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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter I


THE EARLIEST DAYS

DR. DWIGHT'S NARRATIVE.—DESCRIPTION.—INDIAN TRAILS.—JOURNAL OF CAPT.BENJAMIN WRIGHT.—THE DEERFIELD MASSACRE.—STEPHEN WILLIAMS’ NARRATIVE.—FORD AT THE MOUTH OF WELLS RIVER.

the year 1812, Rev. Dr. Dwight, president of Yale College, published a narrative of a journey to Canada, and took occasion to speak in very high terms of the Scotch settlers of Ryegate and Barnet, and of the favorable estimate in which they were everywhere held for their industry, good order and good morals, adding also that, as far as he could learn they were, generally, in very good circumstances.

These towns are the only ones in the state which were settled by colonies from beyond the Atlantic, and Ryegate is unique among all New England towns in that its affairs were, during some years, regulated by an association of farmers and artizans in far-off Scotland. Its history, therefore, must be very different from its neighboring communities, which were settled by immigrants from the older towns along the sea coast, who were, themselves, descended from the earliest settlers of New England.

In many things this colony was unique. Upon those who formed it the Church of Scotland had laid the strong hand of her faith, and the Presbyterian form of belief and practice is held, almost without dissent, by their children.

It is the purpose of this work to consider the reasons which induced the first settlers of Ryegate to leave Scotland; the organization through which the land was selected, divided, and governed during some years, the toils and privations of the colonists and their ultimate prosperity, to give the history of its institutions and gather the annals of its families.

In the first place it is necessary to give some account of the region in which it lies, and what we know about its history before its settlement. It occupies the southeastern corner of Caledonia County, and is separated by Connecticut River from Bath in New Hampshire. South lies Newbury, in Orange County, and west and north are Groton and Barnet. The soil of Ryegate is not excelled in fertility by that of any other town in New England, and the town has always ranked high in the amount and value of its agricultural products, especially those of the dairy. The underlying rock is granite, with limestone alternations, and the town lies in a strip of Iand which extends through Barnet, Peacham and Danville, and is considered by eminent geological authority to be the most productive section east of the Hudson. It is watered by brooks which flow into the Connecticut, or into its tributary stream called Wells River. In the center of the town, in the midst of rolling uplands, lies the hamlet of Ryegate Corner. North of it, to the height of 2192 feet above sea level, rises Blue Mountain, its southerly side scarred by quarries. South Ryegate and East Ryegate, several miles apart, are thriving villages along its borders. A few small ponds surrounded by romantic scenery, are found in different parts of the town.

All over the town, among the hills and upon the uplands, white houses and huge barns evince the taste and prosperity of its inhabitants.

This is the Ryegate that we know. But Ryegate, when first called by that name, was an unbroken wildernesss, without a clearing of any kind, or roads or paths, except those made by Indian feet. Could one have stood on Blue Mountain then, he would have seen only a vast forest, stretching as far as the eye could reach, with the chain of mountain peaks rising in the east. It formed a part of the wilderness which lay between the English colonies, and the French settlements along the Saint Lawrence, and we do not know whether its first white visitors were French or English.

Those who have devoted much time in studying Indian history and traditions are of opinion that this part of New England was never the pemanent abode of any large tribe of Indians, but that it was neutral ground lying between the tribes along the Atlantic coast, and the nations of tlle interior. It is known, however, that from time immemorial, parties from different tribes visited the great meadows of Newbury and Haverhill, which they had cleared, and where they raised corn in their rude fashion.

The section of the Connecticut valley between Orford and the mouth of the Ammonoosuc, was called coos or Kohass, and a similar tract near Lancaster and Guildhall was called by the same name, and these sections were distinguished by the titles of the Lower and Upper Coos. There is much difference of opinion as to the precise meaning of the name.

To reach these cleared intervales there were paths or trails which led to the distant Indian towns or hunting grounds. One of these trails came up from the Merrimac Valley, following very nearly the course of the railroad from Plymouth to Haverhill. Another lay along the Connecticut. According to the best authorities there was a famous trail which left the great river at the mouth of Wells River, held a northerly course, and divided into two branches about where Ryegate Corner is now. One of these trails went north through Peacham, Walden and Greensboro to the head waters of the Lamoille, and the celebrated Hazen

Road followed its general course. The other branch took its way over the high lands west to the Winooski Valley. There is a very ancient map which gives the general course of both the Connecticut and Wells Rivers, with the line of this trail and says, "Along this route many captives have been carried to Canada." The famous Indian scout known as Indian Joe or Joe Indian, who lived at Newbury, and whose grave in the Oxbow cemetery there is suitably marked, knew all the trails well, and much of the little we really know about them, came through those who knew him. He died in 1819. Joe’s Pond and Brook in Cabot and Danville perpetuate his name, and Molly’s Pond and Brook that of his wife.

These trails existed from time immemorial, and the principal ones were so much traveled that they could be easily followed. It will help us to understand this subject to study the journal of Capt. Benjamin Wright, who commanded an expedition which passed through Ryegate in 1725.

JOURNAL OF CAPT. BENJAMIN WRIGHT.

A true journal of our march from Northfield to Messiscouh Bay under ye command of Benj. Wright, captain, began July 27 Ano Dom., 1725.

July 27. It rained in ye forenoon; about 2 o’clock in ye afternoon I set out from Northfield, being fifty-nine of us, & we came vt night to Pomroy’s Island, 5 miles above Northfield.

28. We set off from Pomroy’s Island & came to Fort Dummer & there we mended our canoes & went yt night to Hawleys Island 5 miles above Fort Dummer, in all 10 miles.

29. We departed from Hawley’s Island, & came to a meadow 2 miles short of ye Great Falls 18 miles.

30. We set off from ye great meadow & came to ye Great Falls, & carried our canoes across & from there we went 10 miles.

31. From there we set out & came within 3 miles of Black river, 17 miles.

August 1. We came to ye 2d falls 15 miles.

2. We set oft from hence & came to the upper end of White river falls 15 miles & 1/2.

3. From ye upper end of White river falls to paddle Island 13 miles.

4. Foul weather, and we remained on paddle Island all day.

5. From paddle Island we went up 13 miles and encamped.

6. From hence we came to the third meadow at Cowass 20 miles yt day.

7. From thence we came to Wells river mouth 15 miles.

8. We encamped here and hid our provisions and canoes, it being foul weather yt day.

August 9. Foul weather in ye forenoon, in ye afterpart of ye day we marched from the mouth of Wells river N. 5 miles.

10. This day we marched West & by North 10 miles.

11. We marched to ye upper end of ye 2d pond at the head of Wells river upon a N. W. course ten miles. About noon this day we came to ye first pond, 5 miles & then we turned round N. West & travelled 5 miles further in very bad woods.

12. We marched from ye upper end of ye upper pond 3 miles in very bad woods & here encamped by reason of foul weather; here David Allen was taken sick.

13. We lay by to see if Allen would be able to travel.

14. We marched from ye upper end of ye 2d pond W. by N. to French river 9 miles; we crossed French river and travelled 1 mile & ½; in all ten miles & half.

15. Here we encamped all day by reason of foul weather; this day Clark Hubbard being very lame was sent back & two men with him to the fort at the mouth of Wells River.

16. We marched from our camp 3 miles and came to a branch of ye French river; from thence we marched 6 miles & came to a beaver pond out of which ran another Branch of said river; from thence we traveled 6 miles and came upon another Branch where we camped our course being W. N. W. 15.

17. We marched from said branch 13 miles and crossed avast mountain & there we camped that night, 13.  

18. We marched. from our camp a Little & came to a 4th branch of French river & we traveled down sd branch 10 miles & then struck overye Mountain 6 milesfurther & there we camped, our course was W. N. W. 12.

19. We marched from thence W. N. W. to the top of a vast high mountain which we called Mount Discovery, where we had a fair prospect of ye Lake 4 miles, from whence we went down said mountain 2 miles on a N. course & then., travelled 6 miles N. W. on a brook; here arose a storm which caused us to take up our lodgings something before night.

20. We followed said brook N. N. W. 2 miles and then ye brook turned N. & we travelled on it 9 miles further & ye brook increased to a considerable river, 18.

21. We marched 6 miles N. & then came to where ye river emptyed itself into another very large river coming out from ye east somewhat northerly; we travelled down said river W. 7 miles; then the river turned south & we marched 7 miles farther & here we encamped at the foot of ye falls, 20.

22. Here we lay still by reason of ye rain.

23. Now I gave liberty to some yt they might return home by reason that our provision was almost spent, & there appeared 41. The Capt. Lt. & Ens. (Ensigns) with 12 men marched over ye river at ye foot of ye falls & marched 6 miles S. S. W. & 3 miles W. & yn came to ye Lake & marched 6 miles down upon ye Lake & this N. W. & ye N. W. end of ye Lake or bay being at a great distance, & then we turned homeward without making any discovery here of any enemy.

August 25. We set off from ye Lake to return home, & came to ye mouth of Wells River in five days and a half; here we discovered 3 Indians who had waded over ye River just below ye fort which we took to be our own men by reason yt ye two Indians which were with us & one man more set away early in ye morning to hunt; but it proved upon examination that they were enemies, but it was too late, for they were moved off.

29. We set off from ye fort at ye mouth of Wells river & came to Northfield Sept. 2d at Night.

BENJ. WRIGHT.

[NOTE. This journal is taken by permission from Sheldon’s History of Deer-field. In a note Mr. Sheldon says that the distances given as traveled by the company must not be considered as accurate, but were computed by their time and difficulty. To the men struggling through the wilderness the way must have seemed long.]

Several points are settled by Wright’s journal. Not only, is the existence of some kind of shelter and defense at the mouth of Wells River long before the country was settled, but another very interesting fact is brought to light.. We have mentioned the Indian trail which lay across the mountains to Onion or Winooski River then called French River. We observe that the company, led by their Indian guides, did not follow along the banks of Wells River, but took a more northerly course, coming out at Ricker’s Pond in Groton, taking the general direction of the road from Wells River to Ryegate Corner, and thence to Ricker’s Pond. This was one of the great trails between Canada and the Connecticut Valley, along which passed not only hunters and migratory families, but war parties for attacks on the English settlements, and the same bands returning with their captives and spoil.

Along this trail, where now lie the sunny farms of Ryegate, came in February 1704, a force of two hundred French and one hundred and forty Indians, bound upon one of the most fearful errands recorded in the long chapter of Indian massacres. They came up Lake Champlain on the ice to the mouth of French or Winooski River, which they followed, and passed through the mountains very nearly where the railroad now runs. They went down Connecticut River on the ice, and on the night of the 29th fell upon Deerfield, Mass., burned the village, killed fifty persons, and carried away one hundred and fifty prisoners, eighteen of whom were killed on the march. At the mouth of White River the captives were divided into small companies, making their way to Canada by different routes.

Rev. John Williams, the minister of Deerfield, lived to return and publish a narrative of their sufferings, entitled, "The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion." This little volume when first printed may have been sold for a shilling. A copy of the first edition is now worth many times its weight in gold. It has been often reprinted.

The narrative of Stephen Williams, [Samuel Carter’s address at Deerfield, 1884. - NOTE. Stephen Williams was only eleven years old when he was taken prisoner. He graduated from Harvard College in 1713, and was for 66 years a noted minister at Longmeadow. He was a chaplain in the expedition to Louisburg in 1745, and a son of his was killed in the old French War. Mr. Williams had three sons who were prominent clergymen in their time. See "Longmeadow Centennial," also "Proeeedings of the Pocumtuck Valley Association." These, with the History of Deerfleld, are in the library at Newbury.] the minister’s son, is of special interest in local history, and his experience was probably that of hundreds of others at different times between 1650 and 1760. The small party to which Stephen was attached reached the great meadows at Newbury on the ninth day after the massacre, where they remained two days, then proceeded up Wells River, a day’s travel, making a camp among the hills not far from the line between Ryegate and Groton, and there spent some days in hunting.

"Twelfth Day. March 11th. While we tarried here the French that were in the army passed by," says Stephen’s narrative. His master, with a small company, turned north, and made a camp somewhere in Peacham, it is believed, where they were joined by some other captives from Deerfield, who had been left by the French army in its passage. They remained there hunting over a wide area of country, and collecting furs till about the middle of June, when the party started for the Coos meadows, it being their custom to spend their summers there, cultivating the land, feasting, and having a general good time.

But when they had gone only a few miles they met some Indians, who told them that a party of white men and hostile Indians had come up the river, and, a short distance below the great meadows, had fallen upon a camp of Indians and killed them all, so that all the Indians were fleeing from Coos. This was Caleb Lyman oFNorthampton, who left that place about the first of June and fell upon the Indians near Coos, and all who were there, fled, and their fields were not cultivated that year.

The party to which Stephen and his master belonged, returned to their camp, and were joined by several other prisoners. After some time they ventured back to the Newbury meadows, where they suffered from hunger, and where one of the prisoners, Dea. David Hoyt of Deerfield, died of starvation.

About the 1st of August they set away for Canada with large packs of furs which they had taken, and which the captives were compelled to carry till French River was reached. Another of the captives, Jacob Hix of Deerfield, died of starvation and fatigue, somewhere, probably in what is now Plainfield, "at the first carrying-place on French River." The company arrived at Chambly in August. This narrative is here given to show something of the life which went on in the wilderness two hundred years ago.

This bloody warfare came to an end with the close of the Old French War in 1760. The destruction of the St. Francis Village by Rogers’ expedition in that year, struck terror to all the Indian tribes. The story of his expedition has been told too often to need repetitidn here. Some of the survivors of that company struggled along through the dense woods on the banks of the Connecticut. It is said that several of the men fell down and died between the mouth of the Passumpsic and that of Wells River.

It will he observed that Wright’s Journal of 1725 mentions the latter stream by the name we know it now and speaks of "the fort at the mouth of Wells River." A-tradition handed down from the first settlers of Newbury is that in 1704 one Captain Wells ascended the Connecticut with a small force of men, and at the mouth of this stream one of the men fell sick with small pox, and a small building was erected there, in which some of the men spent a part of the winter, and the stream has been called Wells River ever since. This was the year of the destruction of Deerfield, and the company was probably commanded by Capt. Jonathan Wells of that town, and one of several expeditions which were sent to Canada to negotiate for the ransom of captives.

Other narratives of journeys along the Connecticut Valley between 1710, and 1770, are extant, but they give little information concerning the country. It is probable that, between these dates,- several hundreds of white persons passed through Ryegate.

The "Fort" we have mentioned was probably a rude structure of logs, and large enough to give shelter and protection. to such as needed either, in the wilderness. When Br Chamberlin, in 1770, began settlement in what is now Wells River village, he found the ruins of a building in the woods, a little above the junction of the two rivers, it was the first building erected by Englishmen in this part of New England.


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