In 2018, NEHFES hired title researcher Carol Spenser to create a database of all land deed transactions, both purchases and sales, in Chesterfield and nearby Oakdale from 1890 – 1920. I wanted to help member/descendants discover when their ancestors first purchased land and moved to Chesterfield, and to estimate how many individual families lived in Chesterfield during those years. We now think it’s about 475.
With considerable knowledge of historic Connecticut and Rhode Island land records, Carol Spencer spent days examining the archival land indexes of the Town of Montville’s Land Records. The resulting database of more than 1,000 transactions, available on our website, provides the specific volume and page number for every deed, and can be sorted or searched by family name. The database page also includes explanations regarding deed terminology and instructions on how to perform searches.
The unusual orthographic variations found in the spelling of both first and last names of the same person have been retained for the sake of historic accuracy – and amusement. After all, Montville’s town clerks tried their very best to convert odd sounding Russian, Polish or Rumanian names into pronounceable, phonetic English! Copies of individual deeds, which will specify acreage, cost and location, can be ordered by calling the Montville Town Clerk‘s office at 860-848-6784, and cost $1.00 per page.
Many of the early mortgages were held by the Baron de Hirsch Fund which was capitalized in New York City in 1891. Indeed, it was the very mission of the Fund to encourage Jewish immigrant refugees from Czarist Russia to buy land and establish themselves as independent, tax paying American citizens. The Baron Maurice de Hirsch had a vision:
“What I desire to accomplish, what, after many failures has come to be the object of my life and that for which I am ready to stake my wealth and my intellectual powers, is to give to a portion of my companions in faith the possibility of finding a new existence, primarily as farmers, and also as handicraftsmen, in those lands where the laws and religious tolerance permit them to carry on the struggle for existence as noble and responsible subjects of a humane government.”Moses of the New World: The Work of Baron de Hirsch, Samuel J. Lee, Thomas Yoseloff Publisher, New York 1970, page 214.
The appeal of Chesterfield, and other rural towns in Connecticut, was inexpensive, albeit rock-strewn, farmland, available via the de Hirsch Fund for a down payment of $300. – $500. and a 5% interest rate loan. Our Yiddish-speaking ancestors bought acres of land from Yankee owners and often continued to sell different tracts back and forth among themselves or to newcomers.
When incorporated in 1892 as the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society, the intent was to form a society for public worship and to “perpetuate the cause of Judaism.” But our great-grandparents and grandparents also went about the business of assimilation, with ambition, hard work and dedication to an ethical life, family and education. They bought the land and sent their children to the Town of Montville’s District 12 one room schoolhouse and onto Bulkeley High School in New London. The next generation married and moved out to Hartford, New London, New York and beyond to establish businesses. Their grandchildren graduated college and universities.
Today, the succeeding generations of this vibrant Russian Jewish Immigrant community of Chesterfield, Connecticut have successfully entered the American mainstream in the fields of law, education, academia, finance, business, media, government, science, medicine and more. The trajectory is an embodiment of “the American Dream.” The Baron would be pleased.
Nancy R. Savin, President, NEHFES
Riverdale, New York