Biography of Joseph Learned, of Hebron, CT & Fairfax, VT
Written and presented by:
Alan Dale Learned, Descendent
at the grave site dedication ceremony
on July 4th, 2001
Alan Learned, Family Historian, introduces his young son Joey to Albert Rich of Fairfax, Vt., also a direct descendant of Joseph Learned
Firstly I want to mention my appreciation and recognition of the women of this family who each in their own peculiar way helped define our family and who often did more than their share in the survival and ultimate success of the Learned family throughout the years in this new found land. Today we know barely anything at all about them, but the women certainly had to be as tough as their men and as wise and perhaps in certain instances they were even more noteworthy as were also some of the families that the women came from.
In the direct male Learned line we were coopers, carpenters, farmers or surveyors, town clerks, soldiers or teachers; and not uncommonly the Learned men performed several duties at the same time. Since 1630 when the family name first arrived in America we have been among the founding families in towns within every New England state.
We are here today to acknowledge our common ancestor Joseph Learned who had volunteered to serve in the American Revolutionary War and the creation of a new nation. With your kind indulgence I will digress just this once to tell the story of Joseph's youngest brother Nathan and their father Joseph the elder of Lebanon, Connecticut, each who served his country in his own way as had many other long since forgotten Americans. Nathan was born three years after his older brother Joseph and two older sisters, Sarah and Hannah. At the time of the Revolution many eastern Connecticut communities including the people of Lebanon,Connecticut were agitated with trepidation, shock, and anger. Their town meetings were often boisterous affairs steeped in revolutionary fervor. In September 1776 the English sailed into New York's harbor filling the skies with canvas in an awesome terrifying display of power. They anchored and set out in landing craft for Sheep's Head bay in Brooklyn to meet George Washington's woefully untrained band of local and state militias from as far away as Maryland.
The men of eastern Connecticut set out in small groups from their towns and villages under the command of popular local leaders to enjoin Washington's feeble army growing daily in Brooklyn. The Americans who met there were undisciplined, ill-organized farmers and craftsmen, untrained, poorly led, tired and often drunk enabling the professional English and German armies to easily outmaneuver them. The farmers were nearly completely surrounded. The frightened routed Americans ran, scurrying about like rabbits through the fields and thickets of Brooklyn. British Dragoons called out fox-hunting calls on their bugles. The Americans were bayoneted in bushes, dragged out of swamps, shot in their backs as they fled helter skelter for their lives. That we are free Americans today is a result of a heaven-sent fog during the night that allowed Washington's band of rabble to escape to Manhattan Island. Those unlucky Americans who were captured during the melee were gathered and chained in dank, dark, putrid, hot, rat infested hulks in the harbor. Or they were held in the infamous Sugar House in the city of New York where they were also systematically tortured. Many lost their lives there, from untreated wounds, starvation, or sickness.
Nathan Learned is not now listed with any known militia organization from that era. He was arguably one of the many stragglers, usually under aged boys who eagerly if naively followed the men of their town or village into battle. Nathan, like many young American boys, may hae looked back but he never returned to his home. His memory is but a tenuous obscure reference in a volume of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register published in 1858 to a time ravaged, illegible cenotaph in an ancient Connecticut cemetery.
Joseph's and Nathan's father Joseph the elder, often worked for Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Lebanon, Connecticut, that state's great rebel patriot, to repair the properties he leased or rented from him and drove wagonloads of gravel belonging to the Governor, to a nearby seaport. Governor Trumbull was a great supplier of military stores to General Washington's army and much of those supplies were concealed within wagon shipments. It is fair to suggest that Joseph the elder was a smuggler for the revolutionary cause.
There exists a list, a probate inventory of personal items that belonged to Joseph the elder compiled at his death by his neighbors and friends and it tells us much about him and his family, much more in fact than dates could ever tell us.
From that list we find that Joseph the elder wore the plain and simple clothes of a pragmatic, humble farmer. He had a large chair to indicate his place at the head of the household, if only symbolically, and six smaller chairs for his family. His wife Hannah made their own homespun clothes but adorned them with suttler-bought hardware like his one pair of knee buckles. Joseph the elder left a razor, which meant that his neighbor's and his wife's opinions were important to him. He had the meager tools of a farmer who lived a life providing for his own family's sustenance. He had no horse, no carriage or wagon though he did own cattle and hogs. He preferred tea to the more exotic and expensive coffee. He enjoyed playing cards. Interestingly, he had a clock to remind him when to get ready for the long ride to church or to meeting. He preferred to eat pork over beef and poultry. He liked his bread and he ate communally with his family from a large trencher bowl, set at a square table that had one drawer. He liked cider, probably of different fruit varieties stored in several casks in the cellar, and his wife had a number of different sized wood bowls with which to make a variety of cooked foods. He had a looking glass and spectacles, with which to read his one great bible, his two copies of the new testament, and three sermons books. From these we have little doubt that he was a God-fearing man who wished to raise his family to live by the ten commandments and the forgiving love and wisdom of Christ; and also that he could barely see.
In Joseph the elder's low-chest were the clothes belonging to several small boys, very likety Joseph and Nathan's younger brothers who died young of disease many years before, for in a time before photography keeping mementos such as these was to recall the good times as well as bad. As a parent and as a man with four healthy siblings I can not imagine the depth of pain and anguish that our ancestors lived with from day to day. To lose a child to war or to lose very young children to disease is unbearable at any time. But misery was a common visitor in those days before modern medicine and before our nation became the great protective power that it is today.
Joseph the younger, who came to this northern land was a product of that family in Lebanon, Connecticut. He was the third child of Joseph and Hannah Learned of Lebanon, married into a family of women, the second family of the late John Merritt of Hebron, Connecticut. John Merritt was a dissenter from the Hebron church at the time of the so-called Great Awakening, a profound religious revival that began in New England in the 1740's. John Merritt apparently preferred the preaching of the Reverend Eleazer Wheelock, the pastor of the neighboring Lebanon parish known as the Crank, now Columbia, Connecticut. It was Wheelock who would later go on to foumd the famous Indian school Dartmouth Col1ege in 1771. After the death of John Merritt, Joseph and his wife Mehitabel Merritt bought her sister's shares in their father's 80 acre Hebron estate located on the border witb Lebanon and they 1ived there on that small hilly, rock and boulder strewn property through the Revolutionary War Years. Two hundred years ago this past winter Joseph bought a one hundred acre parcel to which he adjoined a second several years later, the farm you see below you. Adjacent to the south was the farm of his son Joseph, Jr., twice a town representative in Montpelier. To the east were the farms of sons Asa, a suicide who shot himself, and Alanson, Josephs youngest son who died at an early age. Near the Heyer's farm complex north of us lived the stout and strong Heman Allen Learned, Joseph's son who built many fine brick houses in Fairfax, some of which still stand.
A few small parcels were added here and there, including the one we are now standing on since the road touched only a small corner of the property. From the Rainville farm now located across the valley came a cart path known in the town's early nineteenth century records as "the road to Joseph Learned's house." The low cabin, built of logs and bark and a few rough sawn planks stood above that primitive road at this corner of the property.
Here in Fairfax Learned graves are common. It is at once thrilling, enchanting, endearing, and humbling to see in this town so many pieces of our family history preserved for us today. But what is left of Joseph and Lydia Learned's monument? Upon this square plinth once stood a column of rectangular marble nearly five foot high, topped with a flat or pyramidal capital. On it's face overlooking the old homestead was the name "Learned" and on it's obverse may have been their names and dates of their deaths and perhaps a bible verse. What a wonderful site this must have been to Joseph and Lydia, to have known that this verdant little valley was once a thick trackless forest, cleared and cultivated by their own hands.
In his lifetime Joseph laughed and cried. He won and lost. He met crushing obstacles and soaring victories. He knew the dullness of daily farm chores and the excitement of battle. He saw his duty and he performed it. He drank hard cider often. He went to church. His family had the abundance promised of the new land and they had the year of famine when his crops and 1ivestock perished in the year without a summer, 1816 when the face of hunger and cold misery 1ingered over this land, death beckoning at every family's door.
Joseph had good friends and neighbors and he also had hard creditors who took his land. He had nineteen children but lost his first wife in childbirth. He remarried but saw many in his family and friends ravaged by tuberculosis. You may wonder where indeed is his monument. His monument is here today in your faces and in your hearts. It is a monument of hope and faith and devotion to our families, that they may thrive and grow in God's grace.
We are all the richer as a family because we have a unique and wonderful History. Recall if you will one of the ten commandments; "Honor thy forebears," which commands us to remember the deeds of our ancestors and to make their spirits proud of our achievements to make this a better world for all. Recall the words from the bib1e of the prophet Isaiah; Remember the rock that you are hewn from and the grave you are dug out of. Be aware of your heritage and grow in strength from it. Be thankfu1 to God that we have a family history that we all can be proud of. Do not excuse their fau1ts and the errors of your loved ones, believing it as a reflection of ourselves. They were imperfect as we all are. Love them and forgive the frailties and the mistakes of all our ancestors, even those among us for from love we all will prosper. This is the best memory we can leave of them and for our own posterity.