Copyright
Walter Hill Crockett.

Vermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) online

. (page 26 of 34)
Online LibraryWalter Hill CrockettVermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ing in maintaining their ground, he ordered some of
the posse to fire, which they accordingly did. The riot-



402 HISTORY OF VERMONT

ers then fought violently with their clubs and fired some
few fire arms at the posse, by which Mr. Justice Butter-
field received a slight shot in the arm, and another of
the posse received a slight shot in the head with pistol
bullets; but happily none of the posse were mortally
wounded. Two persons of the rioters were dangerously
wounded (one of whom is since dead) and several others
of the rioters were also wounded, but not dangerously
so. Eight of the rioters were taken prisoners (includ-
ing the one which is since dead) and the wounded were
taken care of by Doct. Day, Doct. Hill and Doct. Chase,
the latter of which was immediately sent for on purpose.
The rest of the rioters dispersed, giving out threats that
they would collect all the force possible and would re-
turn as on this day to revenge themselves on the Sheriflf
and on several others of the posse."

As a result of this conflict, William French of Brat-
tleboro, shot with five bullets, died in jail before the
morning of March 14 had dawned, while his captors,
served with liquor by Pollard Whipple, who acted in the
dual capacity of jailer and bartender, mocked and
jeered at the sufferings of the dying man. Daniel
Houghton of Dummerston was mortally wounded, and
died nine days later. Most of the wounded were taken
to the home of Capt. Azariah Wright. Among the
most seriously injured were Jonathan Knight of Dum-
merston, shot in the right shoulder with a charge of
buckshot, a man named White of Rockingham, who was
seriously w^ounded by a bullet in one knee, and Philip
Safford of Rockingham, who received several sabre cuts
on the head inflicted by Sheriff Paterson.



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 403

On Tuesday morning, March 14, the Judges opened
court at the appointed hour, although great excitement
prevailed in the town, but the only business transacted
was the preparation of a statement regarding the mur-
derous affair of the night previous, which was signed
by Judges Thomas Chandler and Noah Sabin, Assistant
Justices Stephen Greenleaf and Benjamin Butterfield,
Justice of the Peace Bildad Andrews and Samuel Gale,
Clerk of the court. Adjournment was taken to three
o'clock in the afternoon at which time another adjourn-
ment was taken, this time to the second Tuesday in June.
No doubt the Cumberland county court expected the
tumult to subside before the time should come for the
summer term to convene, but before two months had
passed new conditions had arisen in America which put
an end to His Majesty's judicial system in a region
much more extensive than that embraced in the county
of Cumberland.

Immediately after this affray, known as the West-
minster Massacre, messengers were sent out in every
direction to carry the news and to summon aid. The
militant Dr. Reuben Jones rode bareheaded to Dummer-
ston. By Tuesday noon, March 14, more than four hun-
dred armed men had assembled in the broad street of
Westminster, nearly two hundred of them coming from
New Hampshire. Capt. Azariah Wright had called out
the militia of Westminster, Capt. Stephen Sargent led his
company from Rockingham, Capt. Benjamin Bellows
brought his company from Walpole, and others came
from Guilford. With the arrival of this force the
Whigs were able to release from the jail their associates



404 HISTORY OF VERMONT

placed under arrest when the court house was taken,
and the Judges, other court officials and adherents of the
Tory party were placed under arrest, being confined in
the court room with a strong guard. This chamber
showed plainly the nature of the conflict that had taken
place the night before. There were blood stains in the
hall and on the stairs, and the timbers showed the marks
of the bullets that had been fired. Visitors were per-
mitted to come in, four or five at a time, to observe the
imprisoned court officials.

As the Whigs continued to gather, their indignation
increased. Some advocated pulling down or burning
the court house. Others demanded that the Judges be
brought out and compelled to "make acknowledgment to
their satisfaction." Only the firmness of Captain Bel-
lows, a man of great influence and strength of character,
prevented the adoption of violent measures. On Wed-
nesday morning, March 15, Dr. Solomon Harvey of
Dummerston arrived with a considerable number of
men, and with four of Sheriff Paterson's posse, who
had been captured as they were going home. Accord-
ing to an account printed in Holt's Nezv York Journal,
''The roads and passages were guarded with armed
men, who indiscriminately laid hold of all passengers
against whom any of the party intimated the least sus-
picion, and the mob, stimulated by their leaders to the
utmost fury and revenge, breathed nothing but blood
and slaughter against the unfortunate persons in their
power."

A coroner's inquest was held on Wednesday to deter-
mine the cause of the death of William French, and it



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 405

was reported ''that on the thirteenth day of March
instant, WilHam Paterson Esq., Mark Langdon, Chris-
topher Orsgood, Benjamin Gorton, Samuel Night and
others unknown to them, assisting with force and arms,
made an assault on the body of the said Wm. French
and shot him through the head with a bullet, of which
wound he died, and not otherwise."

On Wednesday evening, Capt. Robert Cochran arrived
from Bennington with a band of about forty Green
Mountain Boys, fully armed. As the party marched up
the street Cochran asked those whom he supposed to be
Tories, why they did not take him and obtain the reward
of fifty pounds offered by Governor Tryon for his appre-
hension. He declared loudly his intention of seizing some
of the men who had aided Sheriff Paterson, and with a
zeal greater than his knowledge of Scripture he an-
nounced his purpose to ascertain "who was for the Lord
and who was for Balaam."

On Thursday morning, March 16, there had
assembled "five hundred good martial soldiers, well
equipped for war," to quote again from Dr. Reuben
Jones' "Relation." Others had assembled who were in
sympathy with the Whigs, but were unarmed. Some
of this company were from Massachusetts. The num-
ber assembled being so great, it was determined to
appoint a large committee, a part of which was made
up of persons not residing in Cumberland county. This
committee examined the persons accused of responsi-
bility for the massacre, so-called, and decided that they
should be confined in the Northampton, Mass., jail until
a fair trial could be secured. Others less guilty were



406 HISTORY OF VERMONT

compelled to give bonds with security to John Hazeltine,
to appear at the next court of oyer and terminer and
were then released. Judge Thomas Chandler, Deputy
Sheriff Beldad Easton, Capt. Benjamin Burt, Thomas
Sergeant, Oliver Wells, Joseph Willard and John Morse,
were released on March 17, after giving bonds to appear
at the time appointed for trial. Judge Noah Sabin,
Assistant Justice Benjamin Butterfield, Justice of the
Peace William Willard, Sheriff William Paterson,
Deputy Sheriff Richard Hill, Clerk Samuel Gale, Wil-
liam Williams, and a man named Cunningham were
ordered to be confined in the jail at Northampton, Mass.
No charges were found against Thomas Ellis, and he
was released. The prisoners were taken to North-
ampton, on Sunday, March 19, guarded by twenty-five
men commanded by Capt. Robert Cochran, and by an
equal number under command of Captain Butterfield of
New Hampshire. The prisoners were committed to jail
on March 23 and were confined there about two weeks.
A writ of habeas corpus issued by Chief Justice Hors-
manden permitted their removal to New York, where
they were released without being brought into court for
trial.

Two messengers sent from Brattleboro with news of
the conflict at Westminster arrived at New York on
March 21, and informed the Cumberland county mem-
bers of the Legislature, Col. Samuel Wells and Crean
Brush, what had occurred. Governor Colden sum-
moned his Council and the depositions of the messengers,
Oliver Church of Brattleboro and Joseph Hancock of
Hopkinton, Mass., were taken. These depositions



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 407

together with a message from Governor Golden, dealing
with "the dangerous state of anarchy and confusion
which has lately arisen in Cumberland county," were
sent to the Legislature on March 23. One week later,
on March 30, by a vote of fourteen to nine, in committee
of the whole house, it was advised that provision should
be made "to enable the inhabitants of the county of Cum-
berland to reinstate and maintain the due administration
of justice in that county, and for the suppression of
riots." The regular sessions having been resumed, on
motion of Crean Brush, and after an exciting debate,
the sum of one thousand pounds was appropriated, by a
vote of twelve to ten, "to be applied for the purposes
enumerated in the report."

The funeral of William French, the first victim of
the Westminster Massacre, was held on March 15, fol-
lowing the coroner's inquest. It was attended by the
militia of the surrounding country and this young man
of twenty-two was buried with military honors in the
Westminster burial ground, near the spot where the
body of the other victim of the Massacre, Daniel
Houghton, was to be laid a few days later. Over the
grave of William French was erected a stone bearing
the following inscription :

"In Memory of William French
Son to Mr. Nathaniel French Who
Was Shot at Westminster March ye 13th
1775 by the hands of Cruel Ministerial tools
of George Ye 3d in the Corthouse at 1 1
o'clock
at Night in the 22d year of His Age.



408 HISTORY OF VERMONT

"Here William French his Body lies
For Murder his blood for vengance cries
King Georg the third his Tory crew
tha with a bawl his head Shot threw
For Liberty and his Countrys Good
he lost his Life his Dearest blood."

In one corner of the old gravestone was a bit of lead,
supposed to be one of the bullets which entered French's
body. In 1877, on the occasion of the centennial of Ver-
mont independence, measures were taken for the erec-
tion of a monument over the grave of William French.
On September 17, 1902, a granite boulder, on which
had been placed a bronze marker, was dedicated on the
site of the old court house, by the Brattleboro Chapter,
Daughters of the American Revolution.

One of the points in dispute regarding the Westmin-
ster Massacre has to do with the weapons used by the
Whigs. Dr. Reuben Jones, in his "Relation," says that
when the Tories first approached the court house on the
afternoon of March 13, that "we in the house had not
any weapons of war among us, and were determined
that they (the Tories) should not come in with their
weapons of war except by the force of them." In the
statement prepared by Judge Chandler and his asso-
ciates, it was asserted that "the rioters" fired "some few
fire arms at the posse." In preparing his "History of
Eastern Vermont," B. H. Hall made a thorough investi-
gation of this matter. Theophilus Crawford testified
that the Whigs had not "so much as a pistol among
them," and related that one or two persons on the way



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 409

to Westminster were obliged to lay aside the weapons
they carried. Azariah Wright, a grandson of Capt.
Azariah Wright, informed Mr. Hall that "there were
no arms carried by the Liberty party except clubs which
were obtained by the Rockingham company at my grand-
father's woodpile," having obtained this information
from Solomon Wright, his father, a boy of twelve or
thirteen years at the time of the Westminster Massacre.

The affair at Westminster, in its inception and in its
execution, clearly foreshadowed the long struggle for
independence, so soon to begin. Only grievances so
serious that no remedy was left save revolution would
justify a forcible interference with the holding of the
courts. There is no reason to doubt that the people of
Cumberland county had just cause to be dissatisfied with
the judicial system provided by the royal province of
New York; but local grievances were overshadowed by
the larger issues which had stirred the American Colo-
nies so deeply, and it is probable that the oppressive
acts of the British Parliament had as much to do with
arousing the militant spirit of the men of Cumberland
county, who took possession of the court house at West-
minster on that March afternoon in 1775, as did abuses
in the local administration of justice.

The result of the shots fired by Sheriff Paterson's
posse in the midnight contest for the possession of this
frontier court house speedily became apparent. The
rapidity with which armed men poured into Westminster
from every quarter, eager to wreak vengeance upon
court officials and their partisans, has been likened to a
gathering of the Scottish clans. It represented a re-



410 HISTORY OF VERMONT

markably efficient mobilization for a sparsely settled
country, with few roads. Among the developments
arising from the Westminster Massacre were the prac-
tical ending of New York rule in Cumberland county,
a closer union of the eastern and western settlements
of the New Hampshire Grants, and the deepening and
intensifying of popular hostility to British rule which
was to blaze forth at Lexington less than five weeks
later.

It has been asserted that the deaths of William French
and Daniel Houghton at Westminster constituted the
first bloodshed of the American Revolution, but the facts
hardly seem to warrant this claim. Of its importance,
there can be no doubt. It represented deep-seated hos-
tility to the New York provincial government, and to
British authority, but it was not war in the sense in
which the conflicts between armed American citizens
and British troops at Lexington and Concord demand
the use of that term. It may be classed more properly
with the Boston Massacre of 1770 than with the battles
of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, being one of a
series of events that almost inevitably led to war, and
must be classed with the preliminary events of that great
conflict.

The uprising at Westminster against the authority
of the province and the Crown was approved generally
throughout Cumberland county, and in some of the
larger towns public meetings were held to express this
sentiment. Although the people of Guilford had voted
their willingness to remain subject to the laws of New
York, they directed the local Committee of Safety to



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 411

decide whether those who held commissions from Gov-
ernor Tryon should retain or resign them. Evidently
popular opinion was changing at this time, for on April
7 the town voted, ''That we recommend to all those
persons in this town who have received commissions
under Governor Tryon, that they resign said commis-
sions, or erase their names out of a certain covenant,
signed by the body of the people, to mitigate or soften
the minds of the people."

A meeting of committees representing the people of
Cumberland and Gloucester counties was held at West-
minster on April 11. Maj. Abijah Lovejoy of that
town was chosen as the presiding officer and Dr. Reuben
Jones of Rockingham was elected clerk.

The following resolutions were adopted:

"Voted as our opinion. That our inhabitants are in
great danger of having their property unjustly, cruelly
and unconstitutionally taken from them by the arbitrary
and designing administration of the government of New
York; sundry instances having already taken place.

"Voted, as our opinion. That the lives of those in-
habitants are in the utmost hazard and imminent danger,
under the present administration. Witness the mali-
cious and horrid massacre of the 13th ult.

"Voted, as our opinion. That it is the duty of said
inhabitants, as predicated on the eternal and immutable
law of self-preservation, to wholly renounce and resist
the administration of the government of New York, till
such times as the lives and property of those inhabitants
may be secured by it ; or till such time as they can have
opportunity to lay their grievances before His most



412 HISTORY OF VERMONT

gracious Majesty in Council, together with a proper
remonstrance against the unjustifiable conduct of that
government; with a humble petition, to be taken out of
so oppressive a jurisdiction, and, either annexed to some
other government, or erected and incorporated into a new
one, as may appear best to the said inhabitants, to the
royal wisdom and clemency, and to such time as His
Majesty shall settle this controversy.

"Voted. That Colonel John Hazeltine, Charles
Phelps, Esq., and Colonel Ethan Allen be a committee
to prepare such remonstrance and petition for the pur-
pose aforesaid."

Evidently the people of Cumberland and Gloucester
counties had reached the point where they desired, either
to be annexed to New Hampshire, or were ready to join
the inhabitants west of the Green Mountains in forming
the new province, of which Colonel Skene hoped to be
made Governor. The new note of hostility to the New
York Government, and the choice of Ethan Allen, who
had shown no little ability in penning remonstrances,
to aid in preparing a petition to the British Government
praying for relief from the irksome rule of New York,
shows how the Westminster Massacre was bringing to-
gether in sentiment the eastern and western portions of
the New Hampshire Grants.

Delegates from nine New York counties assembled in
New York City on May 23, 1775, and organized a Pro-
vincial Congress. On the following day John Williams
and William Marsh appeared as delegates from Char-
lotte county, and were admitted. They represented two
towns now included in New York, and the towns of



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 413

Arlington, Manchester, Dorset, Rupert, Pawlet and
Wells, now in Vermont. It is a noteworthy fact that
this is one of the few instances when the towns west of
the Green Mountains were represented in any New York
assembly. Dr. John Williams, however, was a resident
of White Creek, N. Y., and William Marsh afterward
became a Tory and his property was confiscated, so that
this region was not represented by the men who usually
acted and spoke in its behalf.

Cumberland county did not receive notice of the pro-
vincial Congress in time to send delegates, and on June
6 a county Congress assembled at Westminster, which
the records call "a full meeting." John Hazeltine was
chairman of the Congress and of the Committee of Cor-
respondence. The object of the meeting was said to be
"that the sense of the people in said county of Cum-
berland should be fully known with regard to the hostile
measures that are using by the British Parliament to
enforce the late cruel, unjust, and oppressive acts of the
said British Parliament through the British colonies in
America."

Resolutions were adopted as follows:

"That the late acts of the British Parliament passed
in order to raise a revenue in America are unjust, illegal
and diametrically opposite to the Bill of Rights, and a
fundamental principle of the British Constitution, which
is, 'that no person shall have his property taken from
him without his consent'.

"That we will resist and oppose the said acts of Par-
liament, in conjunction with our brethren in America,
at the expense of our lives and fortunes, to the last



414 HISTORY OF VERMONT

extremity, if our duty to God and our country require
the same.

"That we think it needless to pass many resolves
exhibiting our sentiments with regard to the unhappy
controversy subsisting between Great Britain and
America. Let it suffice therefore, that we fully
acquiesce with what our brethren have lately done at
New York, in their late association; and it is hereby re-
solved that the late association entered into at New
York is perfectly agreeable to the sentiments of the free
holders and inhabitants of this county, and that they
fully acquiesce in the same.

"That this county is at present in a very broken situa-
tion with regard to the civil authority. We therefore
sincerely desire that the advice of the honorable Con-
gress may be by our delegates transmitted to us, where-
by some order and regularity may be established among
us. We therefore should take it as a favor if the honor-
able Congress would particularly recommend to us in
this county some measures to be pursued by us, the in-
habitants of the same; for we are persuaded their advice
would have great weight to influence our people univer-
sally to pursue such measures as would tend to the peace,
safety, and good order of this county for the future.

"That we, the inhabitants of this county, are at pres-
ent in an extremely defenceless state with regard to
arms and ammunition. We sincerely desire the honor-
able Provincial Congress would consider us in this re-
spect and from their generosity and goodness would do
what in them lies for our relief in the premises. We



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 415

have many brave soldiers, but, unhappily for us, we have
nothing to fight with."

The boldness and determination shown in these reso-
lutions are proof that in no part of America was the
opposition to British oppression stronger than in the
New Hampshire Grants.

It is not easy to determine the number of men who
went to Boston from towns now included in Vermont,
as soon as the news of the battle of Lexington was re-
ceived, but it is a matter of record that several volun-
teered their services. Wells' "History of Newbury"
says that on the evening of the day on which the news
of the battle of Lexington reached that town, Nehemiah
Lovewell, Peter Johnson and Silas Chamberlin started
for the seat of w^ar. Messengers brought the news of
the battle to Rockingham, and parties of volunteers
hurried to Lexington and Cambridge, Mass., some on
foot and some on horseback. Men on both sides of the
Connecticut River were organized in a New Hampshire
regiment, which was commanded by Col. James Reed.
This regiment constituted a part of the force that held
the rail fence at the battle of Bunker Hill. A company
of Liberty men had been organized at Rockingham, with
Stephen Sargent as captain, some time between the years
1768 and 1774. Benjamin Everest of Addison repaired
to Ethan Allen's headquarters as soon as the news of
the battle of Lexington was received. Several of the
young men of Marlboro, among them Jonathan Warner
and Nathaniel Whitney, started for the scene of the con-
flict as soon as the news from Lexington was received,
and it is probable that similar conditions prevailed in



416 HISTORY OF VERMONT

many other Vermont towns, which have not been made
a matter of record.

Mr. King of Brattleboro and his two sons, William
and Gushing King, while hoeing corn, heard the news of
the battle of Bunker Hill two days after it occurred.
They stopped work, leaned their hoes against a
stump, went to Boston and enlisted in the American
army. These men served through the war and returned
seven years later to find their hoes where they had
left them in the summer of 1775. The first settlers of
Jamaica claimed that they heard the sound of the can-
non fired at Bunker Hill. It is known that on July 12,
1775, seven men from Townshend were serving under
General Washington at Roxbury, Mass.

At a town meeting, held at Marlboro, May 22, 1775,
to consider the impending war with Great Britain, the
following resolutions were adopted : "Resolved, we will,
each of us, at the expense of our lives and fortunes, to
the last extremity, unite and oppose the last cruel, unjust
and arbitrary acts of the British Parliament passed for
the sole purpose of raising a revenue.

"Resolved, we will be contented and subject to the
Hon. Gontinental Congress in all things which they shall
resolve, for the peace, safety and welfare of the Ameri-
can Colonies."

At a town meeting held in Mooretown, later known
as Bradford, May 1, 1775, it was voted "to raise a town
stock to be kept in the treasury, one pound of powder
and a dozen flints, to each man in said town of Moore-
town, from 16 years to 80."



THE WESTMINSTER MASSACRE 417

A meeting of freemen, freeholders and inhabitants of
the city and county of New York, was held April 29,
1775, shortly after the battle of Lexington, and the
following declaration or "general association," (in which
Bennington is inserted), was adopted and was trans-
mitted for signatures to all the counties of the province:

"Persuaded that the Salvation of the rights and liber-



Online LibraryWalter Hill CrockettVermont, the Green mountain state (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 34)