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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter IX


THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR.—THE POST OF DANGER.—THE HAZEN R0AD.—ITS GENERAL COURSE. - ITS CONSTRUCTION BEGUN BY GENERAL BAYLEY, AND ABANDONED.—PLANS FOR INVASION OF CANADA.—THE ROAD COMPLETED TO WESTFIELD.-WHY ABANDONED —ANOTHER INVASION OF CANADA CONTEMPLATED.—THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY.—STUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF THE MILITARY ROAD.

Ryegate colonists had hardly erected a few log cabins in different parts of the town, and begun to clear the land about them, when the storm of the revolutionary war burst upon the country. This was very unfortunate for our people, not only that their situation on the frontier exposed them to danger, and continued alarms kept the people in constant anxiety, but the war retarded the growth of the settlement, and suspended during several years, the emigration from Scotland, which might have become quite large. The war also made all communication between the colonists and their friends in Scotland, infrequent and hazardous, and led, as we have seen, to some misunderstandings between the managers in Ryegate and the officers of the company at home.

It had been the intention of the Company’s leading men in Scotland, as we are informed by the letters of their officers to Mr. Whitelaw, to expend considerable money on their lands in Ryegate, clearing farms and erecting buildings, which were to be sold to persons from that country who were able to pay for such improvements. If this had come to pass, and these letters show that many men of means had decided thus to come, and take possession of farms already cleared for them, much money would have been brought into the town, and its increase in wealth and population would have been very rapid. But the war changed all this, and instead of a season of prosperity, the colonists found themselves in imminent danger of being swept out of existence by the tide of war.

It was evident that in the event of a war between Great Britain and her colonies, Canada would be made a base of military operations, and an invasion of New England from that quarter would be expected. There were many reasons why such an invasion would take the Connecticut valley in its course. The industry of its inhabitants had turned it into fruitful farms, with flocks and herds in great numbers, on which an invading army might subsist while gathering for an attack on the rear of New England, and the Indian trails which led to Canada and to Lake Champlain could be utilized as routes for an army, and made passable for a military advance.

Should such an invasion be made, the Ryegate settlers would be in its path, and upon them the blow would first fall. Yet there seems to have been no talk of abandoning the enterprise, the work of subduing the wilderness went steadily on, and in spite of alarms and military service, new families came in, farms were cleared, and people were born, married and died all through the seven years the war lasted.

Cut off as they were from aid, which had not the war come on, they would have had from Scotland, they relied for protection upon their neighbors at Newbury. There were in that town and Haverhill at that time, several men whose ability and military experience were to prove a tower of strength to the whole valley, and by whose sagacity and energy the northern frontier of New England was destined to be protected.

The chief of these was Jacob Bayley, who had served with great reputation in the late war, and had been the leading spirit in the settlement of Newbury and Haverhill. His name is justly venerated throughout this valley, and he was alike redistinguished for his talents, his patriotism, and his piety. He sacrificed a large estate in behalf of his country; his influence over the Indians preserved the settlements from danger; and it was mainly by his instrumentality that the ranger system was established in the wilderness. Of this we shall speak later. There were others, Col. Thomas Johnson, Col. Jacob Kent, Col. Frye Bayley, Col. Robert Johnston of Newbury and his brother Charles at Haverhill, and Col. Bedel of the latter place. These were men of great fame in their time.

In the winter of 1775-’76 an American force invaded Canada in two divisions, one by Lake Champlain, and the other, with great hardship and suffering, by the way of Kennebec River. This invasion seemed for a time to promise success, but the American troops were repulsed, and all the advantage gained was soon lost. It had been expected that upon the appearance of an American army, the Canadians would throw off the British yoke and join the movement for independence. But they remained passive; the army in Canada was forced to retire, and it was necessary to send troops to protect their retreat. The first regiments were sent by way of Lake Champlain, but another and easier route was made through the eastern part of this state, whose beginning is described in a letter written by Col. Thomas Johnson to Major Caleb Stark, dated April 20, 1804, recommending a route for the contemplated stage line between Boston and Montreal.

"At the time General Montgomery had his defeat at Quebec, troops were wanted to send into Canada the easiest and safest way possible. General Wash inquired which way he could send them with the greatest possible depatch. General Bayley happening to be in the way informed him that they might go more safely by way of Coos and the Missisco Bay at that season of the year. After part of the men had marched, Gen. Washington sent counter orders for what men had not marched to march by Missisco. At the same time for one man who could be depended upon, to go forward with two or three men with him to make a track and when troops had got into Canada, for that man to return, and make a report of the time and points of compass. I took that fatiguing duty upon myself. We went from here the 26th of March, were four days from this place to Missisco Bay, and one more to St. Johns. The rivers and lakes were breaking up. The troops got in well, and those that had gone from this river by Lake Champlain ten days sooner, were only arriving when I got in." [Original among the Johnson papers owned by T. C. Keyes at Newbury.]

Indian Joe is believed to have been their guide. Frye Bayley, John McLean, Abial and Silas Chamberlin were of the party, and the journal of the expedition is as follows:

"Tuesday, March 26. Set out from Newbury, lodged with the last inhabitant, waited half a day for the rest of the soldiers to come up, good land for a road. Wed. 27. Marched ten miles, good country. Thurs. 28. Marched twelve miles, good land for a road, except three miles. Saturday 30. Marched fifteen miles, good country for a road except about two miles. Sunday 31. Marched ten miles to Mr. Metcalf’s, good country, waited half a day for the rear. Monday, April 1. Marched twenty-five miles to St. Johns. Tuesday 2. Tarried at St. Johns. Wednesday 3. Returned to Mr. Metcalf’s. Thursday 4. Tarried for the rear. 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th returned home. Distance from Newbury to St. Johns 92 miles."

Along the trail thus located, several regiments passed to Canada on snow shoes.

The fact being determined that troops could be sent into Canada some days sooner by this than by any other route, led the Continental authorities to attempt the construction of a military road from Newbury to St. Johns, along the general course of the great Indian trail, which Johnson had followed. Major James Wilkinson was the engineer appointed to locate the military route, since known as the Hazen Road, and he carried the survey in a course as nearly straight as the inequalities of the ground permitted, from Newbury to Canada. Any one who will take the trouble to look south along this ancient highway from the top of the hill at the Gray farm, as it stretches with undeviating precision over hill and valley, will be impressed by its difference from any other road in this part of the country. The surveys, now understood to be in the possession of the War Department at Washington, were, in general, the work of Major Wilkinson, but many of the details were wrought out by James Whitelaw. The present highway in Ryegate, from Wells River through the central part of the town to Barnet line, follows, except for a short distance, the line of the old military road. It went in a straight course through the farm now owned by Hermon Miller and the Henderson farm past the buildings. The road from the Henderson farmhouse north toward the Corner, is along the military road.

The survey of the Boston and Montreal turnpike, still preserved at Montpelier, made by General Whitelaw in 1809, is understood to follow, with few deviations, the Hazen Road from Newbury to Canada line, and affords some details to add to our knowledge of the route. This survey began in Wells River village, at the corner near the residence of the late Col. Erastus Baldwin, from which it is five miles to a point in the road a few feet beyond the store at Ryegate Corner, four miles more taking it to Barnet line. Just beyond the Walter Harvey Meeting house the Hazen Road is the one which makes the sharp turn up the hill to the left, passing behind Harvey’s Mountain to Peacham Corner, fourteen miles from the starting point.

From Peacham it passed, apparently, through the extreme southwest part of Danville into Cabot. In this latter town the road has been altered, and its precise location is somewhat obscure. It passed over Cabot plain, between Joe’s and Molly’s Ponds into Walden, where it went through the southwest part of the town, entering Hardwick, and descending a fearfully steep hill to the Lamoille River, a distance of twenty-eight and one-half miles from Wells River. Crossing the river it passed through Hardwick Street, and thence into Greensboro between Caspian Lake and Ely’s Pond, to Craftsbury Common. It went thence west of Hosmer Pond, climbing the east side of Lowell Mountain by a rugged road along the mountain side to its summit, whence it descends to Lowell Village. It then took the course west of Walker’s Pond, through the southwest part of Westfield to the summit of a notch in Westfield Mountain, fifty-four miles from where it began. There has been some question as to where the Hazen Road properly begins. This point is easily decided. Gen. Hazen gives the terminus of the road at the Notch as stated above, while the turnpike survey which began where the Rye-gate road turns from the river road in Wells River village, to the same point gives the same distance. Consequently the Hazen Road begins at Wells River. For the first few miles it probably followed the road which the settlers had made to their lands. The bridge across Wells River was a few rods above where it is now, at that time.

There has been, also, some doubt as to which of several roads in Orleans County follows the line of the old military road, but Thompson’s Gazetteer, published in 1824, says: "The present road from Peacham to Kellyvale, (Lowell) occupies the same ground over which the Hazen Road passed."

When we consider that the road was built one hundred and thirty years ago, before a town was chartered, or a settlement made, north of Peacham, and that the whole region was an unbroken wilderness, it is no wonder that the precise location of a few short sections should be obscure. The surveyors followed the general course of the Indian trail, knowing that they invariably chose the best location for their forest paths.

In June, 1776, General Bayley began the work, and sent sixty men with teams to cut trees, and construct the road, which was made wide enough to permit the passage of carts, to a point just over the Cabot line, where it was discontinued, on report of the capture of St. Johns and that troops were coming to destroy the settlement. It is not now believed that any such force was at hand, but that the alarm was contrived by the tories to frighten people, and stop the building of the road. It succeeded so well that no further work was done upon it for two years.

Another very urgent reason may have hastened the abandonment. In a letter written by General Bayley to the Provincial Congress, Feb. 26, 1777, he says:

"I had in pay 60 men from the 1st of July to the 10th of September at ten dollars per month, and supplied them, which were the only soldiers in this quarter. During this time I was desired by committees of this and Neighboring states to do this service (they were men I had hired to make the road to Canada). I must desire you to consider my Case, and grant me relief by paying me the roll offered you by my clerk, Mr. William Wallace—as I cannot do justice to the American cause without. The militia are now on their march from this County. I am obliged to advance Marching Money, and I am,

Gentlemen, your most obedient humble servant,

JACOB BAYLEY." [Documentary History of New York, I., 691.]

It seems probable from this letter, that this section of the road was constructed at General Bayley’s expense, and it is very probable, also, that he was never repaid, at least in full. It would seem that his name should have been given to it, instead of General Hazen’s. The latter only constructed a part of it, and not, probably, at his own cost. It has been proposed to call it the Bayley-Hazen road, and this would be no more than restoring the honor to him who deserves it most.

But he continued to believe that there would be no peace along the frontier, as long as the tories were sustained by the hope of help from Canada, and his scouts brought him information that if a force was sent thither, sufficient to insure protection, the inhabitants would throw off the British yoke. In the summer of 1778, preparations were made for another invasion of Canada. Great quantities of military stores were collected at Haverhill and Newbury, and many men were enlisted for the service.

On the 13th of July, 1778, General Bayley wrote from Newbury to General Gates, as follows:

"Col. Hazen arrived here last evening, and has communicated to me what his business is respecting a land road into Canada, together with what provision may be had here. It is my opinion, by the many observations I have made of the country between this place and Canada, that it is very practicable. I have once, by Major James Wilkinson, surveyed a road from this place to St. Johns, which is marked and good at 95 miles; the same is made about thirty miles, the rest is well marked. * * * I have not the least doubt hut six or eight, or ten thousand bushels of wheat can be purchased in this quarter, and beef in plenty; as for forage, if wanted, I will supply from my farm 100 tons of hay, etc. Should an expedition into Canada be undertaken (if wanted), I will assist, and I should think myself happy to serve another successful campaign, with your Honor, which, I doubt not, but another into Canada would be.

JACOB BAYLEY." [N. H. State Papers]

It will be seen, by this, that another invasion of Canada was being planned, and it was decided to complete the road, which Bayley had begun, and General Moses Hazen was ordered to move his military stores to Peacham. He accordingly made requisition upon the selectmen of the river towns to provide teams for the purpose. A large portion of Bedel’s regiment, which had seen much service, and Whitcomb’s rangers were ordered to Peacham to begin the construction of the road. It began in May, 1779, and was continued till the end of August. A block house was erected at Peacham, as a base of operations, and as the work progressed, one was erected in Cabot, another in Walden, and a third in Greensboro. Wells were dug at various points, swamps were bridged with logs, and the whole made passable for teams. General Hazen encamped for some time on the present site of Lowell village, and the place was called by him, "The Camp at the End of the Road," although its actual terminus is some miles further on.

NOTE. The biography of Major (afterwards General) James Wilkinson, makes no mention of this survey, but he was with the army in Canada, and on detached service connected with it at the time, some of this survey may have been connected with this enterprise.

Work on the military road was discontinued about the last of August, 1779, and all the men and teams employed in its construction were withdrawn. Garrisons were maintained at the block-houses at intervals while the war lasted. During the summer of 1781, Capt. Nehemiah Lovewell of Newbury was stationed at Peacham with his company. In September, four men, Constant Bliss of Thetford, Moses Sleeper of Newbury, Nehemiah Martin of Bradford, and Nahum Powers, were sent by him to take possession of the block-house in Greensboro. In an unguarded moment, while at some distance from the building, they were attacked by Indians. Bliss and Sleeper were killed, and the others carried to Canada. General Hazen [Moses Hazen was born at Haverhill. Mass., June 1, 1733, and served with great distinction in the French war, after which he settled near St. Johns, and was a wealthy man. He espoused the American cause, rendered efficient service, and was made a Brigadier General in 1777. After the war he settled near Troy, N. V., where he died in 1803. He was a brother of Capt. John Hazen of Haverhill, who died before the war.] also camped a few weeks on Cabot plain and fortified a hill or elevation near it. One summer, probably 1781, or 1782, two companies of Continental troops were encamped on the Gray farm in Ryegate. They were short of provisions, and stole some of Mr. Gray’s potatoes. The good man protested to the commanding officer, but was only told that "Hunger will break through a stone wall."

Considerable mystery attends the building of the Hazen Road, and we are not able to shed much light upon the disputed points. After all that has been written about it we are not certain why it was constructed, or by whose orders, and why, being built nearly to Canada line, it was so suddenly abandoned. General Hazen, writing from his camp in what is now Lowell village, under date of August 24, 1779, announces to Colonel Bedel, his determination to put an end to the work by the next Saturday night, as if it was his personal affair, and he was at liberty to discontinue it when he chose. Yet it is certain that its construction and progress were well known to General Gates, and other high officers in the American army.

Note.

State of Vermont,

To Nahum Powers, Dr.

To sundry articles taken from him by the savages in the month of August, 1781, when he was taken prisoner from Capt. Nehemiah Lovewell Company and Col. Waits regiment as follows :—viz.—

To one Gun 72/- Powder horn 6/- 3.18.0
Straps and Bullet pouch 6/- 6.0
One Heaver hat 52/- One frock 12/- 3. 4.0
One pair shoes 12/- Buckles 6/- 18.0
Knapsack and belt 6/- Jacknife 3/- 9.0
One Blanket 18/- 18.0
Total 9. 13.0

To his wages from the 24th of Nov. unto the 22d day of June, 1782, when he was in captivity, after the term of his enlistment was out, being 7 months saving ten days at 40/- per month is near, 14.00.0

True account, Errors Excepted, pr me, 23.13.0

NAHUM POWERS.

Asserted by me, Nehemiah Lovewell. Capt’n.
(Original at Montpelier)

It has been thought that an invasion of Canada had been planned, and that the road was constructed to provide a quick and easy passage for an army with artillery and supplies. The further conjecture follows, that the abandonment, at least temporarily, of the plan, led to the discontinuance of work upon the road. Others have considered the work as done merely to deceive the Canadian authorities into the belief that such an invasion was about to be made, and thus prevent them from sending troops from Canada to reinforce the army around New York. As far as we can perceive, it was abandoned for the reason that Hazen’s scouts gave warning that Indians and small detachments of Canadian militia were lurking in the woods, and that he feared being captured. On his retreat he sent out flanking parties to scour the woods on each side, but was not molested.

We are not informed as to the number of men employed in its construction, but the force of workmen must have been large, to have accomplished such a work in so short a time. During its progress supplies were daily sent from Newbury and Haverhill under convoy of a strong guard, and that part of it which lay in Ryegate, must have been a very busy thoroughfare for some time.

A number of letters, too long to give here, are preserved in what are known as the "Bedel Papers," and the "Hibbard Collection," owned by the New Hampshire Historical Society, and published in Vols. XIV., XV., XVI., and XVII., of the N. H. State Papers.

In 1780, another invasion of Canada was contemplated, as appears from the following letters, which are preserved among the Little papers at Newburyport, and which, it is believed, have never before been published:

"Col. Moses Hazen, by Command of General Washington to Brigadier Gen’l.

Bayley at Coos, (Public Service)

Dear Sir :— The Commander-in-chief approves of your sending parties into Canada, for

intelligence, and I have it in Command from him to desire you will continue your inquiries in such manner as you may judge necessary to obtain the certain and authentic information of the enemy’s strength and position in Canada, the Gen’l. officers in that country, the different corps and by whom commanded, the general disposition of the people, and the laws by which they are governed, the situation of the country in respect to provisions, and the present crops of grain and hay. If any, what re-inforcements have arrived in the country, (Canada), since last year, and any and all matters which you may think necessary.

This will be to you a sufficient authority.

I am yours, &c.,

MOSES HAZEN.

N. B. Also what ships of war, transports and Merchant ships are in the River St. Lawrence.

Brig-Gen. Bayley.

The following letter is without address, but is believed to have been written to Colonel Moses Little, who was then at Newbury, or to General Bayley.

CAMP NEAR MORRISTOWN, 15 June, 1780.

Dr. Sir :—Together with this you have a public letter which will enable you to charge any and all expenses which you have or may be at, in obtaining intelligence from Canada. I thought it best to bring James (?) to this place in order to have it in my power the sooner to advise you of the reception our matters met with in this place.

The General (Washington), appears pleased with the measures taken and the probability of securing the grain and has ordered that the magazine of beef at Charlestown be not removed, but remain for the present in that place.

The French fleet is not expected before the end of the month. The Marquis (Lafayette), is warm for what we wish, measures are being taken to accomplish this. But such is our feeble situation in this quarter, that time and circumstances must determine our future operations.

I hope you will secure the grain, as that will be a great point gained. There is a late resolution of Congress respecting, as I am informed, the protection of your country; what it is I do not know; it shall be forwarded as soon as I lay hands on it. Upon the whole, I have the strongest hopes of success in our wishes, yet they are not without some well grounded fears that the enterprise will not be undertaken. If it should be, by what I can learn, it will be a most formidable plan.

The commander-in-chief is steady to the point. Schuyler is deely interested in

it. Much depends upon the information you obtain from Canada. Pray let this supply your whole time and attention. You must settle a constant patrol. so as to have news from Canada every ten days, at least, which transmit to headquarters, writing me a line at the same time.

I have ordered Boileau-Lagrande to transport themselves from Albany to Coos, and put themselves under your command. It is possible that Gaseline may be sent off to you by some other route in a few days.

The enemy hath hitherto had such a force in the Jerseys as has made it imprudent for the Gen’l. to act on the offensive, a disagreeable circumstance for him to be under, more especially as Charleston is lost, our southern army prisoners of war. Cornwallis is advancing toward N. Carolina, and Gen. Clinton, with a great part of the army, on the way to return to New York. But "what-ever is, is right;" we shall be free, and I hope end the campaign successfully.

All these matters keep to yourself, as they ought not, nay, must not, go abroad.

In conjunction with Col. Bedel, I beg you will plant a few potatoes, sow a little turnip seed and grass seed and a few handfulls of oats on the cleared land at the Blockhouses. You know what I mean by it. A word to the wise, etc., &c. Please to communicate the contents to Col. Bedel, and believe me,

Dear Sir, yours most sincerely,

MOSES HAZEN.
[These letters were procured for the editor by the late Hon. Benjamin Hale of Newburyport. ]
 

It certainly appears by these letters, that an expedition was seriously considered at headquarters, for which preparations were about to begin, and this invasion was to be made by way of the Connecticut valley and the Hazen Road.

Some allusions in these letters need explanation, in regard to securing the grain, etc.: By 1780 the Coos Country had become so productive as to export great quantities of wheat and other grain. In case of an invasion of Canada by an army, passing through the valley, all the grain, which could be gathered, would he needed for its support, and active measures were taken in the river towns to prevent its being carried away. At a town meeting duly warned in Newbury, Feb. 4, 1780, "To see what measures should be taken to prevent the grain being sent out of the place," a committee was chosen to act with a committee of Haverhill, to take "effectual measures" to that end. The Haverhill records show corresponding action.

But whatever may have been contemplated, the march of events was not in the direction of the Canadian frontier. In September the treason of Arnold came to light, and the future events of the war were in the south.

Another sentence in the second letter, in which Hazen suggests planting and sowing around the blockhouses, relates to a claim which these men intended to make to some of the ungranted lands in the north part of the state. Peacham was chartered in 1763, but Walden, Cabot, Hard-wick, Greensboro and the other towns along the road were not granted till after the war. Col. Moses Little was a large land holder, and portions of his lands in Newbury are still owned by his descendants in that town. A space around each blockhouse was cleared of trees and by raising a crop, however small, a claim might be set up to a section of land.

It is not quite true, as has been sometimes stated, that the Hazen Road was never of any use from a military point of view. It had a strategetic value during the last years of the war, as it lay, an open route for the American forces, which could be utilized to strike a blow upon the enemy in Canada. It gave also to the ranger service along the frontier, a direct route to the danger points in the wilderness upon which a constant watch was kept during the war. The safety of New England demanded the protection of its northern frontier, and a system of patrols kept the authorities informed of the enemy’s movements. Companies of soldiers were stationed in the Coos Country and along the Hazen road to guard the frontier, and these measures were fairly successful.

But in spite of all precautions, from the beginning of the war to its close, the Coos country, and the Ryegate settlers as well, were kept in constant alarm, and with good reason. In 1780, houses were burned in Peacham along the Hazen Road, and their occupants carried to Canada. In August a party of Indians came into Barnard, and carried off three men. In October, Capt. Nehemiah Lovewell of Newbury, who was sta

tioned with part of his company at Peacham to guard the Hazen Road, was with a small scout near the Lamoille River, when they discovered a force of three hundred British and Indians making their way south through the woods. He sent men to warn the country, all the militia north of Charlestown turned out, and the invaders, who had intended to destroy Newbury, turned aside and burned Royalton. This was called the "Great Alarm."

In March, 1781, Col. Thomas Johnson of Newbury, who had contracted with James Bailey of Peacham, to build a grist mill in that place, went there with Josiah and Jacob Page, and two ox teams with the mill stones. They stayed over night with John Orr in Ryegate, and the next night put up with Dea. Jonathan Elkins in Peacham, where Ellery McLaughlin now lives. In the night the house was surrounded by British and tories. Johnson, Jacob Page and Jonathan Elkins Jr., were taken prisoners, and carried to. Canada. The capture of such a prominent man as Col. Johnson indicated the ever-present danger of the inhabitants, and it had a great influence upon local history till the end of the war, and long after.

Several attempts were made to capture General Jacob Bayley of Newbury. On the 15th of June, 1782, a force of eighteen men surprised his house, but he had been warned, and escaped to Haverhill. One man, Ezra Gates, was wounded in the affray. We mention these events to show the dangerous position in which Ryegate people found themselves placed.

The Hazen Road was an important factor in the settlement of the north part of the state, as it was the first road, and for many years the only one, in what are now Lamoille and Orleans counties. The first clearings were made along its course, and from it as a trunk line roads extended east and west. Settlers found by it a ready ingress to their new homes, and by its use, the settlement of that part of the state was hastened by several years. Among the first to seek homes there, were some of the men who had been employed upon it, and had learned the value of the land. The block-houses which had been erected for defense and protection in war, were turned to useful purposes in days of peace. In the block-house in Walden was held the first preaching service and the first school; it was temporarily occupied by several families, and in it was born the first white child in that town.

It became the first stage road between Boston and Montreal, and for nearly its entire length it is still in constant use, and one of the landmarks of the state. It was built by the sacrifices of patriots who gave their property and pledged their credit to build this road for the defense of the country.

On the 21st of August, 1903, a granite tablet, suitably inscribed, was erected to mark the terminus of the road at Hazen’s Notch, in Westfield, and a large audience listened to a carefully prepared address by Hon. F. W. Baldwin, who has kindly allowed its use in preparing this chapter. This monument, erected under the auspices of the Orleans County Historical Society, should be followed by the placing of others marking the entire course of this historic road, the location of its block-houses, and other sites.

The survey and outline maps of the towns north of Barnet, preserved in the office of the Secretary of State, at Montpelier, give the correct location of the Hazen Road.


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