IN the preceding chapter we have
considered the public schools of Rye-gate and their effect upon the
successive generations of its inhabitants, with the change and development
of the school system. But there were other factors in education which
remain to be considered. The class of men who were prominent and
influential in town from 1800 or about that time, down to the close of the
civil war were men who owed little of the intelligence and shrewdness
which they certainly had to either schools or schoolmasters. We speak here
of the men born or reared in Ryegate, whose minds were formed under other
influences than the men of our time, who had reached maturity, and
acquired fixed habits of thought before the era of railroads, telegraphs,
the daily newspaper, and that knowledge of the world which improved
traveling facilities invites.
If we study the lives of the men who
were prominent in this town seventy years ago, and for many years before
and after, we find them men of superior intelligence and well informed
upon many subjects wholly outside their round of personal experience. The
Nelsons, the Gibsons, the Parks, the Whitehills and their contemporaries
in the earlier half of the last century, selectmen in the town and elders
in the church, were men widely known and respected, and it would not be
easy to find their equals among their numerous descendants. Yet all they
owed to schools was derived from a few weeks or months attendance in
winter, when work was slack. The rest of the year they were hard at work,
and the exigences of farm life developed a facility of handicraft which
almost seems to have passed away with them. There were many men in Ryegate
in those days who could make a pair of shoes or lay up a chimney, could
make a wheel or shoe a horse, and turn their hands to almost any task.
These men were well informed upon the events of the time, and if a few
developed eccentricities they were often along lines which later comers
followed to success.
When sent to the legislature, such
men, although seldom heard in debate, were relied upon for their sagacity,
clear business judgment and "hard Scotch sense." In these particulars they
were not different from the men of their day. In 1830 Charles Thompson
visited this country and attended a session of the legislature at
Montpelier. He afterwards declared that he had never heard, in Congress or
Parliament, arguments more direct, clear and concise, delivered in
excellent English, and expressed both surprise and admiration when
informed that of those legislators only a few had received a liberal
education, most had only what the district school furnished, and some had
not received even that. Will our present system of education, with its
tendency to train boys for anything but work with the hands produce better
or abler men?
We may well inquire from whence men,
of that day in the absence of much which we term advantages, derived their
superior ability. To answer that question will not lead us far. They owed
much to inheritance, and more to association. The greatest factor in a
child’s education is its constant association with intelligent and well
informed people. Another which went far was the habit, of reading. Most of
the emigrants from Scotland brought with them, a few books, mainly
religious works. Not the kind which pass under that head today, but solid
treatises in which theology and metaphysics were about equally mingled.
The managers of the company in Scotland were solicitous for the mental
welfare of the colonists, and in 1785 among some merchandise sent to
Ryegate, Rev. Walter Young of Erskine included a package of books with a
letter expressing the hope that they would be well read.
Among the purchases made by Mr.
Whitelaw, at Newburyport in February, 1774, were books to the amount of
£3. 5s. 1d. and a map of New England. As the, books .were for common use
of the colonists, Ryegate may claim to have had the first circulating
library in this state. He also subscribed for the Salem Gazette,
then, as now, an able newspaper.
Another factor in the training of
young people was the instruction they received on the Sabbath. In early
days the ministers of Ryegate and Barnet were the only men who had
received a university training. It was a liberal education to sit Sabbath
after Sabbath in attentive reverence to the preaching of such men as Rev.
James Milligan, and Rev. David Goodwillie, their contemporaries and
successors. The latter was one of the most learned men of his time and his
son and successor had the advantage over all the other ministers in this
vicinity of a year’s travel in Europe. The treasures of their liberal
minds were generously distributed among their people.
Another factor, perhaps the most important of all, was
the thorough training which the Scotch Presbyterians of those days gave
their children in the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, in itself
a body of logic and divinity. Whatever else they learned or did not learn,
they were expected to learn that, thoroughly. We may question if the young
men of our day are as well trained for the battle of life as their fathers
and grandfathers who worked hard most of the year and studied hard a few
The oldest burying ground in Ryegate, often called "The
Old Scotch Cemetery," is on William T. McLam’s farm, on the east side of
the "common" land, and round about the grave of Andrew Smith, whose death
and burial are recorded in an earlier chapter. It lies about a quarter of
a mile southeast of the farm buildings, and as surveyed, contains about
two acres. At the time this site was selected as a burying place it was
expected that a future city would occupy the long slope of the hill, and
the level stretch of upland, but as the centre of population shifted to
the northward, the spot was abandoned for a more convenient one, and
although once fenced, has been for many years in a state of utter neglect.
A list prepared long ago by Nancy Brock is believed to include nearly all
the tenants of this secluded spot and is as follows: Andrew Smith, John
Hyndman and wife, Patrick Lang and wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Carrick, Mrs.
McFarland, Duncan McFarland, Hannah (Davis), the first wife of James
Nelson, Janet (Montgomery), his second wife, Daniel Hunt and wife, Janet,
daughter of Wm. Nelson, Polly, daughter of John Orr, infant child of John
Scott, infant child of Hugh Gardner, infant child of James McKinley,
infant child of Willoughby Goodwin. There are believed to be several
others, but none of the graves are marked, and the precise location of any
one of them is unknown. Daniel Hunt was a revolutionary soldier and the
only one buried here. The remains of the first wife of General Whitelaw
were, after many years, removed to the cemetery at the Corner. The
neglected condition of this ancient burial ground calls for attention.
The cemetery at the Corner is next in age. Margaret,
daughter of Dea. Andrew Brock having died in 1794, was buried on her
father’s farm, and in the course of a few years about twenty graves were
made near hers, before the land was set apart for a burying ground. At a
town meeting held Sept. 4, 1798 a committee was chosen "to treat with Mr.
Brock about buying land for a grave yard." His price which was $60 for the
two acres, was thought too high, and the town voted not to accept it. But
an article inserted in the warning for March meeting in 1801, "To see if
the town will accept Andrew Brock’s offer of a burying ground," would seem
to imply that he had made a more liberal one. There is no record of the
town’s action, but the land has ever since been used as a cemetery.
This part of the enclosure contains 168 square rods,
about one-half of which is too rocky for use. It was first fenced in 1833,
by subscription. The lots are not regularly laid out and are without paths
or avenues to separate them.
This part of the cemetery being directly opposite the
site of the old meeting house is often spoken of as the "Old Churchyard."
Mr. Miller, in 1880, counted 258 marked graves, and 81 not marked. He
estimated that there were at least 60 lost graves, making about 400 at
that time. The "Blue Mountain Cemetery Association" was formed June 20,
1860, and purchased of George Cowles a piece of land containing 152 square
rods, adjoining the old cemetery on the south, which they divided into 52
lots, with proper roads and avenues. In 1884 there had been 84 burials in
the "new" or Blue Mountain cemetery. This association does not now exist.
An addition of 36 lots was made about 1898 and a further one in 1909 of 27
lots by purchase of land from Wm. Thompson.
This cemetery contains more graves than all the others
in town together, and the different monuments evince the changes of
mortuary fashion for a century and more. The oldest tomb-stones, with one
exception, were prepared by Samuel Ingalls who engraved a death’s head on
some of them. One of the oldest stones, that to the first wife of Gen.
Whitelaw, was made by a Mr. Risley at Hanover and the inscription is as
clear and distinct as when first engraved.
The third cemetery to be occupied is on A. M.
Whitelaw’s farm and is called the "Whitelaw cemetery," although none of
that family were ever buried in it. The first burial there was that of
Elihu Johnson in 1811, and the last was James Taylor, who died in 1834.
This graveyard which is just half way between Wells River and Ryegate
Corner, is a few rods from the road, near the "old cider mill," and
contains 30 or 40 graves. The graves of Er. Chamberlin and his wife are
the only ones that were ever marked. Elihu Johnson and Er. Chamberlin who
were revolutionary soldiers, and John Sly who served as a privateer are
The fourth or West cemetery is on the road from South
Ryegate to Peacham, a few rods south of the line between the north and
south divisions of the town, and half way from the Newbury line to the
Barnet line. This cemetery was taken from the farms of James and Robert
Hall, and contains 66 square rods. The first burial was in 1820. "In the
extreme northwest corner is the unmarked grave of Mary Dunn, a beau
tiful and intelligent girl, who, in grief and despair,
took her own life in 1825, on the farm of her uncle, Daniel Wormwood. The
most convenient and proper place for her last resting place was the Old
Churchyard. But on account of the rank superstition and iron clad
prejudice existing at that time, the town authorities would not allow a
suicide to be buried there, so the procession had to go on the old stage
road to the forks in Dow village at Barnet line, then up past Hunter’s and
Holmes’ and down past Caidwell’s to the West cemetery there being then no
cross road back of Blue Mountain. Mary Dunn was from Maine, and not
related to the Ryegate Dunns." [Mr. Miller.] The
West cemetery, being on private land, was not under the jurisdiction of
the town authorities. James Smith, a Captain, and Hugh Laughlin, a
Lieut-Col. in the Irish rebellion of 1798, are buried here. Mr. Miller
states that in 1880 there were 159 visible graves in the cemetery, which
is sometimes called the " "Hall burying ground,"
and there have since been 41 burials, according to Mr. John Gates.
The older cemetery at South Ryegate has been in use 55
years, the first burial being that of Warrington, son of John A. Miller,
Jan. 10, 1855, on land belonging to the estate of David Bone, and contains
three-fourths of an acre. There are 48 lots, besides paths and driveways.
It was conveyed by William Nelson of Newbury, guardian of the minor
children of David Bone, to 36 persons, a few having two lots, and six were
reserved for public use. In June, 1883, there were 147 graves and many
have since been added. The new cemetery at South Ryegate was laid out by
the selectmen in 1883, on land purchased of Charles Exley, and contains
Many former residents in the northwest part of the town
are buried in the Walter Harvey cemetery, a few rods over the Barnet line
on land given by Hon. Walter Harvey, and a short distance south of the
church known for almost eighty years as the "Walter Harvey Meeting House."
This burying ground, which contains about half an acre, is owned and cared
for by an association. In 1895 it contained 119 marked graves. Many of the
Whitehill, Dunn, McLam, and Hunter families are buried here.
A cemetery in which no burials have been made for some
years lies half in Groton and half in Peacham, on the old road between the
two places, and a short distance, from where Ryegate and Barnet corner on
these towns. The spot is very, solitary. Some of the Whitehills are buried
here as well as other Ryegate pepple and there are many unmarked graves.
Flavel Bailey, a noted schoolmaster, was buried here in 1847. Here lies
the dust of Capt. Ephraim Wesson, a noted man in his day. He was born in
Groton, Mass., in 1721, served with great efficiency in the Old French
War, being a captain in Sir William Johnson’s expedition, 1755, also in
that of Gen Abercrombie’s. He was at the siege of Louis-burg in 1758, and
served in 1759 under Gen. Amherst. He was an early settler of Haverhill,
and member of the Congregational church at Newbury, was also a member of
the Provincial Congress at Exeter, and did efficient service in the
revolutionary war. After the war he settled on the southeast corner lot in
Peacham, where he died in March, 1812. "He was a brave and efficient
officer, and was highly esteemed.; a man of Puritan mould and principles."
He has many descendants and his grave should not remain unmarked. [See
also Miss Hemenway’s Gazeteer, Vol. IV, pp. 1150—1157.]
A growing interest in these last resting places of the
dead is evinced by the care which has succeeded an earlier neglect, and
which is largely owing to the annual visitation of the veterans of the
Civil War in which the graves of their comrades, and soldiers of the older
wars are marked by flags and flowers. In March, 1900, the. town voted to
place its cemeteries under the care of five commissioners, as provided by
law. These serve without pay, and one member is elected each year. They
have the general oversight of the cemeteries, convey lots by deed, hold in
trust the money received from sales of lots, and are intrusted with the
investment of funds which are given for the care of particular lots. The
members of the original board were Wm. N. Gilfillan, N. H. Ricker, A. M.
Whitelaw, W. . D. Darling and C. L. Adams. In
1910 the members were Hermon Miller, W. T. McLam, Geo. Cochran, C. L.
Adams and Wm. N. Gilfillan. Care is taken to secure members who reside in
the vicinity of each cemetery. On Jan. 1, 1910, the fund with accrued
interest amounted to $1072.57.
There were a few burials upon farms in different parts
of the town, but the custom of farm burial never prevailed in this part of
The poor we have always had with us, and the care of
such persons as have been wholly or in part objects of public charity, has
cost the town quite a large sum. At the first town meeting ever held in
Ryegate, Patrick Lang and John Shaw were made overseers of the poor, and
to their successors in office the task of providing for the shelter, food
and clothing of such as were unable to care for themselves, has been
A town is required to support any citizen in want who
is a legal resident, and there has ever been a desire to shift the support
of any pauper upon some other town, when possible, and thus ease the tax
payer of the burden. In early days there was a legal proceeding frequently
resorted to called "warning out of town." This consisted in serving by the
constable upon any newcomer who might become a town charge a notice of
which the following is a sample:
STATE OF VERMONT, CALEDONIA Co.
To either Constable of Ryegate in said County,
You are hereby commanded to summon A. B. and family, now residing in
said Ryegate, to depart said town. Hereof fail not, but of this precept
and your doings thereon, due return make according to law. Given under our
hands at Ryegate this 26th day of Feb. A. D., 1811.
ALEX. HENDERSON, } Selectmen of Ryegate.
This precept was read in the hearing of the person or
head of a family who might become a town charge, and that person or family
could not thereafter claim legal residence or be entitled to support. This
process was profitable to the town officials, as the constable received a
shilling for serving the warrant, and six cents for each mile traveled,
while the town clerk received a shilling for recording the precept and the
constable’s entry of service.
The first of these warrants is dated in 1783 when John
Alexander Sapel and Anna his wife were warned to depart out of town within
twenty days under penalty of being carried out. Of John and Anna we hear
no more: Presumably they "went out and staid out." In 1787 two families
were warned to depart, but the practice does not seem to have been in
force again till 1810. From that time to 1817 when the law was altered,
there were 77 such warnings. One of them includes eleven persons. It is
noticeable that there are only three Scotch names in the list. Mr. Miller
says that in 1816 the son-in-law of a prominent citizen, with his family,
was warned out of town, and the "Squire," justly incensed, contrived to
make things very uncomfortable for the selectmen in consequence. In 1813
the town instructed the selectmen to call upon certain families, "and let
the children work out that can earn their living, and for the others pay
for their support in the most prudent manner possible."
The town meeting in 1818 provided a very unique method
for the support of the poor:
Voted, a tax of one cent on the dollar of the list of
1817 to be paid in wheat, rye, or oatmeal at the house of Alexander Miller
on the first Monday of May next on which day the selectmen and collector
are to attend at said place and receive said articles and set a price on
them, and whoever neglects to bring said articles to the amount of their
tax shall pay his or her tax in cash, which articles are to be at the
disposal of the selectmen for the support of the poor.
The town has never owned a farm for the homeless poor
and in earlier years much of the time at town meeting was taken up in
discussing what should be done with them. It was customary to sell the
keeping of individual paupers to the lowest bidder, and bind the children
out during their minority. The number of persons wholly or partly
supported by the town was much larger eighty years ago than now.
The warnings for town meetings down to about 1848 often
contain articles like the following: "To see what the town will do for the
relief of A. B. now in Danville jail for debt." Imprisonment for debt was
very common in those days, and it happened sometimes that it was cheaper
for the town to pay the debt for which some unfortunate but industrious
man was confined, than to support his family during his imprisonment.
At the time of the settlement of the town, according to
all the information we have, the use of ardent spirits was universal in
Scotland and in America, and the first settlers of the town in accordance
with the customs of the time were what would now be called hard drinkers.
This was because both malt and distilled liquors were then considered as
food, and as indispensable as bread and meat, and it was not until long
after that people began to question this, and finally to decide that their
use was harmful. The poems of Burns and such of the Waverly Novels as deal
with the period contemporary with the early years of this town show how
deeply rooted and universal was the custom and its disastrous
consequences. The accounts kept by Mr. Whitelaw show how large a
proportion of the expenses of the managers was for the purchase of rum, it
would seem that to drink regularly and deeply was absolutely necessary to
existence. It is significant of the change of personel among users
of intoxicants that men like James Whitelaw and James Henderson would now
be uncompromising temperance men. It must be remembered also that ardent
spirits in those days were not poisoned by drugs and that the hard work of
the pioneers in the open air dissipated their ill effects
Among Mr. Miller’s notes are anecdotes which need not
be preserved, of the drinking habits in the first half century of the
town. To cite no other authority, the early session records of Ryegate and
Barnet show how the evil interfered with the usefulness of the churches.
"Intemperance." wrote Rev. David Sutherland of Bath in 1852, "was at the
period of my settlement, the bane not only of my own church, but of all
the churches in this vicinity of which I had any knowledge. Ardent spirits
were set forth on every public occasion; weddings and funerals were
seasons of excess." In 1805 a prominent man, an elder in the church in
this town, engaged a man to set up a distillery on his farm, where he made
large quantities of whiskey, the minister himself being one of his most
steady customers. The use of intoxicants was part of the dark side of the
picture of the early days.
The account book of Thomas Barstow from which we have
quoted, shows how large a proportion of the trade of a country merchant
was in ardent spirits. Some of the items are rather amusing. One man in
Ryegate whose name out of consideration for, his numerous descendants we
suppress, is charged with "1 Bible, 2 Testaments, 3 quarts Rum."
The educated classes were especially sinners in this
particular. Arthur Livermore, in his "Recollections of Haverhill Corner,"
from which we have before quoted, mentions an old lawyer from the east
part of the state who used to come to court there about 1820, whose
invariable formula, after summoning the waiter with a tap of his cane to
the foot of the stairs, was to, order, "Waiter, bring a bottle of rum, a
bottle of brandy, a pitcher of water, a bowl of sugar, four tea-spoons and
a pack of cards!" ,
It is not possible to tell precisely when or by what
motives induced, the temperance reform began. It is certain that as early
as 1817 there was some kind of temperance organization in this town,.
which was addressed by Mr. Sutherland.. The use of ardent spirits was not
fatal to the hardy pioneers of the town. It was upon the younger
generation that its effects were most disastrous, and it was by observing
those eftects that people began to think the use of ardent spirits an
The temperance reform, which by 1840 had become
vigorous and aggressive, had its origin among the young and middle aged
men. If the clergy of an early time had countenanced the use of
intoxicants by their example, their successors were among the most
prominent in the reform.
A man had been taken sick and one Saturday the
neighbors met to finish his haying. The jug circulated very freely and one
man in particular, an elder in the church, became very much "overcome"
indeed. The minister, Mr. Hill, heard of it, and ‘the next day preached a
rousing temperance sermon. He called no names, but some of. his remarks
were so pointed that all knew whom he meant and some took offense. After
the service one old Scotchman freed his mind thus: "If I had been
that buddy, I’d have ganged oup the pulpit and yankit oot that Hill
buddy!" But temperance reform has been as complete in Ryegate as anywhere.
The old drinking customs have passed away. There are no
longer taverns with open bars to tempt the unwary and only a very few
votes are annually cast in favor of licensing the sale of intoxicating