Ryegate seems to have been
remarkably free from epidemics of all kinds, and when the spotted fever
raged with great virulence in 1815, Mr. Mason says that there were only a
few scattered cases here. But in other towns, especially in Warren, N. H.,
its visitation was severe, whole neighborhoods were almost depopulated,
and entire families disappeared. In Bradford there were six deaths in one
day. Nothing could check the disease, and people who were well in the
morning died before night. It seemed finally to die out of its own accord.
Dr. Wellman of Piermont, called to attend a patient in Warren, was himself
taken sick and died before morning.
The beneficent progress of medical
science is shown in the alleviated condition of the insane, and those who
were born mentally or physically defective. The condition of the
hopelessly insane was terrible, as there were then no asylums for
treatment or safe keeping. Mr. Miller mentions the case of a man in
Ryegate of a family now extinct here, who became violently insane, and was
confined for several years in an outbuilding, where he was secured like a
wild beast by a chain around his body. A similar case occurred in Topsham.
In Piermont a son of the Dr. Weilman whom we have just mentioned, was
brought home from Boston a raving maniac. He was confined for more than
twenty terrible years in a strong cage constructed in one of the chambers
of his mother’s house. About an hour before his death his reason returned
to him. "He remembered only in the vaguest possible manner the long span
of darkness through which he had passed, with the trouble he had caused
and begged his mother to forgive."
The condition of those who were
blind or deaf from birth, or who lost the sense of sight or that of
hearing at an early age was pitiable. Until about the middle of the
century there were no schools where either could he taught, and acquire
training which made them self-supporting.
Physicians of the olden time, when
the country was new, made their rounds on foot or horseback and in winter
on snow shoes. Their labors were arduous, their pay was small, but in
general, they were very superior men, their influence was wide and
The records in this volume show that
several natives of Ryegate became physicians, and each, it is believed,
practised with a fair degree of success.
The town has not been a fertile
field for lawyers, and with the exception of Mr. Dunnett, whose practice
began here, it is not believed that any one, regularly admitted to the bar
ever was settled in the profession in Ryegate. In early years there was
more litigation than now, and a better field for lawyers. When one
consults the formidable list of lawyers in Haverhill, Bath and Peacham a
century ago, and for many years before and after, the wonder grows how so
many could have got a living
—much more how many of them became
wealthy. The disputes over land titles, now long settled, were a fruitful
source of revenue for the legal profession, and in many cases when the
ownership of land was the subject of litigation, the successful litigant
found himself obliged to turn the property over to his lawyer in payment
of his fees. It also seems that people went to law on less provocation
than they do now. Mr. Miller mentions a case in which two men, one of them
living in Ryegate, got into a dispute about a pound of tea and each spent
several hundred dollars before the case was decided. There were men who
were never happy unless they were in law with some one and seldom failed
to have a case in court. Rev. David Sutherland says that when he came to
Bath in 1804, Esq. Buck held a justice court at the village every Monday
and was seldom without cases to try. Strong drink was at the bottom of the
trouble in many cases. There is about one law suit now where there were
five eighty years ago.
Mr. Mason says that John Cameron
started the first store in Rye-gate although neither he or Mr. Miller
mention the year, but the town had been settled nearly forty years before
a store was opened. Mr. Mason says that Alexander McDonald brought a small
stock of goods and sold them at his house, where James R. Hunter now
lives, the year before Cameron opened his store, which was where Mr.
Thompson resides at the Corner. Mr. Cameron, who was usually called Judge
Cameron, carried on a very extensive business along several lines, being a
drover, an occupation in early days very important, requiring great
sagacity, energy and capital. Capt. Wm. Page in 1879 told Mr. Miller that
in 1817 Nutter and Wiggin opened a store at the Corner, which they
conducted for some time. Mr. Nutter married a daughter of Andrew Brock and
the store was in the Red Tavern.
Alexander Harvey was first a clerk
for Mattocks & Newell of Peacham, and was sent by them to open a branch
store at Ryegate Corner, in which he succeeded so well that he bought the
goods and went into business on his own account, in 1818 or 1819, keeping
a general country store, buying stock and produce, making frequent trips
to Boston. He built the "old Corner Store" about 1818, Mr. Miller
believed, but Mr. Goodwin thought it to have been built in 1816. The old
store, one of the landmarks of Caledonia County, has thus been in constant
mercantile use for nearly a century, and is almost unchanged without and
within. The desk and counters are the original ones and this long low room
has held several generations of Ryegate customers. In early days rum was
sold as freely as anything else and "liquor enough was sold there to float
Mr. Harvey continued in business
till January, 1835, when he sold to George Cowles. Mr. Cowles
conducted the store alone till January, 1838, when he took his brother
James into partnership, and the firm continued in business till October,
1844, when James retired, and removed from Ryegate. In 1865, Alexander
Cochran bought Mr. Cowles out, and carried on business in the old store
till 1889, when he sold out to John A. McLam, the present proprietor.
Mr. Mason says that in 1832 Pease &
Bailey kept store in the Peters building, and, later, about 1837, John
Morrill, and after him William Morrill kept store in the brick house.
The Morrills were merchants,
inn-keepers, owned the stage line between Haverhill N. H., and Stanstead,
and were mail contractors. Andrew J. Morrill’s name should be added to the
list of postmasters at the Corner, as he held the office in 1841 and
before. A receipted bill owned by Alfred Morrill of Benton, N. H., shows
that the amount due from the office was $13. 58 3/4 for the quarter ending
Dec. 31, 1840. The Morrills kept store at one time in a house which stood
where Wm. McCanna now lives and which was burned in the fire of 1899. The
post office was in that house.
This seems to conclude the list of
merchants at the Corner in early days. In 1894 J. R. W. Beattie erected a
two story building on the lot next south of the Reformed Presbyterian
Meeting house, and fitted up a store in modern style, in which he
conducted a successful business. On Aug. 16, 1899, the store took fire and
was burned, the church also being destroyed. Since that date the Old
Corner Store has held the entire mercantile business at the Corner, and
the merchant who first occupied that building would find modern business
methods as strange as the faces which he would see there now. The merchant
of a century ago, and for long afterwards, was a trader, and was called
such in general speech. Very little money was in circulation and he took
his pay in farm produce, lumber, shingles or whatever the farmer had to
spare. "All was fish that came to his net." If his credit was good the
customer was allowed to run up a bill, which was balanced by a promissory
note, by labor or by a "head or two of fat cattle." The latter were
collected from time to time, and driven to market, as the merchant was
often a cattle buyer as well. The "back room," cellar, and all available
storage room were filled with the articles taken in trade, waiting to be
sent to market. The butter brought in by a score of farmer’s wives was
worked over and packed in tubs for market. Upon his skill in disposing of
the produce collected in the way of trade the prosperity of the merchant
depended. If he was shrewd in bargains with his customers at home, and
fortunate in his sales "down country," he grew rich. There were some
traders with a genius for "swapping," and a keen eye for the best end of a
bargain. His temptation was to attempt to carry too many lines of
business, leaving too much to others. Mr. Goodwin said that Judge Cameron
left the management of his store in charge of his clerk, while he pursued
his other schemes, financial and political, a division of interests which
brought about his ultimate failure. But others by assiduity, by an honesty
and a kindness which won public confidence, laid the foundation of the
modest fortunes of those days.
The principal merchants in this part
of the country kept teams constantly on the road between here and Boston,
to bring the lighter and most valuable goods, while the heavier
merchandise was brought to Wells River by boat. But the Ryegate merchants
never carried on such extensive business as some in Danville and Peacham.
The names of all who have been in
trade at South Ryegate cannot be recalled, but those who were in business
for some time appear to have been as follows: The first store was
opened by Charles Stuart about 1848, and was conducted by him till he went
west in 1853. The second merchant in the place seems to have been
Archibald Renfrew, from Nov. 1851 to Feb. 1853, when he sold to West
Darling and Calvin Clark, who conducted business a few months. Mr. Stuart
sold his store to John Peach and James White. Robert Nelson bought out
Peach & White in the fall of 1855, and a year later, sold to George L.
Hall. Mr. White who had been in business alone, and was postmaster, sold a
half interest in his store to Mr. Hall, and they were in company till
1868, after which the latter continued in trade till 1886.
The opening of the "Swamp Road," in
1860, from South Ryegate to the Lime Kiln neighborhood in Newbury, brought
more trade to the place. About 1863 Dr. John B. Darling opened a store at
the corner of the road leading to Jefferson Hill, where he with his sons
carried on an extensive business for many years. They bought also the
Wilson store at West Newbury, a Mr. Adams who had been a clerk in the
store of A. T. Stewart in New York City being their manager, at that
place. This store was burned Feb. 21, 1888.
In 1891, William Terry, who had been
engaged in peddling goods nearly twenty years, and resided just over the
Newbury line, formed a partnership with Wm. T. George and A. T. Gay, under
the firm name of Terry, George & Gay, who bought the stock of goods of J.
B. Darling & Son, continuing business at the Darling stand for three
years, when Mr. Gay sold his interest to the partners, and the firm became
Terry & George. About seven years later Mr. Terry bought out the interest
of Mr. George, conducting the business under his own name, Charles B. F.
Miller owning a half interest, being a silent partner, this association
continuing about six and a half years. In the meantime M. H. Gibson had
erected the brick block, and put in a large stock of goods, while Mr.
Terry, whose sons had grown up with him in the old Darling store desired
larger quarters for his trade and the firm bought out Mr. Gibson’s stock
of goods and moved into the new store in June, 1906. They had been nearly
sixteen years in the Darling store, and being the only general merchant in
the place, their business during the last year amounted to above $36,000.
When the firm moved into the brick block, Mr. Terry feeling the need of
change, sold his interest to his son, B. L. Terry, retaining the stove and
farm machinery part of the business. Mr. Miller is still a silent partner
in this concern.
Sly and Darling were also merchants
in the village in its early days.
The opening of the railroad and the
development of the granite business attracted other merchants, and R. F.
Carter set up a store and also a hotel in connection with the Ryegate
In 1892 Mr. Pringle Gibson, who had
sold his farm near the Corner, erected a large building near the depot,
and opened a general store, later taking his son into partnership, the
firm name being P. Gibson & Son. They were succeeded by Harry W. Hibbard,
who carried on the business. along the same lines until burned out in the
fire of 1898.
In 1902 Martin H. Gibson erected the
present brick block in the "burned district," which contains the store of
B. L. Terry and the post-office.
After the Terrys left the Darling
building it was repaired, and A. T. Gay conducted a store there for some
time, and was succeeded by Mr. Simpson. A Mr. Doten was in South Ryegate
for some years in the watch, clock and fancy goods business and Mr. A. T.
Gay conducted a similar one till burned out in the fire of 1898.
A. F. Mulliken operated a store for
the sale of hardware in connection with his establishment at Wells River.
On the morning of Oct. 20, 1898,
fire broke out in the livery stable of Charles Oakley whieh destroyed all
the buildings between the railroad and the main street, from the depot to
the road leading across the river. The general store of H. W. Hibbard, the
stores of A. F. Mulliken and A. T. Gay, were burned together with the post
office, a dwelling house occupied by Thos. McGuckin, and a stable owned by
the Ryegate Granite Works. The loss, about $30,000, was a severe blow to
During the civil war, under the
stimulus of an inflated currency, prices rose rapidly, and it was many
years after its close that they resumed their normal rate. Flour sold at
$20 per barrel, print cloth could hardly be had at any price, woo1 brought
$1.00 a pound, butter fifty cents and most other articles in proportion.
We have not the space to enter into
any detailed account of the weather here in Ryegate during the period of
its history, but a few prominent occasions may be mentioned, which were
landmarks in people’s memories as long as they lived.
In the year 1788 it rained every day
from the 27th of June till the 26th of August, and much hay and grain
rotted on the ground. The following spring was late and cold, and it was
not till the end of May. that cattle got their living at pasture. But the
rest of the year was fine and the season fruitful.
The history of Haverhill, Mass.,
says that the winter of 1779-’80, was remarkably long and cold, and for
forty successive days, including the entire month of March, the snow did
not thaw on the south sides of houses, as far south as that place.
President Dwight, in relating the journey which we have mentioned in the
opening sentence to this volume, says that on the 17th of February, 1802,
a snow storm began which lasted a week, and it was estimated that more
than four feet fell. On the other hand there were periods of remarkably
warm weather in winter. In the month of December, 1794, the ground froze
only once, and people kept on with their plowing and other fall work till
after Christmas. The seasons from 1812 to 1816 were very cold and the
times were hard, the second war with England occurring during that period.
The year 1816 was long known as the "cold year" and the "famine year." The
season was early and warm, and people hoped that brighter days had come.
But the summer was very cold, there was frost in every month, and
Moosilauke was white twice in July and three times in August. "On the 5th
of June some masons who were building a brick house at Bath Upper Village
were compelled to abandon their work until the 10th, as the mortar froze
in the open air." The corn was entirely destroyed in that year—only a few
saved enough for seed by building fires in their corn fields. Even the
wheat did not fill, and had it not been for the remarkably heavy crop of
oats many must have perished. Thousands of people subsisted on oatmeal who
had never tasted it before; and the mill at Boltonville had to run night
and day to grind the oats which were brought to it from every quarter, and
then it was that people blessed the Scotch for having invented oatmeal.
Money was very scarce and provisions were dear. There was much suffering
from hunger, and even the well-to-do were hard pressed. Potatoes were an
entire failure. Mrs. Eleanor Knight of Newbury, who could in 1908,
remember that time very well, said that there were people who boiled
potato tops and other greens for food, and would go long distances to get
even them. "Children would talk about being good, for perhaps they would
die when winter came, and would have nothing to eat." On the 15th of June
about a foot of snow fell. On the 28th of August there was a frost which
destroyed all vegetation, and the leaves on the trees. The next year was
somewhat more genial but five inches of snow fell in Ryegate on the 15th
of May, and on the 16th of June there was a hard frost which froze
potatoes to the ground.
Much has been written about these
famine years, but no adequate explanation of their cause can be found.
There has been no recurrence of such a period. It must not seem strange
that some became discouraged, and, selling what they had in Ryegate,
sought a more genial clime. Some of these prospered, others made their way
back, poorer than they went.
On May 15th, 1834, came the great
snow storm, from which old people dated the events of years before and
after. The season was an early one, plum and apple trees were in full
bloom, and much corn had been planted. Trees were in full leaf. On the
13th in the afternoon, it suddenly began to grow cold, the next day was
cold and about daylight on the 15th it began to snow, and continued till
ten o’clock, gathering at the rate of an inch in each ten minutes for two
hours. Hon. John Bailey says that on Jefferson Hill in Newbury three feet
fell, and there could hardly have been less on the Ryegate hills. Mr.
Mason mentions a number of instances where people who went out to get
horses, cattle and sheep from the hills became bewildered in the storm,
and were rescued with difficulty. The next day was so cold that water
froze in the houses, and it was not till the 17th that bare ground
appeared. We should naturally suppose that all the apple and plum blossoms
would have been killed, yet all the old people said that 1834 was a great
fruit year. How little we understand the laws of vegetation -?
Mr. Whitelaw, writing to Scotland on
the 25th of June, 1780, made no mention of the "Dark Day," which was on
the 19th, by which we may suppose that the phenomenon was not so
remarkable in this part of the country as to cause him to write about it.
We could wish he had observed, and given us some account of it in his
precise and graphic man ner, as it was observed and commented on in
Newbury and Haverhill. The darkness was here supposed to he caused by
smokes from clearing land, and it was not very dark at any time. Mr. Mason
only says that people could not see to read in the houses without candles.
In this locality the morning was fair with a light shower, and the day was
very still. About ten o’clock it began to grow dark, and remained dark
In southern New England at noon it
was too dark to see to read in the open air, and at four o’clock it was as
dark as it usually is at midnight when there is no moon. Birds went to
their nests, and some species flew into the houses, as if seeking human
protection, while cattle came home from the pastures, uttering strange
cries of distress. People thought that the end of the world had come, and
in places where there were churches, people gathered in them and held
services. It was the night of the full moon, but it was intensely dark,
while all lights burned with great brilliancy. With sun rise the darkness
Scientific men have differed as to
the cause of this strange occurrence. It has been thought that some
meteor, or other wanderer through space came between the earth and the
sun. The darkness was not observed west of the Hudson. In his poem of
Abraham Davenport, the poet Whittier has embalmed in literature an
incident of that day.
The "Yellow Day," of September 6, 1881, will not be
forgotten by those who are old enough to remember it.
The metoric shower of Nov. 13, 1833,
when thousands of meteors, some of them of dazzling brilliancy, fell in a
few hours, was a wonderful occurrence and seen in all parts of the
Several buildings have been burned
by lightning in this town, but it is believed that only one person has
ever been killed by it. Elizabeth, daughter of Wm. McKindley, was killed
by lightning Aug. 1, 1857, while raking hay. Some years ago a horse in the
barn of Y. D. Nelson was killed by lightning, and a man who was caring for
it was severely shocked, and injured by the horse falling upon him. Many
years ago the barn of Wm. N. Gibson was struck and burned, after it was
filled with hay and grain, a heavy loss. Thunder storms in winter are
rare, but such have been. On the 18th of January, 1817, there was a
thunder storm in the night which lasted two hours, and buildings were
struck and burned in different parts of New England. While this chapter
was being revised for the press, on the 2d of February, 1911, at 7.30 in
the morning, with the mercury at 10°, there was brilliant lightning and
heavy thunder, but no rain or snow. Buildings were struck in various
places and a large barn was burned at Haverhill Corner.
We have mentioned in an early
chapter that on the 14th of May, 1776, the inhabitants met to choose their
military officers and chose James Henderson, Captain; Robert Brock,
Lieutenant; and Bartholemew Somers, Ensign. This was the beginning of the
old militia service in Ryegate, which lasted more than seventy years. We
have no further information regarding this company, which comprised all
the able-bodied men between the ages of sixteen and fifty, but the men
were probably drilled regularly during the revolutionary war.
Military service in the colonies was
necessary on account of the frequent Indian wars, and especially along the
frontiers which were posts of danger, where it was desirable that all the
people should have some acquaintance with military tactics. Militia
service in Scotland was also compulsory, so that our colonists were doing
no more than had been their custom at home.
The Ryegate company eventually
became a part of the Fourth Regiment of the militia. Among the Johnson
papers in the library at Newbury, is a petition to Governor Chittenden,
written about 1785, which bears the signatures of the officers in this
vicinity and which gives a little of its history.
It was organized in 1763, when there
were scarcely any settlements in what is now Vermont, under the colony of
New Hampshire, embracing the settlements on both sides of the river. In
1766 the Grants came under the authority of the colony of New York, and
the few settlers on the west side of the river became part of the New York
militia. In 1777 Vermont declared its independence, and the militia came
under the authority of the new state. In 1785 the regiment comprised the
companies in all the towns north of Thetford, in which there were settlers
enough to form a company. The names of the companies in this petition
indicate the progress of settlements in 1785; Fairlee, Moortown
alias Salem, (Bradford), Newbury, Ryegate, Barnet, Littleton (Waterford)
Lunenburg, Guildhall Peacham, Corinth and Vershire. The staff officers of
the regiment were, Thomas Johnson, Colonel; Frye Bayley, Lieut. -Col.;
John Taplin, Major; Thomas Smith, Quartermaster. The commissioned officers
of the companies in this vicinity were, Néwbury—Remembrance Chamberlain,
Capt., Joshua Bayley, Lieut., Moses Chamberlain, Ensign. Corinth—Abner
Fowler, Capt., Mansfield Taplin, Lieut., Jonathan Lovewell, Ensign.
Ryegate—John Gray, Capt., William Neilson, Lieut., Willoughby Goodwin,
Ensign. Barnet—James Stuart, Capt., James Cross, Lieut., Moses Hall,
Ensign. Peacham—Abiel Blanchard, Capt., John Skeels, Lieut.,
Jonathan Elkins, Ensign. The regiment was afterward commanded by Col.
William Wallace of Newbury.
The old militia service was a great
institution in its day, and had its political aspect also, and its social
side. A captain in the militia was a great man in those days, and the
title was a life estate, which he bore as long as he lived. All the
able-bodied men, with, few exceptions were enrolled and their only
compensation for their time, travel and equipment, was exemption from poll
tax. The state militia numbered about 25,000 from 1815 and was divided
into four divisions, ten brigades, and thirty-five regiments, with from
eight to twelve companies each. Most of the regiments had also a company
of artillery, one of cavalry, one of light infantry, and sometimes more
than one of each. "Each division was commanded by a major-general, with a
division inspector, division quarter-master and two aids; each brigade by
a brigadier general with a brigade inspector, quarter-master and one aid;
each regiment by a colonel, lieutenant-colonel, and major with the
customary staff, and each company by the captain, lieutenants and ensign,
with the usual noncommissioned officers."
It will be seen that taking the
state through there were a good many men bearing military titles—indeed in
those days when you met a smart, enterprising stranger it would be the
proper thing to address him as "Captain;" if he had a military air you
made your obeisance to the "Colonel"; if he "surveyed the field with eagle
eye," you bowed down before the "General!"
Each regiment had its band, and each
company a drum corps. Every man must be enrolled in the militia, but those
who had time and money to spare formed themselves into independent
companies, which were uniformed, and their equipments were of superior
quality, while the regular companies were not uniformed, and were
derisively styled "floodwood companies." The cavalry was spoken of as "The
Troop," and its members as "troopers." These select companies usually bore
some fine name like the "Lafayette Guards." They were very exclusive and
as they drilled often, they were the crack companies, and held the places
of honor at general muster. In the month of June the company met for "June
training," and after haying came the "brigade muster," a great day indeed,
when the entire brigade assembled for inspection, evolution and review by
the governor and staff.
As a matter of curiosity we
reproduce from the North Star of August 26, 1828, the regimental
orders for the muster of that year:
STATE OF VERMONT
St. Johnsbury, Aug. 18, 1828.
The Field Officers and Regimental
Staff, the commissioned, non-commissioned officers and music of the
First Regiment in the Second Brigade in the Fourth Division of the Militia
of this State, are hereby ordered to rendezvous with the men under their
command, armed and equipped as the Law directs for Military exercise at
Maj. J. Kelsey’s Inn, in Danville, on Friday the 12th of September next at
9 o’clock, A. M. After the inspection of arms and standing and passing
reviews, the following manoeuvres will be executed: For an explanation of
which the officers are directed to the discipline established by law.
1st Passage of Lines.
2d Charge forward 1st company.
3d Change front to rear on 1st company.
4th Change front on 5th company, the left being thrown forward.
5th Column of attack.
6th Column of attack from line to front.
7th Close column of companies and deploy them.
8th By grand division and deploy them.
9th The line will advance in direct echelons of companies from the right
flank with a parallel distance of six paces between the echelons.
10th Columns form line faced to the rear.
By order of,
STEPHEN HAWKINS, Brig. Gen.
By G. W. WARE, Aid-dc-Camp.
Mr. Miller has preserved many
particulars regarding the old militia some of which we can use:
"Capt. John Gray was one of the
earliest militia captains, and if I remember rightly the name "Capt. John
Gray, 1779," was on the flag formerly used in Ryegate. William Nelson was
probably made a captain of militia at some time."
The captains of the old militia
company as near as can be ascertained were: James Henderson, John Gray,
John Nelson, James Nelson, John Miller, George Nelson, Abraham Page,
Andrew Warden, Robert Symes, Moses White, John Bigelow, W. M. Brock, Wm.
G. Nelson, Win. P. Page, John J. Nelson, Thos. Nelson, John Buchanan, Amos
Noyes, William Hall, and John Cameron. Some of these served several years.
Alexander Harvey was captain in the cavalry.
At the brigade muster held at Sutton
in 1825, the Ryegate company was one of the largest and best drilled. In
the following year an independent company of light infantry was organized,
with Robert Symes, captain. It was called the Grenadier Company, and Mr.
"The Light Infantry Company dressed
in uniform, with glazed high leather caps, blue coats with bullet shaped
buttons and white pantaloons, and composed of the choicest soldiers of the
town, made a fine appearance on parade. For the four or five last years of
its existence they had ‘Pioneers’ in it, dressed to resemble Indians, who
were each armed with a large horseman’s pistol, and a tomahawk. They
generally marched in the front of the company, or on the wings, or next to
the music, and often went scouting about. They began with about six pio
neers, and afterwards increased to ten or twelve. About 1837 the
Grenadiers were dissolved and the members had to return to the old
flood-wood militia. Its captains were: 1826, Robert Symes; 1827-’28, John
Cameron, Jun.; 1829-’30, William Hall; 1831-’32, John Bigelow; 1833-‘34,
William Page; 1835, Robert Gibson 3d; 1836, Robert Cochran." About
forty-five men were enrolled in this crack company.
John Cameron, Jun., Josiah Page and
perhaps one or two more, were colonels. But Ryegate was never conspicuous
in the old militia, none of the higher officers ever living here. The
reason was that the early and more prominent commands in the militia were
held by men who had been officers in the revolutionary war. Ryegate was
not settled by revolutionary soldiers, while in other towns, Peacham and
Danville for example, most of the early settlers had seen military
service, and the officers of the war becoming prominent in the militia,
their sons succeeded them in the possession of military titles. The
Covenanters also, while not evading military service, would not take
oaths, and were thus excluded from commands. But the records will show
that when the country was in danger the men of this town did their part,
but it was mainly in the rank and file, where hard work had to be done,
rather than in conspicuous positions where they might have achieved fame.
Not many years after the Light
Infantry was disbanded the militia system began to come into disfavor, and
at last became unpopular. A new generation with new ideas and different
views of life had come upon the stage, and cared less for the military
display which had charmed the fathers. It had outlived its usefulness, and
militia service was felt to be a burden both useless and harmful. Farmers
and laboring men rebelled against being called away from their own affairs
for several days in each year, and undergo long marches and absence from
home, at their own expense, and apparently without any good coming from
it. The temperance reform, beginning in the early ‘40’s to make itself
felt, attacked the musters and trainings as schools of vice of all kinds.
These great assemblages which drew all the inhabitants of a wide circuit
together to witness the manceuvers of the militia, and hear the music of
the bands, had an irresistable fascination for all the rough elements
within reach. It was the custom for the men to meet at the captain’s house
and fire a salute, when the captain appeared and treated the men, and the
mere drop thus imbibed in the early morning required frequent repetition
during the day. Boys and young men learned there their first lessons in
intemperance, and wise parents regarded the June training and annual
muster with well grounded apprehension. Liquor of all kinds was more than
free, it was even pressed upon boys hardly in their teens. The evolutions
of the troops were usually concluded with a sham fight, in which several
melancholy accidents resulted from the careless use of firearms in the
hands of drunken men; and the disorderly scenes which closed the day
disgusted sensible people. Mr. Miller mentions several instances of this
character and the session records of both Ryegate and Barnet indicate how
the churches were affected by the evils which accompanied the occasions of
Prudent people devised expedients
for evading military service, and in the last years of the system many
openly defied the law compelling attendance. Mr. Miller says that the last
training held in this town was in 1844, when only about one-half of those
liable to do duty were in evidence. In the following year, the captain had
urgent business out of the state at the time of June training, the men
were not summoned, and a year or two later, all the militia laws were
repealed. So passed ignominiously away one of the great institutions of
After the St. Albans raid in 1864, a
regiment of militia, composed mainly of veterans, was organized for the
defense of the northern frontier, and Wm. J. Henderson of Ryegate
was appointed Major. This organization was not long needed. After the war
a militia system was again organized, and eight regiments of 500 men in
each were provided for, in which service was voluntary, but the men were
equipped by the state, and paid for their time. A company was made up from
Ryegate, Groton and Peacham, in which Albert M. Whitelaw was captain, and
A. Park Renfrew, lieutenant. This company was soon disbanded, the law
having been repealed.
So far as can be ascertained,
although there have always been members of the Masonic fraternity in
Ryegate, there has never been a lodge of Masons in this town. General
Whitelaw was a Mason in Scotland and some others as well, but they were
connected here with lodges in other towns. An attempt, however, to make
Ryegate the scene of the earliest exemplification of Masonry in this state
has been made known to us by the kindness of Dr. J. M. Currier. We will
give and analyze the statement.
In an address delivered by Hon.
Henry Clark at the dedication of Hiram Lodge at West Rutland, May 28,
1879, he stated that Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, "President of the
Scotch-American Land Company which settled the town of Ryegate," visited
that place in May, 1774, and remained until July of that year. He
professes to quote from a diary of Dr. Witherspoon’s as follows,
respecting this visit: "I have been on a "visit to my possessions in New
Connecticut or New Hampshire Grants, "in the town of Ryegate, and there I
convened my Masonic brethren in "informal Lodge and held a delightful
re-union. There were present "brothers James Whitelaw, John Gray, Hugh
Laughlin, Archibald Park, "William Gibson, James Nelson, John Cameron,
Jonathan Coburn, and "my beloved brother in the ministry, Brother David
Goodwillie." Mr. Clark says that "these were undoubtedly Scottish Masons
as they were all emigrants from Scotland and this was probably the first
assemblage of Masons, although not in organized form, held in this
jurisdiction. It indicates at least their love of Masonry, whose mysteries
they had received in their early home. In June, 1782 Dr. Witherspoon again
visited this section of country and made the following memorandum in his
diary: "June 24, 1782, my Masonic brethren assembled at the tavern, ‘and
without working tools or aprons, marched to the Presbyterian ‘church,
where I endeavored to portray the tenets of the Masonic order, ‘as
exemplified in the life of our great patron, St. John the Baptist. The
‘Masons marched back to the tavern, where we all sat down to dinner.’"
This is a very interesting
statement, which if true, is a most valuable contribution to the history
of this town; if not true it is no history at all. This address was
printed in pamphlet form, and this statement went the rounds of the press
at the time. Let us look into this matter a little.
Dr. Witherspoon was never President of the
Scotch-American Company, or even a member of it. He owned land which he
sold to the Company.
Mr. Whitelaw’s letters to Scotland during the period
named, make no mention of Dr. Witherspoon’s visit, but speak of receiving
letters from him. There were only a few settlers here in 1774 and they had
just begun to clear land.
Of the brethren whose names he gives as participators
in these Masonic observances in 1774:—Hugh Laughlin came here from Ireland
in 1799, Archibald Park was not born till 1780, William Gibson came here
from Scotland in 1802, and Rev. William Gibson from Ireland in 1798. John
Cameron came here in 1782, Rev. David Goodwillie did not leave Scotland
till 1788, Jonathan Coburn was not born till a year later. It is a
singular co-incidence, however, that these nine men mentioned are the
subjects of brief biographies in the article upon Ryegate in Miss
Hemenway’s Gazetteer of Vermont and the veracious narrator of this event
seems to have assumed their presence upon an occasion which happened
before the birth of two of them.
In regard to Dr. Witherspoon’s visit in 1782, there was
no church building in Ryegate at that time, or within many miles of it
except the one at Newbury.
The officials of the Boston Public Library know nothing
of any diary of Rev. Dr. Witherspoon.