises by securing a godly and able ministry among us to dispense the word of God; and when such ministry or a church of Christ shall be settled among us, we engage by no means to disturb the same in their choice of minister or ministers or other church officers or other of their ch'h rights, liberties or administrations, nor shall refuse or withdraw due maintenance from such minister or ministry, and further we do engage ourselves peaceably to submit to such settlement and Civil order as the said Committee shall direct among us either by themselves or some others as a committee but them appointed, upon the place, until the said village came to be an orderly establishment within itself; and lastly we doe engage personally to settle upon the place May next come twelve months, if God's providence inevitably hinder not, and observe and perform all and every the other articles agreed upon. "Samuel Street, John Mosse, John Brockett, Nathaniel Merriman, Jero How, Zac'h How, Abraham Dowlittell, Daniel Hogge, John Miles, William Johnson, Thomas Hall, Nath'l How, Benjamin Lewis, Thomas Curtis, Thomas Yale, Sam'l Whitehead, John Beech, John Ives, Eliasaph Preston, Jehiel Preston, John Hall, Eliazar Holt, Samuel Hall, Joseph Ives, Samuel Andrews, Eleazar Peck, Joseph Benham, Daniel Sherman, Samuel Potter, Simon Tuttell, John Peck, Samuel Munson, Samuel Browne, John Harriman, Francis Heaton, Sam'l Cook, Samuel Milles, Nathan Andrews. 31st 11th, month 1669."
Abraham ever took an active part in public matters, and was one of the foremost leaders and highly valued citizens of the town, as the frequent mention of his name on the records in connection with various enterprises will testify. He was chosen to fill a number of public offices of trust and honor, and was Wallingford's representative several terms at the General Court at Hardford's. During the 20 years from the incorporation of W. until his death he was appointed to almost every position of responsibility within the gift of his fellow-townsmen.
In 1671, he was chosen Treasurer of the town. In those days dispute were settled by a committee appt. at a town meeting. Thus in the latter year we find Abraham and others were named to "bee the committee instructed to tak views of ye River lotts in ye behalfe of such as complayne & to give alowment as to quantity, according to their best juggement." The sm yr. he was one of a committee selected to help raise the minister's rate.
In Oct., 1671, the records show a grant of land to him for planting land, also 2 1/2 acres on Wharton's brook, which was important grant and contained a water privilege, upon which was built, in 1674, the first mill in the town. Parts of its foundation and timbers still remain to remind us of the very infancy of that New England enterprise which has so completely harnessed her water courses to the wheels of industry.
May 27, 1672, he was, with four others, chosen a committee for the approbation of planters to be admitted. This was a most important position, as the following extract from a document signed by every planter attest: "There shall be a standing committee chosen among us of ye most able and well affected persons, so that not-withstanding ye said committee have not power to any as a free planter into this town without the consent of ye inhabitants of ye towne, so neither shall ye towne admit of any as a free planters or inhabitant into this towne without the privity of free consent of ye committee, that so as much as in us lies, troublesome and ill affected persons may be kept off from us, our peace the better served, and that according to our unfained and harty desires, we may live in love and peace and enjoy the presence of the God of Love and peace amongst us." Abraham's appointment on this committee shows that the community esteemed him among the "most able and well affected."
In 1672, Abraham, as member of a committee from W. met a committee appt. by New Haven to adjust the boundary between the two towns on the west side of the river, for North Haven was not set of as a town until 1786.
June, 1673, the following curious grant was made: "Sergt. Dowlittle shall have for his use from the month of March next ensuing 10 acres of land on the great plain, the place vieawed, for the space of six years, and as a Recompense to the towne the sayed St. Dowlittle ingageth when his time is expired to soe upon every acre one bushel of English Hay seed."
In Dec. 1673, he was made surveyor of highways, and in 1674-75, selectman.
Feb. 15, 1975. he was appointed by his townsmen one of a committee of thirteen to attend to the founding of the first church (Congregational) in the village and later was selected to superintend to construction of the building. The outbreak of the Indian war delayed the completion of their work about two years.
He was made sergeant of the "first traine band" in 1673 and henceforth bore that title. At the time of King Philip's War (1675) he was member of the Vigilance Committee. His dwelling during this war was fortified by a picket fort against an attack expected from the Indians, led by King Philip in person. It is interesting to know that the old well which stood within the enclosure and supplied the inmates of the fort is still in use and furnishes splendid water. With the years 1675 came great trouble to the colonists in Connecticut. The Indians prepared for a fierce was, determining to entirely destroy the English; the Durch were hostile and other social and political troubles threatened in connection with Governor Andros revoking their charter. The outlook was so full of gloom that the General Assembly, fearing a large exodus of the settlers, imposed a fine of 100 and corporal punishment for any one between the ages of fourteen and seventy years who left the colony. Life was ever in great peril and danger lurked on every side. All males over sixteen years old were required to bear arms, excepting the magistrates and church officers. All were obliged to have a musket in readiness for service and be ever prepared day or night to give battle. Sentinels did duty from evening until sunrise; and whether at work in the fields or at church service, a man's gun was always at hand. The custom with us of the head of the family occupying the outer end of the pew comes from those times when he took that place in order to respond more quickly to a call to arms.
When the worthies of those times took to the warpath their equipment was prescribed by law as follows: "It is ordered that everyone that bares arms shall be completely furnished with arms (viz), a muskett, a sword, bandaliers, a rest, a pound of powder, 20 bullets fitted to their muskett, or 4 pounds of pistoll shott, or swan shott at least, and be ready to show them in the market place" on inspection day. Lieut. Merriman, Sergt. Doolittle and Elezier Peck were selected by the town's stock of powder, lead, and other ammunition.
As winter set in 1675 the Indians is large numbers fortified themselves in a log barricade at Pettyguamsquat, in northern Connecticut. Here the organized settlers made a fierce attack, setting fire to the stockade, whose inmates numbered into the thousands, and burned without mercy warriors, squaws, helpless old redskins and children. They killed three hundred Indian braves and took hundreds of prisoners, while those who escaped fled to the swamps and passed the cold, stormy night in the deep snow without shelter, food, or fire. The scene of that night, illuminated with burning wigwams and made hideous with shrieks and cries from women and children and warriors' yells, was described by one who witnessed it as a most horrible experience. The war lasted over a year and brought sorrow to nearly every home, for six hundred settlers were killed and large numbers wounded. The savages destroyed thirteen towns, burned hundreds of buildings, and drove off the stock. But with the struggle over, the power of the Indians throughout southern New England was forever at an end.
In 1677, Sergt. Doolittle was chosen to oversee the work on the mill dam, "to see ye it be carried on in all points for ye good of ye towne and also of ye work itself and he is to be alowed wages for his paines the same as other men have."
In Sept. 1677, it was "Voted by ye towne yet St, Dowlittle is empowered to call all ye towne once Round, first as many at a time as he needeth to attend the said works of ye mill forthwith.
In Apr. 1679, Abraham was chosen one of the Deputies to the General Court, an office equivalent to that of Representative now. He was also again serving as selectman, and in June was appt. one of a committee to lay out a highway for the town along the west side of the river. Later, sm. yr., "the towne gave St. Dowlittle twenty shillings in Recompense for his hard bargain in finding Mr. Street's firewood a year for 4 pounds to shilling." Evidently the minister was burning more wood than Abraham had calculated on.
In 1680, he was granted four acres of land by the town, " this four acres of land as a gratuitie over and above his proper division."
In 1681, Sergt. Doolittle was again sent to the General Court as Deputy. He was now over sixty years of age. In June of sm.yr. the town authorized him and four others "to purchase of ye Indians that pretend to or make claim of any of the land within they Borders granted to them by the Gen. Court, and Doe hereby empower them to act according to their best Judgment to a full ishew & the towne hereby engages to stand to the ishew made by s'd committee." This resulted in the committee's purchasing for Wallington from the neighboring Indians a large tract of land, which included the present location of Meriden.
In 1683, Sergt. Doolittle was elected "sealer of leatrher."
In 1684, Sergt. D., who had served repeatedly as selectman, was again elected to the position. That year in town meeting he was voted four acres "to build upon for the convenience of water." In march of sm.yr. he acted as foreman of a jury of inquest for the drowning case at W.
In 1685, Sergt. D., was chosen a Deputy to go to the May Court, and was also selected as one of the townsmen. He was now 65 yrs. of age and must have been a hale and hearty old gentleman in order to perform all the public duties that were thrust upon him, aside from conducting his own private affairs. Probably he could turn much of the routine work at home and on the farms over to his sturdy sons and daughters, under the supervision of his good wife Abigail.
In 1687, he was again chosen townsman and also in 1688, and besides served on numerous public committees- sometimes to fix a boundary, again to oveersee a new highway's construction, etc. It is said, "His judgment was of the greatest possible benefit to the community, and it must have been exercised in numberless instances."
In 1689, the town guaranteed Abraham 9 acres on either side of Wharton's brook, in addition to the regular division of that year, in which the Falls plain fell to him. This is the last time Sergeant Doolittle's name appears on the old record books in connection with public acts.
On August 11, 1690, having reached the allotted age of "three score years and ten," the old patriarch completed his life work, dignified by high and patriotic labors, by the cultivation of the acquaintance and regard of the noble and the good, by the promotion of public virtues and domestic worth, softened by the sweet charities, the endearing ties, the holy sympathies that clasp within their pale the members of a happy family, and closed at length by a calm death bed amid weeping friends, and by a grave beneath the elms in the restful quiet of the hillside cemetery, still to be adorned with flowers and pointed out to far posterity as the long home of one whose life was a course, to which death brought the consummation of unbending honor.
A citizen in that olden time could not drop away from the community and not be missed. All the members of the settlement were acquainted with each other. The sick among them were anxiously inquired after, and, if the farm work suffered, their neighbors gathered and lent a helping hand. In the words of S. B. Thorp, "The society and the town meetings, the lecture and the church services, and more than all the constant struggle on the border land of toil, sacrifice, privation, danger and denying innumerable knit a brotherhood that ease and wealth never knew." When a death occurred, the family selected some one to "take charge," and the funeral was the occasion of a large assemblage. They permitted no condition of crops, no urgent business, no threating weather, to prevent their attending. No unconcern was felt and singing was seldom heard at such gatherings. The body was placed in a casket usually of white wood, stained a dull red, with no outside case and with only coarse ropes for handles. This was carried on a bier by four "bearers," who were relieved by others when the distance was long, and the entire company followed to the burying ground. On the following Sabbath the pastor was wont to deliver a sermon with special reference to the deceased.
Abraham's gravestone is still standing- the oldest and most interesting one in Wallingford. It is nothing more than a common field stone four inches thick, a little over a foot high and about as wide, tapering toward the bottom. On one of the flat sides his initials, age, and date of death are very neatly and distinctly cut. The accompanying picture is prepared from a photograph of it. It is to be hoped that the family will sometimes replace this with a large and appropriate tombstone. One of the present citizens of Wallingford in reviewing Sergeant Doolittle's public service in a ling newspaper article and referring to this slowly gravestone, adds, "If after persuing this it is not thought by your readers that his memory should be perpetuated by some stone more sightly, then am I mistaken in the depth of gratitude which should be in the hearts of the people of Wallingford today, who are now partaking the fruits of the seed he so faithfully helped to sow over two centuries ago."
His strict Puritanic characteristics have instinctively appeared in his descendants. They are a notably plain people, yet enterprising, ambitious, and thrifty. They are religiously inclined and ever linked with the purest Protestantism. They are always found on the side of freedom and reforms and cling tenaciously to broad and liberal views which, in the foremost rank of the pioneers, they have carried even to the shores of the Pacific. In America the family temperament has found a congenial home and the "seed of Abraham" have become surprisingly numerous.
In the first apportionment of land in Wallingford, Abraham received twelve acres, and in the division of 1689 he drew lot number 62. At this time he held about two hundred acres in and around Wallingford.
In his will he mentioned his wife, Abigail, the seven sons and three daughters, Sarah Abernethly, Elizabeth Brockett and Abigail, unmarried. In May, 1700, the mother and seven sons entered into an agreement regarding a division of the lands in the estate located in the "falls plane," the "brush plane," the " clear plane," and "thirty-five acres on the side of the Blue Hills." The widow, Abigail, died November 5, 1710, aged sixty-nine years.
A fragment of brown stone 3 or 4 inches square having the inscription "1710 A.D. 69" was discovered a few years ago in the older portion of the cemetery at W. These are the initials, age and date of death of the widow Abigail Doolittle, and the fragment is part of her tombstone, although found some distance from her husband's. The widow Doolittle happens to be among the very few women mentioned on the W. town records. She was granted 25 acres on the side of the blue hills, with the provision that "ye timber is to be common." In 1694, she is granted 10 acres (next to that above) which her husband had purchased from John Beach, but which prob. had not been transferred before Abraham's death. Wid. Abigail doubtless closed her days in peace and prosperity, and the fragment of the stone erected to her memory by loving hands in that faraway time is all that remains to connect the present and the past.
2. i. Sarah m. Wm. Abernethy.
3. ii. Abraham b. Feb.12, 1649.
4. iii. Elizabeth b. April 12, 1652; m. Dr. John Brockett.
5. iv. Mary b. Feb. 22,1653; d. y.
6. v. John b. June 14, 1655.
7. vi. Abigail bapt, May 22, 1659; d. y.
8. vii. Samuel b. July 7, 1665.
9. viii. Joseph b. Feb. 12, 1667.
10. ix. Abigail b. Feb. 26, 1669; m. Wm. Fredericks.
11. x. Ezenezer b. July 6, 1672.
12. xi. Mary b. March 4, 1672; d. before 1690. It is said she m. John (s. of Capt. Nath's) Merriman of W. he m. 1} Hannah lines and after Mary's death m.3} Elizabeth Peck in 1690. Mary must have m. when about 16 years old and d. soon without children.
13. xii. Daniel b. Dec. 29, 1675.
14. xiii. Theophilus b. July 28, 1678.