Tolland Historical SocietyTOLLAND, CTHISTORY The oldest standing building in Tolland, Connecticut is also said to be its most haunted. If grief and heartbreak are indeed two emotions that contribute to residual energies left behind, then the tragic story of Elisha Benton and Jemima Burrows may explain the sights, sounds and feelings those who work at and visit the Benton Homestead have experienced over the years. Above all paranormal claims - this is a love story. Daniel Benton built his house in the year 1720, which was the same year the town of Tolland was established. For its time it was considered a rather large dwelling and had to be to accommodate the growing Benton family. The Bentons were a family that appreciated and supported the movement for freedom in the colonies. Daniel had a son named for him who would go on to fight in the French and Indian War as well as a descendant named William who would go on to become a U.S. Senator. He also had three grandsons whom he adored who in 1775 went off to fight in the Revolutionary War. One of these grandsons, Elisha was a particular favorite of Daniel. Elisha had fallen deeply in love with a young Tolland girl named Jemima Burrows, the daughter of a Tolland cabinet-maker. Elisha was 28 at the time and Jemima was 16. The Benton family did not approve of the relationship because it those times class was always an issue in terms of one's personal relationships. Nonetheless, the young couple was determined to spend the rest of their lives together despite the obstacles in front of them. When all able-bodied men were called to war in 1775, the Benton grandsons answered and it was with great sorrow that Elisha and Jemima had to say goodbye. Elisha vowed to return after the war to marry his beloved and it was that thought that kept both of them strong through their separation. With that, Daniel went off to answer the Lexington alarm and joined his fellow freedom fighters in the Continental army. It is of great interest that such was Daniel's passion and support for colonial troops and the ideals they fought for that during the war he allowed the basement of his home to be used as a prison for British and German soldiers. 18 in all were kept there - including two British officers - until the war ended. In fact, unlike the conditions colonial prisoners were kept in, the captured soldiers rather enjoyed there stay in the basement which was complete with fireplace. The walls of the basement still retain some graffiti left behind by the captured men, some of whom actually settled in the area after their military stint was through. In 1776 all three Benton brothers were captured by the British and sent to a prison ship located in Long Island Sound. The conditions there were beyond deplorable. Overcrowding, the absence of adequate septic facilities, lack of food and cover against the elements all contributed to the spread of disease. In time all three Bentons contracted smallpox, which would seal their fates. Elisha's brother eventually would succumb to the disease, while Elisha would survive only long enough to return home and see his beloved Jemima again. While his grandsons were imprisoned, Daniel passed away. At the time of his death the family had yet to receive word on the fate of his youngest grandson. Soon though, word came to them that Elisha was alive - but barely. A trade for a British prisoner was made and Elisha was released. Making it as far as Hartford before requiring assistance, Elisha was eventually brought to the house in a very weakened condition. The disease he had acquired would in time claim his life as it had his brothers - that was a fact his family had to deal with. The house was placed under quarantine and there was nothing to do but hope for the best. Worse, the comfort Elisha could be afforded was minimal at best as the rest of his family had to fear their own exposure to the disease as none of them had ever survived smallpox - which was the only way one could become immune to the disease. When things seemed bleakest, Jemima Burrows appeared at the Benton's doorstep begging to see Elisha. She was denied access at first, but insisted she be let in to see her beloved Elisha. Finally the family assented to her wishes and allowed her inside. It was then that she saw Elisha in his weakened and fragile state. Summoning her courage and blinded by her love for her young man, she told the Bentons she would stay with Elisha, to care and comfort him during this darkest of times. While at first hesitant to grant her what would amount to a death sentence, they also realized she would lessen the risk and burden on themselves and be the best thing for Elisha in his time of need. The rest of the home was then sealed off and Jemima would spend her days and nights at Elisha's side. Now concerned of the whereabouts of their daughter, Jemima's parents came to the Benton home looking for her. It was upon entering the home they were made horrifyingly aware of the sad fate their daughter had chosen for herself. Finally gathering themselves, they pledged to return with changes of clothing for their daughter but fearing their own contamination and coming to grips with the gravity of the situation - they would not return. On January 21, 1777, Elisha Benton died. While his suffering finally ended, Jemima's would continue. The difference being that unlike her love, she had no one to comfort her as she did him. She was to spend her last weeks alone inside the room, waiting to join Elisha in death. The end mercifully came on February 28th. As the couple were never married, being buried together was out of the question, so a compromise was reached by their families to bury them on either side of the carriage drive - some 40' apart.Memorial to Elisha Benton and Jemima Burrows The Benton Homestead remained in the family for six generation until it was sold in 1932 to Florrie Bishop-Bowering, a radio personality and dietician at the University of Connecticut who remained in possession of it until 1968. It was briefly owned by Charles B. Goodstein and William A. Shocket who generously donated it to the Tolland Historical Society in 1969. The THS turned it into a museum as it remains today.THE HAUNTING OF THE BENTON HOMESTEAD While the Tolland Historical Society chooses to concentrate more on the design and condition of the historic residence as they should, there remains many strange reports of paranormal activity surrounding the homestead by visitors and volunteers. A figure in full military uniform has been seen standing in front of the entrance to the home as well as wandering inside. Some report seeing his arms outstretched as if beseeching someone for an answer requesting assistance of some sort. Another piece of unusual phenomena that has been reported is the sensation of "vibrations" coming to those who venture upstairs to the second floor. Another guest said while asleep in the living room one night, she noticed a man's legs at the foot of the sofa. Next she felt a hand covering her mouth. Initially thinking it was her husband playing around trying to frighten her, she chose to ignore the intrusion until it became difficult to breathe. Pushing the hand away, she noticed no one there except her husband who was still sound asleep. During thunder storms, the lights in the house have been seen going on and off by themselves and loud voices outside the home have been heard. This also is said to be the time when the soldier appears outside the front door, as if searching for something.