THE "CITY."THE SCOTLAND
MANAGERS.LORD BLANTYRE.MILLS AT BOLTONVILLE. EMBARASSMENT.PROSPERITY OF
THE SETTLEMENT.WHITELAWS RESIGNATION.THE END OF THE SCOTCH AMERICAN
THE experiment of a colony among the
Vermont hills, whose affairs were to be regulated by an association in
Scotland, between which, under the most favorable conditions,
communication must be a matter of several months, was not likely to
continue long without Considerable change. In America, at that time, such
a colony could hardly have been established any where, and the plan
indicates the small amount of information which even the more intelligent
people in Scotland possessed concerning actual conditions in the backwoods
of North America.
The idea of a "town," which should
contain the public buildings, and where the land owners should reside
while their tenants occupied the outlying farms, would never have been
indulged had the projectors realized what trials, privations and dangers
the pioneers in a new country must undergo before they can even obtain a
comfortable supportenough to eat, shelter, and protection from cold and
It was not long before the settlers
found that it would be useless to attempt to carry out these stipulations.
The colonists would have enough to do to clear their land, build their
rude cabins, defend themselves and their cattle from the wild beasts of
the wilderness, build roads and undertake as best they could the heavy
task before them, without attempting a communistic experiment.
In a letter [Whitelaw Papers.] to
the company, dated Dec. 11, 1780, Mr. Whitelaw states the situation very
sensibly : "As for building a town here to have a house on every lot will
never answer, as the town will never have any inhabitants, at least, only
a very small part of them, so it will be foolish, and even ridiculous to
build them. And to carry on a public farm here will be no advantage to the
Company, and those who think to live in Scotland and live on the Incomes
of farms in this country, will find themselves mistaken. The reason is
this :that land is so cheap and so plenty here, that there is no person
but will rather improve a farm of his own, than to carry on one for
Consequently the "town spot," and the "Common Land,"
fell into the state of neglect which is the proverbial condition of that
which is everybodys business, until, in 1780, the managers were glad to
relieve themseves of them, by leasing them to John Scott for a term of ten
years, on condition that he should finish the house and barn, and the
clearing of what had been cut down. He seems to have wearied of his
task, as he soon removed to Newbury. The "town spot," by purchase from
its several owners, passed into one or two hands, and the "common land,"
by permission of the company in Scotland, was sold, piece by piece. The
"city," with its streets and squares, building lots, market places, sites
for churches, storehouses, schools and the like, never got beyond the
carefully drawn plan which has long since disappeared. The only street in
the "town" which was ever laid out, is the public road which ascends the
long slope of the "town hill."
The letters which were written home
to Scotland by the emigrants who arrived in Ryegate the first year, gave,
generally, such a favorable account of the place, and of New England in
general, that many persons and families in the neighborhood of Renfrew and
Paisley made preparation to set out for the new colony, and, had not the
revolutionary war broken out just at that time, it is probable that all
the land in Ryegate would have been taken up by members of the company and
their friends. At that time, in Scotland, the movement for emigration was
so general, and influenced by so many considerations, as to cause much
alarm among the landed proprietors of the country. The agitation of the
subject among the tenant farmers of the lowlands, tended, if not checked,
to deprive the country of great numbers of valuable citizens. Before
the landed gentry had things much their own way, as there were more people
to lease farms than there were farms to rent. Consequently, the tenant
farmers had to take such terms as the landlord chose to give. This
condition of things, so favorable to the landed classes, was threatened by
a movement which might, if not checked. produce a scarcity of tenants.
Consequently, when there should be more farms to let than there were
desirable tenants seeking them, rents must fall. The landed classes also
feared that the further settlement of America would supply the markets of
Great Britain with grain and flour, which could be produced there so much
more cheaply than upon British soil.
The movement for emigration was
strongest among the most desirable class of tenants, and men whose
ancestors had cultivated the same "tacks," as the leased farms were
called, for centuries, were giving them up, all over Scotland, and
emigrating to America, mainly to the Middle Colonies and the Carolinas.
Consequently the landed gentry, generally, opposed emigration, and tried,
by every means, legal and illegal, to check a movement which threatened
them, both in reducing their income by lowering the rents of farms, and
still more by supplying the great staples of food, of which they had
previously held a monopoly.
This will explain the position of
the landed classes in supporting all the measures taken by the government
for putting down the rebellion in America, while the letters received by
James Whitelaw from his friends in Scotland, show that the tenant farmers
of Stirlingshire and Renfrewshire, were, in general, favorable to the
American cause, although very cautious about expressing their sentiments.
Among those who held the selfish
views before mentioned was Lord Blantyre, whose hereditary possessions
included the greater part of the parish of Renfrew, in which originated
some of the best Ryegate families. This nobleman had not favored the
Association, which threatened to deprive him of some valuable tenants, and
had begun legal proceedings against certain persons in whom he suspected
an intention of joining the emigration, and against whom he had, or
pretended so have, some claim.
He also seized every opportunity
which offered, to injure the association, and a weapon was provided for
him. Among those who arrived in Ryegate on the 24th of May, 1774, were
John Wilson and Hugh Semple. These had taken offence at some things which
had been done, and both sent letters home to Scotland by David Allan, who
seems to have known nothing of their contents. The letter written by John
Wilson, in particular, in which he drew a rather dark picture of what he
had seen in America, and of the situation and prospects of the colony in
Ryegate, fell into the hands of this nobleman. William Hamilton, writing
from Renfrew to James Whitelaw under date of Dec. 27, 1774, presents the
matter thus:" The Right Honorable Lord Blantyre and some of his
Sycophants has got John Wilsons letter and it gives them such joy that
they propose to publish it to the world from the press. It is very galling
to all who are friends to America, and we wish that who ever writes from
Ryegate to their friends may be enabled from truth itself to send more
comfortable news, or, at least, such as will not give our many enemies
such cause to triumph."
But, generally, the stockholders of
the company in Scotland placed more dependence upon the representations of
James Whitelaw and other settlers, and upon the oral testimony of David
Allan, a man of sagacity and good judgment, than upon the letters of
Wilson and "the sensible Hugh Semple," and were well satisfied with the
prospects of the colony. But the unsettled state of the country, and the
troubles with America made people very cautious about investing in
enterprises so far from home.
Mr. Houston, in the letters from which we have cited,
states the financial situation of the Company. It will be remembered that
of the Scotch-American Company was divided into four
hundred shares, having a par value of £2,10s. Each entitled the holder to
one lot of land in the south division of Ryegate, a house lot in the "town
spot," and an undivided share in the common land. But at the date of the
letter, the subscribers to about eighty shares had not paid for them, and
some never would. The Company had expended about £400, in the expenses of
the Commissioners, the first payment for the land, and the cost of the
work which had been done upon it, and had only £400 to its credit in the
bank at Glasgow to finish the payment, erect buildings, clear the land and
pay for the building of the mills at Boltonville, to which we shall
presently advert. This deficit of £200 considerably hampered the company,
a temporary loan was secured upon the responsibility of the wealthier
members, an assessment was voted upon the stock, and the forfeiture of all
the shares not paid by a certain date was also voted. The troublous times
also increased the rate of exchange, so that in 1774, a discount of 20 per
cent. was charged upon the bills drawn by Mr. Whitelaw on the company. At
that time there was not a bank in North America, and funds were
transmitted by Bills of Exchange which were honored by certain merchants
in the seaport towns.
By the opening of spring in 1775, clearings had been
begun on several farms in different parts of the town, and something had
been done toward making a road which could be traveled on horseback, which
took the general course of the present highway from Wells River to Ryegate
Corner, past the Gray farm, and the east side of Blue Mountain to the
Harvey Tract in Barnet, and the few settlers who had begun to clear the
dense woods of Peacham. Considerable wheat had been sown among the stumps
and logs of the new clearings, and the next enterprise which the settlers
planned, was the building of a saw mill and a grist mill.
Mr. Whitelaw sums up the enterprise in his journal thus:
"About the beginning of January, 1775, James Whitelaw
purchased the part of Lot No. 120 in Newbury, that lies on the north side
of Wells River (which contains the great falls,) with one-half the
privilege of the river for the purpose of building mills for the company.
About which time James Henderson began to block out wood for building
The selection of the falls at Boltonville as a site for
the mills of the Ryegate colonists, was not decided upon without some
opposition which is fully set forth in Mr. Whitelaws letters to the
Company. Some of the settlers wanted the mills built in the town, and have
them placed at the outlet of the pond, contending that there was
sufficient water to run them at all times of the year. Mr. Whitelaw was
almost alone in opposition to this scheme, and it was not until several
persons of experience in building and operating mills had examined the
location, and decided that a sufficient head of water could only be
generated by the erection of an expensive dam, and a long race-way, that
the matter was settled. It was made clear that there would be water to run
the mills only two or three months in the year, but the site on
Wells-River was not decided upon without some ill feeling, which, happily,
did not last long.
At that time Wells River poured its floods over the
precipices at Boltonville in the midst of a dense forest, in solitary
grandeur, a wild and secluded spot. It was a very enterprising thing for
the few colonists of Ryegate to harness the wild stream to grind grain and
saw logs for their use.
On the 30th of May Mr. Whitelaw wrote the company as
follows: [Original among Whitelaw papers.]
I received your favor of the 27th of December, about
the 15th instant, wherein you have given orders for the building of a saw
and grist miln for the benefit of the inhabitants of Ryegate. On the 22dwe had a meeting of all the members of the company who are here, when
I read your letter, and they all unanimously signed an obligation to bear
their proportional share of whatever assessment may be found necessary for
completing the milns, and likewise have promised us as much work, gratis,
among themselves, as makes 50 days of one man, and as the people were
determined to have milns built, we got all the iron work done in winter,
and now have all the running gear finished, and expect to have it running
some time in July."
The obligation is as follows:"Ryegate, May 22, 1775.
We, the under subscribers hereby bond and oblige ourselves to pay our
proportional shares of what assessment may be found necessary for
completing a grist and saw miln for the benefit of the inhabitants of
Ryegate, which assessment we are to pay in labour at the ordinary rate of
James Whitelaw, David Ferrie, Robert Gemmel, John Shaw,
Patrick Lang, James Henderson, John Waddel, Robert Brock, Alexander
Symmes, Robert Twadle, John Gray, Archibald Taylor, John Orr, William
Neilson, James Neilson and Thomas McKeith.
Mr. Whitelaws account shows that the mill irons cost
nearly £20 sterling, does not say where they were made, but that they were
bought of Josiah Little. The first saw mill crank in Newbury, still
preserved, was drawn from Concord, N. H., on a hand sled by several men, a
feat which came near costing all their lives. But by the year 1775,
several saw mills had been built in the Coos country, and it was,
probably, a much easier task to procure the necessary equipment.
The timber for the mills was cut on the spot, and also
for a house for the miller. Both frames were raised on the same day, the
saw mill being where the mill shed now is. James Henderson, with the aids
of the other settlers, hewed and framed the timber. The water wheels and
other wooden machinery were made by John Waddel, and a blacksmith from
Haverhill set up a forge, and made nails and the necessary iron work. The
mill stones were cut from a rock in the field a little below where the
late Granville Meader long lived, and were drawn to the mill by John
Scott, for 12 shillings. The mill irons were brought from Newbury by John
G. Bayley. There is an account of "provision for the miln raising of 10s,"
and of "rum used at the saw miln £2, 14.0," by which it appears that the
workmen did not always slake their thirst with river water. The nails and
spikes used in the work cost 4s. per 100. The grist mill was set running
about the middle of August, and "performed its part very well." The saw
mill began operations about a month before. There was little grain to
grind at first, but the mill was there, and a valuable asset to the town.
For some years they were carried on by the managers,
but in 1785 the mills were leased to Ezra Currier for 51½ bush. of wheat,
who also received $18 for keeping them in repair. In that year a new flume
was built by Andrew Brock for eighty bushels of wheat. [Company Records.]
But the erection of the mills proved an embarassment to
the Company, as Mr. Whitelaws bill of exchange for £100 sterling, drawn
Feb. 17, 1776, upon William Houston & Co., maltsters in Renfrew, in favor
of Josiah Little of Newbury Port, was protested at Renfrew on the 10th of
August in that year.
As a matter of curiosity we give the bill, with its
"Newburyport, Feb. 17, 1776.
Thirty days after sight of this my first of exchange,
(my second and third of the same date and tenor being unpaid) pay to the
order of Josiah Little the sum of one hundred Pounds sterling
money, and place the same to the account of the Scots American Company of
Farmers, for value received here to their use, with or without further
advice from me.
To WILLIAM HOUSTON & Co., Maltsters in Renfrew, near
Glasgow. -Indorsed:" Pay Messrs. Lee & Jones, or Order, Josiah Little."
"Pay to Mr. Stephen Higginson or Order for account. Lee
& Jones." Pay unto the Order of Messrs. Exercaitie cel Rio & Com. value on
Account. Bilboa, June 12, 1776. STEPHEN HIGGINS0N."
The protest was based upon the claim that Mr. Whitelaw
had overdrawn his account, and had exceeded his powers, acting in a manner
contrary to a letter of instruction (not preserved) and that he had
neglected to account satisfactorily to the Company for his expenditure of
the Companys funds.
The revolutionary war was then raging, and
communication between the company at home, and their colony in Ryegate was
often interrupted, so that Whitelaws letter of explanation was long
delayed, and the colonists were left to manage their own affairs.
It would appear that the holder of the protested bill
waited patiently for his pay; probably nothing could be settled till the
war was over; and in February 1783, the debt with the interest and
charges, amounting to £159 sterling, Mr. Whitelaw by vote of the members
of the Company in Ryegate, sold to Josiah Little of Newburyport, all the
land south of Wells River, and the two "westernmost" ranges of lots from
the river north to the division line., and with the proceeds paid the
debt." [Ryegate Land Records.] This entire tract, soon conveyed to John C.
Jones of Boston, was sold in 1794 to John Cameron, and now comprises
several valuable farms.
This transaction was ratified at a meeting of the
Company at Inchinnan in August, 1783, by a vote of twenty seven to four.
Permission was also given the colonists to sell the mills if considered
best, as the Company was considerably hindered in its operation by a heavy
debt incurred in paying for the land. [Houston to Whitelaw, Sept. 26.
It would seem that a suitable purchaser did not appear
till 1791, when they were sold to Robert Brock on the 25th of September
for £125 sterling. Mr. Brock, who was father of Andrew Brock of Ryegate
and Robert Brock of Barnet, had been a miller in Scotland, and had
considerable property, came to America in 1786, carried on the mill a year
or two and seeing that the property could be greatly developed, purchased
it outright. The deed is signed by James Whitelaw, James Henderson, John
Gray, William Craig, John Orr, Josiah Page, Alexander Miller, William
Neilson, James Nelson and John Ritchie. [Newbury Land Records, Vol. II, p.
The hamlet, now called Boltonville, was first known as
"Whitelaws Mills," and, after its sale, as "Brocks Mills," or "Brocks
Falls," until the mills passed out of the Brock family. [Mr. Miller, in a
paper upon Boltonville, in the Verrnont Union, accepting Mr. Masons
statement, says that the mills were sold to Dea. Andrew Brock. But the
Whitelaw papers, the Newbury town records, and the companys journal, Show
that the sale was to his father. In the journal he is called "Old Mr.
Brock." He lived near the mill, about where Mr. Tuckers house stands. At
his death, in 1796, the mills passed into the hands of his son. He also
purchased a large tract of land between Boltonville and the Corner.]
The years which followed the close of the revolutionary
war were, in the main, prosperous ones for the settlers in the Coos
country, and the Ryegate colonists shared in the general improvement. The
country north and west began to be opened up, and the Hazen Road furnished
an avenue of approach to the fertile lands of the Lamoille Valley, and
further north. There was an increasing demand for provisions, grain and
live stock, and the settlers found a ready market for all the products of
their farms which they could spare, and several of the older settlers
began to increase their holdings of real estate. In 1782, Archibald
Taylor, James Henderson, John Scot, Robert Orr and William Neilson applied
to the managers in Scotland for leave to purchase those lots which had
been forfeited to the company. [Whitelaw to Houston.] This was granted,
and William Neilson began about that time the purchase of land in Ryegate
and elsewhere, which afterward made him very wealthy.
The abilities of James Whitelaw were not destined to be
confined to the town of Ryegate, or to be expended in discharging the
duties of manager for a company in Scotland. On the 24th of February,
1782, he was appointed by Gen. Ira Allen a commissioner to survey and lay
out towns on the Connecticut River, from the mouth of the Passumpsic to
Canada, mark the boundaries and make plans of them, and make a map of the
river from its source to the mouth of the Amonoosuc. This trust was
executed with such fidelity that upon the retirement of Gen. Allen, in
1784, he became Surveyor General, an office, at that time, of great
prominence and responsibility, resigning his position as Manager for the
Scotch American Company. He had discharged its duties with faithful-. ness
and discretion for eleven years, and appears to have had very little
friction with the colonists.
On one or two occasions, he had been provoked into
severe language at the unreasonableness of some of his associates, and
there were those in Scotland, as well, who were disposed to make trouble.
Houston and Allan, writing to him, from Renfrew, August 10, 1781, allude
to this, by saying" We are not wanting those who find fault, and they are
chiefly those who have failed to keep their agreements with the company."
Human nature in Scotland and Ryegate, in 1781, was very much as it is now.
His compensation as manager, during which time he was
also clerk, treasurer and purchasing agent, was £25 sterling per annum,
from Feb. 1, 1773 to Aug. 1, 1775. For his services he charged but £10
sterling during each of the following years and from August, 1777, to
August, 1784, the nominal sum of £5 per annum. "It is not supposed," says
Mr. Miller, "that he received anything like adequate compensation for his
services." His last entry in the treasurers book is as follows:
"RYEGATE, Aug. 23, 1784.
Settled all Accounts with the Company preceding this
date, and I owe them £0, 12, 4½, L. M.
By previous arrangement with the Company in Sotland,
William Nelson, James Henderson and Hugh Gardner were appointed managers
in his stead. The titles to the Companys lands, which had before been
held in Whitelaws name were transferred to the new managers, who
conducted its affairs with great discretion and ability.
In 1815, Hugh Gardner died, and the surviving members
conducted their trust until all the lands of the Scotch American Company
had passed into private hands, all the trusts committed to its care had
been discharged, and the Company dissolved. The last entries in the
journal are only at intervals during the final years. Up to Jan. 1, 1815,
they had sold 121 lots in the south division, receiving for them.
$4045.71. They had paid all the debts of the Company contracted in
Ryegate, made considerable expenditures, and between 1801 and 1815, had
remitted to Scotland $2274.52 and had taken up Bills of Exchange drawn by
the managers in Scotland, upon those in Ryegate, of above $1000. [Company
Records. ] This money came from the sale of land to settlers, others than
members of the Company, the proceeds of the mills, rent of Company lands,
and the profits of the mills. The managers in Scotland, as appears from
the accounts of the managers in Ryegate, purchased merchandise in Scotland
for the use of colonists, and some of it was sold to people in other
towns. Among other things mentioned are suits of broadcloth made in
Scotland for prominent men in Newbury and elsewhere. In 1782 the managers
purchased and shipped "two cases of china ware," to James Whitelaw to be
sold. Doubtless many articles from these identical consignments, are among
the treasured heirlooms of the old families of Ryegate and Barnet.
The "Scots American Company of Farmers," considered as
a corporation, was of great value to the early settlers of Ryegate, and it
is easy to discern its influence even to this day. It had a financial
standing which was of great value in those early days. The managers in
Scotland took a deep interest in the affairs of the colony, and made
special inducements to desirable families to go there and settle. It
loaned money to emigrants for their expenses on the journey; it sold them
lands on liberal terms of payment, and by the excellent management of its
affairs secured to the community a very high standing.
To its care were committed minor children in several
cases, and money was paid to the company in Scotland to be transmitted to
America for the benefit of particular persons, as in the case of Elizabeth
Todd who married James Henderson, Junior. In her behalf through the
company, as the channel of communication, between 1808 and 1822 nearly
$1200 was thus .transmitted. In another case, the minor children of one
John Paterson, it became the trustee, under his will, of a considerable
sum, to be paid them when they came of age. It was entirely independent of
the town organization, and never meddled with its ecclesiastical affairs.
For the last ten years of its existence the entries in
the Companys book are few and at longer intervals, and the final entry is
"Ryegate, 1820. Then William Neilson and James
Henderson examining all the Companys Books and Accounts and having paid
to all their just dues, there Remains a small sum of Bad Debts that cannot
be easily collected, which we have taken for the Reward of our Services.
Thus ended this singular organization, which had
existed nearly fifty years, and whose affairs, on both sides of the sea,
had been conducted with wisdom and fidelity. It is to its wisdom in the
selection of colonists that Ryegate owes the happy circumstance that its
inhabitants were, until recent years, nearly all of the Scottish race. The
present inhabitants of Ryegate know very little indeed of this
association, and it is fortunate that its records and much of the
correspondence came to light just in time for its history to find a place
in this volume. At the time of its dissolution few were living who signed
the Articles of Copartnership at Inchinnan in 1772. It is not known that
any memorial of the. Company is in existence in Scotland.
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