Present residents in this section of the Connecticut River Valley, and especially the younger generation, are not appreciative of how comparatively young this entire section of New England is, barely 175 years since it was an almost unbroken wilderness with no white people living here. Nor is there record of any permanent habitations of Indians for many miles north or south. The beginnings of things are always interesting, and particularly early settlements.
Previous to the coming into these immediately contiguous river towns of actual and permanent settlers, this had been debatable ground between the French on the north, and English on the south. The last war between these two countries was declared by France against Great Britain on March 15, 1744, and the earliest beginnings of settlements in these towns were as follows:
In Westminster, which had been chartered by Massachusetts Bay province a few years earlier, Richard Ellis and his son, Reuben, 1739, built a log hut and cleared and cultivated five or six acres of land in the new township, on the river meadows. In 1751, John Averill, wife and son; Asa, William Gould, wife and son, John, Amos Carpenter and wife, and Atherton Chaffee removed from Northfield, Mass., to Westminster, which was then known as ” Township No. 1.”
In Westmoreland, on the east side of the river, in 1742 and 1743, Daniel How, Thomas Crisson and others from Rutland, Mass., made a clearing and built huts, that then being designated as ” Township No. 2.” The township was regranted under the name of Westmoreland on February 12, 1752, and, at that time, there were among the grantees about 20 residents of Northfield, although hardly any of them ever became residents of the new town.
In 1740, John Kilburn started from Weathersfield, Conn., and stopped at Northfield, Mass., until the next year, when he came to Walpole, and became the first settler in that town, being named in 1753 as one of the grantees of Rockingham, with Gen. Benjamin Bellows, who, with his family, made the second settler of Walpole. John Kilburn was a noted Indian fighter, and bravely defended his cabin on the meadow just south of Bellows Falls, located at Walpole.
Charleston, N. H., early known as “Fort No. 4,” had, as its first settlers, three families by the name of Farnsworth from Lunenburg, Mass., in 1740. Isaac Parker from Groton, Mass., John Spafford, Capt. Phinehas Stevens and others, joined them later. In 1743, they built the first corn mill, and the first saw mill in this entire locality, to which, for many years, settlers from many miles north and south brought their corn to be ground. Capt. Stevens was many years the commander of the fort located here, which was the scene of many fierce attacks by the Indians. Commodore Sir Charles Knowles of the English navy presented to Capt. Stevens an elegant sword in honor of his victories. In 1753, the town was chartered by the name of Charlestown in honor of Sir Charles.
In Rockingham, Vt., the first settlers are recorded as coming here in 1753. They were Moses Wright, Jonathan Bigelow and Simeon Knight, at least two of them
from Northfield, Mass., but they were obliged to return within a few months through fear of the Indians and French. No others were known to have lived here until about 1760 or 1761.
A treaty of peace between England and France was signed in Paris on February 10, 1763, and from that time dates the rapid settlement of all this section of the valley, and the beginning of opportunities for the blessings now enjoyed so fully after only one and three-quarters centuries.
Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.