Songs and turf highlight city's birthday celebration

The threat of heavy snow didn’t stop about 200 people from going to City Hall Wednesday night to celebrate the city’s birthday.

Members of Milford’s 375th anniversary committee staged a reenactment of the historic turf and twig ceremony, which would have taken place in a central part of Milford as the land was transferred to the settlers 375 years ago.

The turf and twig is an old English feudal ceremony symbolizing the conveyance of land, explained City Historian Richard Platt, who dressed in period garb for the event.

According to History of Milford, Connecticut, “On Feb. 12, 1639, Edmund Tapp, William Fowler, Benjamin Fenn, Zachariah Whitman and Alexander Bryan from New Haven, journeyed to the Wepawaug and purchased land from Ansantawae, a sachem of the Paugusset Indians who had a village on the banks of the river.

“The price was six coats, ten blankets, one kettle, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, two dozen knives and a dozen small mirrors.”

The settlers purchased a tract of land “bounded by the East River, the Housatonic River on the west, the Sound on the south, including Poquahaug (Charles) Island, and by the 'two mile Indian path that goeth to Paugusset (Derby)' on the north.”

The first purchase included nearly all of the present towns of Orange and Milford, and part of  Woodbridge, according to Milford's history.

“After the customary signing of the deed by both parties, Ansantawae was handed a piece of turf and a twig,” History of Milford, Connecticut notes. “Taking the piece of turf in one hand, and the twig in the other, he thrust the twig into the turf, and handed it to the English. In this way he signified that the Indians relinquished all the land specified in the deed and everything growing upon it.”

The Paugusset Indians sold the Wepawaug land in the hope that they would enlist English protection against the Mohawks, who were continually raiding their territory, the history book explains.

But the Native Americans did start to wonder if they were getting enough for their land, and eventually started to ask for monetary compensation, Platt said.

A number of school children attended Wednesday’s birthday celebration to sing two Milford songs. The East Shore Middle School Choir sang “Milford, My Milford,” written 25 years ago by George Curtin, who was in attendance with his family.

Third graders from Pumpkin Delight School sang the Milford Poem Song, which was written by school children for the city’s 350th anniversary.

“That song was awesome,” exclaimed Mayor Ben Blake when the children finished singing. “Happy Birthday Milford!”

Blake then issued a proclamation in honor of the city historian. Platt is retiring from his post as city historian, and Blake thanked him and his wife Jane for “insurmountable research” and efforts to preserve Milford’s history.

More events, including a parade, are planned throughout the year, with celebration week June 9 to 14. A parade is scheduled June 15.