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tion was called to meet at Westminster on October 19.

A request was made of Col. Thomas Chandler, Town
Clerk of Chester, by several inhabitants of that town,
''to call a town meeting to know the minds of the people,
whether they are willing to choose a committee to make
report to said Committee of Correspondence and whether
the people will stand for the privileges of North
America or whether they are willing to consent to re-
ceive the late acts of Parliament as just or whether they
view them as unjust, oppressive and unconstitutional."
At a town meeting held in Chester on October 10, five
persons were chosen to attend the county convention at
Westminster, and the following resolutions were
adopted :

"That the people of America are naturally intitled
to all the priviledges of free born subjects of Great
Britain, which priviledges they have never forfeited.

"That every man's estate honestly acquired is his own
and no person on earth has a right to take it away with-
out the proprietor consent unless he forfeit it by some
crime of his committing.

"That all acts of the British Parliament tending to
take away or abridge these rights ought not to be obeyed.

"That the people of this town will joyn with their
fellow American subjects in opposing in all lawfull ways
every incroachment on their natural rights."



388 HISTORY OF VERMONT

The Cumberland County Convention met in the court
house at Westminster on October 19 and was in session
two days. A record of this meeting was pubUshed in
Holt's New York Journal in June, 1775, by which it
appears that Col. John Hazeltine of Townshend was
chosen chairman. Mr. Low's letter, the Boston Port
Bill, the act laying a duty on tea, and other acts of the
British Parliament were read and debated. A commit-
tee consisting of John Grout of Chester, Joshua Webb
of Westminster, Dr. Paul Spooner of Hertford (Hart-
land), Edward Harris of Halifax and Maj. William
Williams of Marlboro, were appointed a committee to
consider the subjects debated and report to the meeting.

On the second day of the convention the committee
reported, stating that the people of Cumberland were
"situated here in a corner, at a considerable remove from
the populous civilized parts of the country," reviewing
the hardships experienced by the pioneers in settling the
country, and expressing surprise that by act of Parlia-
ment "all Americans are deprived of that great right of
calling that their own which they by their industry have
honestly acquired." The report further declared that
"He who has nothing but what another has power at
pleasure lawfully to take away from, has nothing that
he can call his own, and is, in the fullest sense of the
word, a slave вАФ a slave to him who has such power."

Resolutions were prepared, declaring, "That as true
and loyal subjects of our gracious Sovereign, King
George the Third of Great Britain, &c., we will spend
our lives and fortunes in his service."



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 389

"That as we will defend our King while he reigns over
us, his subjects, and wish his reign may be long and
glorious, so we will defend our just rights as British
subjects against every power that shall attempt to de-
prive us of them, while breath is in our nostrils, and
blood in our veins.

"That considering the late acts of the British Parlia-
ment for blocking up the port of Boston, &c., which we
view as arbitrary and unjust, inasmuch as the Parlia-
ment have sentenced them unheard, and dispensed with
all the modes of law and justice which we think neces-
sary to distinguish between lawfully obtaining right for
property injured, and arbitrarily enforcing to comply
with their will, (be it right or wrong) we resolve to
assist the people of Boston in the defence of their liber-
ties to the utmost of our abilities.

"Sensible that the strength of our opposition to the
late acts consists in a uniform, manly, steady and deter-
mined mode of procedure, we will bear testimony against
and discourage all riotous, tumultuous and unnecessary
mobs which tend to injure the persons or properties of
harmless individuals; but endeavor to treat those per-
sons whose abominable principles and actions show
them to be enemies to American liberty, as loathsome
animals not fit to be touched or to have any society or
connection with."

The New York Committee of Correspondence was
thanked "for the notice they have taken of this infant
colony," and the chairman was directed to forward to
Isaac Low of New York the resolutions, which were
unanimously adopted, with an explanation of the delay



390 HISTORY OF VERMONT

in replying to his letter. A committee was chosen to
correspond with other committees of correspondence "of
this province and elsewhere," consisting of Joshua
Webb, John Grout, John Sessions of Westminster, Maj.
William Williams and Capt. Jacob (Joab) Hoisington
of Woodstock.

Lieut. Leonard Spalding of Dummerston was ar-
rested on October 28, on a charge of high treason, and
after being overpowered by a posse of three or four
men was committed to jail at Westminster. In the
"Relation" prepared by a committee of which Dr.
Reuben Jones was clerk, dealing with the Westminster
Massacre, it is stated that "one man they put into close
prison for high treason ; and all that they proved against
him was that he said if the King had signed the Quebec
bill, it was his opinion that he had broke his coronation
oath." The Quebec bill established the laws of France,
abolished trial by jury, denied the right of assembly and
established the Catholic religion. Among those respon-
sible for the arrest of Spalding were Sheriff William
Paterson, Crean Brush, Noah Sabin, and others.

On the day following the arrest a majority of the
people of Dummerston, or Fulham, as it was called at
that time, met on the green and chose a committee of
correspondence consisting of Solomon Harvey, John
Butler, Jonathan Knight, Josiah Boyden and Daniel
Gates, "to joyne with other towns or respectable bodies
of people, the better to secure and protect the rights
and privileges of themselves and fellow creatures from
the ravages and imbarrassments of the British tyrant
and his New York and other immesaries." Being



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 391

assisted by "a large concourse of their freeborn neigh-
bors and bretherin" of Putney, Guilford, Halifax and
Draper (Wilmington), the people of Dummerston for-
cibly released Lieutenant Spalding, after he had been
imprisoned eleven days. Dr. Solomon Harvey, one of
the Whig leaders, was Town Clerk of Dummerston, at
this time, and he entered upon the town records a de-
scription of the episode, which leaves no doubt regard-
ing the sympathies of the writer, which declares that,
"The plain truth is, that the brave sons of freedom
whose patience was worn out with the inhuman insults
of the imps of power, grew quite sick of diving after
redress in a legal way, and finding that the law was
only made use of for the emolument of its creatures the
immesaries of the British tyrant, resolved upon an
easyer method, and accordingly opened the goal (jail)
without key or lockpicker, and after congratulating Mr.
Spalding upon the recovery of his freedom, dispersed
every man in peace to his respective home or place of
abode. The afforgoing is a true and short relation of
that wicked affair of the New York, cut throatly,
Jacobitish, high church, Toretical minions of George the
Third, the Pope of Canada and tyrant of Britain." If
the zealous doctor was as resourceful in his choice of
remedies as he was in the selection of epithets, he must
have been a very skilful practitioner.

John Hazeltine, chairman of the first Cumberland
County Convention, on November 13, issued a call for
a second convention to be held at Westminster, notices
being sent to the various towns of the county. At a
meeting held at Chester on November 28, two delegates



392 HISTORY OF VERMONT

were elected and were instructed to endeavor to procure
from the convention a vote of thanks to the Continental
Congress "for their good services." They were also
directed to try to secure the adoption of instructions to
their representatives in the New York Legislature,
Crean Brush and Samuel Wells, to favor choosing
deputies to attend the Colonial Congress to be held in
Philadelphia the following May. On the same day a
meeting was held in Dummerston, which voted that the
town be assessed "in a discretionary sum of money,
sufficient to procure 100 weight of gunpowder, 200
weight of lead, & 300 flints, for the town use." This
tax was to be paid in potash salts.

A Congress, which was composed of delegates from
twelve American colonies, had assembled at Philadelphia
in September, 1774, and had voted to suspend commer-
cial relations with Great Britain until certain offensive
acts of Parliament were repealed. An association was
formed which delegates joined, and it was recommended
that all the colonies adopt the articles of agreement, one
article being a pledge to have no dealings or intercourse
with any colony in North America which should not
accede to the articles of association. This agreement
was adopted by all the colonies but New York, in which
a Tory majority controlled the Legislature.

The second Cumberland County Convention was held
at Westminster on November 30, and according to a
report made by Dr. Reuben Jones all the resolves of the
Continental Congress were adopted, the delegates agree-
ing "religiously to adhere to the non-importation, non-
consumption, non-exportation policy agreed upon at



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 393

Philadelphia, also to have no dealings with any Ameri-
can province that failed to accede to, or violated, such
agreement or association." A motion was made to
appoint a committee of inspection, "to observe the con-
duct of all persons" in regard to the resolutions of the
Continental Congress. Objection was made, it is said,
by a justice and an attorney, probably by Justice Samuel
Wells of Brattleboro, and John Grout, a Chester attor-
ney; and the appointment of such a committee being
"much spoken against," according to Doctor Jones' re-
port, "and looked upon by them as a childish, imperti-
nent thing, the delegates dare not choose one." The
people of Dummerston decided that they would have a
committee of inspection, and at town meeting a com-
mittee of seven men was chosen, headed by Dr. Solo-
mon Harvey. This committee removed two of the town
assessors from office, and disarmed one man who was
suspected of being a Tory.

Col. John Hazeltine sent out a call, on January 30,
1775, for a third Cumberland County Convention, to be
held at Westminster on February 7. On that date dele-
gates from twelve towns assembled, and Colonel Hazel-
tine once more was elected chairman. The committee
was in session three days. A committee of correspond-
ence representing twenty-one towns was chosen, to be
kept informed of the proceedings of the friends of lib-
erty in the colonies. This committee consisted of rep-
resentatives from Westminster, Putney, Dummerston,
Brattleboro, Guilford, Hinsdale (Vernon), Halifax,
Marlboro, Draper (Wilmington), Newfane, Town-
shend, Kent (Londonderry), Chester, Rockingham,



394 HISTORY OF VERMONT

Springfield, Weathersfield, Windsor, Hertford (Hart-
land), Hartford, Woodstock and Pomfret. Dr. Paul
Spooner of Hertford, Joshua Webb and Abijah Lovejoy
of Westminster, Dr. Solomon Harvey of Dummerston
and Capt. Francis Whitmore of Marlboro were ap-
pointed monitors to the committee of correspondence.

At this convention a protest to the New York Legis-
lature was authorized, objecting to the "great expense
and heavy burdens" imposed by the additional courts
lately established. Mention was made of the incon-
venience of calling from home at each quarterly session
of court more than seventy farmers to act as grand
and petit jurors, their compensation being insufficient
to pay their expenses. Complaint was made concern-
ing the wages of the county members of the Legislature,
and the excessive fees charged by attorneys, which were
declared to be "very burthensome and grievous." The
petitioners asked for fewer terms of court, a smaller
number of jurors, smaller court fees, and other reforms.

It will be seen from the reports of these Westminster
conventions, and the action of individual towns, that
the people of Cumberland county were generally in
hearty sympathy with the American colonies in their
opposition to the colonial policy of Great Britain. New
York, however, had refused to unite with the other
American colonies, in the non-importation agreement,
and this fact, together with the sympathy shown by
New York officials for the British Government, made
the rule of the province irksome to many of the towns
in the Connecticut valley. The Cumberland county
court officials, chosen by the New York Legislature, were



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 395

known to be in sympathy with the British policy rather
than that of the Continental Congress. This fact, to-
gether with the growing dissatisfaction with the burden
imposed by the sessions of the courts, led to a movement
to prevent the holding of the court.

In the report, or "Relation" prepared by the commit-
tee of which Dr. Reuben Jones was clerk, to which ref-
erence already has been made, it was stated that, "Some
of our court would boldly say that the King had a just
right to make the revenue acts, for he had a supreme
power; and he that said otherwise were guilty of high
treason, and they did hope that they would be executed
accordingly. The people were of opinion that such
men were not suitable to rule over them: and, as the
General Assembly of this province would not accede to
the association of the Continental Congress, the good
people were of opinion that if they did accede to any
power from or under them, they would be guilty of the
breach of the 14th article of that association, and may
justly be dealt with, accordingly, by all America. When
the good people considered that the General Assembly
were for bringing them into a state of slavery, (which
did appear plain by their not acceding to the best method
to procure their liberties, and the executive power so
strongly acquiescing in all that they did, whether it was
right or wrong;) the good people of said county thought
it time to look to themselves. And they thought that
it was dangerous to trust their lives and fortunes in the
hands of such enemies to American liberty; but more
particularly unreasonable that there should be any court
held; since, thereby, we must accede to what our Gen-



396 HISTORY OF VERMONT

eral Assembly had done, in not acceding to what the
whole continent had recommended ; and that all America
would break off all dealings and commerce with us, and
bring us into a state of slavery at once. Therefore in
duty to God, ourselves, and posterity, we thought our-
selves under the strongest obligations to resist and to
oppose all authority that would not accede to the re-
solves of the Continental Congress. But knowing that
many of our court were men that neither feared or re-
garded men, we thought that it was most prudent to go
and persuade the judges to stay at home."

Acting in accordance with this policy about forty
''good true men" went from Rockingham to Chester on
March 10 to urge Col. Thomas Chandler, the Chief
Judge, not to attend court. Judge Chandler agreed that
under existing conditions it would be for the good of
the county not to hold a session of court at that time.
He declared, however, that there was one murder case
that must receive attention, but if the people objected to
further court business no other cases would be heard.
One member of the party expressed the opinion that
Sheriff Paterson would bring armed men to Westmin-
ster, and that there would be bloodshed, but Judge
Chandler gave his word of honor that no arms should
be brought against the people of the county. He agreed
to go to the county seat on March 13, and the visiting
delegation informed him that they would wait on him
at that time if he had no objection. He informed them
that their company would be very agreeable and thanked
them for their civility, as they took their departure.



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 397

There was much discussion among the Whigs regard-
ing the best method of preventing a session of the court.
It was understood that Judge Noah Sabin, one of the
Associate Judges, and many of the minor court officers
were strongly of the opinion that court should be opened
as usual. One of the Judges, Col. Samuel Wells, was
attending the New York Legislature as one of the mem-
bers from Cumberland county. It was finally agreed
by the Whigs that the court should be permitted to
assemble, when reasons should be presented showing
why a session ought not to be held. A report having
reached Westminster on March 10 to the effect that the
court would take possession of the court house March
13, post a strong guard at the doors, and prevent the
opponents of the court party from entering, it was deter-
mined to take possession of the court house before
armed guards were stationed, "being justly alarmed by
the deceit of our court," as a contemporary record says,
and "determined that our grievances should be laid be-
fore the court before it was opened."

Williams in his "History of Vermont," written less
than twenty years after this period, said that at that
time "the courts of justice which were held under the
royal authority in all the adjacent provinces were either
shut up or adjourned without doing any business." As
it became evident that a determined effort would be
made to hold court, preparations were made by both par-
ties to bring men to Westminster. On Sunday, March
12, Sheriff Paterson went to Brattleboro and persuaded
about twenty-five men to accompany him to Westmin-
ster the following day to aid in preserving the peace and



398 HISTORY OF VERMONT

suppressing any tumult that might arise. The members
of this party carried only clubs as weapons, but they
were joined by others on the way, including fourteen
men with muskets.

On the afternoon of the same day that the Brattle-
boro party arrived, a party of Whigs came from Rock-
ingham. Calling at the home of Capt. Azariah Wright,
they found the house too small to accommodate them,
and adjourned to the log school house across the street
to consult as to the best manner to prevent the court
from sitting. Arming themselves with clubs from Cap-
tain Wright's woodpile, they proceeded toward the
court house, being joined on the route by some of the
people of Westminster, similarly armed.

It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when this
party, numbering approximately one hundred men, en-
tered the court house with the intention of holding it
until the court came in the following morning, in order
to forestall what was supposed to be the plan of the Tory
party, to take possession of the building and prevent the
Whigs from laying their grievances before the Judges.
Very soon after they had entered, about five o'clock,
according to a statement of the Judges, Sheriff Pater son,
at the head of a company of about sixty men, armed
with guns, pistols, swords and stones, appeared before
the court house, and halting about five yards from the
door, he ordered the men assembled within that edifice
to disperse. No answer being made the Sheriff read the
King's proclamation in a loud voice, and with an oath
declared that if they did not disperse in fifteen minutes
he would ''blow a lane" through them. Demanding en-



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 399

trance to the court house, he was refused "with threats
and menaces," according- to the statement of the Tory-
party. While refusing to disperse, the occupants of the
court house informed the Sheriff's posse that they might
enter if they would disarm, but not otherwise. One of
the Whig party went to the door and asked the men
assembled outside if they had come for war, assuring
them that he and his associates desired peace, and would
be glad to hold a parley with them. Samuel Gale, clerk
of the court, thereupon drew a pistol, and holding it up
exclaimed: "Damn the parley with such damned ras-
cals as you are ; I will hold no parley with such damned
rascals but by this," flourishing his weapon. Others
of the Sheriff's party used harsh language, and volun-
teered the cheerful information that the Whigs assem-
bled in the court house "would be in hell before morn-
ing." After a little the Sheriff's posse withdrew a
short distance and held a consultation. Three of the
occupants of the court house at this time went out and
endeavored to treat with their opponents, but the only
response made was that they would not talk with "such
damned rascals," and the court party soon withdrew.

Judge Chandler came into the court house about seven
o'clock in the evening, and he was asked if he and Judge
Sabin would consult with a committee in regard to the
expediency of convening court the following day.
Judge Chandler said he could not discuss "whether His
Majesty's business should be done or not, but that if
they felt themselves aggrieved, and would apply to them
in a proper way, they would give them redress if it was
in their power." Being reminded that he had promised



400 HISTORY OF VERMONT

that no arms should be brought, Judge Chandler replied
that they were brought without his consent, that he
would take them away, that the Whigs might remain
in the court house undisturbed until morning, when the
court would come in, without arms, and hear such griev-
ances as might be presented. The Judge then with-
drew. The Whigs went out of the court house, chose a
committee to draw up a list of subjects to be brought to
the attention of the court in the morning, and after the
report was read it was adopted without opposition.
Relying on the promise that they would not be disturbed
during the night in possession of the court house, a con-
siderable number of them went to their homes or to
neighboring houses for the night, leaving a guard in the
county building.

Sheriff Paterson, meanwhile, assembled as many Tory
sympathizers as possible, Norton's tavern, the inn
patronized by the Royalist party, being the rallying
place. Here they discussed the action of the "rebels,"
and drank deeply, it is said, of John Norton's liquors.
Leaving the town in small parties, and proceeding
stealthily, they arrived at the court house about eleven
o'clock at night. The sentry at the door gave the alarm
and the guard manned the doors.

Dr. Reuben Jones, one of the Whig party participat-
ing in the affair, in his "Relation" of the proceedings,
describes the episode as follows :

"Immediately the Sheriff and his company marched
up fast, within about ten rods of the door, and then the
word was given, take care and then fire. Three fired
immediately. The word fire was repeated. 'God damn




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THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 401

you, fire' ; 'send them to hell,' was most or all the words
that were to be heard for some time; on which there
were several men wounded. One was shot with four
bullets, one of which went through his brain, of which
wound he died next day. Then they rushed in with
their gims, swords and clubs, and did most cruelly
mammoc several more; and took some that were not
wounded, and those that were, and crowded them all
into close prison together, and told them that they should
all be in hell before the next night, and that they did
wish that there were forty more in the same case with
that dying man. When they put him into prison, they
took and dragged him as one would a dog; and would
mock him as he lay gasping, and make sport for them-
selves at his dying motions."

In a statement, entitled "A State of the Facts," pre-
pared by the Judges and court officials on the day follow-
ing this contest, it was declared regarding the night
attack that the Sheriff "brought the said posse before
the court house again, and then again demanded en-
trance in His Majesty's name, but was again refused in
like manner as before. Whereupon he told them that
he would absolutely enter it, either quietly, or by force,
and commanded the posse to follow close to him, which
they accordingly did, and getting near the door he was
struck several blows with clubs, which he had the good-
ness in general to fend off, so far at least as not to receive
any very great damage, but several of the clubs striking
him as he was going up the steps, and the rioters persist-



Online LibraryWalter Hill CrockettVermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 34)