This sign along the road stopped me the other day as I drove through Haddam, CT. I was on State Road 154, also known as the Middlesex Turnpike or Saybrook Road.
That’s what I like about Connecticut; if you don’t like the name of a thoroughfare, just consult another map and you’ll find a different moniker for it.
Anyway, “Thankful Arnold” was what made me slow down and make a U-turn back to Hayden Hill Road, the side street the arrow pointed to.
The house is a museum, but wasn’t open at the time. As I continued the drive home I wondered about the story behind Thankful Arnold.
I figured the tale went something like this: A simple-minded itinerant named Arnold wandered into Haddam decades ago and decided to stay. He survived on handouts and odd jobs, and eventually was given a room in the basement of this house to live in by its owner in exchange for doing a few chores. Arnold earned his nickname Thankful because he bellowed out a huge THANKS in his incredibly deep voice whenever anybody helped him out or even just smiled at him. Too frugal to spend much on himself, Arnold saved nearly everything he earned from his odd jobs. He lived to a ripe old age and when he died townsfolk found a small fortune in cash stashed in his room and a note explaining how kindly the citizenry had treated him and saying he wanted the town to have his money.
Not even close!
It all has to do with a woman named Thankful. Yes, that was her name. The colonialists, as it happens, liked to give their female offspring the names of the major virtues, or desireable character traits. Have you ever met a Prudence? I know a couple of them.
That’s another of the colonial names, along with Charity, Grace, and Constance, which
one encounters still today. Others though, have pretty much faded: Piety, Prosperity, Remember, Temperance, Prosperity, Deliverance, Mercy, and, tellingly, Truth.
Thankful, a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of the Plymouth Colony, married a man named Joseph Arnold and became Thankful Arnold. The couple were among the newest citizens of a new nation, having been born at the beginning of the War for Independence, Joseph in 1774 and Thankful in 1776. Joseph was a direct descendant and namesake of one of the original founders of Haddam in the mid-1600s.
The Arnolds and their daughter moved into the house in 1798. The dwelling remained in the Arnold family and occupied by descendents of Joseph and Thankful until 1962, when the last family occupant died and it was put up for sale.
Fortuitously, Haddam was just then turning 300 years old and the Haddam Historical Society had sought out descendants of the town’s early settlers as part of its fund-raising efforts for the celebration. Many ancestors responded generously, including Isaac Arnold of Houston, Texas, a great-great grandson of Thankful and Joseph.
Isaac Arnold purchased the house in March of 1963, promised funding for the restoration of the structure to its early nineteenth century appearance and said he wanted it to become the new home for the historical society, which became the owner when he died in 1973.
And, thankfully I suppose, that’s about all I have to say about my drive through Haddam.