Digging Into Westport’s 300-Year-Old Mystery

The other day, amateur historian Bob Weingarten published a story in Greens Farms Living magazine.

Read the previous sentence carefully.

The publication calls itself Greens Farms. Not Green’s Farms. Or Greensfarms.

Punctuation matters. And the punctuation of Westport’s oldest section of town was the subject of Weingarten’s piece.

I’m interested. From time to time, I’ve referred to that neighborhood in several ways. I never knew the answer — and never knew how to find out.

Weingarten quotes author Woody Klein, who called John Green “the largest landholder” among the 5 Bankside Farmers who in the late 1600s settled around what is now Beachside Avenue (the “banks” of Long Island Sound).

This is where the Bankside Farmers first worked the land. It looks a bit different today.

This is where the Bankside Farmers first worked the land. It looks a bit different today.

The area was called Green’s Farms. But in 1732 it was changed to Greens Farms because, Klein says, Fairfield — the town of which it was part — did not want “any individual landholder to become too independent.”

The plural form, Weingarten writes, could mean either that Green had more than one farm, or that it was “adopted from the multiple farms of the Bankside Farmers.” So Greens Farms it was.

Except in property deeds, which referred to “the Parish of Greensfarms.”

However, in 1842 — when the parish was incorporated into the 7-year-old town of Westport — the spelling became Green’s Farms.

The church of the same name adopted the apostrophe. Today it sometimes uses one, sometimes not. Sometimes on the same web page.

Green's Farms Congregational Church

The church — with or without an apostrophe.

Confusion continued, though. For decades thereafter, official documents and maps referred to both Green’s Farms and Greens Farms.

Weingarten also mentions two streets: Green’s Farms Road and Greens Farms Hollow.

The state Department of Transporation has used both spellings — and a 3rd: Green Farms, for the Metro-North station.

Weingarten cites one more example. The post office near the train station uses the apostrophe spelling on one sign, the non-apostrophe on another.

This is definitely not one of the options.

This is definitely not one of the options.

Weingarten favors Green’s Farms. So do I.

But “06880” is a democracy. So — even though the zip code is 06838 — we’ll put it to a vote. Click the poll below — and add “Comments too.”

All you have to lose is an apostrophe.


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

18 responses to “Digging Into Westport’s 300-Year-Old Mystery

  1. Susan Iseman

    Agree, Dan!

  2. As a genealogist I read a lot of old documents: wills, deeds, court records. Words are spelled in very interesting ways, and standardised orthography was a long time coming. (It’s arguably not here yet, as you’ll notice that I say “standardised” and you likely say “standardized” because I was educated by Canadians and Scots and you were educated by Americans). Spelling didn’t settle down much till the 19th century. If you read any 18th or 17th century document, you will see some mighty interesting spellings, and names especially can change their spelling several times on a page. Keep in mind that most of our ancestors were illiterate, and at the rate we’re going most of our grandchildren may be as well.

    Years ago, researching in Scotland, I was speaking with the archivist for Argyll, the delightfully named Murdo MacDonald, and asked him if he was “Mac” or “Mc” Donald. “It doesn’t matter” he told me, “spelling is a twentieth century conceit.”

  3. Jacques Voris

    Or we can go back to calling it Machamux or West Parish

  4. As an honorary Greens Farms School alum (I spent a semester there as a kindergartener on double session in 1957 until Burr Farms School was completed), I would point out that, in a sense, this has already been set in stone: the lintel over the main entrance to the school reads “Greens Farms School”. Back in the day, teachers there took pains to clarify that this was to be used as the “correct” spelling, notwithstanding the atypical usage. Here’s a link to a photo:

    http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Greens+Farms+School&view=detailv2&&id=1FEC4533F3B422E52D54173896391EBE0FAFDAE7&selectedIndex=27&ccid=iQMITLsU&simid=608012734241834859&thid=OIP.M8903084cbb1481792c7e5fc248bae63fo0&ajaxhist=0

  5. Great stuff Dan !!! after reading the magazine piece, I have been in touch with Bob Weingarten about something I discovered a few years back. It is a 1839 sermon that Bob has informed me would now be the earliest mention of ‘Green’s Farms’ in written form. See the link below for the full text of the 1839 Sermon. Note the cover page mentions “Green’s Farms” in addition to a few times in the sermon (page 15 and 16 and possibly elsewhere in the sermon). It makes for heavy reading but definitely some interesting things talked about in the sermon.

    http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=mayantislavery;cc=mayantislavery;view=image;idno=28893830;page=root;seq=1;size=100

  6. This is really interesting. I always knew it & spelled it as Greens Farms. I lived at 111 Beachside Avenue for a few years when I rented a room from Thomas hughes: at the 18th c. house & property called the Machamux house – built on the Native campground on the hill just up from Burying Hill beach & called that because of the bronze ‘Machamux’ plaque stating that about the Natives – put there I think in the 30s. Now the plaque is on a little triangle of grass separated by the highway built in 59. The house is now on the town historic register under another name (of the original earlier owners). Another house preceding it was burnt down by the British. (Or the ‘Red Coats’ as even present day English people used to be called here in the 60s! hahaha…).

    • Also: Mr. Hughes told me he rented rooms to actors / actresses who played the Westport Country Playhouse – in response to an ad in the local paper requesting locals w/ spare rooms to do so. This was in the early 1950s.

  7. Peter Jennings Talbot

    Bankside became Greens Farms, as the name was changed in 1732 to recognize that John Green was the largest landowner, owning several properties. Previously, there had been a movement by the General Court to adopt the name Machamux, but it failed.

    • x Peter Jennings Talbot – I was going to write ‘That’s good – because it’s easier for people to spell than would be Machamux.’ – but then I remembered people are still confused about the spelling of Greens Farms.

    • Peter Jennings Talbot

      …and our Jennings family has always referred to/spelled it without the apostrophe.

      • Yes Mr. Talbot – I’m assuming you’re from Greens Farms then (or Southport. No matter… your family is so old – from when it was both). I’m pretty sure everyone who lived in Greens Farms spelled it that way. I hope this doesn’t turn into a violent row between people… hahaha… I say after several hundred years one can drop the apostrophe on everything under the sun – regardless of it’s original spelling: Levis vs. Levi’s etc.

        • Peter Jennings Talbot

          Yes, Zoe, from the first Joshua Jennings. The apostrophe or not is certainly an interesting question making those interested in the local history give it some thought. I greatly appreciate the comment that out ancestors were notorious for their misspelling!

  8. Jacques Voris

    But here is another question: Who exactly was John Green? We all know he was one of the original Bankside Farmers, and was a “large landowner”. However, past that he has been a bit of a mystery to me and others. Henry Gray, Daniel Frost, and Francis Andrews all had children that intermarried with later settlers. Even for Thomas Newton we hear a story about him getting in some trouble, being broken out by friends, and rowing across the sound to Long Island. But John Green? Not much at all. The only thing I have ever seen is that he may have moved down to Stamford. But if he didn’t? Then he sort of disappears.

  9. Bobbi Essagof

    I love this piece and all the comments and have sent it on to my colleagues at The Greens Farms School as this has been a topic of debate since the day we reopened, 17 years ago. I have retired from my position but will continue to forward relevant topics to friends at Greens Farms School, this is the how we were told it is to be spelled last year, who need to be kept informed of so many things Dan through 06880 shares with us.
    Thank you Dan for always keeping us thinking.

  10. Bob Weingarten

    Just wanted to point out to the teachers in Greens Farms Elementary School that if you go to the Westportct.gov website, go to the entry that says Departments & Services, then to Education you will find a list of schools. The one of interest is the entry which says: “Green’s Farms Elementary School”. This was pointed out in my article in Greens Farms Living. Interenting…

  11. Bob Weingarten

    One more entry from the WHS House Historian,

    The following is information on John Green written in 1881 in the Hurd book, available at the WHS. Hurd was discussing the character of the five Bankside farmers and said the following for John Green:

    “The name of John Green, the fourth on the list, is occasionally met on the first volume of records of the town of Fairfield, but nowhere in the town or colony record is found anything to his disparagement. In 1672 he was appointed by the General Court one of a committee of three “to view the township of Rye (then under the jurisdiction of Connecticut), and consider what highways may be necessary and requisite for the use of the town and colony.” He must have lived to an advanced age, for I find in 1699 an instrument recorded by which he manumits and grants freedom to his negro man Harry, upon condition that said Harry shall choose some good man to live with, and serve two years, and get twenty pounds to pay the board and education of a grandson. This instrument was signed with a cross. The old man had probably become too paralyzed to write his name. He had a son, John Green, Jr., who settled in Stamford, and was one of the eight freemen, and was also constable of that town in 1669.”

    • I have read sources that claim the John Green of Stamford was neither the Bankside farmer, nor his son. Which goes back to my point. If he isn’t, then John sort of disappears. If he is, the family seemed to relocate down to Stamford. Which leads me to my own pet theory of why “Greens Farms”, because John and his kin were no longer around. Descendants of Gray, Frost, and Andrews still were (in addition to other large families). So they name it after some not around as to not offend those who were around.