John Leverett Merrill.

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

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and uneven land of the place they had chosen for their abode.
The colonies were engaged in a bloody war with the mother coun-
try; and even this remote hamlet, so insignificant in pojjulation
and so destitute of means, was called upon to bear its share of
the burdens. But our fathers reijarded it as no excuse for neo -
lecting their duty to their children. Taxed to the utmost for the
support of the war, they were ready to tax themselves more, if
possible, for securing to their children the privileges of school
education ; for they knew that the future interests of their town
would depend very much, vmder God, upon the intelligence of
the people.

An article in the warrant for a special town-meeting, in 1774,
was " to consult about having a school this winter." The record
does not show what was done with the article. No other action
seems to have been taken on the subject, for several years. No
mention is made of a school-tax, or of school-moneys. But they
were not without a school ; for we find a special town-meetino-
called " at the school-house in said town," in November, 1778 ;
and the meeting was held as warned, A school-house had been
built, near the south-west corner of the Common, before that date.
How it was built, what kind of a structure it was, and how the
school was maintained, I do not know. The teachers may have
been paid by private tuition-fees ; or they may have received for
their compensation a pittance of the money raised " to defray town
charges."

By the terms of an addendum to the charter and the names of
the grantees, one seventieth part of the township was reserved



28 THE CENTENNIAL.

" for the benefit of a school in said town forever." In 1783, it
was voted to sell the school lands, and place the proceeds in the
treasury, the interest to be accounted for yearly, and appropri-
ated to the support of schools. In 1790, the town was classed
into nine school districts. The next year, it was voted that the
districts build their own school houses ; and the town chose a
" headsman " in each district, to receive the allotted money and
see it properly laid out. District collectors were first chosen in
1794. A quarter of a century elapsed before the inhabitants,
amid the poverty and embarrassment of the times, were able to
secure the benefits of summer and winter schools, in all parts of the
town ; but these citations tell us with what persistent endeavors
they sought to achieve this end. Though often disappointed, they
never despaired. Many here to-day have reason to be grateful
for the advantages provided in the summer and winter schools of
the town, of a former period, for securing the elements of their
education. Though the privileges were neither many nor great,
yet they Avere richly prized, and diligently improved. In the
homely structures with which the town was dotted, many acquired
a degree of solid culture, often missed by the children of the pres-
ent day, in more favored localities. But few of the blessings of
my early life are remembered with more gratitude, than those I
enjoyed in the old red school-house behind the pound, under the
instruction of such teachers as Corinna Slader, Mrs. Newman,
Lydia Hunton, Gen. William Carey, John Pearson, Jesse Mills
and Milton Parker. They would not probably rank very high,
when compared with teachers of the present day. They were
the best the times afforded ; and one pupil, at least, remembers
them with gratitude, for the desire they awakened within him for
a more extended course than the curriculum of the Acworth
schools aflforded.

Our fathers were patriotic. The records of their devotion to
the liberties of their country are written in the story of what they
sacrificed for them, in the midst of the poverty of the times. The
troubles which preceded the War of Independence, had already
far advanced when the hardy pioneers from Connecticut began to
clear these hills. The English had obtained Canada by the Peace
of Paris, in 1763, and the French and Indian war had ceased.
The Stamp Act was passed, in 1765. "The Stamp Act Con-
gress " met in New York the same year. The aftVay between the
citizens of Boston and the British soldiers, occurred two years



CENTENNIAL ADDRESS. 29

after the settlement of the toAvn. The tea was destroyed in Bos-
ton Harbor, in 1773. The next year the port of Boston was
closed, and a Congress of the Colonies met in Philadelphia. The
battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, which made accommoda-
tion with England hopeless, were fought in 1775.

It would seem that so small a community, hidden among these
hills, would have been overlooked, and thus escaped the call for
munitions and men. But they were too deeply interested in the
issues, to pass unnoticed. Small as they were, they felt that they
had a country to defend, and they would not shrink from bearing
their part of the burdens of the conflict. They sought, rather
than evaded, opportunities for participating in the strife which
was to secure the independence of their native land.

At a special meeting at which the boundaries of the Common
were designated, they voted it, among other uses, " for a training-
field." A meeting appears to have been held, of which no record
exists, when Capt. Henry Silsby and Lieut. Ephraim Keyes, had
been chosen delegates " to consult with sundry other towns what
method was best to be taken to secure our just rights and privi-
leges." The consultation had taken place at the house of Capt.
John Bellows, in Walpole, in 1774. Benjamin Giles, Esq., of
Newport, who, three years before, had issued the warrant for the
first town-meeting in Acvvorth, had presided at the meeting in
Walpole. Arrangements had been made for another meeting at
the same place, to be composed of delegates, legally chosen from
every town in the county. To this second "congress," Acworth
sent Capt. Henry Silsby and Samuel Harper, and the meeting
advised the towns to be provided with arms and ammunition, for
defence against any encroachments that might be made. I judge
that the encroachments they feared were those of the King and
Parliament for enforcing the unjust system of taxation, against
which the colonists protested, and not, as it might at first seem,
that an attack was anticipated upon any portion of the county.
Cheshire county was a part of the country. A blow inflicted on
any part of the land, would be felt as one aimed at the liberties of
the people, in this remote region. In accordance with this advice,
the town voted to provide every man with arms and ammunition,
and to meet speedily for inspection. At the annual meeting, the
following spring, it was voted to procure "a town stock of ammu-
nition," and at an adjourned meeting, " to raise nine pounds, law-
ful money, to pay for that already bought, and to jnircJiase more."



30 TIIE CENTENNIAL.

INTeasures were taken "to proportion the number of men who shall
go on any sudden emergency to fight our enemies," and the faith of
the town was pledged to pay those who sliould be ordered out.

On the 3d of July, 1776, in consequence of word received from
Col. Bellows, a special meeting was warned to meet at eight
o'clock the next morning, at which it was voted "to send to head-
quarters at Exeter, for half a barrel of powder, one hundred and
fifty pounds of lead, and three hundred flints ; and every one of the
reformados and soldiers shall have one pound of powder, three
pounds of lead and six flints, and to pay for the same; the re-
mainder to be turned into the town stock." Fourteen guns were
also to be obtained, and Lieut. John Rogers was dispatched on
the errand. Thus, on the very day, when Congress, assembled in
Independence Hall, in the city of Philadelphia, solemnly declared
"that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free
and independent states," the people of Acworth, assembled in
town-meeting, were preparing, so far as their agency could eflPect
it, to make that declaration good.

From this time, till peace was established, the records of every
year evince their unflinching devotion to the cause of independ-
ence. They chose committees of safety. They kept a stock of
the munitions of war on hand. They maintained their militia or-
ganization, and had their days of inspection and drill. They met
the requisitions of the Colonial authorities, for men and supplies.
Their most prominent citizens served various lengths of time as
volunteers — men like Capt. Henry Silsby, Lieut. Ephraim Keyes,
Dea. Thomas Putnam, John Duncan, and Dean Carlton. And
when a system of government was to be formed for the State, they
watched with jealous care the measures that w^ere proposed, re-
jecting and approving plans that were submitted to their votes,
like men who knew their rights, and dared defend them.

I have not the means of learning the number of men from this
town, who served in the war. No entire list has fallen into my
hands. But in the ancient records for 1777, I find the names of
those for whom credit was claimed, to that date. Thirty-seven
men had then been in the service, various lengths of time, from
nine days to one year and eight months. The war had then
but just begun ; and the records show that provision was promptly
made to fill the quotas as they were called for. The only clue I
have found to the names of the ancient worthies, who, subsequent
to that date, were ready to take their lives in their hands and lay



CENTENNIAL ADDRESS. 31

them down on the altar of national independence, is tlie list of
those who received government pensions. But, as previous to
I80G, only a few were the recipients of this token of a nation's
gratitude, many had received their discharge from life's conflicts,
and their names had been entered upon the roster of the eternal
world. It may be that many of those heroes must remain un-
known, till their self-sacrificing deeds shall be read in the light of
the woi'ld to come. I regret that Acworth's Kevolutionary roll
of honor is so imperfect.

The town contributed its share of the burdens of the second
war with Great Britain. But little is found upon the records,
that relates to the struggle. At the annual meeting, INIarch,
1815, it was voted to make up the pay of the soldiers, called out
in the autumn of the year before, to fifteen dollars a month, and
that of the commissioned officers in proportion. I am told that,
when in 1814, a call was made for men to go to the defence of
Portsmouth, the " East Company," under the command of one of
Acworth's most respected citizens, Capt. Gawin Gilmore, volun-
teered in a body, and a draft was required to determine, not who
should go, but who should stay at home ! Two of those soldiers
of the war of 1812, I am happy to see present to-day — our re-
spected and honored fellow-townsmen, Capt. David Blanchard and
Dea, Thomas Ball.

One soldier from Acworth distinguished himself in the war with
Mexico ; Capt. John M. Barnard, whose voice you will be glad
to hear, in the speaking at the table, this afternoon.

The patriotism which thus animated the breasts of the father?
was not M^anting in those of the sons, when in 1861, traitorous
hands were laid upon the general government, by those who had
long been its petted favorites. Many of your young men, sharinor
in the enthusiasm of "the great uprising," enlisted under the ban-
ners of their country, and freely gave themselves to the cause of
loyalty and freedom. The calls of the government for men were
cheerfully met. The quotas were filled ; and the town in its cor-
porate capacity, voted generous bounties to those who left their
homes, and braved the dangers of that murderous conflict. Hap-
pily, we have the names of the soldiers from the town, who served
in the war of the EebcllioH. Written upon the tablets of your
hearts, you can never forget them. Tears have not yet ceased to
flow for those who fell in battle, and died from the exposures of
life in the camp. But time with you is passing- away. Another



32 THE CENTENNIAL.

generation will search as earnestly for the names of the patriots
of 1863 and 1865, as we for those of 1776 and 1778. Let them
not perish through your neglect. Trust them not to the uncer-
tain rumors of tradition. Let not even the most carefully written
records suffice, for the solicitude with which you seek to preserve
them. But upon a shaft, hewn from a quarry of your native
granite, engrave their names in characters that no lapse of centu-
ries can efface. In years to come, around such a monument of
the patriotism of their fathers, your children and your children's
children will meet, rehearse the story of their deeds of valor, and
swear, that the free institutions for which they braved the terrors
of the battle-field, shall be forever preserved !

Our fathers were faithful in little things, as well as in greater
ones. They watched the town expenditures with scrupulous
fidelity, so that there could be no misappropriation of the public
funds. The men who transacted the town's business, and handled
the people's money, were too conscientious to think of growlno-
rich at the public expense. PLid they been ever so much disposed,
they could not have done it, for the town's "Counter," elected an-
nually for that purpose, rigidly scrutinized the receipts and expen-
ditures of the town officers. It was the day of little things.
Money was scarce and the people poor. The small taxes of the
day bore harder upon tlie people, than the larger ones we are
called to pay, even since the burdens of the late war fell upon us.

Looking over the lists for 1793, 1 find that only in the highway
tax, Avhich was to be paid in labor, was a sum equal to one pound
assessed against any man. The, highest town-tax, that year, was
paid by Jabez Alexander. It was only eight shillings and three
pence, while a majority paid less than one shilling. The whole
town-tax was only eight pounds, six shillings and eight-pence.
The minister-tax was sixty-five pounds, eight shillings, three and
a half pence. County tax, fourteen pounds, six shillings and one
penny. Meeting-house tax, twenty pounds, nine shillings and
one penny. In all, about one hundred pounds, money tax, for the
year, or not fiir from five hundred dollars in federal money. The
sum is small, compared with the assessments of our day, but it
was no trifling matter with the fathers. Considering the poverty
of those times and the wealth of the ♦present, together with the
difference in standards of value then and now, it was a heavier
burden than our recent troubles have imposed upon the ^'resent
generation. When money is so scarce as to compel us to pay our



CENTENNIAL ADDRESS. 33

taxes in what we raise from the soil, we may, perhaps, be allowed
to grumble for some other reason than for political eiFect. In
1791, it was voted that the ten pounds raised to pay town charges
might be paid in rye at three shillings and sixpence, and in other
grains or flax, at their current values. Eye and flax were legal
tender here, seventy-five years ago.

Among the troubles of the times we recall, the people of Ac-
worth and vicinity at one time did not know in what State they
lived, or to what authorities they owed allegiance. Xew York
laid claim to Vermont. The people living east of the Green
Mountains were hostile to the claim ; and at one time a project was
on foot to organize a State, to be composed of towns on both sides
of the Connecticut River, and to be called New Connecticut. The
government of New Hampshire resisted the movement, and set
up a claim of jurisdiction over all that part of eastern Vermont,
embraced in what was originally called "the New Hampshire
Grants ; " while Massachusetts found a pretext for extending its
authority in the same direction. A party arose who argued that
though the towns included in the New Hampshire Grants lying
east of the Connecticut River had formerly recognized the author-
ity of New Hampshire, yet, since by the original grant the State
was circumscribed by a line running sixty miles from the coast,
and by casting off the British yoke the people were left " in a
state of nature," therefore they had the right to form such politi-
cal connections as a majority should elect. Hence, in 1778, six-
teen of these towns sought to be represented in the Assembly
of Vermont. In December of that year, a convention of dele-
gates from several towns on both sides of the river met in Cor-
nish, and made proposals for the settlement of the difficulties,
either by an agreement with New Hampshire as to the dividing
line, or by a submission of the dispute to Congress or some
other mutually chosen umpire. Should neither of these proposals
be accepted, if an agreement could be effected with New Hamp-
shire respecting a form of government, they would consent that
the whole of the territory of " the Grants," on both sides of the
river, should come under its jurisdiction. If such agreement could
not be made, they resolved " to trust in Providence and defend
themselves."

These controversies, though now involved in somewhat of ob-
scurity, at one time seriously threatened the public peace. A
Vermont constable attempted to arrest a debtor on the east side
5



34 THE CENTENNIAL.

of the river. The OAvner of the house where the debtor was
found, resisted. The householder, with one in his company, was
imprisoned in the Charlestown jail. A New Hampshire sheriff,
attempting to release them, was imprisoned by a Vermont sheriff.
The militia of New Hampshire was called out to liberate him;
and the governor of Vermont threatened to oppose force to force.
The Vermont sheriff, with others, went as a committee from the
governor of Vermont to the governor of New Hampshire, to agree
on measures to prevent hostilities. He was arrested at Exeter,
and thrown into jail, as a hostage for the New Hampshire sheriff.
A proclamation from the governor called upon the revolted towns
to return to their allegiance, within forty days. The militia was
ordered to be in readiness to march against the revolters. Civil
war was only avoided by a letter from Gen. Washington to Gov.
Chittenden of Vermont, advising a relinquishment of the jurisdic-
tion claimed east of the river, and intimating that a non-compli-
ance would be construed into an act of hostility to the United
States, and that coercion would become necessary. It was the
first time the word was ever used in the history of the country.
"Washington believed in "coercion."

Acworth was one of the revolted towns. Henry Silsby and
John Duncan were chosen delegates to a convention held in
Charlestown, "to consult upon and unite in such measures as
should be most conducive to effect a union of the territory " of
the New Hampshire Grants. In March, 1781, the people voted
to come under the jurisdiction of Vermont, and chose John Dun-
can representative to the Assembly. During the year, six special
town-meetings were notified " in the name of the State of Ver-
mont ; " and Acworth was legally recognized as belonging to the
County of Washington.

I have introduced this piece of history, to show the difficulties
and perplexities of the times, and also the difference then and now,
in the value of money and the services of public men. For four-
teen days' attendance at the convention, John Duncan was voted
"nine hundred and eighty dollars paper money, or the value
thereof in silver money, the rate of exchange between the two
currencies being seventy-two to one ; " also four shillings and
seven pence for expenses. His compensation for services, travel-
ing fees and expenses amounted to a dollar a day, a sum which
would now only suffice for the purchase of a dinner at a public
house. The difference of the times is vividly seen in the differ-



CENTENNIAL ADDRESS. 35

ence between this and what a member of Congress, or of the
Legislature, now receives, by way of salary, or jjer diem, mileage
and incidentals. Small as it seems, doubtless, many of Mr. Dun-
can's fellow-townsmen would gladly have taken his place, consid-
ering him fortunate to get even that.

We go back to a period a century and a half earlier, and find a
better illustration of the difference between the present and former
times. In the introduction to that quaint book, recently re-pub-
lished, entitled " Wonder-working Providence of Zion's Saviour in
New England,'"' we read that the town of Woburn voted to pay
its representatives six pence a day besides their diet ! This
was the rich emolument of a representative to the General Court
of Massachusetts, in the year of Grace, 1G45 I And the same his-
tory tells us, that, on account of the difficulty in obtaining silver
to pay the representatives' board, corn was sometimes sent in its
stead.

It is amusing to read the record of sums paid annually by the
town for the care of the first meeting-house. Six shillings were
voted the first year, for the service, to Daniel Grout, Ji:. After-
wards it was put up at auction and bid off at sums varying from
five shillings to two dollars and a quarter. Lazell Silsby did the
work one year for five shillings. John Bailey bid it off once for
one dollar and eighty-three cents. I believe he uhderlet it ; but
think of his riding two miles, " over the hills and through the
woods," to open and shut the house and keep it fit for service, on
Sundays and for week-day lectures, summer and winter, during
the year !

It is with deep interest we recall the peculiarities of the men
who acted their part in the early history of the town, as they float
down to us on the records of memory and the breath of tradition.
We try to catch their lineaments, and to see the expression of
their faces. They were a plain people, simple in their manners,
diligent in labor, and economical in their expenditures. The old
farm-houses were not distinguished either for the grace of their
proportions, or the beauty and costliness of their decorations.
The furniture was neither abundant, nor remarkably ornamental.
The daily fare was homely, but sufficient for the needs of a healthy
generation. They were not given to compliments, and did not
think much of useless ceremony. The neighbor who knocked at
the door was told to " come in." If at meal-time, a seat was
ready for him at the frugal board. He was bidden to help himself



36 THE CENTENNIAL.

Often he found neither cloth nor plates, but must cut his mealy
potatoes upon the clean white table. Like the others, he Avould
dip his pieces in the gravy of a common dish, from which he
would, with his fork, fish out the unctuous pork, that had been
cut into mouthfuls of the proper size, by the careful mother of a
numerous family. Brown bread and fresh butter followed the
"meat victuals;" after which a good-sized "riz" doughnut pre-
ceded a generous piece of pie, well sweetened with molasses. A
huo-e muo- of cider was then passed round ; and no company of
grandees ever rose from a banquet, with more evident satisfaction
than they indicated, by the smacking of their lips. They were
excellent neighbors, and ever ready for neighborly deeds ; and
thouo-h tenacious of their rights, and a little apt to quarrel about
any real or fancied infringement of them, they were ready, the
next day, to make up their difficulties, over a steaming mug of
toddy.

We touch here upon one of their greatest frailties. They
were lovers of alcoholic liquors, and " mighty to drink strong
drink." Ardent spirits were used on all occasions — in haying
and reaping, chopping and burning, sheep-washing and sheep-
shearing, and at births, marriages and burials. On public days,
and at raisings, huskings and clearing-bees, they often drank
deeply ; and as a consequence, sometimes they were quite merry,
and at others very quarrelsome. Many strange stories were told
in my younger days, by the older men, of the doings at such
times. The practical jokes they played upon one another, seem
hardly possible to be credited now. Certainly they would not
now be tolerated.

The inconsistency of those who like our fathers were addicted
to the use of intoxicating liquors, is shown by the action of a
town-meeting, held December 23, 1784. Eighteen pounds were
voted "to pay for rum procured at the framing and raising of the
meeting-house ; " and each person who had advanced money for
that purpose, was ordered to be paid out of the sum raised. Be-
cause of their poverty, they had been twenty years without a place
of worship. The materials were mostly contributed, in lieu of
money so hard to be raised : but now that the timber was on the
ground and the work begun, they could afford to purchase and
drink one hundred dollars' worth of rum, in preparing and setting



Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 3 of 33)