Copyright
Walter Hill Crockett.

Vermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) online

. (page 17 of 34)
Online LibraryWalter Hill CrockettVermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


period. For it was distinctly a pioneer period. There
existed at that time a widespread desire to better in-
dividual conditions, either by means of settling upon
new lands or trafficking in them. It was a period of
land speculation, and the records of the time show that
the merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, the farmer, the
clergyman, even "the butcher, the baker and the candle-
stick maker," were interested in buying and selling lands.

The Vermont settlers included a large class of people
who loved the adventurous life of the wilderness, those



258 HISTORY OF VERMONT

who always saw something better and more alluring in
the distance, those who found existing conditions un-
profitable, and those who desired more land that they
might provide homes for their children near their own
dwellings. It was the old land hunger that drove men
and women and little children into the Vermont wilder-
ness, the same compelling force that has been such a
powerful motive in the shaping of events in the world's
history, and is still a most important factor in the affairs
of men.

The desire for greater religious freedom may have
brought some pioneers into this new country, but it does
not appear to have been one of the great motives that
actuated most of the early Vermont settlers. These
first Vermonters were a strong and vigorous people. By
a natural process of selection only those fitted to battle
with the wilderness, enlisted in this warfare. As a rule
the pioneers possessed good health and the power of
thinking clearly and honestly. They feared God, and
little else. They were ambitious, courageous and re-
sourceful. W. S. Rossiter, formerly an official of the
United States Census Bureau, who has made a careful
study of this pioneer period, has said: "It is probable
that no State in the Union was settled by choicer immi-
gration than that which passed up the Connecticut River
to the Green Mountains. Early immigration to the
colonies from England brought many persons, who,
although of excellent British stock, has passed through
a long period of privation, anxiety or bereavement. In
a large proportion of cases, their presence in the New
World was due to political or religious persecution. In



CONQUERING THE WILDERNESS 259

some respects such colonists could not be regarded as
ideal pioneers. A large proportion, indeed, was un-
accustomed to manual labor. The settlers of Vermont,
on the contrary, were all acclimated, hardy, accustomed
from childhood to the use of axe and gun, eager, and
full of ambitious purpose to found homes and com-
munities of their own. They were all of the same stock;
they possessed the same ideals; they were animated by
the same purpose. Of 85,072 population reported at
the census of 1790 (taken in Vermont in 1791), approxi-
mately 81,200 were of English origin and 2,600 Scotch.
These two elements thus comprised more than 98 per-
cent of the total population of the State at that period.

"It is not remarkable, therefore, that Vermont has
contributed an extraordinary proportion of the dis-
tinguished men of the United States, and to the upbuild-
ing and prosperity of innumerable communities through-
out the country. To the unusual quality of the original
settlers and their early trials and high ideals, is in a
large measure due the influence exerted by the State in
national councils disproportionate to her own moderate
interests in the national welfare."

Although the grants of land under which most of
the Vermont towns were settled were made by Gov-
ernor Wentworth of New Hampshire, a large propor-
tion of the grantees were residents of Connecticut and
Massachusetts, some of them, however, being inhabitants
of New York and New Hampshire. Practically the
same statement can be made concerning the early set-
tlers in Vermont. Connecticut contributed more pio-
neers than any other province, and Massachusetts ranked



2G0 HISTORY OF VERMONT

second, but there were some settlers from New York,
New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The greater part of the Massachusetts settlers appear
to have come from the Connecticut River valley and
Berkshire county. A considerable number of the New-
York settlers, and some of the grantees, were residents
of, or lived in the vicinity of the narrow strip known as
The Oblong, which had been ceded to New York by
Connecticut, but continued to be closely affiliated with
New England people and in sympathy with New Eng-
land ideas.

It is asserted in a work entitled "Connecticut as a
Colony and a State," that "by the middle of the eighteenth
century Connecticut had begun to feel over populated."
Not only was there a strong movement toward the New
Hampshire Grants, but also toward the lands farther
west, which were held under grants made by the Con-
necticut charter. It is a fact not to be overlooked, how-
ever, that in the northwestern section of the province,
which was the most recently settled, the interest seemed
to exceed that in any other portion of Connecticut.
Salisbury, from which town there emigrated so many
persons, including a number of men afterward famous
as Vermont leaders, had been settled only a few years.
The pioneer spirit, however, seemed to be in the blood
of this people.

The preponderance of Connecticut influence stands out
clearly as one of the most striking characteristics of
early Vermont history. From Connecticut, more than
from any other source, were obtained laws, customs, the
idea of the town unit of civil organization, devotion to




Gov. Benning Wentworth
of New Hampshire



CONQUERING THE WILDERNESS 261

the cause of education, a deep religious sentiment, the
spirit of industry and thrift, вАФ all those qualities and
virtues which unite to make the typical New Englander,

In the brief sketches of towns settled before the begin-
ning of the American Revolution some incidents have
been related, showing the hardships endured by the Ver-
mont pioneers. It was not a light task, thus to trans-
form a wilderness into a region of settled and well
ordered communities, a land of cultivated farms and
pleasant villages, with roads and schools and churches
and most of the blessings of civilization.

It is not to be supposed that these pioneers came into
the New Hampshire Grants ignorant of the dangers and
discomforts they were to face. They were willing to
endure hardship in order to establish homes and acquire
property on easier financial terms than could be obtained
in the older colonies. Probably a large proportion of
the settlers bettered their conditions by coming into the
new country, and hundreds of them lived to see the un-
broken forest transformed into a land of peace and
plenty, much like the old homes they had left in southern
New England.

Some of the methods and customs of the early set-
tlers in Vermont may not be lacking in interest. The
first task of the pioneer was the construction of some
kind of shelter, for wild beasts were plentiful. This
shelter may have been a rude lean-to with only a blanket
for a door, and with a hole in the roof to permit the
smoke to escape. More often, probably, a small house
of unhewn logs was constructed and perhaps occupied
before completion, the open spaces between the logs



262 HISTORY OF VERMONT

being filled with clay and mud, and the roof and gable
ends often were made of elm bark or rived splints
through which the storms would beat. At one end a
rough stone fireplace was built, which would take in
logs four feet in length. There may have been a door
of hewn slabs and probably there were two small win-
dows, possibly filled with oiled paper. The floor often
was made of hewn logs, for sawmills did not precede,
but followed in the wake of civilization. Sometimes
there was no floor but the earth, and, of course, no
cellar.

Log houses with only a back of stone for a fireplace
were likely often to be filled with smoke. Chimneys
were built of split sticks, cob house fashion, and plas-
tered inside with clay. It was diflicult to make a split-
log floor level, as may be imagined, and one side of the
table was likely to be higher than the other. This diffi-
culty, however, could be remedied easily by putting a
chip under one edge of the porridge dish. Wooden
benches sometimes sufficed for seats. Many early set-
tlers made tables, bedsteads and chairs with no tools but
an axe and an auger. By force of necessity men were
compelled to make many utensils such as ox-bows, whip
stocks, axe helves^ rude carts and sleds, sometimes
wooden plows and many other articles used on the farm
or in the household. A little later, when conditions of
life had become more like those of settled communities,
if a farmer wanted a plow, he would carry a bar of
iron to the blacksmith for the share, and the rest would
be made at home. The same rule applied to axes, hoes,
scythes, pitchforks, etc.



CONQUERING THE WILDERNESS 263

After a shelter was constructed a clearing must be
made for the planting of a few crops between the
stumps. Corn was one of the staple crops, and beans,
pumpkins, turnips and parsnips were grown in consider-
able quantities. A few potatoes were raised and wheat,
barley and buckwheat were grown. As soon as possible
the settler secured a cow and a pig. In some instances
calves were not entirely weaned until autumn in order
that their bleating might draw the cows home at night.
Apple seeds were planted and soon orchards grew.

Samp and Indian meal mush in milk were common
articles of diet. It was often necessary at first to travel
long distances in order to get the corn ground, perhaps
forty or fifty miles, either on horseback or on foot. To
save these long journeys the pioneers sometimes made
use of w^hat was called a plumping mill. These mills
were very crude affairs. A hole was burned in a stump,
a weight was attached to a sapling, the shelled corn was
placed in the hollow of the stump, and the spring of the
sapling helped the operator in crushing the corn into
some semblance of samp or meal. Stone ovens were
constructed, often separate from the house. Oven wood,
small sticks split into thin pieces, were burned in the
oven until it was thoroughly heated, then the coals were
removed with a "fireslice," the oven swept with an "oven
broom," and the loaves of brown bread were placed on
the hot stones with a kind of wooden shovel. The seeds
were taken out of pumpkins w-hich were partly filled
with new milk, and then they were baked six or eight
hours in the oven; the baked pumpkin was eaten with
milk. The rivers swarmed with fish, and wild game



264 HISTORY OF VERMONT

was abundant. Wooden plates were used at first and
later pewter dishes and Queen's ware came into use.

Starvation was not far removed in the very early
pioneer days, and in more than one family children have
gone to bed at night crying for lack of food. One family
lived almost an entire season on ground nuts. One set-
tler eked out the food supply with clams, turtles and
woodchucks. Boiled wheat was used when other sup-
plies failed. In emergencies roots and herbs were re-
sorted to. In one family of eight, breakfasts were milk
with a little bread; dinners consisted of boiled herbs;
and for supper a large bowl of milk, containing about
three quarts, sweetened with maple sugar, was passed
around, each taking a sip. Mills ground slowly and
sometimes a boy would be sent to mill on horseback with
bags of grain, and leaving them would take another load
the second day, getting the first day's grist. Tea and
coffee were almost unknown, and corn, bean and barley
broths were much used. Even after the country was
settled and churches were built, people sometimes car-
ried cold boiled potatoes for lunch between the first and
second Sunday services.

The tallow candle was used for light. Fire was kept
by burying brands in the ashes, covering the fire up,
it was called. If the fire went out, flint and steel were
resorted to, sparks being struck over decayed wood that
would kindle easily. Often persons were obliged to
go long distances to borrow fire. Even in our own day
old people have been heard to ask a person travelling in
haste if he were going for fire, an expression handed
down from pioneer days.



CONQUERING THE WILDERNESS 265

As soon as farms were cleared and a regular system
of agriculture could be established, sheep were kept for
the wool they provided, and flax was raised in consider-
able quantities. Tow cloth, or linen, was spun and
w^oven into summer garments, and wool was carded and
yarn was spun and woven into heavier cloth. Carpets
were woven and women even made chairs and baskets.
Not many sheep were kept at first, owing to the number
of wolves in the nearby forests. Black and white wool,
mixed, woven double, made clothing that would stand
hard wear in the thickets and was warm enough for
any weather. Butternut bark and sumac berries were
used for dyeing. Overcoats were seldom worn. Women
worked at weaving for fifty cents a week. Calico cost
fifty cents a yard and six yards constituted a dress
pattern.

Some children, in the early days, went barefooted all
winter. A flank of a hide sometimes was used like a
moccasin. Boys often wore leggings instead of boots.
A pair of boots sometimes would last a man for years.
In summer both men and women have been known to
carry their shoes as far as the meeting house door on
Sunday before putting them on.

Contracts were made and notes given payable October
first in neat cattle, or in grain payable the first day of
January. Perhaps a few hundred dollars' worth of
cattle, passing from one individual to another, would
pay debts amounting to several thousand dollars.

The manufacture of "salts" was an important item
with the early settlers. This product was made by
burning to ashes hardwood trees, then an incumbrance



266 HISTORY OF VERMONT

to be rid of, and boiling the lye from these ashes to
such a consistency that when cold the product might
be carried in a basket. In this condition the "salts"
were sold to manufacturers of pearlash, an important
source of potassium compounds, used in making soap,
glass, etc. The market value ranged from three to five
and one-half dollars per hundred pounds, and this was
one of the few products that could be sold for cash, at
a time when barter was the ordinary medium of trade.
Much of this product was exported to England. Many
a family has been saved from great suffering if not
from actual starvation by the sale of "salts."

For the first frame barn in Hubbardton, boards were
drawn twelve and one-half miles on an ox-sled and the
nails used were picked up on the site of burned buildings
at Fort Ticonderoga. The shingles on the first shingled
house in the town of Halifax were attached with wooden
pegs. -^

Thus, in the space of a few decades, through great
tribulation, was wrought the transformation from a
region where savages had hunted and fished from time
immemorial, to a well established, prosperous State.
With a few omissions the summary of Saint Paul's de-
fence, made to the Corinthian Church, may be applied
to the pioneer settlers of Vermont : 'Tn perils of waters,
in perils by the heathen, in perils of the wilderness,
* * * in weariness and pain fulness, in watchings
often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold
and nakedness."

If much emphasis is placed upon the hardships en-
dured by the Vermont pioneers, it is not for the purpose



CONQUERING THE WILDERNESS 267

of picturing lives that were lived altogether in an atmos-
phere of gloom and misery. Human nature is much the
same, "yesterday, today and forever." It was natural
that young manhood and young womanhood, blessed
with health and strength and courage, should view the
future through optimistic eyes. There is a joy in con-
quest, whether it be the conquest of a kingdom or a few
acres of the wilderness. There is a keen delight in the
building of a home, whether that home be a cabin or a
castle. Thus, in the joys of home buildjng, in the win-
ning of farms from the forest, and in the anticipation
of better days in the future, some compensation was
found for the hardships and perils endured. Amid such
conditions was bred a race of men which has done
effective work in every State of the Union north of
Mason and Dixon's Line and west of Lake Champlain.



Chapter X
A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP



FOR practically a quarter of a century, beginning
soon after the earliest settlements in what is now
the State of Vermont were commenced, and con-
tinuing until Vermont's admission to the Federal Union,
a bitter controversy, at times attaining the proportions
of border warfare, was waged over the question of own-
ership between holders of titles to lands in the region
known as New Hampshire Grants, issued by Governor
Wentworth, and those holding grants to the same lands,
issued by the provincial Government of New York.

The controversy was most active in the western por-
tion of this region, near the New York border, in the
present counties of Bennington, Rutland and Addison.

With few exceptions the early settlers held land titles
based on the grants made by Governor Wentworth.
They had purchased these lands in good faith, for the
purpose of establishing homes. After paying fees,
buying land, and undergoing the hardships incident
to subduing the wilderness, settlers holding New Hamp-
shire titles, in their poverty were asked, in effect, to buy
again the lands they had improved, and made valuable,
paying much larger fees, often to land speculators and
favored officials. This New York policy of refusing to
recognize the validity of the Wentworth grants was
considered rank injustice, and aroused the fighting spirit
of these sturdy New England pioneers.

For the beginning of this controversy it is necessary
to go back to the granting of Bennington, Governor
Wentworth's first township in the disputed territory, the
charter for which was issued June 11, 1749. On
November 17, of the same year. Governor Wentworth



272 HISTORY OF VERMONT

wrote to Governor Clinton of New York, alluding to
the command of the King, directing the Governor to
make grants of unimproved lands within his government
*'to such of the inhabitants and others as shall apply
for grants for the same, as will oblige themselves to
settle and improve, agreeable to His Majesty's instruc-
tions."

In his letter Governor Wentworth declared: "People
are daily applying for grants of land in all quarters of
this government, and particularly some for townships
to be laid out in the western part thereof, which will
fall in the neighborhood of your government. I think
it my duty to apprise you thereof, and to transmit to
Your Excellency the description of New Hampshire, as
the King has determined it in the words of my commis-
sion, which, after you have considered, I shall be glad
you will be pleased to give me your sentiments in that
manner it will affect the grants made by you or preced-
ing Governors, it being my intention to avoid as much
as I can consistent with His Majesty's instructions, in-
terfering with your government."

Governor Wentworth then asked how far the Gov-
ernment of New York extended north of Albany, and to
the eastward of Hudson River, north of the Massa-
chusetts line. He enclosed a copy of his commission,
which indicated that the western boundary of New
Hampshire was rather indefinite, as the province ex-
tended west, to quote from the charter, "till it meets
with our other governments."

The New York Council advised the Governor on April
3, 1750, to acquaint Governor Wentworth with the fact



A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP 273

"that this province is bounded eastward by Connecti-
cut River, h: * * ^j^g letters patent from King
Charles the Second to the Duke of York expressly grant-
ing all lands from the west side of Connecticut River to
the east side of Delaware Bay."

Governor Wentworth replied in a letter dated April
25, 1750, saying in substance that the establishment of
the Connecticut River as the eastern boundary of New
York would be entirely agreeable to him, "had not the
two charter governments of Connecticut and the Massa-
chusetts Bay extended their bounds many miles to the
westward of said river." To this he added, very per-
tinently, the opinion of the Council that New Hampshire
had an equal right to the same western boundaries. In
closing he expressed his desire not to encroach on any
other governments, asked by what authority Connecticut
and Massachusetts claimed "so far to the westward as
they have settled, and declared his purpose to desist
meantime from making any further grants on the west-
ern frontier likely to interfere with the New York gov-
ernment.

Governor Clinton's reply, dated June 6, 1750, was to
the effect that Connecticut's western boundary was
established as the result of an agreement between the
province and New York, made on or about the year
1684, and confirmed later by King William, the bound-
aries being marked in 1725. As to the Massachusetts
boundary. Governor Clinton wrote : "It is presumed the
Massachusetts government at first possessed themselves
of those lands by intrusion, and thro the negligence
of this government have hitherto continued their posses-



274 HISTORY OF VERMONT

sion the lands being private property." Governor
Clinton added the suggestion that Governor Wentworth
recall the grant made of the town of Bennington, say-
ing there was reason to apprehend that these lands, or
part of them, had been granted previously by New York.

Governor Wentworth responded on June 22 of the
same year, saying that the Council members were unani-
mously of the opinion that it was unwise to commence
a boundary dispute with New York until the opinion of
the King should be obtained. Governor Wentworth an-
nounced his intention to submit the matter to His
Majesty, and suggested that Governor Clinton follow a
similar course. Referring to the suggestion that the
grant of Bennington should be revoked, he added:
''There is no possibility of vacating the grant as you
desire, but if it falls by His Majesty's determination in
the government of New York, it will be void of course.
Both Governors thereupon agreed to submit the matter
of the disputed boundary to the King, and to furnish
copies of their statements to each other.

In a collection of New York documents of this period,
relating to the land controversy between New Hampshire
and New York, may be found a report of Attorney Gen-
eral Richard Bradley of the latter province, made to
Governor Clinton, bearing no date, but evidently sub-
mitted during the latter part of the year 1750, or the
early part of the year 1751. In this report it is urged
that it would be unjust to use the western boundary of
Connecticut as an argument for a similar line north of
that province, because that boundary was the result of a
special agreement. At considerable length he argues



A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP 275

that it is "extremely absurd" for Massachusetts to con-
tend that its charter extends the western boundary of
that province to within twenty miles of the Hudson
River.

All that he had to say regarding the very obvious fact
that the western boundary of Massachusetts was practi-
cally an extension to the northward of that of Con-
necticut, was that Massachusetts had intruded upon and
taken possession of such lands west of the Connecticut
River, ''without pretence of right."

To this report Surveyor General Cadwallader Colden
added some observations, dated October 14, 1751, includ-
ing the very practical suggestion that if the King would
assert his right to the lands as far east as the Con-
necticut River "against the intrusions of Massachusetts
Bay it would greatly increase his revenue arising from
the quit rent of lands." In Governor Wentworth's letter
to the British Lords of Trade he based the claim of New
Hampshire to a western boundary which should be the
twenty-mile line east of the Hudson River, upon the fact
that the provinces of Connecticut and Massachusetts
already had established such limits.

A committee of the New York Council, on November
14, 1753, made a report to Lieutenant Governor James
Delancey on the eastern boundary of the province, re-
hearsing the various stages of the controversy with
New Hampshire. The New York claim was based upon
the grant made by the Duke of York to Charles the
Second, in 1664, which included "all the Land from the
West side of Connecticut River to the East Side of
Delaware Bay." As to the claim that New Hampshire



276 HISTORY OF VERMONT

had as good a right to extend its western boundary as



Online LibraryWalter Hill CrockettVermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 34)