Many hands have contributed to this
history of Ryegate. In one sense General James Whitelaw, the founder of
the town, was also its historian. To his journals and correspondence we
owe our acquaintance with its earlier years. The towns and session records
are our authorities for the events which they record. The records and
personal sketches collected by Mr. George Mason during several years are a
mine of information concerning its families and the events of its first
century. He began about 1855 and continued during several years, the
collection of such data from the oldest people of Ryegate and Barnet,
hoping to publish them. But his death found the projected work not yet
attempted, and the collections of years were in a fair way to be scattered
In fact they were about to be
burned, when, fortunately for us, they were rescued and purchased by Mr.
Edward Miller who was well qualified to complete the work for which Mr.
Mason had left abundant materials. Mr. Miller knew Ryegate thoroughly. His
entire life had been spent here, and under his shrewd observation had
passed several generations of its people. As a school master he had known
its families; as a town officer he knew its business affairs, and as a
member of one of the churches he was familiar with its religious history.
It was his aim and hope to prepare, as the crowning work of his life, a
history of his native town. It was a labor of love with him to collect the
materials for the work and to this end he devoted all the time he could
spare. He published from time to time in various newspapers of the county
sketches of families and of persons which are noteworthy for their graphic
style, their racy idioms, and the personal sympathy with which they are
But Mr. Miller was a very busy man,
and could spare but a small part of his time to the task, and failing
health compelled him to relinquish the work before he had begun to arrange
his collections in suitable form for publication. It was his regret, as it
must be of every reader of this volume, that he had not laid everything
else aside, and completed his work while he had health and strength to do
I\ii. Miller had followed no system
of arrangement, nor had he yet classified his collections, and his records
and memoranda, scattered through a score of manuscript volumes, diaries,
scrap-books and loose sheets of paper, presented a formidable task to the
present editor. Of the historical part of his work he had not written out
any, there were many families whose records he had not yet secured; and of
his collections much was unavailable for the present purpose. It has been
no light task to select from such a quantity of material the portions
which should be used in this work, to supply omissions, to verify
statements, collect additional data, and bring the whole down to date.
The full value and effect of what he
accomplished historically, cannot be easily measured; but, unquestionably,
without it, there would not now be published any history of the town.
Unlimited use of all the Mason and Miller records was relinquished for
this history by Mr. Millerís family withoutíremuneration. Such an
opportunity rarely comes, and that was a vital factor in at length
securing favorable action by the town.
Others besides Mr. Miller and Mr.
Mason have written about the early history of the town, but a very
important part of that history was entirely lacking. No one knew anything
about the relations between the managers of
the Company in Scotland and their
agents in Ryegate subsequent to the purchase of the south half of the town
by Whitelaw and Allan, and there seemed no way of supplying the
deficiency. But the unexpected discovery by the editor among the Whitelaw
papers of the original correspondence between Mr. Whitelaw and the
officers of the Company, the original Journal of Proceedings, the account
books and much other important matter, more than supplied what was
lacking, but greatly increased the labor of preparation. The Henderson
papers also gave much needed information, some manuscripts owned by the
Vt. Historical Society, and the Johnson papers at Newbury add to our
knowledge of early days.
Apparently no one knew or even as
yet suspected that all this material existed. Few towns have such a mine
of information waitiflg to be explored as Ryegate had. The editorís task
has been one of selection, rejection and condensation. It was at first
supposed that the historical part of the work would be covered in a
hundred pages. But all this additional matter rendered double that space
necessary, and more than doubled the labor of preparing it.
The call for data to complete the
volume brought forth an immense amount of new material, and hundreds of
persons, both in Ryegate and wherever Ryegate people have gone have most
gladly lent their aid to the work which should preserve the memory of the
sons and daughters of the town. It has been no small task to condense the
proffered data within the limits of a single volume.
The glory of Ryegate is in the men
and women whom it has produced or who have descended from its early
families. A sturdy race were those Scotchmen in Yankee-land who subdued
the wilderness, covered the hills with fruitful farms and planted there
the church and the school. Many of their children have scattered to
distant states. But they have carried with them the principles which they
were taught in the family and the Sabbath ministrations. The group of
Scotch Presbyterian churches in this part of New England has spread far
and wide the truths handed down from the days of the reformation in
Scotland. In Barnet Rev. David Goodwillie and his son and successor filled
the pulpit of the Associate church for the long period of seventy-four
years, and their influence will be felt for a century to come.
Our neighboring town of Topsham has
sent into the world a number of men who became very eminent, and with one
or two exceptions they all came from families which sat under the ministry
of Revís. James Milligan, William Sloane, or N. R. Johnston. This volume
tries to show what Ryegate and its people have been and are, and to
preserve in accessible form the records of its families. That there has
been evil mingled with the good it were idle to deny. But the good has far
surpassed the evil, and these pages will preserve the memory of many noble
men and women whose names would otherwise pass into oblivion.
It has been an honorable task to
prepare this history, and complete, however imperfectly, the work which
Mr. Miller so nobly began. In its preparation the editor has made many
friendships which lie hopes to retain, and expresses the wish that he has
given some degree of satisfaction.
The editor returns his thanks to the
committee and to all those of Ryegate or of Ryegate ancestry who have
contributed to this work. The thanks of the town are due to the librarian
and assistants of the Boston Public Library; the New England
Historic-Genealogical Society; the N. H. State Library; the N. H.
Historical Society; to the librarian and assistants of the Vt. State
Library and the Vt. Historical Society, and to the librarian and trustees
of the Tenney Memorial Library of Newbury for the use of its valuable
Attention is called to the appendix
for corrections and for much valuable matter which came too late for
insertion in its proper place.
FREDERIC P. WELLS.
NEWBURY, VT., Jan. 20, 1913.
ACTION OF THE TOWN AND COMMITTEE
REGARDING THIS WORK.
For some years after Mr. Millerís
death his collections remained untouched and in danger of possible
destruction by fire or accident. There was a general wish that his work
should be completed if a way could be opened, and it was thought best by
those interested to bring the matter before the town. The annual
town meeting in March, 1903, dismissed an article "To see if the
town will publish a history," and nothing more was done for three years.
But the desire for the work took assured form in the March meeting for
1906, when a committee of 27 was chosen "to investigate and report in
regard to the matter of a Town History."
This committee met at the town house
on March 20th when Mr. George Cochran was made chairman, and Mr. Wm. N.
Gilfillan, secretary. Messrs. Hermon Miller, A. M. Whitelaw and Q. A.
Whitehill were chosen an executive committee, the chairman and secretary
of the general committee to act as members ex-officio.
"This committee to have charge of
preparing a history of the town, and to report from time to time to the
general committee which is to meet at the call of the chairman." Six
meetings of the general committee were held, and many of the executive
The report of the general committee
was made to the town on March 5, 1907. They recommended that
vacancies he filled by vote of the committee, and that the selectmen be
authorized to act with the four members, and that they be authorized to
draw orders for $1,000, to defray the expense of preparing and publishing
a history of the town "on condition that the general committee guarantee
sales of the work to the amount of $500 to be paid to the town
treasurer within one year after the history is published." This vote was
accepted and adopted with but one vote in opposition.
Mr. F. P. Wells of Newbury was secured to compile and
arrange material for the work. A committee of ten, one from each school
district, was chosen to canvass for subscribers and to secure promises for
sketches from their families.
This committee reported on Sept. 21st to the general
committee, and after free discussion it was voted to guarantee the sale of
books to the amount of $500 "to the satisfaction of the selectmen." On
Oct. 10th a contract was made with Mr. Wells to prepare the work.
On May 26, 1909, a contract was made with The
Caledonian Co., of St. Johnsbury to print the history. Soon after this the
publishing company changed hands, and subsequently many delays have
resulted to the disappointment of all concerned. Yet the delay has given
more time to collect material for the work, much additional data and many
records were secured, the work will be much more complete, cost more, be
worth more and the delay be justified in the end.
A full report has been rendered to the town at each
annual meeting. More funds being necessary to complete the history, the
town by a unanimous vote authorized $1,000 additional at the annual
meeting of 1912.
There has been an earnest effort to secure a complete
history down to date. The people here have been urged to prepare family
records, and every one has been welcomed to a place in the work.
The committee believed that the pioneers of the town
and their direct descendants should have preference in illustrations. This
has been a difficult matter to adjust and do justice to all. Most of the
original settlers are represented but only a few of the present generation
appear. It has been the sincere wish of the committee to make the history
a credit to the town, and helpful to every citizen.
IN BEHALF OF THE COMMITTEE,
W. N. GILFILLAN.
RYEGATE, Jan. 20, 1913.