By Dorothy Dean Viets Schell, Gateway Press, Baltimore, 1990



1-1. Lucas, born January 19, 1705, in New York City; died there July11, 1706.

1-2. Catherine Viets

Catherine Viets, daughter of Dr. John and Catherine (Meyers) Viets, was probably born in New York City, date unknown. She married on August 17, 1738 John Hoskins of Windsor, born there December 5, 1701, son of John and his second wife, Ruth Atkins. According to Stiles' History of Ancient Windsor he was fourth in descent from John Hoskins who came to Dorchester, Massachusetts, in the Mary and John in 1630 and was made a freeman in 1631. He appears to have been past the middle age of life on his arrival and was called "Goodman." He removed to Windsor probably with the first party and was there called John Hoskins, Sr. Lands were granted to him in 1640; he was a delegate to the Connecticut General Court in 1637. He died in 1648.

There being several John Hoskins in Windsor, the John who married Catherine Viets was called John II and was distinguished from the others on the Windsor Church baptismal records as "of this [i.e., the main] Street." He died in 1765; his widow died on November 8, 1776. They had 9 children.

1-3. Henry Viets

Henry Viets was born in 1709, probably in New   York, and came to Simsbury in 10 with his parents, Dr. John and Catherine Viets. He obtained a practical education. His account book, still in a good state of preservation, was last known to be in the custody of his descendant Jonathan M. Viets of Bryan, Ohio. Itshows that Henry was a good penman and accountant. He made use of Latin expressions, which he may have learned as a lad from his father. On the first page of the old book may still be seen the following: Henry, alias Henricus Viett, of Simsbury, Connecticut, his book of accounts or accompts, 1729. Henry Viets and his brother John are both said to have been stout, strong young fellows and given to practical jokes, as was the case with young men in frontier settlements in those days.

Henry, afterthe death of his father, which took place when he was but thirteen years old, was for a time connected with the copper mining industry at Newgate. He soon, however, came into possession of considerable real estate, and settled down in the northern part of the town, at what is now the little village of Copper Hill, where he was a shoemaker as well as a farmer. Henry's house is no longer standing. The home now on this property was built by Henry's son, James, and stayed in the family until 1915.

Henry Viets married first, September 22, 1735, Margaret Hoskins of Windsor, daughter of John and Ruth (Atkins) Hoskins (and sister of his brother-in-law, John Hoskins). She was born May 10, 1712 and died September 28, 1750. They had 5 children. He married second, May 22, 1751, Margaret Austin of Suffield, born March 5, 1712/13, daughter of John and Agnes (King) Austin. [Ancestral File, Family History Library, #AFN:4KMR-44.] She died October 15, 1783. They had 1 child.

1-4. Mary Viets

Mary Viets, daughter of Dr. John and Catherine (Meyers Viets, was probably born in New York City (date unknown). She married in October 1732 Ephraim Goff (or Goffe), born March 4, 1699, son of Moses and Mercy Goff. They had 6 children. Ephraim’s grandfather, Philip Goff, was the first of the name in Wethersfield. He settled there before 1649 and built the first house within the present bounds of Rocky Hill in 1655. After the death of his father Ephraim chose his cousin, Philip Goff, to be his guardian in 1714. Ephraim died in 1744 and the administration of his estate was granted to the widow and to Aaron Goff [Hartford County Probate Records, XIV, p. 54].

From Capt. John Viets' account book [Archives, Manuscript Collection, Connecticut State Library] it appears that some of the Goff family (and perhaps all) went to live with Capt. John and family. Mention is made of Mary and David who worked for him. David Goff began working for his uncle December 18, 1754 when he was sixteen years of age. One account between Capt. John and Mary indicates that she was about to be married, as numerous items of expensive clothing as well as an elaborate pillion are mentioned. Whether this "Mary" was his sister or his niece is not known. Children [VR, Wethersfield]:

 1-5. John Viets

Captain John Viets, son of Dr. John and Catherine (Meyers) Viets, was born in Simsbury, November 3, 1712. He gives evidence of having had a practical education for those days. John worked for a time, with his brother Henry, in the Simsbury copper mines at Newgate. It is said that while working in the Bines at Newgate he met Lois Phelps, an unusually charming girl. She had come with others to visit the caverns which then, as now, were objects of curiosity. Lois afterward became his wife. The copper mines were destined to become Newgate Prison during the Revolutionary war.

John Viets passed some years of his early life in Westfield, Massachusetts. He possessed great energy and considerable business sagacity. He settled on an estate near Newgate and became a farmer, a store and hotel keeper, and an extensive trader. His house and other buildings, located opposite the prison, were built in the 1760s, although a part of the house was built later.

Two books in which Captain John Viets kept accounts of articles sold, horses rented, services rendered, etc., are in the Archives of the Connecticut State Library. Many different people had accounts with him including other members of the Viets family. The following gives a sampling of the items listed:

January 22, 1753 Mary Goff begun to work Paid for weaving, money for cloth for pilion and labor of making same.

May 1757 For gown. For Lace. For Fan. silk & lining & paper for bonnets.

June 1750 Benoni Viets   Contra credit. My boy and team little more than half a day to plow 1=0=0 Team to fetch your wheat. Fetch wood. Signed/ Benoni Viets, John Viets

[Types of items sold, taken from various accounts: "Sugar, vinigar, molases, pidgeons, tobacco, cheese, cyder, buck wheat, turnops, potatoes, flax, oats." Shoes were frequently listed, sometimes of sheepskin, perhaps made by his brother Henry. Another notation gave a credit to tailor John Holcomb Jr. "for cutting out a coat for Jonny my boy."]

His early account book shows that he and his partner in the trading business, Abel Forward, made trips as far as Schenectady and Albany, New York; to Boston, Cape Cod, and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; and Rhode Island.

From Springman and Guinan's East Granby, the Evolution of a Connecticut Town, we learn that Almond B. Phelps, who married into the Viets family, purchased in 1912 the Captain John Viets' home from Virgil E. Viets, a descendant of Captain John. He had previously bought Newgate from Samuel D. Viets in 1904 and reopened the prison to the public, holding dances in the guardhouse. He renovated the old historic house across from the prison and turned it into a summer resort hotel. Mr. Phelps continued the prison tours and ran Newgate Lodge until his death in 1925. The property was then sold to the Clarence W. Seymour family.

[In September 1986 I was privileged to be shown through the home. Many rooms had been divided off in the upper story. I was intrigued by a fireplace in a room on the lower floor on which was carved "Lois Viets 1760." The 1760 may refer to the year the house was built. - - DVS]

In 1968 the state of Connecticut bought Newgate Prison, renovating it and providing better access to the caverns below. The state also purchased the Viets property across the road. The prison is now open to the public as a tourist attraction and future plans call for the renovation of Captain John's home. Newgate Prison was placed on the National Historic Landmark registry in 1973. A record number of visitors, 36,000, toured the facility in 1976.

[A letter to me from Natalie (Noyes) Viets, the widow of John Bartlett Viets, written in June 1984 states, "Did you know he (Captain John Viets) was written up in the novel Drums Along the Mohawk in such a dastardly manner that Dr. Henry Viets wrote an objection to the author but later had to admit that it was alas! true." Below is an excerpt from the book. - - DVS]

From Drums along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds:

Author's (Edmond's) note: The description of Newgate Prison at Simsbury Mines is strictly according to facts—most of them offered by the patriotic party, at that. It was, however, no worse than British prisons, and the prisoners, I suspect, had infinitely more to eat. . . .

V. John Wolff's Journey (1777)

I. The Cavern

John Wolff had been in Newgate Prison for over a year, but he wasn't sure of himself how long it was. He seemed to have lost the sense of time. There were days when he couldn't have said offhand whether it was today, or yesterday; they were days beyond track.

Sometimes he would catch himself saying the days of the week, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. . . ." Or the months of the year. There were many things he used to say. "Lucy Locket, lost her pocket. ..." Sometimes he would wake up some of the near-by prisoners and they would throw odd pieces of rock at his bed and yell. It was awful when the men yelled. It started the echoes whirling in the high air shaft, seventy feet high. It was fifty feet across at the bottom, they said, though you couldn't find that out by pacing because the water lapped against the far side. But at the top the shaft was four feet across with an iron grating fixed into the stone; and what with the smoke from the charcoal braziers one could hardly tell where the sun was in the sky, except at noon. A little before and a little after the equinox, you could see the sun itself if you waded out into the water far enough to stand directly under the grating. You could even feel it on your head, very faintly warm. John Wolff had felt it, and the next man, walking out felt it also, but he started a convulsion, and they had to haul him out of the water for fear he would drown.

. . But one night when the men were making their singsong, it happened that the guard was drunk. Maybe the guard went a little crazy himself. Anyway, he opened the trap and fired his musket. They could all see him, fifty feet above their heads in the lighted square of the trap, his furious red face, and the musket pointing down like the finger of wrathful retribution. The bullet striking made no sound through the yelling voices and they yelled twice as loud. Even John Wolff yelled that night. And the guard lost his head entirely. He fired again and again, and finally a ball ricocheted and killed one of the prisoners. He was the man who had come in with John Wolff, the man who had beaten a soldier for molesting his wife. But they did not notice he had died till it was time for them to go up the next day.

They had to haul him up with a rope and carry him to the smithy so that his irons could be taken off. Then he had been buried, and the commandant, Captain Viets, in a fury, had had half a dozen men flogged, choosing the ones the outraged guard who had committed the murder pointed out, and one man, who owed the guard three shillings, was hung by his heels for an hour and a half. Nobody had had any food for two days, but the guard did well instead, for it was necessary for the prison to consume its full ration of beef if the commandant were to receive his regular allowance.

Tradition gives John Viets the credit of introducing potato culture into that part of Connecticut; he is said to have brought the seed from Rhode   Island in hissaddle-bags. When the first crop of potatoes had broken the ground, the oId men of the neighborhood were called together to decide how they should be hoed, After due deliberation it was decided that they should be entirely covered with fresh soil at the first hoeing. A fair crop was reported.

Mr. Viets bought horses about the country and took them to Boston for sale. It said that he rode his mare to Boston in one day, a distance of a hundred miles. On one occasion he reached the east bank of the Connecticut opposite Windsor late in the day with a drove of horses. The ferryman being on the west side and unwilling to cross over for him at such a late hour, Mr. Viets, impatient of delay, urged his horses into the flood and swam them to the opposite shore, although he himself was not able to swim and the river high.

He was first a lieutenant and afterwards captain of militia. His appointment as captain is recorded in the Colonial Records May 17, 1746 when the following vote was passed: "This Assembly do establish and confirm Mr. John Viets to be captain of the fourth company or train band in Simsbury, and order that he be commissioned accordingly." In 1753 he was one of the selectmen of the town.

He was also a grand juror and a surveyor of highways. In 1754 a memorial was presented the General Assembly by John Viets requesting abatement of taxes on unimproved land in northwest Simsbury. In 1773 Captain John Viets was appointed master or keeper of Newgate Prison for the ensuing year. In 1775 he was again appointed keeper of Newgate during the pleasure of the Assembly; he was paid this year, for his services as keeper, 149 pounds, 17 shillings, 8½ pence. During the early years of the War for Independence he did good service for the patriot cause by keeping Tory prisoners imprisoned at Newgate. [Trumbull, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut.]

It is said that he purchased large tracts of land in Becket, Massachusetts, owning at one time half of the town. His nephew Henry, who settled in Becket, land from him. Starting in life with little inherited wealth, except good blood and good health, he accumulated an estate which was valued at his death at the age of sixty-five at 2,243 pounds, 15 shillings, 1 penny, or about $10,000. He brought up a family of ten children, two of whom were fitted for college, and one was graduated from Yale.

In the inventory of his estate are three hundred and seven articles. Among the books were: Bible, singing book, Book of Common Prayer, law book, dictionary, Book of Martyrs, Psalter, Testament, and vade mecum. There were among his possessions a beaver hat, valued at 1 pound, 13 shillings, leather breeches, silver knee and shoe buckles, two great coats, a desk, and a set of China tea dishes.

Captain John Viets died of smallpox on April 8, 1777, age 65. He was buried a short distance north of his home, and there the remains of his widow were afterwards laid by his side. An iron fence erected by descendants encloses the two graves, and the spot was deeded by the owner of the farm, Virgil E. Viets, to the following trustees: Henry R. Viets of Newton, Massachusetts, Charles H. Barrows of Springfield, Massachusetts, and Virgil E. Viets of East Granby.

Lois Phelps was born March 10, 1718 and became the wife of John Viets December 12, 1734. She was a descendant of William Phelps, one of the early settlers of Windsor, Connecticut. There is a tradition that Lois was a daughter of Nathaniel Phelps of Turkey Hills (East Granby). Mr. A. T. Servin, the genealogist of the Phelps family, has determined that this Lois is the daughter of Nathaniel Phelps (and Lois his wife), who removed from Northampton to Granby, son of William Phelps (and Abigail Stebbins), of Northampton, son of Nathaniel Phelps (and Mrs. Elizabeth Copley), who came with his father, William, to Windsor, Connecticut, and later settled in Northampton, Massachusetts. Elizabeth Copley was an English lady of rank, whether by birth or by marriage to her first husband is not known. She had two children at the time of her marriage to Nathaniel Phelps. [Phelps and Servin, Phelps Genealogy.]

Tradition says that Lois was small, bright and active. When John Viets and his bride appeared at church they were spoken of as the most handsome couple that had ever entered the church. After the death of John Viets, his widow married, in 1778, Colonel Jonathan Humphrey. He died September 13, 1794, in Simsbury. [Judd, Militia Record Series 1-3. FHF#0003601.] She lived to age ninety-two, able to read and work without glasses, and died November 12, 1810. Childen, born at the old homestead near Newgate:

1-5-1. John, born March 2, 1736

1-5-2. Roger, born March 9, 1738

1-5-3. Seth, born May 26, 1740

1-5-4. Eunice, born November 24, 1742

1-5-5. Lois, born January 29, 1745

1-5-6. Abner, born February 15, 1747

1-5-7. Catherine, born August 7, 1749; died April 14, 1756

1-5-8. Dan, born 2 July 1751; is said to have left home, and was not afterwards heard from. (In the Phelps Genealogy the name is given as Damaris instead of Dan.) On February 18, 1779 Abner made an entry in his journal against his brother Dan for the use of his mare. He must have been in Connecticut at that time or not long before. This is the last knowledge of him.

1-5-9. Rosannah, born May 13, 1755

1-5-10. Luke, born June 6, 1759

1-6. Benoni Viets

Benoni Viets, son of Margaret Wilcoxson, was born in Simsbury December 7, '14. He was given the name of "Viets" and raised in the home of Dr. John Viets. He married June 20, 1745 Martha Moore of Simsbury, born April 5, 1722, daughter of Amos and Martha (Owen) Moore. They had two children. In the Farmington land records is a deed to property that Benoni sold that came to him from his mother, Margaret Willcockson. He became a skilled blacksmith and a horse trader in partnership with Captain John Viets. The farm of Benoni Viets extended from near Newgate Prison southward about one-third of a mile on both sides of the highway. The house, now gone, stood on the east side of the peak. Benoni died October 7, 1795, age 80. His widow died in 1796.

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