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2  8 Wilson Avenue.jpg

8 Wilson Avenue
The Gershom Raymond II House, c. 1790 

           In order to grasp the full scope of the Raymond family's presence and influence in Rowayton, one must begin as far back as December 10, 1664, when John Raymond of Salem, Massachusetts, married a local girl named Mary and settled in the area. There were only a handful of families here at the time, so each started out in possession of an enormous tract of land. As John aged and his four sons started their own families, he began to give away pieces of his land to each—particularly to his eldest and namesake, John Raymond II, called "Captain Raymond" to distinguish him from his father and, eventually, his son and grandson. The young Captain Raymond had married Elizabeth St. John (or Sension, as it was often spelled and pronounced), daughter of another prominent Norwalk family. They would have ten children, averaging one every other year for just over two decades, all of whom remarkably seem to have survived into adulthood. Back in 1716, just a year after the birth of youngest grandson Zuriel, the elderly John Raymond granted twenty-five acres to Captain Raymond, citing no greater incentive than "parental love and affection" for this "well-beloved son." Captain Raymond's holdings in Rowayton were further consolidated two years later by the death of Elizabeth's father, who left his entire estate to his son-in-law.

 

            Captain Raymond, leader of a train-band and a land surveyor by trade, continued the trend set by his father of dividing his land into smaller tracts for his grown sons. In September 1747, he granted his oldest son, John Raymond, III (called John, Jr.), forty acres along the Five Mile River and, on the same day, three hundred pounds and thirty acres to his twenty-two-year-old grandson Gershom—who would later build this house. This land ran straight through the heart of Rowayton. The other sons probably received comparable properties, though these would have been outside the borders of the present-day town. Captain Raymond survived well into his eighties, dying just a few short years before John, Jr., whose estate granted those same forty acres in town to his only son, John Raymond, IV (called, somewhat unoriginally, the Youngest). This nickname was fitting in more ways than one; the Youngest was still a minor when his father died, so trusted neighbors Daniel Reed and Daniel Hoyt (also a distant cousin) were appointed as guardians. By action of these guardians, twenty-five acres were sold quickly to his uncle Gershom for 3,550 pounds, followed by an additional five acres adjoining his home lot a few years later.

 

            John the Youngest never had the chance to outgrow his epithet. Because he was still legally a minor when he died, a disagreement broke out between the surviving family members over who should inherit his property. His mother, Lydia—now remarried to Deodate Davenport—considered herself the only proper heir. She stood alone against the united opposition of all her brothers and sisters-in-law, the Youngest's aunts and uncles. Thankfully, no one really wanted a fight, so they were able to come to an agreement before the dispute grew too heated.

 

            Under the compromise, Lydia received her former home, occupying "six acres, two roods (a measure of land area equal to a quarter of an acre), and twenty rods (a old surveyor's tool measuring exactly 5 ½ yards)" of land. The rest was divided between Gershom, his brother Jesse, Mary and Sands Selleck, Thomas Benedict (the husband of their youngest sister, Hannah, who died between the time of the Youngest's death and the property settlement. Benedict stood in as a guardian for his children, all of whom were underage), and Katherine and John Jarvis (cousins of the Youngest). But apart from the cited financial and familial motivations to settle this issue quickly, the Raymonds were facing much more serious concerns than a disputed inheritance. The year was 1768, and tensions with Great Britain were mounting.

 

            It would be futile even to try to recount, with any sort of completeness, the Raymond family's contribution to the Revolution in Norwalk; speaking only of those who lived at 2 Wilson Avenue misses the broadness of their involvement and revolutionary zeal. At the time, there was an entire network of Raymond cousins settled throughout Norwalk, spanning several generations, though it was the middle-aged fathers who really took the lead. Gershom Raymond was one of these. [1] “In the time of the Revolution, Gershom, in whose blood was mingled that of six of the founders of Norwalk, owned nearly the whole of lower “Five Mile River.”[2] An ardent patriot[3], Gershom spent years serving American interests both as a civilian and a soldier. In 1774, he and his cousin Eliakim, several years his senior, were appointed members of the Committee of Safety—local men who controlled the militia and acted as a provisional government in cooperation with the Committees of Correspondence and, of course, the Continental Congress. The following year, Gershom was chosen as a representative to the newly formed Fairfield County Congress before he joined the Ninth Connecticut Regiment at its formation in 1777.

 

            His brother Jesse, with whom he shared ownership of some Rowayton property, also served some of the many revolutionary committees that convened in Norwalk through the 1770s and 1780s. One was "The Committee of Inspection," an ominous-sounding group responsible for monitoring the behavior of local citizens. He coauthored several letters to the governor and the General Assembly in Hartford, warning about British activity on Long Island:

            "The enemy frequently, just at night, cross the sound, and come upon us and take away our stock, and plunder us, notwithstanding the utmost care to prevent it . . . they very often of late come hovering about our shores, and anchor about our islands with small armed sloops, and boats come within our harbor, and in two instances, have come in the night up our harbors and fired upon our houses, which causes frequent alarms, and creates great uneasiness among the women and children . . and that as we have no armed force on the water, we have it not in our power to prevent the enemy's [sloops] distressing us."

 

            The letter went on to request permission to purchase an armed vessel to protect those eight short miles of water between Huntington Bay on Long Island and Rowayton. All this must have greatly pleased Jesse's father-in-law, Moses Mather, the Middlesex Congregationalist minister so devoted to independence. Another of Jesse's committees ensured the physical and financial security of Norwalk families whose men had gone to war. This was a blatant attempt to encourage enlistments, given the current "slow progress made in filling up the Continental Battalions to be raised by this state, and the vast importance of their being immediately completed." Interestingly, this committee coincided with the organization of the Ninth Connecticut, Gershom's regiment. There were Raymonds scattered throughout the Continental Army; Aaron, a cousin and near neighbor, served in the Third Connecticut for six-and-a-half years before receiving his discharge papers, signed by General Washington himself.

 

            Captain Simeon Raymond, Aaron's father, owned the property adjacent to Gershom's on the Five Mile River. He and his sons ran a ferry that conveyed passengers from the area of South Norwalk known as "Old Well" across Long Island Sound to Huntington Bay, at a rate of one shilling and six pence per person (one shilling and ten pence halfpenny if you wanted to bring your horse). He also held an officer's commission in the British army. As tensions swelled in the prewar years, threatening open conflict, many colonists struggled to balance loyalties that grew ever more disparate. For men like Simeon, who had sworn oaths of allegiance and defense to Britain, the situation was especially tenuous; the stronger the commitment, the harder the choice—and, of course, the fiercer the punishment. As the story goes, Simeon's decision to resign his commission and join the resistance so enraged Loyalists that they burned his entire property.

 

            Despite such a history of active patriotism, Gershom Raymond's name was presented to the town as potentially "Inimical and Dangerous to the Liberties and Independence of the United States of America" in 1781. Beyond this the Norwalk town records are frustratingly vague, offering no explanation for such a surprising denunciation. Presumably, this refers to his youngest son, Gershom Raymond, II, at that time nineteen years old; it would hardly be proper to accuse his father, who was on that very day fighting in the Continental Army. The only other local Raymond with Loyalist connections was a young cousin, Josiah (Eliakim's nephew), who laid low during the war but sailed his family back to England as soon as possible afterward, never to be heard from again by his Norwalk relatives.

            Even through the upheaval of the war, life went on in Rowayton. In 1776, Gershom and Jesse decided to split their shared land—twenty acres adjacent to his other property on the River went to Gershom, while Jesse took "the salt meadows," probably located in the Roton marshes and used for grazing cattle. Since his youth, Gershom had been acquiring bit by bit a large personal property in Rowayton that roughly covered the area bounded by modern-day Witch Lane and Highland, Wilson , and Rowayton Avenues. Thus, he was able to continue the Raymond tradition of granting land to his sons, but he took this idea to a whole new level. Rather than simply dividing his land in his old age, Gershom gave each of his sons property, complete with a house, as wedding presents (see 200 Rowayton Avenue). The house at 2 Wilson Avenue was a gift to Gershom Raymond, Jr., on the occasion of his 1787 marriage to Mary Whiting. Father Gershom died only two months later, at which time Gershom, Jr. inherited thirty adjacent acres, including the family home, barn, and cornhouse. He and his wife were both members of the same Darien Methodist congregation led by Moses Mather, and they lived long enough to see their children established on Rowayton land.

 

            Gershom, Jr.[4], passed the house on to his widow, Mary, and his son Lewis [5]. The house stayed in the Raymond family until Lewis Raymond’s estate transferred the property to Charles A. Ambler, his son-in-law, in 1900.

 

            Hannah Raymond Ambler took title to the house in 1922. The property was turned over to her two sons Lewis and Charles in 1926. Lewis  transferred his interest in the property in 1937 on to Elizabeth Ambler (his niece)—the daughter of Charles and Anna Ambler—who was only seventeen at the time. In 1939, upon his death, the estate of Charles M. Ambler transferred his share of the property to Anna S. Ambler (his wife) and Elizabeth (Betty) Ambler (his daughter). Betty died childless in 1998 at the age of seventy-eight. The property at 2/8 Wilson Avenue was sold to the Sixth Taxing District (Rowayton) in 1999 while the shopping center that had been built on the back part of the Ambler property was sold to 140 Rowayton Avenue LLC in 2001.

 

            In 2005, this house was moved from 2 Wilson Avenue to 8 Wilson to prevent its destruction while making room for a new village parking lot. Following its sale in 2008 to a Rowayton resident, it was renovated and sold. 

 

 

[1] Gershom and his wife Abigail are buried in Raymond Cemetery.

[2] Weed, Samuel Richards; Norwalk After Two Hundred & Fifty Years, an account of the celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Charter of the Town, 1651 -- September 11th -1901; Norwalk Historical and Memorial Library Association; 1902.

[3] On the opposite side of the war for Independence was fierce Loyalist and town resident Captain Esaias Bouton, who was rumored to have made more money off the war than anyone else in Norwalk. The Captain’s home was situated at the head of Wilson Cove, high up on the hillside off Witch Lane, and boasted a fireplace that faced the water.  According to Samuel Richards Weed’s history, Norwalk After 250 Years, when the coast was clear for British boats to land, Bouton would signal the British invaders with a roaring fire and then meet them on the Wilson Cove shore to offer cattle and produce for sale to feed the hungry Tory soldiers. Bouton is buried in the Bouton-Hoyt family cemetery on the north side of Witch Lane.

[4] Gershom II and his wife Mary are both buried in Raymond Cemetery.

[5] Lewis was one of the founders of the Union Cemetery on Rowayton Avenue in 1849, as well the owner of a large amount of Bell Island property.

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