Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter X



IN the last chapter we spoke of certain events of the revolutionary war which affected Ryegate to some extent, and in the present one we will consider the part which the inhabitants themselves, or some of them, took in the great struggle.

Some surprise has been expressed that the colonists of Ryegate and Barnet, only lately from Great Britain, should at once have adopted the views of the American patriots, when we might expect them to have adhered to the British cause. But the Whitelaw correspondence shows that the colonists were from that large class of thoughtful men in Scotland, whose experience of class rule, and whose sober judgment led them to view with apprehension the encroachments of the crown and to sympathize with the rebels in America. This class of citizens, which was much larger than we generally suppose, was influential enough in the beginning of the struggle to offer considerable opposition to the measures of Government. This party steadily increased in numbers and influence as the war went on, until its representation in parliament became numerous enough to refuse further supplies for carrying on the war.

Dr. Witherspoon, himself one of the leaders in the patriot cause and interested in the welfare of the Ryegate settlers, set before them, not alone by letters, but by personal visits and addresses, the advantages of independence.

There can be but little doubt but that the views of our colonists fresh from Great Britain, with personal knowledge of the evils of the administration of George III, had their influence with their American neighbors. The latter held their Scotch compatriots in high esteem, and the Bayley and Johnson papers preserved at Newbury, record the confidence which was felt in the judgment and experience of Col. Alexander Barvey of Barnet. So far as our information extends, there was not a tory among the Scotch settlers of either town.

The old colonial laws required military duty of all able bodied men. Accordingly Mr. Whitelaw tells us that "on the 14th of May, 1776, the inhabitants met in order to choose military officers, and chose James Henderson, captain; Robert Brock, lieutenant, and Bartholemew Somers, ensign."

No roll of this company has come to light, but it probably included some non-residents who were at work there, clearing land. In May, 1775, a company of minute-men was formed at Newbury, and the muster-roll includes several men who lived in the east part of Barnet, but none from Ryegate, so we may conclude that there were men enough in the town to form a company, but how they were armed we are not informed. In Bath the first military company mustered only a few guns, and most of the men carried cornstalks at drill, to deceive the Indians, and that at all times the enemy was near, and lurking in the woods, few doubted. But the colonists were almost without means of defense. Col. Harvey wrote to General Bayley urging that if it were possible, some powder and flints should be sent the settlers in Barnet, as he doubted if there was a pound of powder in the town. A few weeks later, he gratefully acknowledged the receipt of two pounds of powder and fifty flints from the Newbury stock.

The whole northern country was in a state of anxious suspense during the spring of 1776, rumors of invasion increased, and the defeat of the army in Canada rendered the position of the Coos country very hazardous. On the 18th of June, St. Johns was retaken by the British, and on the 24th of June the Committees of Safety from all the towns in the valley met at General Bayley’s house in Newbury to concert measures for the safety of the country. It was decided to send messengers to warn all the settlers along the frontier. Mr. Whitelaw tells the result in Ryegate, thus:

"On the first of July, upon the alarm coming of St. Johns being retaken by the Regulars, and that Indians would be sent through to lay waste the country, all the people of Ryegate moved down to Newbury, where they had more company and foolishly thought there was less danger, but after staying there about ten days, and seeing no appearance of danger, they all returned to their respective homes."

William Neilson was the only one of the colonists who stood his ground. Mr. Mason says that he was returning from Newbury, with a bag of meal on his back, when he met the Ryegate and Barnet people as they were going down the hill north of Wells River, men, women and children. He accompanied his family to Newbury, where he spent one night, and then declaring that he had "not come all the way from Scotland to be driven off his land," returned to his cabin. The afternoon was spent in concealing his valuables—hiding his silver, it is said, under hills of potatoes—he barricaded his cabin, loaded his pistols, and went to bed, expecting to be aroused by the attack of the Indians. The sun was

an hour high when he awoke, the morning was beautiful, and no appearance of the savage enemy was to be seen. Neilson remained alone in his cabin till the people returned from Newbury, but afterwards declared that the suspense, with no one within many miles, in momentary expectation of attack, was an experience which he would never repeat.

As a matter of fact, a small number of Canadians followed the trail to the borders of Peacham, but ventured no further. The tories, of whom there were numbers in Haverhill and Newbury, seized the occasion to create a panic.

The year 1777 was one of anxiety and stress to the colonies, as the government of Great Britain had devised plans, whose execution was expected to crush the insurrection in America, in one decisive campaign. An army was assembled in Canada, which was intended to advance by way of Lake Champlain to Hudson river, and form a junction with the forces of General Clinton, which were to ascend the river from New York, and thus sever New England from the middle colonies. It was known all over the country that great preparations were going on in Canada, and all the Committees of Safety were engaged in raising forces to oppose them, but it was not known what direction such an invasion was to take.

It was the opinion of General Bayley and others, who were intrusted with the defense of the northern frontier, that the British would invade the country in two divisions, one of which would descend the Connecticut valley, and thus the settlements in the Coos Country would be the first to be exposed to the ravages of war. In that case, our Ryegate colonists, being an outpost, were in great danger.

That this fear was not without foundation is shown by General Burgoyne’s testimony before the committee of the House of Commons upon the conduct of the war in America, that if he had not been strictly bound by his orders to invade the country with his entire army by way of Lake Champlain, he would have detached a large force in this direction, and thus divide the militia sent to oppose him, and at the same time secure supplies in the thriving settlements of the Connecticut valley.

The alarm of war was early heard, and on the 22d of February, says the journal of Col. Frye Bayley, an express came from General Schuyler, to "take every fifth man in the militia to go to Ticonderoga and re-inforce the garrison." All the militia in the region assembled on the 24th, at the inn of Col. Robert Johnston, a building still standing at the south end of Newbury village. On the 26th the men set out. No record of their names is preserved, and we do not know whether any Ryegate men were among them, or any who afterward settled here. Neither do we know how long they were absent, or in what particular service they were engaged.

In the month of June the army of General Burgoyne passed over the entire length of Lake Champlain, a magnificent sight, and on the 29th encamped before Fort Ticonderoga, which was evacuated on the 6th of July. The invading army consisted of 8000 British and German troops, beside Canadian militia and Indians. At that place he issued a proclamation, promising rewards to those who joined his army, protection to those who remained quiet, and extermination to those who resisted. He also threatened to unloose all the northern Indians upon the settlements. Many of the savages joined his army but he could not control them, and their outrages roused the country to resistance.

But it took time to gather the militia, and secure supplies for their maintenance in a new country, while in the meantime Burgoyne made his way unchecked to the Hudson, which he reached on the 29th of July, and expected to form, in a few days, a junction with Clinton. He had been led to believe that the setlements in the region now called Vermont, abounded with men who were at least loyal to the British cause, and who only waited for protection to join the army. He was also in need of horses, and of supplies for the army, and conceived the idea of sending a detachment of his force eastward to Arlington and Manchester, and, if circumstances permitted, across the mountains to Connedicut River, from which place they were to return by the great road to Albany. This detachment was to be under the command of Colonel Frederick Baume, a veteran German officer.

Among the valuable Johnson papers, owned by the Tenney Memorial Library at Newbury, is one which is believed to be, by its internal evidence, Burgoyne’s amended draft, in his own handwriting, of his instructions to Col. Baurne. This unique document, whose historic value had escaped notice, is, by special vote of the library trustees, permitted to be printed, for the first time, in this volume.


The Object of your Expedition is to try the Affections of the Country, to Disconcerte the Councils of the Enemy, to mount the Riedesel Dragoons, to complete Peters’ Corps, and to obtain large supplies of Cattle, Horses and Carriages. The several Corps, of which the enclos’d is a list, are to be under your Command:

the Troops must take no Tents, and what little baggage is carried by the officers must be on their own Bat-Horses. You are to procede from Batenkill to Arlington and take Post there till the Detatchments of the Provincials under the Command of Capt. Sherwood shall join you from the Southward.

NOTE. Col Robert Johnston of Newbury, and his brother, Col. Charles Johnston of Haverhill, were among the most prominent men in this part of the country during the revolutionary war. Of the former’s daughters, one married Gen. James Whitelaw, another, John Scott of Ryegate and Newbury, a third married William Tice of Barnet, another was the grandmother of the late Gov. C. J. Bell, of Walden. a fifth daughter married Jonas Tucker of Newbury. His sons were also prominent men.

Again: you are then to procede to Manchester where you will take Post, so as to secure the Pass of the Mountains on the Road from Manchester to Rocking-ham. From hence you will Detach the Endians and Light Troops to the Northward toward Otter Creek on their Return, and Receiving Intelligence that no Enemy is in force upon Connecticut River. You will procede by the Road over the Mountains to Rockingham where you will take Post: this will be the most Distant part of the Expedition, (and must be proceded upon with Caution, as you will have the Defile of the Mountains behind you which might make a Retreat Difficult.) You must therefore endeavour to be well informed of the force of the Enemy’s Militia in the Neighbouring Country. (Should you find it may with Prudence be Affected) you are to remain there (while the Endians and Light Troops are Detatch’d up the River) and you are afterward to Descend the River to Brattleborough and from that place by the Quickest March you are to return by the Great Road to Albany. During your whole Progress your Detatchments are to have Orders to bring in all Horses fit to mount the Dragoons under your Command, or to serve as Bat-Horses [i. e., Pack Horse.] to your Troops, together with as many Saddles and Bridles as can be procured. (The Number of Horses with those necessary for mounting the regt. of the Dragoons ought to be thirteen hundred. If you can bring more fcr the use of the Army it will be so much the better). Your parties are Likewise to bring in Wagons and other convenient Carriages with as many Draught Oxen as will be necessary to draw them and all Cattle fit for slaughter, milch Cows only excepted, which are to be left for the use of the Inhabitants.

Regular Receipts in the Form here-to subjoined are to be given in places where any of the above-mentioned articles are taken—to such Persons as have remained quiet in their Habitations and otherwise complied with the Terms of General Burgoyne’s manifesto, but no Receipts to be given to those who are known to be Active in the service of the Rebels (as you will have with you Persons perfectly. acquainted with the Abilities of the Country.) It may perhaps be Advisable to take those several Districts with the Portions of the several Articles and Limit the Horses for the delivery.

And should you find it Necessary to move before such Delivery can be made, Hostages of the Most Respectable People should be taken to secure the Following the next day.

All possible means are to be used to prevent Plundering as it is probable that Capt. Sherwood, who is already detatched to the Several and will join you at Arlington will drive in a Considerable Quantity of Cattle and Horses to you and you will therefore send in these Cattle to the Army with a proper Detatchment from Peter’s Corps in Order to Disencumber Yourselves, but you must always keep the Regiment of Dragoons compact. The Dragoons must themselves ride and take care of the Horses of the Regiment. The Horses destined for the use of the Army must be tied together in strings of ten each in order that one man may lead ten horses. You will give the unarmed men of Peter’s Corps to conduct them, and any inhabitants whom you can trust. You must always keep your Camps in Good Provision, but at the same time where there is Pasture you must have a Chain of Sentinels around your Cattle where Grazing. Col. Skeene will be with you as much as possible to help you to Distinguish the Good Subjects from the Bad—to procure the best intelligence of the Enemy and choose those People who are to bring me the Accounts of your Progress and Success.

When you find it Necessary to halt a Day or Two you will always Intrench the Camp of the Regiment of Dragoons in Order to Resist an Attack or Affront from the Enemy. (As you will return with the Regiment of Dragoons mounted you must always have a detatchment of Peter’s or Fraser’s Corps in front of the Column, the same as in the Rear in order to prevent your falling into an Ambuscade when you march through the Woods.) You will use all possible means to make the Country believe that the Troops under your Command are the advance Corps of the Army and that it is to pass to Connecticut on the Road to Boston. You will likewise insinuate that the main army from Albany is to be Joined at Springfield by the Corps of Troops from Rhodeisland.

It is highly probable that the Corps under Mr. Warner, now supposed to be at Manchester, will Retreat before you—but should they contrary to Expectation be able to Collect in great force and post themselves Advantageously, it is left to your Discretion to Attack them or not.

Always bearing in mind that your Corps is too Valuable to let any considerable loss be Hazarded on this Occasion. Should any Corps be moved from Mr. Arnold’s main Army to intercept your Retreat, you are to take as strong a Post as the Country will afford. And send the quickest intelligence to me, and you may depend on my making such Movements as shall put the Enemy Between two Fire’s or otherwise sustain you.

It is imagined that the Progress of the whole Expedition may be effected in about a fortnight. But every Movement of it Depends on your Success in or obtaining such supplies of Provision as will enable you to subsist on your return to the Army in case you cannot get any more. (& should not the Army reach Albany Before your Expedition shall be completed, I will find some way to send you notice of it, and give your Route another Direction.)

All Persons acting in Committees, or any Officers acting in or under the Direction of the Congress, either Civil or Military are to be made Prisoners.

I heartily wish you Success.

I am Sir your Most Obedient Humble Servant


Headquarters Near Saratoga.
Augst. 7th, 1777.

Comparison of this remarkab]e paper with other copies of Burgoyne’s orders to Col. Baume, reveals some interesting facts. A volume printed in London, in 1780, entitled the "State of the Expedition from Canada, by J. Burgoyne," and giving not only Burgoyne’s testimony before the committee of the House of Commons, but copies of his letters and orders, gives, in parallel columns, his first draft of instructions, and in the other the amendments and additions to this first draft. In the letter, as we give it here, it is precisely as there printed, and the amendments to the original draft are here indicated by parentheses. In the volume of 1780, the spelling is corrected, and the use of capitals conforms to the ordinary usage. In this volume the last sentence, beginning in the copy we have given, "All persons acting," etc., is wanting, as well as the address and signature. In the second volume of the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1793, is given the "Qriginal Orders of Genera] Burgoyne to Colonel Baume," "from the original presented to the

Society by General Lincoln." It differs here and there from the Newbury copy, and is signed "J. Burgoyne, Lt-Gen’l., Head Q’rs., Aug. 9, 1777." In the N. H. State Papers, Vol. VIII., pp. 664-666, a fourth copy is given, which differs slightly from either of the others, and Dr. Bouton, the editor, says that the headquarters were at Fort Edward. He does not state where he obtained his copy. The one owned by the library at Newbury, and bound in the volume of the military papers of Colonel Thomas Johnson, is certainly a rare and valuable historical document.

Had these original orders been carried out, and had Baume been properly supported, the entire Connecticut valley, from the Coos Country southward, might have been over-run. But when the troops, under Col. Baume, reached Battenkill, on the 12th of August, Gen. Burgoyne, by new orders, instructed him to proceed directly to Bennington, and capture the magazine of military stores at that place.

These later orders led to his complete overthrow, and, in the sequel, to that of Burgoyne himself.

In August a company under the command of Capt. Thomas Johnson left Newbury for Lake Champlain and distinguished itself in the siege of Mount Independence, later being sent to guard the prisoners taken there, across the state to Charlestown, N. H. Their muster roll is also lost, but it is not unlikely that one or two Ryegate men were in it.

On the 6th of October, a company of forty-one men under command of Capt. Frye Bayley, left Newbury for the seat of war. In this company Bartholemew Somers of Ryegate was a corporal, David Reid, John and James Orr, also of Ryegate were privates, as were John McLaren and Duncan McLain of Barnet. Andrew Brock had been drafted, but for some reason could not go, and David Reid volunteered to go in his place. This company arrived at Saratoga too late to participate in battle, but was able to render very effective service by means of an exploit which has not received the notice which it deserved. The particulars of this affair are as narrated by Capt. (afterwards Colonel) Frye Bayley in his old age.

The company which was five days on the march, had nearly reached Hudson river late in the afternoon of the last day and were making preparations to camp for the night, when a messenger on horse back came to inform Bayley that a number of boats loaded with provisions for the enemy were coming down the river, and that there was no force at hand to stop them, urging him to come with his company and attempt their capture. They were supplies of food which had been collected at very high prices and were intended to relieve the desperate situation in which Burgoyne had found himself.

Captain Bayley and his small force had barely reached the bank of the Hudson when they saw the boats approaching at some distance, fifteen in number, each heavily loaded, and with no more men than were needed to navigate them. They went down on the further side of the river, out of musket range, and all passed out of sight, Bayley having neither bridge or boats to reach the opposite shore. While the men were debating what to do, a scout who had been sent down the river, returned with the intelligence that the boats had been moored to the further bank, under overhanging trees, about a mile below. It was now dark and Bayley called his men together, and in low tones laid before them the importance of securing the boats and their contents, and acquainted them with his plan for their capture. He called for two men to volunteer to swim the river, reconnoiter the situation, and if possible, secure one of the boats. Bartholemew Somers of Ryegate and a man from New Hampshire volunteered for the dangerous service, and the whole company proceeded down the riverbank till they came opposite the place where the boats were concealed. The captain directed the two men to tie their clothes to the back of their necks, and make their way as well as they could in the darkness to the other shore. The water was very cold, but the men reached the spot in safety and found that all the boats were tied to trees along the bank and that the men in charge of them, suspecting no danger, had gone to a sheltered place at a little distance, where they had kindled a fire, and were cooking their suppers, leaving only a few men to look after the boats. Somers and his companion cut one of the boats loose, and noiselessly re-crossed the river to the place where Bayley and his men waited under the trees. The boat was unloaded, and as many men as could get into it were rowed stealthily across the river. Bayley having given directions in whispers part of the men formed a guard, and the rest secured the boats, the men who were left in charge having fled, and was successful in bringing them safely to the other shore. The men who had been in charge of them were taken by surprise, and ignorant in the darkness, of the number and position of their assailants, made no attempt at resistance.

The success of this daring adventure was a heavy misfortune to General Burgoyne, and hastened his inevitable capitulation. The circumstance of the capture of the boats is mentioned by several historians as one of many brave deeds of that campaign.

Mr. Mason says that some years after the war an attempt was made to find and reward the men who had thus hazarded their lives, but they were not to be found. Somers had removed to Barnet, and either did not learn of the search which was being made for him, or did not value his service as he might have done. The name of his companion is not preserved.

The delay occasioned by this adventure prevented the company from reaching the army in time to be of service, as preparations for the capitulation were being made. After the surrender most of the men, believing that their services were no longer needed, without waiting for a formal discharge, started for home, all the Ryegate and Barnet men were among them This company was attached to Col. Peter Olcott’s regiment, was in service one month and four days, traveling 270 miles.

The adventure herein related, while of great service, was not so hazardous as that of Ephraim Webster of Newbury, and Richard Wallace of Thetford, who swam across Lake Champlain about a month earlier, with dispatches for General Lincoln.

Ryegate thus adds the narrative of the brave deed of one of its residents to the innumerable number of anecdotes relating to the march and surrender of General John Burgoyne in the great battle year, 1777.

The exigencies of the time required the building of a blockhouse in Ryegate for the protection of its inhabitants, which stood, according to the best information we have, on the farm now called "Fairview," between W. T. McLam’s and the corner of the road west of it. It does not appear to have been used often for defense, but was occupied by a family, and the settlers could resort to it in case of alarm. It is not certain whether it was built by the inhabitants for their own protection, or by the troops, or as one of a chain of block houses along the Hazen Road. It remained several years after the war, and families lived in it.

The blockhouse of those days was a rude structure of logs, squared and pinned at the corners, and, perhaps, pinned along their length, in one or two places. It had one strong door, and a small window. One log all around, about breast or shoulder high from the floor, would be cut in pieces and pinned to those above and under it. These cuts were the portholes, and on the outside mere narrow upright slits across one log, just wide enough to admit the muzzle of a rifle, but inside the log would be cut away so as to leave the rifleman space to swing his rifle or musket a foot or two to the right or left. There were several such loop-holes on each side of the building, and its upper story projected over the lower one a foot or two to enable the inmates to fire down upon any persons who should try to set the house on fire.

NOTE. Captain (afterwards Colonel), Frye Bayley was a nephew of Gen. Jacob Bayley, and a grantee of Newbury, where he settled in 1763. This farm was the north end of Cow Meadow, and his house, in which Mr. Learned lives, is one of the oldest in that town. He was with the army in Canada, and a valuable fragment of his journal during the retreat, is owned by the Tenney Memorial Library. In December, 1777, he was sent to Canada to negotiate for the release of prisoners, where he was thrown into prison, and remained a year. He was also in other important services. He was very prominent in Newbury, but being appointed sheriff of the county, he removed to Chelsea, where he died in 1827, and is buried at Newbury. His family is extinct in this vicinity. Two of his sons were educated at Dartmouth college, and settled in Maryland, where one became an Episcopal clergyman, and has descendants.

A blockhouse at Newbury, which stood on the ridge north of the cemetery at the Oxbow, and large enough to shelter one or two companies of troops, was a much more formidable structure and was surrounded by a ditch, which maybe still traced. Several frame houses still standing in this region were surrounded by a stockade, which was made by standing posts ten or twelve feet high close together around the house at some distance, thus enclosing the house and yard. Entrance was had by a strong gate, firmly secured. The house at North Haverhill, where W. F. Eastman lives, the older part of the one at Haverhill Corner called the "old Johnston house," in which the late Mr. Tarleton long lived, and that of Col. Robert Johnston, now a barn at the south end of Newbury village were protected in this way.

But most of the settlers went through the war with no other protection than their own stout hearts and trusty muskets. They came of a race bred to war and its alarms, and were not going to leave what had cost them so much toil and privation. In those days every man kept a loaded gun within reach at night and carried it to the field with him, and in times of special danger, no man ventured far from home alone, while the women and children were equally brave. Except by some slight depredations by Indians and tories, no harm came to Ryegate people during the whole war.

In 1780 and 1781, requisitions were made upon all the towns for supplies of flour and beef for the army, and in 1782 the town voted "that the flour paid toward last years provision be proportioned to the list."

At a special town meeting held at the home of William Johnson, Nov. 7, 1783, it was voted "That Josiah Page, William Neilson, Andrew Brock and James Whitelaw be a committee to draw up a petition to send to the General Assembly to see if they will forgive them their arrearages of provision and soldiers hire." Their petition set forth their situation and poverty, and the fact that they were remote from the scene of actual war, and new to the country. Their petition was granted.

An incident related to the editor of this volume by Miss Sally Bayley of Newbury many years ago is worthy of mention. Near the end of the war, some men were hunting among the hills in the north part of the latter town, returned in haste, and reported that heavy smokes were rising from Ryegate, and they had heard the firing of guns and loud shouting. All the men who could be got together on the moment started for the relief of their Scotch neighbors, supposing that the place had been attacked by the Indians, as Royalton had lately been. They were at once relieved and amused to find that the alarm was caused by men who were clearing land, piling and burning the trees, and urging on their oxen.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus