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these laws denominated felons; or if we defend our
neighbors who have been indicted rioters, only for de-
fending our property, we are likewise adjudged felons.
In fine, every opposition to their monarchial government
is deemed felony, and at the end of every such sentence
there is the word death, the same as though he or they
had been convicted or attainted before a proper court
of judicature : The candid reader will doubtless observe
that the diabolical design of the law is to obtain posses-
sion of the New Hampshire Grants, or to make the
people that defend them outlaws and so kill them when-
ever they can catch them.

"Those bloody lawgivers know we are necessitated to
oppose their execution of laws when it points directly at



RESISTANCE TO NEW YORK AUTHORITY 369

our property, or give up the same, but there is one thing
which is a matter of consolation to us, viz. : that printed
sentences of death will not kill us when we are at a
distance, and if the executioners approach us, they will
be as likely to fall victims to death as we; and that per-
son, or country of persons are cowards indeed if they
cannot as manfully fight for their liberty, property and
life as villains can do to deprive them thereof. * * *

"As to forming ourselves into military orders and
assuming military commands, the New York posses, the
military preparations, oppressions, etc., obliged us to it.
Probably Messieurs Duane, Kemp and Banyar of New
York will not discommend us for so expedient a prep-
aration, more especially since the decrees of the 9th of
March are yet to be put in execution ; and we flatter our-
selves upon occasion we can muster as good a regiment
of marksmen and scalpers as America can afiford; and
we now give the gentlemen above named together with
Mr. Brush and Col. Ten Broeck, and in fine all the land
jobbers of New York, an invitation to come and view
the dexterity of our regiment; and we cannot think of a
better time for that purpose than when the execution-
ers come to kill us. * * *

"But as the Magistrates, Sheriffs, Under-Sheriffs,
Coroners and Constables of the respective counties that
hold their posts of honor and benefit under our bitter
enemies, we have a jealousy that some of them may be
induced (to recommend themselves to those on whom
they are dependent, and for the wages of unrighteous-
ness offered by proclamation) to presume to apprehend
some of us, or our friends: We therefore advertise



370 HISTORY OF VERMONT

such officers, and all persons whatsoever, that we are re-
solved to inflict immediate death on whomsoever may
attempt the same. And provided any of us or our party
shall be taken, and we have not notice sufficient to relieve
them, or whether we relieve them or not, we are re-
solved to surround such person, or persons, whether at
his or their own house or houses, or anywhere that we
can find him or them, and shoot such person or persons
dead. And furthermore that we will kill and destroy
any person or persons whomsoever, that shall presume
to be accessory, aiding or assisting in taking any of us
as aforesaid ; for by these presents we give any such dis-
posed person or persons to understand that although
they have a license by the law aforesaid to kill us ; and
an 'indemnification' for such murder from the same
authority, yet they have no indemnification for so doing
from the Green Mountain Boys; for our lives, liberties
and properties are as verily precious to us, as to any of
the King's subjects, and we are as loyal to His Majesty
or his government, as any subjects in his province; but
if the governmental authority of New York will judge
in their own case, and act in opposition to that of Great
Britain, and insist upon killing us, to take possession of
our vineyards, come on, we are ready for a game of
scalping with them; for our martial spirits glow with
bitter indignation and consummate fury to blast their
infernal projections."

This declaration is remarkable for the vigor and
forcefulness of its English as well as for the boldness
and defiance of its tone. Probably no better illustra-
tion is to be found of the daring spirit, one might truth-



RESISTANCE TO NEW YORK AUTHORITY 371

fully say the reckless daring, which the people who set-
tled the Green Mountain region exhibited in their de-
fence of their rights and liberties and their passionate
love of freedom. In order that the people of neighbor-
ing colonies should understand the merits of the con-
troversy, Ethan Allen, in 1774, prepared a pamphlet of
more than two hundred pages, entitled "A Brief Narra-
tive of the Proceedings of the Government of New York
Relative to Their Obtaining the Jurisdiction of that Dis-
trict of Land to the Westward of Connecticut River"
and it was printed at Hartford, Conn.

Ira Allen says that "by this book and others the cause
of the people became of public notoriety through the
colonies, as the newspapers were in every part circulat-
ing these proceedings, which soured the minds of the
people much against the British Government, as it was
generally supposed that the Governor and Council of
New York were countenanced by Government."

Soon after the passage by the New York Legislature
of the act providing for the offering of rewards for the
apprehension of Ethan Allen and his associates, Benja-
min Hough, an Anabaptist preacher, who had secured
lands under the New York grant of Socialborough, re-
turned to the Grants, having accepted an appointment
as Justice of the Peace. On his petition the New York
Legislature had taken action against the so-called
"rioters," and had advocated the passage of the drastic
laws to which allusion has been made. On his return
he was served with a notice of the Manchester resolu-
tions of April 12, 1774, to the effect that until the King's
pleasure was known any person taking a commission



372 HISTORY OF VERMONT

from the government of New York would "be deemed
an enemy to their country and the common cause, and
warned against attempting to act as a magistrate." He
paid no heed to these warnings but was loud in his de-
nunciation of rioters. In order to make an example
that should serve as a warning to others, he was seized
by about thirty persons on the morning of January 26,
1775, placed in a sleigh and carried to Sunderland, where
he was kept in confinement until January 30, the delay
being due to the fact that Ethan Allen and Seth Warner
had been summoned from Bennington but had not
arrived. These two leaders and Robert Cochran, Peleg
Sunderland, James Mead, Gideon Sawyer and Jesse
Sawyer acted as judges. Ethan Allen accused the
prisoner of entering complaint to the New York authori-
ties concerning the punishment of Benjamin Spencer;
of discouraging the people from joining the cause of the
Green Mountain Boys; and of accepting the offer of
magistrate under the jurisdiction of New York. Hough
admitted these charges to be true. Thereupon he was
sentenced to be tied to a tree and to receive two hun-
dred lashes upon his naked back, and that as soon as he
was able to leave he should depart from the New Hamp-
shire Grants and not return, the penalty for violation of
the order being five hundred lashes. This penalty was
inflicted and after receiving treatment from a physician
he was sent on his way to New York, having received a
certificate signed by Allen and Warner to the effect that
he had received "full punishment" for crimes committed.
Not all the punishments decreed were of such severity
as that inflicted upon Hough. Dr. Samuel Adams of



RESISTANCE TO NEW YORK AUTHORITY 373

Arlington had been a friend of the New Hampshire set-
tlers until about the end of the year 1773, when he began
to advise his neighbors to purchase lands under a New
York title. Refusing to heed warnings to desist from
his course, he armed himself with pistols and other
weapons and announced that he would silence any man
who attempted to molest him. He was soon arrested
and taken to the Green Mountain Tavern at Bennington.
Now the tavern had for a sign a stuffed catamount, sur-
mounting the signboard twenty-five feet from the
ground, the animal being represented in the act of show-
ing its teeth to New York. Doctor Adams, having
been heard by the Committee of Safety, was sentenced
to be tied to an arm chair and hoisted to the sign of
the catamount, there to be suspended for the space of
two hours. This sentence was carried into effect to the
amusement of a large number of spectators, and it is
said that "this mild and exemplary disgrace had a salu-
tary effect on the doctor and many others."

Judged by ordinary standards the course of the Green
Mountain Boys in resisting New York authority, in set-
ting up their own tribunals of justice, in inflicting the
"beech seal" and other punishments with great severity,
in evicting New York settlers and destroying their prop-
erty, was one of great violence and lawlessness, but con-
ditions were not ordinary but extraordinary. The land
trials at Albany in 1770 had demonstrated that justice
could not be obtained, that their property rights would
not be protected, that New Hampshire titles would not
be recognized in New York courts, notwithstanding the
fact that this policy was in direct violation of the orders



374 HISTORY OF VERMONT

of the British Government. Either the settlers under
New Hampshire titles must abandon all they possessed;
pay to the New York authorities exorbitant fees for new
grants which many of them were unable to do; or hold
their homesteads by force until, as they hoped, a final
decision in the matter should be rendered by the King.
The last of these methods was chosen, with a full
knowledge that in a measure, at least, it was a policy of
revolution; and subsequent events justified the course
adopted by the settlers. Under the circumstances this
policy was the only one that promised the possibility
of the protection of the rights of this people, and to the
ordinary observer the outlook for ultimate success must
have appeared exceedingly unpromising. Yet so effec-
tually did they intimidate the New York party that Ben-
jamin Hough declared under oath on March 18, 1775,
that "neither the said Sheriff (of Charlotte county) or
his oflficers dare to venture within the district where the
rioters live without express leave from the leaders of
the mob." Long before this Attorney General Kempe
had learned the meaning of Ethan Allen's phrase, "The
gods of the valleys are not the gods of the hills."

It is worthy of note, however, that, although violence
was used, in all this controversy no lives were taken.
In view of the extreme provocation, the injustice of the
New York ofBcials and the heavy odds against the New
Hampshire Grants, it may be considered remarkable
that their methods were not more violent.

It became increasingly evident that it would be
extremely difificult if not impossible to bring this district
under the authority of New York. As early as Sep-



RESISTANCE TO NEW YORK AUTHORITY 375

tember, 1769, twelve Connecticut clergymen, mission-
aries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
in Foreign Parts, which held a right of land in almost
every township granted by Governor Wentworth, peti-
tioned Sir William Johnson to use his influence to secure
the appointment of Partridge Thatcher as the first Gov-
ernor of the new government which it was expected
would be erected out of Governor Wentworth's Grants
west of the Connecticut River. Of course, nothing
came of this request as it does not appear that such a
plan was seriously considered at the time.

Ira Allen states in his "History of Vermont" that in
1774 a plan was formed by Ethan Allen, Amos Bird and
other prominent persons, aided by Col. Philip Skene, to
establish a new royal colony, which should include the
region known as the New Hampshire Grants and a por-
tion of the province of New York west of Lake Cham-
plain and north of the Mohawk River, extending to the
Canadian border, or the forty-fifth parallel of latitude.
Skenesborough, the county seat of Charlotte county, was
to be the capital of the new province. The plan in-
cluded the appointment of Colonel Skene as Governor.
He was a retired officer who had been granted a large
tract of land at the south end of Lake Champlain, where
a settlement of considerable importance had been estab-
lished.

The post of royal Governor was an honorable and
sometimes a lucrative one, and the prospect of obtaining
it appealed to Colonel Skene, who, at his own expense,
went to London to solicit the position. He secured the
appointment of Governor of the garrisons of Crown



376 HISTORY OF VERMONT

Point and Ticonderoga, which was considered the first
step in his campaign. He was next advised to secure
petitions to the King and Privy Council to the effect
that the estabhshment of such a colony would restore
harmony in this disturbed district and afford convenience
in the administration of justice in a department extensive
and remote from the seat of government. Resolutions
were adopted at Westminster, April 11, 1775, by com-
mittees representing Cumberland and Gloucester coun-
ties, asking that they "be taken out of so oppressive a
jurisdiction and either annexed to some other govern-
ment, or erected and incorporated into a new one."

n this movement had been inaugurated at some other
time than the outbreak of the revolt of the colonies
against Great Britain it might have afforded a con-
venient avenue of escape from a very difficult situation.
Ira Allen remarks that had Colonel Skene succeeded in
the establishment of a new royal colony in the region
"the people who had settled under the royal grants of
New Hampshire would have been quiet." The re-
verberation of the guns fired at Lexington and Concord,
however, shattered the fabric of Colonel Skene's dream
of a royal colony of which he should be the Governor.
When he returned a little later to America it was not as
ruler of a new province, but as a prisoner of war, in
custody of people determined to do their own governing.

The overshadowing importance of the war with Great
Britain checked the fierceness of the land controversy
with New York, and though it smouldered for years,
blazing up from time to time, never again was it des-



RESISTANCE TO NEW YORK AUTHORITY 377

tined to be fanned into as fierce a flame as that which
had been kindled during the period immediately preced-
ing the outbreak of the American Revolution.



Chapter XII
THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE



THE conditions prevailing during the three or four
years immediately preceding the beginning of the
American Revolution differed radically in the
eastern and the western portions of the present State of
Vermont. In the western portion, the settled region of
which included what is now known as Bennington and
Rutland counties, a part of Addison county, and a few
isolated settlements in Chittenden county, the authority
exercised by the province of New York was very slight.
An occasional arrest was made by New York officers,
but to a considerable extent the towns in this section
were a law unto themselves. This does not mean that a
state of anarchy or disorder prevailed in the ordinary
affairs of life. Town officials and committees of safety
conducted such affairs of government as seemed to be
necessary. The opposition to New York, which prac-
tically nullified the authority of that province in the set-
tled region west of the Green Mountains, grew out of
the attempt of the provincial government to take from
the settlers lands granted under New Hampshire char-
ters, and to regrant them to others under a New York
patent. Because the inhabitants resolutely defended
their property rights and defied the New York officials,
the machinery of the provincial government could not
be put into operation where the Green Mountain Boys
held sway.

In the eastern portion of what is now Vermont, the
settled region included the present counties of Windham
and Windsor, known as Cumberland county, and a part
of Orange county, then included in Gloucester county,
which was sparsely settled. In the region lying between



382 HISTORY OF VERMONT

the Connecticut River and the Green Mountains, New
York had not attempted to deprive the pioneer settlers
of their lands and give them to others. Not a few of
the towns had obtained new charters from New York,
and here the machinery of provincial government was in
full operation. Courts had been established, county
officials appointed, and representatives elected to the
General Assembly. Communication was difficult across
the range of the Green Mountains, and the oppression
and injustice suffered by the people of Bennington and
vicinity did not prevail to any great extent in Cumber-
land and Gloucester counties. It was much more con-
venient for New York grantees to secure titles to lands
in the valleys of the Battenkill and Otter than in the
valleys of the Connecticut River and its tributaries. In
the first instance there was no mountain barrier to
cross, nor was it necessary to pass through Massa-
chusetts, a province in which dwelt many persons finan-
cially interested in the New Hampshire Grants. In one
portion of this region the inhabitants, smarting under
a sense of outrage, had been driven to the point of revo-
lution. In the other portion no accumulated grievances
had engendered a spirit of hate toward the New York
government.

The impression should not be gained, however, that
entire satisfaction was given by the new county govern-
ments of Cumberland and Gloucester. When the
former county was first erected in 1766, the act estab-
lishing it was vetoed by the King. In 1768 the Gov-
ernor and Council reestablished the county, a measure
of doubtful validity, and one that some of the people



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 383

feared might call forth a repetition of royal disapproval.
It must be remembered that the settlers in these East
Side towns were people of New England ideas and train-
ing and the New York method of appointing county
officers by the Governor and Council was not altogether
pleasing to men accustomed to the election of most of
their public servants. The county officials were too
numerous for a sparsely settled region and the burden
of maintenance was heavy. Complaint was made that
the jury service was excessive. Large fees were re-
quired for a confirmation of New Hampshire land titles.
All these matters combined to arouse some friction and
dissatisfaction.

In the spring of 1770, Joseph Wait, Benjamin Wait
(the founder of Waitsfield), Nathan Stone and Samuel
Stone, all of Windsor, were arrested on a precept from
the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, but they were
rescued by a body of armed men. In May of this year,
Sheriff Daniel Whipple of Cumberland county, with a
posse of twelve or fifteen men, went to Windsor to re-
arrest these persons. On the way they met a company
variously estimated from twenty-seven to forty persons,
armed with guns, swords, pistols and clubs, led by
Nathan Stone and Joseph Wait. Refusing to accede to
Sheriff Whipple's order to disperse, the rioters over-
powered the sheriff's posse, holding its members as
prisoners for several hours.

A party of about thirty men armed with walnut clubs,
and led by Nathan Stone, who carried a sword, entered
the court house at Chester, the county seat, on June 5,
1770. Stone, claiming to act in behalf of the public,



384 HISTORY OF VERMONT

demanded of the court its right to sit in a judicial
capacity, and denied the authority of New York to erect
Cumberland county. Stone and his companions also
requested that John Grout, who appears to have made
himself obnoxious to those not in sympathy with the
New York party, be- debarred from the practice of law.
This request being denied without the presentation of
further evidence, and the confusion and tumult being so
great that violence was feared, court was adjourned.
The same day two men proceeded to the house of the
Clerk of the court, and in the presence of some of the
judges took Grout as a prisoner. He was transported
to Windsor, where he was detained, an attempt being
made to secure his promise not to practice law in the
county. After six days of confinement, Grout made
his escape.

A party of seventy or eighty persons from New
Hampshire, on January 27, 1772, crossed the Connec-
ticut River to Putney, broke open the door of Jonas
Moore's house, and took certain effects of Leonard
Spaulding, which had been committed to Moore's keep-
ing, Moore having recovered judgment against Spauld-
ing. These and other episodes indicated considerable
dissatisfaction with the court.

Cumberland county was divided into eighteen dis-
tricts, and Crean Brush was appointed Clerk and Surro-
gate of the county. Brush was a native of Ireland, who
had emigrated to New York City. He had been licensed
to practice law, and had recently removed to Westmin-
ster. Chester not proving altogether satisfactory as a
shire town, the supervisors of Cumberland county, on



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 385

May 19, 1772, chose Westminster as the county seat.
Westminster, one of the first Vermont towns to be set-
tled, was the most populous town in the county when the
census of 1771 was taken. The village was situated
on a broad plateau overlooking the Connectictit River.
A street ten rods in width had been laid out, intended
as a training field as well as a roadway and in the
middle of the King's Highway, as the street was called,
the church had been erected. On the east side of the
street, near the church, a court house was built, follow-
ing the transfer of the county seat from Chester to
Westminster. The building was erected of hewn tim-
ber, was about forty feet square, and the gambrel roof
was surmounted by a cupola. Double doors were
placed at either end of a broad hall, ten or twelve feet in
width, which extended through the center of the build-
ing. In the north half of the lower story were two
rooms used as a jail, and across the hall were a kitchen
and barroom, under the supervision of the jailer. The
court room occupied the second story, which was an
unfinished room, the rough beams remaining exposed to
view. This building stood until 1806, when it was taken
down. Within its walls was held the convention which
declared on January 17, 1777, that the district known as
the New Hampshire Grants, "of right ought to be, and
is hereby declared forever after to be considered as a
separate, free and independent jurisdiction or State."
Later in the same year, in the same court house, was
held a convention of the friends of New York govern-
ment opposed to the formation of a new State.



386 HISTORY OF VERMONT

The opposition to British authority which began to
manifest itself actively throughout the American
colonies in 1774, did not show any noteworthy activity
that year in the region west of the Green Mountains,
for the very good reason that the controversy with New
York was so acute that it attracted the entire attention
of the people, although the letters and papers setting
forth the claims of the Green Mountain Boys at times
breathed a spirit of defiance to Great Britain.

Following the formation in New York City, on May
16, 1774, of a committee of correspondence of fifty
members, designed to learn the sentiments of the people
of the province concerning Great Britain's attitude
toward her American colonies, Isaac Low, its chairman,
addressed a letter of inquiry to the supervisors of Cum-
berland county. According to documents of that period,
this letter, "through ignorance or intention," was kept
a private matter until September. Rumors of the re-
ceipt of this letter began to be "whispered abroad," and
reaching the ears of Dr. Reuben Jones of Rockingham,
and Capt. Azariah Wright of Westminster, two ardent
Whigs, as the opponents of the British policy sometimes
were called, they took steps to give the widest possible
publicity to the report. As a result a meeting was
called in each town, and committees were appointed to
wait upon the Supervisors at their September session
to inquire as to the truth of the rumor that certain
papers had been received that ought to be laid before
the towns of the county. The Supervisors made many
excuses, "Some plead ignorance, and some one thing
and some another." The committee which called upon



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 387

them would not consent that any return should be made
to the New York committee until all the towns in the
county had received the letter. As a result of the cir-
culation of the letter from Mr. Low a county conven-



Online LibraryWalter Hill CrockettVermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) → online text (page 24 of 34)