John Leverett Merrill.

History of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms online

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seems strangely blended with these. They delighted in rough
practical jokes and boisterous fun. Fighting was a common prac-
tice on "town meeting" and "muster days," even by those who
seemed very sedate and dignified on other occasions. Part of this
doubtless must be credited to New England rum, which most of
them unfortunately loved, and a part to their rough pioneer life.
In regard to this, their descendants have very much improved,
for the peaceableness and propriety of Acworth assemblages at
the present day is a matter of remark. The following inci-
dent illustrates their love of practical jokes : While Capt. John
Duncan was commander of the military company, some of the
younger members headed by Parley Keyes, were guilty of some
neglect of duty, and thereby incurred a fine. Keyes had con-
siderable influence in the company, and the Captain foresaw that
there might be difficulty in enforcing a collection of the fines.
He saw Keyes privately, and unfolded to him a plan whereby
he might play a practical joke upon his brother delinquents. At
the next training Keyes should step out before the company,
acknowledge his fault, pay over the fine, and advise his com-
rades to do the same. Duncan intimated to him, however, that
he would refund to him his own fine. Keyes agreed to play his
part of the joke, and the plan worked most admirably, the delin-
quents following the example of Keyes, walked up and paid their
fines. Time passed on, and Keyes not having his money refunded
as he expected, complained to the Captain. With a toss of the
head, Capt. Duncan replied, '■''Some I flatter and some I drivel

At a subsequent training, after the above incident had appar-
ently been forgotten, Capt. Duncan, as the custom was, wanting
to treat his company, handed some money to Keyes who was a ser-
geant, and directed him to go to Mr. Henry's store and buy some
rum. The liquor came and was used. A few days after Mr.
Henry called Capt. Duncan into his store and presented a bill for
rum on training day. Capt. Duncan settled the bill, and on
meeting Keyes inquired, with much indignation, why he had not
paid for the rum. Imitating the captain's manner, he replied,
'•''Some I flatter^ and some I drive.''''


The Governor of New Hampshire had claimed what is now the
State of Vermont as part of New Hampshire, and had granted
numerous town charters within that territory. The colony of New
York also claimed the territory. The dispute was settled in 1764
by a royal order extending the jurisdiction of New York to the
Connecticut Kiver. The settlers holding their titles under the New
Hampshire grants, were unwilling to agree to this settlement, and
during the troubles of the Revolution erected an independent gov-
ernment. This produced discontent through the valley of the
Connecticut, the towns on both sides of the river being intimately
associated and unwilling to be separated. Some movements were
made to erect a new State in the valley, to be called New Con-
necticut. To prevent this movement, in March, 1778, Vermont
admitted sixteen towns on the west side of the river to represen-
tation in her Legislature, but she gave them up upon the remon-
strance of New Hampshire. Plowever strongly the people of Ac-
worth may have felt upon this subject, they did not act officially,
until December 11, 1780, when, in connection with Lempster and
Unity, they chose Daniel Grout to represent them in the General
Assembly of New Hampshire, raising at the same time a large
committee to instruct him whether to go, and upon what condi-
tions. They also chose Henry Silsby and John Duncan to attend
a convention of the New Hampshire grants held at Charlestown.
This convention was the result of a previous one held at Walpole,
at which also Acworth was represented, which meeting resulted
in a resolution, complaining that New Hampshire was willing that
the valley towns should be divided by the river, and calling a con-
vention at Charlestown. This convention met January 16, 1781,
and soon adjourned to Cornish, to be near the Vermont Legislature,
then in session at Windsor. The result was articles of union be-
tween the New Hampshire grants and Vermont. March 30,
1781, Acworth accepted these articles of union, and John Duncan
was chosen representative, and on the 5th of April, and in con-
junction with the representatives of thirty-five other towns, he
was admitted to a seat in the Vermont Legislature. Town meet-
ings were called in the name of the State of Vermont during: the
remainder of the year, and jurymen were drawn for the Vermont
courts. A letter, however, from Gen. Washington to the Gover-
nor of Vermont, led the Legislature of that State to take action
on the matter. Taking advantage of the absence of the members
from the eastern side of the river, a resolution relinquishing all


claim to tliat territory was passed February 22, 1782, and when
these members arrived they were excluded. It is by no means cer-
tain that John Duncan, the Acworth representative, was among
this number, for the town had previously been considering whether
it would not be better to return to the allegiance of New Hamp-
shire, and had, February 1st, agreed to pay the taxes assessed by
New Hampshire for 1782, provided those of 1781 were not in-
sisted upon, and on the 25th of February the annual March meet-
ing was warned in the name of New Hampshire. Thus ended
the pnly secession movement of which Acworth was ever guilty.
We infer that the movement was not very hearty or unanimous,
from the following facts : 1st, a protest is entered upon the records,
calling in question the legality of the annual March meeting ; and
2d, the highway tax was only worked out by a part of the inhab-
itants in 1781, and its collection was not enforced ; 3d, early steps
were taken to return to New Hampshire. We also infer that the
movement was not considered creditable to the town from the fact
•that no ti-adition of it has been handed down from father to son.

The population of the town nearly doubled between 1790 and
1800, as will be seen by reference to the census. Settlers came
in from Weare, New Boston and vicinity in great numbers, and
many also from other places. There were more inhabitants in
town in 1800 than now. The villages, however, were quite small,
Samuel Slader kept a hotel in the large square house at the corner
of the common. James Wallace lived in a house by the public
well. West of that there was no house until Jacob Hayward's,
(Barnet C. Finlay's.) On the north Mr. Silsby's (Mrs. Per-
ham's) was the nearest. Towards the east were Gawin Gilmore,
(J. H. Dickey's,) Amos Keyes, (William Hayward,) and a little
below, Ephraim Keyes. The only house south of the tavern was
Dr. Grout's, (Nath'l Warner's.) Mr. Gilmore had a black-
smith's shop where C. M. Woodbury now lives, and Isaac Nes-
mith's blacksmith's shop stood where the school-house now does.
James Wallace was the shoemaker, and Hugh Henry the mer-
chant. His store was on the site where Col. C. K. Brooks' house
now stands. There were only four houses in South Acworth.
An incident happened in 1800 which shows the strictness of
the times. Isaac Nesmith was on his way home from London-
derry when the Sabbath overtook him at Washington. As the
snow was rapidly disappearing he felt obliged to hasten home, but
could start only by permission of the tithing man. Being stopped


on the road bj a man who was at worh in his barn, and who
threatened to prosecute him, he coukl proceed only by showincr
his permit.

As the stream of immigration began to subside, the stream of
emigration gradually rose. As at the present time, these emi-
grants scattered far and wide. The largest bodies of them, how-
ever, settled in Washington County, Vt., about Lake Champlain,
and Jefferson and Alleghany Counties,'N. Y., and in Ashtabula
County, O. Parley Keyes was one of the earliest of the emi-
grants. An incident in his life illustrates the character of these
men. In the year 1814 he and a neighbor became bondsmen for
a paymaster in the army. This man became a defaulter to the
amount of sixty thousand dollars, and his bondsmen were obliged
to make up the loss. He reported that the money had been sto-
len from him, but Judge Keyes became convinced that he had the
money concealed, though he could prove nothing. Not feeling
willing to lose the money he determined to resort to desperate
measures to bring the- truth to light. Carefully ascertaining how
long a person could probably remain under water without drown-
ing, he and his fellow-bondsman induced the defaulter to meet
them upon the banks of Black River. Here they assured him of
their conviction that he knew where the money was, and of their
determination to drown him at once if he did not divulge his se-
cret. Unmoved he exclaimed "he knew nothing of the matter."
This was no sooner said than he was plunged into the water.
Upon being brought to the surface he re-asserted his innocence.
He was immediately put back into the water. When drawn out
again he appeared like a lifeless corpse. But he recovered his
voice only to re-assert his innocence stoutly. Affairs were becom-
ing desperate, but' Judge Keyes was equal to the emergency.
He told him in a tone that convinced the guilty man that he was
in earnest, that they would sink his body in the water never to
emei-ge with life, and hurry his soul before the judgment seat with
all its guilt upon it, did he not confess at once. Whereupon the
secret was immediately disclosed and the place of concealment re-
vealed. Judge Keyes hastened to the house, and to the chamber
indicated, and knocked. A stir was heard within but no response.
Bursting open the door he found the wife of the guilty man sit-
ting upon the bed. Xot finding the money in the trunk where he
had been told to look, he immediately removed the woman from
the bed, and there found the money concealed in a quilted garment.


When the defaulter returned to the house his wife was not to be
found, but soon intelligence was brought that she had been seen
crossing the fields in the direction of the river. Her body was
soon found in its depths, convincing the community of what they
had suspected, that she was the instigator of the crime.

The emigrants from Acworth are now scattered from Canada to
the Gulf and from one ocean to the other. They have generally
carried the church and the school with them wherever they have


The spotted fever of 1812, was the most flital epidemic ever
known in Acworth. Thomas Grier, had visited Massachusetts
with his wife, and upon their return they Avere both prostrated
by sickness. Jennie their oldest daughter, a strong healthy girl
of nineteen, prepared dinner for a party of young men, who had
come to provide the family with their winter's wood. After
})lacing the food upon the table, she was taken with a violent
hcadaciie. Dr. Carleton was called and immediately pronounced
the case " spotted fever," medicine made no impression, and before
midnight she was a corpse- The next case was a child of John
Davidson's, near Derry Hill school-house. The disease spread
rapidly, there being cases in opposite parts of the town at the
same time. Most the people were more or less affected by
premonitory symptons, and it was considered contagious by every
one. The weather was extremely cold, all business and labor were
suspended, except what was absolutely necessary, and while a
universal fear and gloom pervaded every family in the town,
very few refused to go when needed, either in case of sickness, or
in burying the dead. The funerals were well attended, and dur-
ing the first weeks the bereaved families, as far as they could,
provided mourning suits, but as the disease progressed, the mourn-
ing habiliments were deferred for the time. Few families in town
escaped without loss of relatives, more or less distant, requir-
ing according to the custom mourning garments ; and after the
merchants brought home their spring goods, the whole population
seemed to be clad in the habiliments of woe. As the spring opened,
the disease assumed a milder form, but not until it had carried off

fifty-three of the inhabitants.


*For a notice of the Davidsons, pioneer settlers in Alleghany County, N. Y., and
the Warrens, early settlers in Cuyahoga County, 0., see sketclies of their families, in

Mrs. Sally Wilson


The disease returned during the winter and spring of 1813-11,
but physicians had more control then over it than during the pre-
vious year, and it passed away with the opening of spring. The
foHowing is an extract from a letter written in Acworth, April
1, 1812, by Miss Sally Nesmith, (now Wilson,) who was quite
active as a nurse during the prevalence of the fever, to her sister
Mrs. Peggy Morrison of Londonderry :

"We are all well at present, but how long we may be so favored God only
knows, for many sicken and die in a few hours. Mr. McCollum's family
were all well last Saturday, yet this afternoon he and three of his children
were buried. Their corpses with one other, Sally McMurphy, were brought
to the meeting-house, and a discourse was delivered by Mr. Wells of Alstead,
from the words, "Lord, save us, we perish," to a large concourse of peo-
ple from this and the neighboring towns. The like was never before seen in
this town. Five lying dead at one time. There has been a great many
deaths here. S. Silsby of Lempster and Ira Ladd of Alstead both died in
town. John Davidson has buried three children, James Davidson one,
George March two, Capt. Joseph Gregg two. Col. John Duncan three, Mr.
Stone one, Jacob Hayward one, John Bailey one, Maj. Grout one, Joel
Angier one, all of spotted fever. Mrs. Parkes died of consumption, Mr.
Moores of typhus fever. Last Friday night George Clark's wife, who was
insane, set fire to the house she was confined in, and before the fire was dis-
covered she and the house were almost consumed. Mr. Grier is very low,
and is not expected to recover. His son James has had the fever but is bet-
ter. I watched at Mr. Perham's last Saturday night. They are all sick
but Mr. P. and the youngest child, but are getting better. Last night I
watched with young Samuel Anderson, who has been very sick, but he too
is recovering. For three weeks I have done nothing but help to take care
of .the sick and attend funerals. I sleep always when I can get time, for
there are so many sick that people are bad off for watchers, and I am
busy most of the time. If the fever should continue as bad as it has been,
I am afraid there will not be enough well people to take care of the sick."


The common w^as given to the town by three persons, viz., John
Keyes, Henry Silsby and Ephraim Keyes. The first deed, dated
1773, conveyed from John Keyes a parcel of land sixteen rods by
fifteen, in the north-eastern corner of lot 10, 5th range, on condi-
tion that the inhabitants of the town should build the meeting-
house on or near the spot. The northern line of the lot runs just
in front of the present church, and the eastern line extends alono-
the road leading to South Acworth. In the same year Henry


Silsby also gave a parcel of land of the same shape and size in the
south-eastern corner of lot 11, 5th range, ''for the use of a meet-
ing-house spot, training field, and other accommodations of said
town, as long as it should be so used." Upon this spot stands the
present church and town-house. In 1783 Ephraim Keyes con-
veyed to the town a parcel of land very irregular in shape, situated
in the corners of lots 10 and 11, 6th range, adjacent to each other
and to the common already belonging to the town. On the last day
of June and first of July, 1772, the citizens of Acworth met by
appointment to " chop down the common, and as much land for
Ephraim Keyes as he had cleared on the common." It seems from
this and other votes that the town entered upon the possession of
the common a year or two before the land was deeded to them.


The first public bui'ying-ground was on the common, although
two children of Samuel Harper, the first persons buried in town,
were interred near the residence of Hiram Hayward, and proba-
bly others were buried in private grounds. The first person in-
terred upon the common, according to tradition, was Hannah Wil-
son, daughter of "big" John Wilson, who died 1775. In 1776, a
committee of the town selected what is known as the " old burying-
ground," and Lieut. James Rogers, one of the committee and select-
man for that year, was the first person buried there. In 1834, the
"old burying-ground" becoming crowded, a cemetery was laid
out in the field afterwards used for the Centennial Celebration.
In the beginning of the next year twO processions met there bear-
ino- the first corpses brought into the grounds, the remains of Mrs.
Sophia Newman, and of Mrs. Richardson. In 1847, this ground
proving unsuitable for burial purposes, the present cemetery was
purchased, and the bodies were removed to it from the other.
This ground was tastefully laid out, and great care has been taken
of it by the sexton, IMr. Granville Gilmore, who deserves much
praise for the interest he has taken in this matter during the many
years he has had charge of the cemetery. The first monument in
it was erected to the memory of Rev. Phineas Cooke. It now
contains many handsome monuments, and is certainly a credit to
the town.

We find the first mention of the school-house which stood on
the common, in 1778. During this year town meetings were

A. W^




held in this school-house. There were schools in town before this,
however, for the first teacher, Samuel Smith, removed from town
in 1773. The first vote to divide the town into districts was in
1786. In 1790, the town was divided into nine districts, which
were substantially the same as at present, except the Slader dis-
trict, which included the greater part of what is now districts 7,
8 and 9. No. 12 was included in the John Duncan district, and
No. 13 was at a comparatively recent period set off from the ad-
joining districts. In early days female teachers were expected
to teach sewing and knitting, as well as reading and spelling.
An attempt was made to obtain a list of the native teachers,
but it was found one might almost as well make out a list of the
inhabitants of the town.


In early years New England rum was seen In every house,
and was used on every occasion. The minister, even, kept a
little choice AVest India rum to treat his brethren, and plenty
of an inferior article for his lay visitors. Ac worth was not be-
hind her sister towns, probably, in this respect, for her sons
were certainly "mighty to drink strong drink," as well as to
subdue the rugged hills which they had chosen for their home.
No doubt the hardships of pioneer life fostered the habit of drink-
ino-. One of the earliest settlers was accustomed to remark, that
"Acworth never would have been settled, had it not been for
New Eno-land rum." It was not then known that the temperate
man was best able to endure hardships. The "Temperance Soci-
ety" was formed September 30, 1829. Its oflScers for the first
year were, Lemuel Lincoln, President; Edward Woodbury, A^ice-
President ; and John Lancaster, Secretary. At the annual meet-
ino- in 1830, it was reported that there "had been a diminution
in the use of ardent spirits of two-thirds within three years." In
1833, " it was ascertained tiiat forty fivrms in this town are now
manao-ed without the use of distilled spirit, and that most of our
mechanics have excluded it from their shops." This certainly
was a crreat change. The last recorded meeting of this society
was in 1840.

The "Acworth AA^ashington Total Abstinence Society" was or-
ganized November 30, 1841. The interest in temperance was
then o-reatly increased, and several influential men, who had stood
aloof from the old society, now joined the new one. This society


continued in active operation more than ten years, and eifected

nuicli good. There has been also in town a division of the Sons

of Temperance, which wiekled a powerful influence for good.

Acworth has certainly redeemed her character in regard to the use

of intoxicating liquors, and she now stands fair as a temperance


ladies' charitable society.

The "Ladies' Charitable Society" of Acworth was organized
July 2, 1816, with 138 members. Eev. Mr. Cooke preached a ser-
mon from Ecclesiastes xi. 1, 2 : "Cast thy bread upon the waters :
for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven,
and also to eight." The object of the society was to foster a spirit
of benevolence among the ladies. They adopted a constitution
and by-laws which had been drafted by Mr. Cooke. The officers
were to consist of a President and a Secretary, who was also to
be Treasuress. Any lady could become a member by paying
twenty-five cents annually. Up to the present time this society
has preserved its organization, and from time to time for more than
fifty years, has met to work for benevolent purposes. Its first an-
nual contribution was appropriated to translate the Bible into
heathen languages. This was very soon after the first missiona-
ries had gone forth under the auspices of the American Board.
They soon became interested in the education of young men for
the ministry, and at their second annual meeting they voted a por-
tion of their annual contribution to assist Mr. William McCollum,
a native of town, who was then at Kimball Union Academy, pre-
paring for the ministry. In 1819, w^e find them making a dona-
tion to Rev. Amos Foster who was then in Dartmouth College,
and at another time to Rev. Daniel Lancaster. During all these
years they contributed to the various benevolent objects of the day,
more generally, however, to the New Hampshire Home Mission-
ary Society. The blinds on the Congregational Church were a
gift from this society, and many other home objects have received
assistance from it. The society has also often contributed cloth-
ing, etc., to those who were needy residing in town. Numerous
valuable boxes of clothing and other articles, have been sent to
home missionaries, to the soldiers during the war, and to the
freedmen. In the early days of the society a correct record of
the amount and value of the work done was not kept, and there-
fore we cannot give an accurate estimate of the whole amount
raised by the society. Of the one hundred and thirty-eight

'^A 6^y^/Ce€WS


original members, only twenty-two are now -living. Although
more than half a century old, the society is apparently as flourish-
ing and vigorous as when first organized.


Among the first merchants in town, were ]\tr. Towne, and Sam-
uel Henry. Willard Carleton, Levi Hay ward, and Hugh Henry,
w^hose store was on the site of the house noAv owned and occupied
by Col. C. K. Brooks, succeeded them. Thomas Heaton opened
a store for a short time, in a building which had been used as a
dwelling-house by James Wallace, near the public well. John
and Nathaniel Grout, whose store stood where the dwelling-house
of the late Dr. Lyman Brooks now stands, removed the building
Mr. Heaton had used, to the present site of M. M. Warner's store,
which was used as a store until Nathaniel Grout built a new one
on the same spot. He was succeeded by Nathaniel & D. J.
Warner ; Warner, Woodbury & Archer ; Warner & Archer ;
D. J; & M. M. Warner, and M. M. AVarner. Daniel Eobinson
succeeded Hugh Henry and erected a new store, now the resi-
dence of Col. Brooks. He was succeeded by D. D. Eobinson and
J. Davis. J. Mills Gove and Ithiel Silsby, Gawen Gilmore and
Leonard Gilmore have also traded in town.

At South Acworth the mercantile firms have been : Mr. Piper,
J. F. &, J. E. Richardson, J. B. Richardson, J. F. Richardson,
John P. Davis, James A. Wood, J. F. Paige, Charles E. Spencer.


The first grist-mill was built at South Acworth before 1772,
and was owned by Dea. Thomas Putnam. This mill after a few
years was carried away by a freshet, and Mr. Henry Coffin, then
owner, was carried off with it and lost his life. The next mill was
built by William Mitchell on nearly the same site, about 1790.
His successors w^ere, John Mitchell, Elisha Parkes, William Da-

Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 13 of 33)