Hannah Spalding's Tragic Romance

From Windham County Women of Olden Time by Ellen D. Larned

The Graphic, January-February, 1897

Few lives have more of the element of tragic romance than that of the pioneer woman of South Killingly, Mrs. Hannah (Wilson) Spalding. Her husband, Jacob Spalding, of Plainfield, inherited a right on the Owaneco Purchase, and was the first to take possession of a Killingly section. His adventures and exploits in connection with the Indians are well known. Mrs. Spalding's prowess in routing a noisy band attempting to force their way through the window, by striking the leader on the mouth with an enormous beef-bone, is handed down by admiring descendants. Jacob Spalding was killed instantly, --thrown from his cart on Black Hill, --leaving his widow and two children in comfortable circumstances.

Mrs. Spalding was an unusually attractive person, of fine presence and character. To the great disgust of friends and relatives she gave her hand in a few years to an adventurer, who had figured among the Scotch settlers of Voluntown, under the name of Girk. To Mrs. Spalding he confided that his real name was Edward Stuart; that he was a lineal descendant of the royal line, sharing the exile of the banished King. His appearance and manners confirmed this story, which was also vouched for by Rev. Samuel Dorrance and other prominent settlers of Voluntown. Mr. Dorrance performed the marriage ceremony, and Edward Stuart reigned in the Spalding mansion. There was much talk among the neighbors of his fine clothes and lordly air. His linen was so fine that it could be drawn through a ring; his gilded rapier was of astonishing beauty and workmanship. He spoke French with great fluency and had great skill in fencing.

The only child of this marriage was a daughter, named Mary in honor of the ill-fated Queen. Soon after her birth, Stuart went abroad for a year, in which he was supposed to have taken a part in uprisings in England. After his return he persuaded his wife to sell the farm she held in her own right, and with the proceeds prepared for another venture. His proceedings were at this time considered so suspicious that he was forbidden by the town to harbor "one Sherrod" and for several days before his final departure he maintained "a guarded secrecy," and then stole away by night. From Baltimore he wrote to his wife that he was about to make one more effort to retrieve his fortunes and whatever he might gain "it would not be too good to share with her." This was the last ever heard of Edward Stuart. The date of his disappearance tallies remarkably with that of the first concerted attempt by Charles Edward to regain the throne of Britain. Very extensive preparations had been made for this invasion, but a great storm scattered the fleet and wrought great destruction in life and property. If Edward Stuart was what he claimed to be, he met the fate of many of his associates.

Mrs. Stuart survived but a few months. Her health had been greatly affected by the talk and suspicion of her kindred and neighbors, and the estrangement and opposition of her children.

Mary Stuart grew up a beautiful girl, strongly resembling her father in manner and personal appearance, but the Stuart destiny pursued her. The farm that would have come to her having been pre-empted by her father, she was forced through life to struggle with poverty. Marrying when young, William Earl, of Brooklyn, their home and its contents were destroyed by fire in the middle of a winter night, the family barely escaping with their lives, wading barefoot through deep snow. Hoping to repair this loss, Mr. Earl enlisted in the unfortunate expedition to Havana, and died of yellow fever. Mary supported herself and her two sons till her marriage with a young Carpenter, David Dodge, and then enjoyed a few years of comparative comfort and happiness.

But with the Revolutionary War new trials came. Her two Earl boys, fine, spirited young men, were early induced to enlist, and both died of exposure and disease. Mr. Dodge sunk all his property in the manufacture of Continental wagons; Mary Stuart's health and nerves were completely shattered by all that she had passed through, and her remaining days were clouded by sickness and poverty. The children of her second marriage were a comfort and support. Her daughter, Mrs. Sprague, of Hampton, was a woman of unusual character and piety, and her son, David L. Dodge, after a manly struggle succeeded in founding that mercantile house in New York, still represented by his grandson, William E. Dodge.