Details of the Vermont Controversy as they Relate to Addison County

For a period of sixteen years there was a controversy between the authorities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, relative to the boundary line between those provinces, and a contest kept up in regard to the control of the territory in the vicinity of Fort Dummer and that on the opposite side of the Connecticut River in Hinsdale. Finally, on the 5th of March, 1740, King George III decreed that the line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts should be surveyed in accordance with certain special instructions, and in 1741 the line was run by Richard Hazen, and found to leave Hinsdale and Fort Dummer to the north thereof; whereupon the king recommended to the Assembly of New Hampshire to care for and protect the settlers about Fort Dummer. During this year, also, Benning Wentworth was commissioned governor of New Hampshire, and from the above royal recommend naturally supposed that the king recognized the jurisdiction of New Hampshire as extending to the same point west as Massachusetts; namely, a point twenty miles east of the Hudson River. Accordingly, on the application of William Williams and sixty-one others, January 3, 1749, he chartered a township six miles square, in what he conceived to be the southwestern corner of New Hampshire. This township was named Bennington, after the governor himself, the first town in Vermont to receive a royal charter.

The troublous times culminating in the last French war, as we have shown, precluded all idea of pioneer settlements, and, in 1754, resulted in driving off all those that had attempted such settlement. But at the close of hostilities the lands were sought so eagerly by adventurers, speculators and settlers, that in a single year subsequent to 1760, Governor Wentworth granted, in the name of King George III, not less than sixty townships of six miles square, and two years later the number of such grants amounted to one hundred and thirty-eight. In that year (1761) all the towns in the present territory of Addison county were chartered by him, except as follows: Ferrisburgh, Monkton and Pocock (now Bristol) were chartered in 1762; Orwell and Whiting in August, 1763; while Panton was rechartered on the 3d of November, 1764, being the last within the territory granted by the governor.

As we have previously stated, the site of the old French settlement on the shore of the lake in the towns of Addison and Panton became the site of the first English settlement. In the spring of 1765 Zadock Everest, David Vallance and a Mr. Ward came on from Connecticut and began a clearing about three miles north of Chimney Point, and in the following September were joined by John Strong, who built a dwelling, selecting the foundation of an old French house for the site, being the first dwelling built by an English settler in the vicinity of Lake Champlain, and where Mr. Strong afterward lived and died. The party returned to Connecticut, and in February, 1766, Strong returned with his family, consisting of a wife and three children-Asa, Sally and Polly. In May Zadock Everest, David Vallance, John Chipman, and six others with their families, came on by the way of Otter Creek. Chipman located in Middlebury, while the others kept on, some locating in Addison and others in Panton.

As early as 1763, as we have stated, Governor Wentworth had granted as many as one hundred and thirty-eight townships of six miles square, lying west of the Connecticut, and the population in the territory, which had now come to be known as the New Hampshire Grants, had become quite large. This prosperity and growing power could not fail to attract the serious attention of the neighboring province of New York. Accordingly, during that year (1763) Lieutenant-Governor Tryon, of that province, laid claim to the territory by virtue of the grant made by Charles II to the Duke of York in 1664, which, as stated on a previous page, included “all the land from the west side of Connecticut River to the east side of Delaware Bay.” Finally, on the application of the government of New York, it was decided by George III, in council of July 10, 1764, that the “western bank of the Connecticut River should thereafter be regarded as the boundary line between the province of New York and province of New Hampshire.”

The colonists of the grants were surprised and displeased at this decision, but peaceably submitted to it, supposing that it merely effected a change of the jurisdiction to which they were subject; and the government of New Hampshire, which at first remonstrated, soon acquiesced in the decision. But on the 10th of April, 1765, Governor Colden issued a proclamation, giving a copy of the order of the king changing the boundary of the territory, and notifying “his majesty’s subjects to govern themselves accordingly.” He also at once proceeded to grant the lands to other than the New Hampshire claimants, and when the latter applied to the New York government for a confirmation of the grants they already held, such enormous patent fees were demanded as to make it impossible for them to comply.

It was well known in New York that these lands had long been granted by New Hampshire; that they were actually occupied under such grants, and that the new patents were procured in utter disregard of the rights and claims of the settlers. It was also well known by them that the king, in commissioning Benning Wentworth governor of New Hampshire, had described his province as reaching westward “until it met his other governments” thus bounding it westerly by New York; and that the easterly boundary of New York was a line twenty miles easterly from the Hudson River, extending from Lake Champlain south to the western line of Massachusetts, was proved by statements in the charter of the Duke of York, upon his accession to the throne of England in 1685. But notwithstanding all this, New York insisted that not only was the jurisdiction changed thenceforward, but also that the grants made were vacated, and that the titles acquired under them were made void. The settlers were required to repurchase their lands, which some of them did, though the majority of them peremptorily refused. The lands of such were granted to others, who brought actions of ejectment in the New York courts, where they invariably obtained judgments against the original proprietors.

In 1769 the king prohibited the governor of New York from issuing any more grants “until his majesty’s further pleasure should be made known.” Meanwhile civil disturbances and open defiance to the New York authorities continued to such an extent that, in 1774, a law was passed by that province, ordering the surrender of all offenders, under the penalty of death. In reply, the people of the grants returned a public letter, threatening death to any who should aid in arresting any of her citizens. About this time a plan was made for the formation of a royal province; but the Revolutionary War soon joined the two provinces in a common cause, and their personal quarrel was gradually swallowed up by the greater trouble.

The personal encounters in the county’s territory brought about by this controversy were few but vigorous. As their history is concisely stated in the sketch of the county prefixed to Samuel Swift’s History of Middlebury, we quote his version as follows:

Colonel Reid, of a Royal Highland regiment, had received from the government of New York a grant of land, as a reduced or half-pay officer, on Otter Creek, including the falls at Vergennes, whose tenants had been dispossessed in August, 1772, by Ira Allen and others. This occurred while the agents, who had been appointed by the inhabitants of Bennington, at the request of Governor Tryon, were in a negotiation with the Governor and Council, which resulted in the conciliatory measures by them adopted. This proceeding, when it came to the knowledge of Governor Tryon, so irritated him that he wrote a severe letter to the ‘inhabitants of Bennington and the adjacent country,’ charging them with a ‘breach of faith and honor made by a body of your people, in dispossessing several settlers on Otter Creek,’ at the very time the negotiations were going on and requiring their ‘assistance in putting forthwith those families who have been dispossessed into repossession of the lands and tenements.’

The following is the substance of the answer of the committee of ‘Bennington and adjacent country’ to this letter, signed by Ethan Allen, clerk, on the 25th of August, 1772, in explanation of the proceedings complained of.

The people having noticed that ‘Mr. Cockburn, a noted surveyor,’ had taken ‘a tour through the northerly parts of the New Hampshire grants’ (on Onion River) ‘to survey and make locations on lands’ which had been granted by New Hampshire, ‘rallied a small party and pursued and overtook him and his party, and in their pursuit passed the towns of Panton and New Haven, near the mouth of Otter Creek, dispossessed Colonel Reid of a saw-mill in said Panton, which by force,’ and without right ‘he had taken from the original owners more than three years before, and did, at the same time, extend his force, terrors and threats into the town of New Haven,’ ‘who so terrified the inhabitants (which were about twelve in number) that they left their possessions and farms to the conqueror and escaped with the skin of their teeth.’ ‘Colonel Reid, at the same time, and with the same force, did take possession of one hundred and thirty saw logs and fourteen thousand feet of pine boards,’ and converted them to their own use. In 1769 a man by the name of Pangborn built a sawmill, and a few claimants under the New Hampshire Grants were in possession of the land in that year. After they were driven off Reid’s men built a gristmill. The committees also deny that there was any breach of faith, as the result of the negotiations between Governor Tryon and the delegates from Bennington was not known at the time, and the agents were not authorized to complete any arrangements, so as to be binding on the people of the grants, until ratified by them. They also promptly refused to obey the governor’s requisition to afford assistance in restoring Colonel Reid’s men to the possession of the lands; and thus ended the result of the negotiations for conciliatory measures between the parties in 1772.

The latter part of June, or the fore part of July, 1773, Colonel Reid engaged several Scotch emigrants, lately arrived at New York, to settle on his lands, of which he had been dispossessed, as above mentioned, and went with them to Otter Creek. On entering upon the lands they found several persons settled on them claiming title under the New Hampshire charters; one of them was Joshua Hyde, who afterwards removed to Middlebury and settled in the south part of that town. Colonel Reid, in some way, got rid of these tenants and entered into possession of the mills and lands claimed by him. The Green Mountain Boys learning this fact, Allen, Warner and Baker, with a strong force, consisting, as represented by the Scotch tenants, of more than one hundred men well armed, marched for Otter Creek, and on the 11th day of August appeared on the ground, drove off the Scotchmen, burned their houses and other buildings, tore down the mill, which, it was said, Colonel Reid had lately built, broke the mill-stones in pieces and threw them down the falls. John Cameron, one of the Scotch tenants, in his affidavit as to the manner in which they went into possession under Colonel Reid, states ‘that the persons’ (the tenants in possession) ‘did agree voluntarily to remove from Colonel Reid’s land till the king’s pleasure should be known, provided Colonel Reid would purchase their whole crops then on the ground, that they might not lose their labor, which Colonel Reid consented to do, and paid them the full value for it accordingly.’ The affidavit also states ‘that the deponent was much surprised to see among the rioters, Joshua Hyde, one of the three men who had entered into a written obligation with Colonel Reid not to return again, and to whom Colonel Reid, on that account, had paid a sum of money for crops.’

A tract of ‘three thousand acres of land on the east bank of Lake Champlain, within a mile and a quarter of the fort there,’ was granted under the great seal of the Provinee of New York, ‘to David Wooster, of New Haven, in the colony of Connecticut, esquire, being a captain on half pay, reduced from his majesty’s fifty-first regiment.’ This tract was in the north part of Addison and probably extended into a part of Panton. In his deposition laid before the Governor and Council, dated February 20, 1773, he states, among other things, that ‘on visiting these lands’ (in 1767 or 1768) ‘he found five families which had been lately settled;’ ‘some of them, pretending to have no right at all, promised to leave his lands. The others the deponent then served ejectments on, which issued out of the inferior Courts of Common Pleas of Albany. Whereupon they also submitted, and desired the deponent to give them leases of part of said lands, which this deponent consented to do; gave them permission to remain on the lands, acknowledging him to be their landlord, until it was convenient for him to return and give them leases in form.’ He states, also, ‘that in the month of September preceding, he went to his lands in order to give leases to the settlers,’ and ‘that upon the deponent’s arrival on his lands the settlers thereon and others, collected in a body about thirteen in number, when the deponent offered those who had settled on his lands leases, which they absolutely refused to accept on any terms whatever, but declared that they would support themselves there by force of arms, and that they would spill their blood before they would leave the said lands.’ Whereupon, ‘being well armed with pistols,’ he ‘proceeded to serve two declarations in ejectment on two principal ring-leaders,’ ‘notwithstanding they continued their fire-locks presented against him during the whole time; that after the deponent had served the said ejectments, they declared with one voice that they would not attend any court in the Province of New York, nor would be concluded by any law in New York respecting their lands.’

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