Turf and twig ceremony will recreate purchase of Milford from the Paugussets

As part of the city’s 375th anniversary celebration, a group of residents will re-enact the purchase of Milford from the Paugusset Indians on Feb. 12.

Residents are invited to attend the event, which will take place at 7 p.m. at Milford City Hall.

Dressed in period garb, with one person likely representing Milford’s founders and another dressed as Ansantawae, a sachem of the Paugusset Indians, members of the 375th Anniversary Committee will perform what is called the turf and twig ceremony.

Committee member Jane Platt explained that the turf and twig ceremony would have taken place in a central part of Milford as the land was transferred to the settlers 375 years ago.

Her husband, City Historian Richard Platt, added that turf and twig is an old English feudal ceremony symbolizing the conveyance of land.

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.

Deeding the land to its new owners was effected with the old English “turf and twig” ceremony.

“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.

Anniversary committee chairman Robert Gregory said the ceremony will also likely include singing of two Milford songs, one written by schoolchildren 25 years ago and another, written by George Curtin about the purchase and history of the land.

The anniversary committee is made up of groups managing the various aspects of the 375th Anniversary Celebration activities, including music, entertainment, public relations, education, history, and more.

Committee vice chair Pete Smith, a lifelong resident of Milford, fondly remembers volunteering for the 350th Anniversary Committee.

“It really was a special moment for everyone in our community,” Smith said. “From those with deep family roots or folks who had just moved to town, there was no lack of participation, and each event was a wonderful celebration of our history. The 375th celebration will be fun for all of those who love Milford, from young to old and everyone in between.”

Along with a celebration week from June 9 through June 15, the year will include history tours, community and school education, art and musical competitions, and more.

“We are looking for folks of all ages with a passion for this city, an expertise ready to put to good use, an extra set of hands and some great ideas,” said Gregory.

Those interested in volunteering may visit milfordct375.org or call the city of Milford’s community development office at 203-783-3230.