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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter XVII



IN the preceding chapter we have considered the public schools of Rye-gate and their effect upon the successive generations of its inhabitants, with the change and development of the school system. But there were other factors in education which remain to be considered. The class of men who were prominent and influential in town from 1800 or about that time, down to the close of the civil war were men who owed little of the intelligence and shrewdness which they certainly had to either schools or schoolmasters. We speak here of the men born or reared in Ryegate, whose minds were formed under other influences than the men of our time, who had reached maturity, and acquired fixed habits of thought before the era of railroads, telegraphs, the daily newspaper, and that knowledge of the world which improved traveling facilities invites.

If we study the lives of the men who were prominent in this town seventy years ago, and for many years before and after, we find them men of superior intelligence and well informed upon many subjects wholly outside their round of personal experience. The Nelsons, the Gibsons, the Parks, the Whitehills and their contemporaries in the earlier half of the last century, selectmen in the town and elders in the church, were men widely known and respected, and it would not be easy to find their equals among their numerous descendants. Yet all they owed to schools was derived from a few weeks or months attendance in winter, when work was slack. The rest of the year they were hard at work, and the exigences of farm life developed a facility of handicraft which almost seems to have passed away with them. There were many men in Ryegate in those days who could make a pair of shoes or lay up a chimney, could make a wheel or shoe a horse, and turn their hands to almost any task. These men were well informed upon the events of the time, and if a few developed eccentricities they were often along lines which later comers followed to success.

When sent to the legislature, such men, although seldom heard in debate, were relied upon for their sagacity, clear business judgment and "hard Scotch sense." In these particulars they were not different from the men of their day. In 1830 Charles Thompson visited this country and attended a session of the legislature at Montpelier. He afterwards declared that he had never heard, in Congress or Parliament, arguments more direct, clear and concise, delivered in excellent English, and expressed both surprise and admiration when informed that of those legislators only a few had received a liberal education, most had only what the district school furnished, and some had not received even that. Will our present system of education, with its tendency to train boys for anything but work with the hands produce better or abler men?

We may well inquire from whence men, of that day in the absence of much which we term advantages, derived their superior ability. To answer that question will not lead us far. They owed much to inheritance, and more to association. The greatest factor in a child’s education is its constant association with intelligent and well informed people. Another which went far was the habit, of reading. Most of the emigrants from Scotland brought with them, a few books, mainly religious works. Not the kind which pass under that head today, but solid treatises in which theology and metaphysics were about equally mingled. The managers of the company in Scotland were solicitous for the mental welfare of the colonists, and in 1785 among some merchandise sent to Ryegate, Rev. Walter Young of Erskine included a package of books with a letter expressing the hope that they would be well read.

Among the purchases made by Mr. Whitelaw, at Newburyport in February, 1774, were books to the amount of £3. 5s. 1d. and a map of New England. As the, books .were for common use of the colonists, Ryegate may claim to have had the first circulating library in this state. He also subscribed for the Salem Gazette, then, as now, an able newspaper.

Another factor in the training of young people was the instruction they received on the Sabbath. In early days the ministers of Ryegate and Barnet were the only men who had received a university training. It was a liberal education to sit Sabbath after Sabbath in attentive reverence to the preaching of such men as Rev. James Milligan, and Rev. David Goodwillie, their contemporaries and successors. The latter was one of the most learned men of his time and his son and successor had the advantage over all the other ministers in this vicinity of a year’s travel in Europe. The treasures of their liberal minds were generously distributed among their people.

Another factor, perhaps the most important of all, was the thorough training which the Scotch Presbyterians of those days gave their children in the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, in itself a body of logic and divinity. Whatever else they learned or did not learn, they were expected to learn that, thoroughly. We may question if the young men of our day are as well trained for the battle of life as their fathers and grandfathers who worked hard most of the year and studied hard a few winter months.


The oldest burying ground in Ryegate, often called "The Old Scotch Cemetery," is on William T. McLam’s farm, on the east side of the "common" land, and round about the grave of Andrew Smith, whose death and burial are recorded in an earlier chapter. It lies about a quarter of a mile southeast of the farm buildings, and as surveyed, contains about two acres. At the time this site was selected as a burying place it was expected that a future city would occupy the long slope of the hill, and the level stretch of upland, but as the centre of population shifted to the northward, the spot was abandoned for a more convenient one, and although once fenced, has been for many years in a state of utter neglect. A list prepared long ago by Nancy Brock is believed to include nearly all the tenants of this secluded spot and is as follows: Andrew Smith, John Hyndman and wife, Patrick Lang and wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Carrick, Mrs. McFarland, Duncan McFarland, Hannah (Davis), the first wife of James Nelson, Janet (Montgomery), his second wife, Daniel Hunt and wife, Janet, daughter of Wm. Nelson, Polly, daughter of John Orr, infant child of John Scott, infant child of Hugh Gardner, infant child of James McKinley, infant child of Willoughby Goodwin. There are believed to be several others, but none of the graves are marked, and the precise location of any one of them is unknown. Daniel Hunt was a revolutionary soldier and the only one buried here. The remains of the first wife of General Whitelaw were, after many years, removed to the cemetery at the Corner. The neglected condition of this ancient burial ground calls for attention.

The cemetery at the Corner is next in age. Margaret, daughter of Dea. Andrew Brock having died in 1794, was buried on her father’s farm, and in the course of a few years about twenty graves were made near hers, before the land was set apart for a burying ground. At a town meeting held Sept. 4, 1798 a committee was chosen "to treat with Mr. Brock about buying land for a grave yard." His price which was $60 for the two acres, was thought too high, and the town voted not to accept it. But an article inserted in the warning for March meeting in 1801, "To see if the town will accept Andrew Brock’s offer of a burying ground," would seem to imply that he had made a more liberal one. There is no record of the town’s action, but the land has ever since been used as a cemetery.

This part of the enclosure contains 168 square rods, about one-half of which is too rocky for use. It was first fenced in 1833, by subscription. The lots are not regularly laid out and are without paths or avenues to separate them.

This part of the cemetery being directly opposite the site of the old meeting house is often spoken of as the "Old Churchyard." Mr. Miller, in 1880, counted 258 marked graves, and 81 not marked. He estimated that there were at least 60 lost graves, making about 400 at that time. The "Blue Mountain Cemetery Association" was formed June 20, 1860, and purchased of George Cowles a piece of land containing 152 square rods, adjoining the old cemetery on the south, which they divided into 52 lots, with proper roads and avenues. In 1884 there had been 84 burials in the "new" or Blue Mountain cemetery. This association does not now exist. An addition of 36 lots was made about 1898 and a further one in 1909 of 27 lots by purchase of land from Wm. Thompson.

This cemetery contains more graves than all the others in town together, and the different monuments evince the changes of mortuary fashion for a century and more. The oldest tomb-stones, with one exception, were prepared by Samuel Ingalls who engraved a death’s head on some of them. One of the oldest stones, that to the first wife of Gen. Whitelaw, was made by a Mr. Risley at Hanover and the inscription is as clear and distinct as when first engraved.

The third cemetery to be occupied is on A. M. Whitelaw’s farm and is called the "Whitelaw cemetery," although none of that family were ever buried in it. The first burial there was that of Elihu Johnson in 1811, and the last was James Taylor, who died in 1834. This graveyard which is just half way between Wells River and Ryegate Corner, is a few rods from the road, near the "old cider mill," and contains 30 or 40 graves. The graves of Er. Chamberlin and his wife are the only ones that were ever marked. Elihu Johnson and Er. Chamberlin who were revolutionary soldiers, and John Sly who served as a privateer are buried here.

The fourth or West cemetery is on the road from South Ryegate to Peacham, a few rods south of the line between the north and south divisions of the town, and half way from the Newbury line to the Barnet line. This cemetery was taken from the farms of James and Robert Hall, and contains 66 square rods. The first burial was in 1820. "In the extreme northwest corner is the unmarked grave of Mary Dunn, a beau

tiful and intelligent girl, who, in grief and despair, took her own life in 1825, on the farm of her uncle, Daniel Wormwood. The most convenient and proper place for her last resting place was the Old Churchyard. But on account of the rank superstition and iron clad prejudice existing at that time, the town authorities would not allow a suicide to be buried there, so the procession had to go on the old stage road to the forks in Dow village at Barnet line, then up past Hunter’s and Holmes’ and down past Caidwell’s to the West cemetery there being then no cross road back of Blue Mountain. Mary Dunn was from Maine, and not related to the Ryegate Dunns." [Mr. Miller.] The West cemetery, being on private land, was not under the jurisdiction of the town authorities. James Smith, a Captain, and Hugh Laughlin, a Lieut-Col. in the Irish rebellion of 1798, are buried here. Mr. Miller states that in 1880 there were 159 visible graves in the cemetery, which is sometimes called the " "Hall burying ground," and there have since been 41 burials, according to Mr. John Gates.

The older cemetery at South Ryegate has been in use 55 years, the first burial being that of Warrington, son of John A. Miller, Jan. 10, 1855, on land belonging to the estate of David Bone, and contains three-fourths of an acre. There are 48 lots, besides paths and driveways. It was conveyed by William Nelson of Newbury, guardian of the minor children of David Bone, to 36 persons, a few having two lots, and six were reserved for public use. In June, 1883, there were 147 graves and many have since been added. The new cemetery at South Ryegate was laid out by the selectmen in 1883, on land purchased of Charles Exley, and contains four acres.

Many former residents in the northwest part of the town are buried in the Walter Harvey cemetery, a few rods over the Barnet line on land given by Hon. Walter Harvey, and a short distance south of the church known for almost eighty years as the "Walter Harvey Meeting House." This burying ground, which contains about half an acre, is owned and cared for by an association. In 1895 it contained 119 marked graves. Many of the Whitehill, Dunn, McLam, and Hunter families are buried here.

A cemetery in which no burials have been made for some years lies half in Groton and half in Peacham, on the old road between the two places, and a short distance, from where Ryegate and Barnet corner on these towns. The spot is very, solitary. Some of the Whitehills are buried here as well as other Ryegate pepple and there are many unmarked graves. Flavel Bailey, a noted schoolmaster, was buried here in 1847. Here lies the dust of Capt. Ephraim Wesson, a noted man in his day. He was born in Groton, Mass., in 1721, served with great efficiency in the Old French War, being a captain in Sir William Johnson’s expedition, 1755, also in that of Gen Abercrombie’s. He was at the siege of Louis-burg in 1758, and served in 1759 under Gen. Amherst. He was an early settler of Haverhill, and member of the Congregational church at Newbury, was also a member of the Provincial Congress at Exeter, and did efficient service in the revolutionary war. After the war he settled on the southeast corner lot in Peacham, where he died in March, 1812. "He was a brave and efficient officer, and was highly esteemed.; a man of Puritan mould and principles." He has many descendants and his grave should not remain unmarked. [See also Miss Hemenway’s Gazeteer, Vol. IV, pp. 1150—1157.]

A growing interest in these last resting places of the dead is evinced by the care which has succeeded an earlier neglect, and which is largely owing to the annual visitation of the veterans of the Civil War in which the graves of their comrades, and soldiers of the older wars are marked by flags and flowers. In March, 1900, the. town voted to place its cemeteries under the care of five commissioners, as provided by law. These serve without pay, and one member is elected each year. They have the general oversight of the cemeteries, convey lots by deed, hold in trust the money received from sales of lots, and are intrusted with the investment of funds which are given for the care of particular lots. The members of the original board were Wm. N. Gilfillan, N. H. Ricker, A. M. Whitelaw, W. . D. Darling and C. L. Adams. In 1910 the members were Hermon Miller, W. T. McLam, Geo. Cochran, C. L. Adams and Wm. N. Gilfillan. Care is taken to secure members who reside in the vicinity of each cemetery. On Jan. 1, 1910, the fund with accrued interest amounted to $1072.57.

There were a few burials upon farms in different parts of the town, but the custom of farm burial never prevailed in this part of New England.

The poor we have always had with us, and the care of such persons as have been wholly or in part objects of public charity, has cost the town quite a large sum. At the first town meeting ever held in Ryegate, Patrick Lang and John Shaw were made overseers of the poor, and to their successors in office the task of providing for the shelter, food and clothing of such as were unable to care for themselves, has been intrusted.

A town is required to support any citizen in want who is a legal resident, and there has ever been a desire to shift the support of any pauper upon some other town, when possible, and thus ease the tax payer of the burden. In early days there was a legal proceeding frequently resorted to called "warning out of town." This consisted in serving by the constable upon any newcomer who might become a town charge a notice of which the following is a sample:

To either Constable of Ryegate in said County,

You are hereby commanded to summon A. B. and family, now residing in said Ryegate, to depart said town. Hereof fail not, but of this precept and your doings thereon, due return make according to law. Given under our hands at Ryegate this 26th day of Feb. A. D., 1811.

ALEX. HENDERSON, } Selectmen of Ryegate.

This precept was read in the hearing of the person or head of a family who might become a town charge, and that person or family could not thereafter claim legal residence or be entitled to support. This process was profitable to the town officials, as the constable received a shilling for serving the warrant, and six cents for each mile traveled, while the town clerk received a shilling for recording the precept and the constable’s entry of service.

The first of these warrants is dated in 1783 when John Alexander Sapel and Anna his wife were warned to depart out of town within twenty days under penalty of being carried out. Of John and Anna we hear no more: Presumably they "went out and staid out." In 1787 two families were warned to depart, but the practice does not seem to have been in force again till 1810. From that time to 1817 when the law was altered, there were 77 such warnings. One of them includes eleven persons. It is noticeable that there are only three Scotch names in the list. Mr. Miller says that in 1816 the son-in-law of a prominent citizen, with his family, was warned out of town, and the "Squire," justly incensed, contrived to make things very uncomfortable for the selectmen in consequence. In 1813 the town instructed the selectmen to call upon certain families, "and let the children work out that can earn their living, and for the others pay for their support in the most prudent manner possible."

The town meeting in 1818 provided a very unique method for the support of the poor:

Voted, a tax of one cent on the dollar of the list of 1817 to be paid in wheat, rye, or oatmeal at the house of Alexander Miller on the first Monday of May next on which day the selectmen and collector are to attend at said place and receive said articles and set a price on them, and whoever neglects to bring said articles to the amount of their tax shall pay his or her tax in cash, which articles are to be at the disposal of the selectmen for the support of the poor.

The town has never owned a farm for the homeless poor and in earlier years much of the time at town meeting was taken up in discussing what should be done with them. It was customary to sell the keeping of individual paupers to the lowest bidder, and bind the children out during their minority. The number of persons wholly or partly supported by the town was much larger eighty years ago than now.

The warnings for town meetings down to about 1848 often contain articles like the following: "To see what the town will do for the relief of A. B. now in Danville jail for debt." Imprisonment for debt was very common in those days, and it happened sometimes that it was cheaper for the town to pay the debt for which some unfortunate but industrious man was confined, than to support his family during his imprisonment.

At the time of the settlement of the town, according to all the information we have, the use of ardent spirits was universal in Scotland and in America, and the first settlers of the town in accordance with the customs of the time were what would now be called hard drinkers. This was because both malt and distilled liquors were then considered as food, and as indispensable as bread and meat, and it was not until long after that people began to question this, and finally to decide that their use was harmful. The poems of Burns and such of the Waverly Novels as deal with the period contemporary with the early years of this town show how deeply rooted and universal was the custom and its disastrous consequences. The accounts kept by Mr. Whitelaw show how large a proportion of the expenses of the managers was for the purchase of rum, it would seem that to drink regularly and deeply was absolutely necessary to existence. It is significant of the change of personel among users of intoxicants that men like James Whitelaw and James Henderson would now be uncompromising temperance men. It must be remembered also that ardent spirits in those days were not poisoned by drugs and that the hard work of the pioneers in the open air dissipated their ill effects -

Among Mr. Miller’s notes are anecdotes which need not be preserved, of the drinking habits in the first half century of the town. To cite no other authority, the early session records of Ryegate and Barnet show how the evil interfered with the usefulness of the churches. "Intemperance." wrote Rev. David Sutherland of Bath in 1852, "was at the period of my settlement, the bane not only of my own church, but of all the churches in this vicinity of which I had any knowledge. Ardent spirits were set forth on every public occasion; weddings and funerals were seasons of excess." In 1805 a prominent man, an elder in the church in this town, engaged a man to set up a distillery on his farm, where he made large quantities of whiskey, the minister himself being one of his most steady customers. The use of intoxicants was part of the dark side of the picture of the early days.

The account book of Thomas Barstow from which we have quoted, shows how large a proportion of the trade of a country merchant was in ardent spirits. Some of the items are rather amusing. One man in Ryegate whose name out of consideration for, his numerous descendants we suppress, is charged with "1 Bible, 2 Testaments, 3 quarts Rum."

The educated classes were especially sinners in this particular. Arthur Livermore, in his "Recollections of Haverhill Corner," from which we have before quoted, mentions an old lawyer from the east part of the state who used to come to court there about 1820, whose invariable formula, after summoning the waiter with a tap of his cane to the foot of the stairs, was to, order, "Waiter, bring a bottle of rum, a bottle of brandy, a pitcher of water, a bowl of sugar, four tea-spoons and a pack of cards!" ,

It is not possible to tell precisely when or by what motives induced, the temperance reform began. It is certain that as early as 1817 there was some kind of temperance organization in this town,. which was addressed by Mr. Sutherland.. The use of ardent spirits was not fatal to the hardy pioneers of the town. It was upon the younger generation that its effects were most disastrous, and it was by observing those eftects that people began to think the use of ardent spirits an evil.

The temperance reform, which by 1840 had become vigorous and aggressive, had its origin among the young and middle aged men. If the clergy of an early time had countenanced the use of intoxicants by their example, their successors were among the most prominent in the reform.

A man had been taken sick and one Saturday the neighbors met to finish his haying. The jug circulated very freely and one man in particular, an elder in the church, became very much "overcome" indeed. The minister, Mr. Hill, heard of it, and ‘the next day preached a rousing temperance sermon. He called no names, but some of. his remarks were so pointed that all knew whom he meant and some took offense. After the service one old Scotchman freed his mind thus: "If I had been that buddy, I’d have ganged oup the pulpit and yankit oot that Hill buddy!" But temperance reform has been as complete in Ryegate as anywhere.

The old drinking customs have passed away. There are no longer taverns with open bars to tempt the unwary and only a very few votes are annually cast in favor of licensing the sale of intoxicating liquors.

The letter of Robert Hyslop of New York City, dated Jan. 15, 1798, referred to on a preceding page, raises a very interesting question. He inquires about some land in this vicinity, understood to have been owned by Commodore John Paul Jones who had lately died in Paris. He says, further, that a list of these lands had been forwarded to him by the American Minister at Paris, and asks Gen. Whitelaw to ascertain their location, the validity of the titles, and their probable value. We do not have Mr. Whitelaw’s reply, but it would be interesting to know that Paul Jones once owned land in this part of the country.

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