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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter 2



THE settlement of Vermont begins with the close of the Old French War. There had, indeed, been a few small settlements established along the Connecticut River near Brattleboro, which were maintained only by the intrepidity of the settlers. But in 1759, Quebec was taken, and North America passed into English hands, the Indians were no longer to be feared, and the "New Hampshire Grants," as the country between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut was called, were open for settlement. The fertility of the soil was well known, the land was cheap, and from all parts of the long settled towns along the coast men and families prepared to remove to the new lands. Settlements began at Newbury and Haverhill before any of the towns below them were occupied; in other words, civilization made a leap of sixty miles into the wilderness. It is necessary to speak of the settlement of these towns, for it is certain that Ryegate would not have been selected by the representation of the Scotch American Company, had it not been for its proximity to a strong and well established community.

In October, 1760, four officers of Col. Goff’s regiment, who had been released from service by the surrender of Montreal, made their way to the great meadows of the Lower Coos. They were, to call them by the military titles by which they are always mentioned, Gen. Jacob Bayley, Col. Jacob Kent, Col. Timothy Bedel and Capt. John Hazen. They spent some time in examining the surrounding country, and decided that it was, for many reasons, a very desirable region for settlement. In the summer of 1761, men were sent up to cut and stack hay on the "Great Oxbow" in Newbury, and the "Little Oxbow" in Haverhill. In the fall cattle were driven up from Hampstead and Plaistow, which were sheltered and fed through the winter by men employed by Bayley and Hazen. In the spring of 1762, families began to settle in both towns along the meadows, and on the 18th of May, 1763, Newbury and Haverhill were chartered to Jacob Bayley, John Hazen, and their associates, many of whom became actual settlers in one town or the other.

In the twelve years that passed before Ryegate was settled, Newbury and Haverhill had grown very rapidly, and in 1774 their joint population was about 800, the most important settlement in the valley north of Charlestown. There were several men in each town who had seen service in the late war, and these were men of enterprise and business sagacity. There were also men of liberal education who, with their families, gave a high tone to the settlements, which were well established, with good society, a church, schools, mills, taverns, courts and all the adjuncts of the best communities of that day, while as yet there was not a habitation of white men, save perhaps a few hunters and fishermen, in all that is now Caledonia, Orleans and Essex Counties.

We will now speak of the charter of Ryegate. When the territory, now called Vermont, was opened for settlement there was a great desire among speculators and men with money to invest to get hold of wild land. In those days there were few ways in which people could invest their money, and so wild land was bought as an investment, as people now buy stocks and bonds, or western land. In order to secure a legal claim it was very common for a sufficient number of associates to obtain from the Governor of the province a charter for a town in the ungranted part of the country, and, having divided the land into "lots" or "shares", wait for a rise in the value of wild land to realize a profit by selling their holdings. In this manner some large fortunes were made by shrewdness in selection of lands, and success in creating a demand for them by encouraging and promoting their settlement. But there were those who, through inexperience and credulity, found themselves the owners of large tracts of wild land which could not be sold readily and finding it hard to pay the taxes assessed were called "land poor."

On the eighth of September, 1763, the charter of Ryegate was granted to Richard Jenness and ninety-three associates, by Benning Wentworth, "Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of New Hampshire." The township contained 23,040 acres, and there were 100 shares, which made about 230 acres to each right. Gov. Wentworth retained for himself a tract of 500 acres in the south-east corner of the town, which was accounted as two shares. There was also reserved one share for the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; one for a Glebe for the Church of England; one for the first settled Minister of the Gospel, and one for the benefit of a school.

The Governor’s tract was counted as two shares, and as his corresponding reservations in Newbury, Haverhill and Bath lay in the adjacent corners, he held in one body 2000 acres of land, part of which is now covered by the flourishing villages of Wells River and Woodsville.

Of the ninety-four grantees of Ryegate, not one became an actual settler, and in only one instance did a son of a grantee settle in the town.

Indeed, with the exception of Joseph Blanchard, it does not appear that any one of them ever set foot within its limits. Blanchard had been an officer in the late war and afterwards a surveyor of lands in the new country. He had been disappointed in his endeavor to secure grants of Newbury and Haverhill for himself and his friends. His name, however, was inserted in the charters of twelve towns in this state.

Why the name, Ryegate, was selected is not quite clear. It is asserted that several of the grantees, among them William Thomas, whose Sons settled here, lived in Rye, N. H., and wished the new town called by that name, to which the suffix, "gate," was added; while another tradition is that the Jenness family, of whom ten names appear in the charter, originated near Reigate, England, a town of some importance about 20 miles from London, and wished it to be called by that name. On old maps, made before its settlement, the name is spelled Reigate. Most of the grantees lived near Portsmouth, and were merchants and business men. They did not, however, long retain the land, but on the 3d of July, 1767, through their agent, Col. Israel Morey, of Orford, N. H., conveyed, for one thousand pounds sterling, all their rights to John Church of Charlestown, N.H., who sold the south half of it to Rev. John Witherspoon, D. D., President of Princeton College. Not all the grantees signed this deed, a circumstance which caused some trouble in later years. [Whitelaw to William Neilson of New York, Dec. 31, 1798. Whitelaw Papers.] They were, perhaps, induced to take this step in consequence of the difficulties between the authorities of New York and New Hampshire, as to the ownership of what we now call Vermont, and which must now be explained.

We have seen that the town was granted to Richard Jenness and his associates by the royal governor of New Hampshire, the authorities of that province at that time considering its western boundary to be a line drawn from the northwest corner of Massachusetts to the southern extremity of Lake Champlain, and up the middle of the lake to Canada line, thus including all of what is now Vermont.

But the New York authorities contended that their province, north of Massachusetts, extended to Connecticut River and denied the right of Governor Wentworth to make grants of towns in that region. But in spite of the remonstrance of the New York authorities, Wentworth continued to make grants of towns in the disputed territory, which came to be known as "The New Hampshire Grants," until he had made grants of one hundred and eighty towns between Lake Champlain and Connecticut River.

In 1764, the claims of the conflicting parties were laid before the King in Council, who decided the case in favor of the New York claimants, and a proclamation was issued declaring the west bank of Connecticut River, from the province of Massachusetts Bay to the 45th parallel of north latitude, to be the boundary line between the provinces of New York and New Hampshire.

William Tyron became Governor of New York, and with his advisers contended that in consequence of the Order in Council, all the grants of towns made by Governor Wentworth were null and void, and the grantees and owners of lands in the Grants were ordered to surrender their charters and repurchase those lands under grants from New York. It is not necessary to our narrative to give here any general account of the troubles which arose, and the determined resistance made by the "Green Mountain Boys," which is the pride of every Vermonter. At that early date there were only a few settlements on Connecticut River, and their inhabitants were far removed from aid and could not well act in concert with the leaders west of the Green Mountains. Therefore the proprietors of Newbury, in 1772, considered that their wisest policy would be to apply for a charter from the governor of New York, which, being granted on the 19th of February 1772, secured them from all molestation from that quarter. Acting probably by advice of the leading men of Newbury, Mr. Church applied for a similar charter, which was granted to Samuel Wells of Cumberland Co., N. Y., James Cobham, Waldron Blaan, Samuel Avery, John Fowler, James Abel, John McDowel, Henry Broadwell, John Campbell, Thomas Campbell, John Abel, William Kennedy, John Kelley, Isaac BaIl, Jun., Henry Holland, Dennis Carleton, John Broadhead and William Strong, all of the City of New York, and Samuel Gale of the County of Cumberland, the same tract which had been granted on the 8th of September, 1763, by the governor of New Hampshire, to Richard Jenness and his associates, with the same reservations: "To their only proper and separate use and behoof respectively forever as tenants in common and not as joint tenants in fee and common socage, as of the Manor of East Greenwich in the County of Kent, within the Kingdom of Great Britain."

It is to he noted that the names of Waldron Blaan, Joseph Beck, John Kelley, and James Cobham, are also affixed to the Newbury charter, and were residents of New York who allowed their names to be thus used for a consideration. The original charter is now owned by the Vermont Historical Society.

On the 30th of June, 1775, these fictitious grantees conveyed all their title to John Church, receiving each £5 for their services. William Patterson and Malichi Church were witnesses to an instrument acknowledged before Henry Holland, one of the Masters of the Court of Chancery for the Province of New York.

This was about eighteen months after the south half of the town had been sold to the Scotch American Company, but as we shall see in

the sequel, the legal transfer was not made till after this date. This charter covered all the interest which had been conveyed to Dr. Witherspoon. On Jan. 20, 1776, Mr. Church sold to the Doctor, twenty-eight lots of land in the North Division containing 2,760 3/4 acres for £210, New York money, and a little later 5,212½ acres in the same section to John Pagan, a merchant of Glasgow. This John Pagan and others of the name held considerable land in America, whose ownership and transfer is rather interesting. In 1792, Mr. Pagan, then removed to Greenock, was owner of a tract of 833 acres in Newbury, another of 2000 acres in Cavendish, and the above-mentioned land in Ryegate, while Dr. Witherspoon was proprietor of 12,057 acres in Nova Scotia, being a part of what was called the Philadelphia Grant. [Newbury Town Records.] In that year the latter, being in London, executed a bond to exchange his land in Nova Scotia, for the three tracts owned by Pagan in Vermont, transferring the former to Robert, Thomas and John Pagan, Jun., merchants at Poictou, Nova Scotia. The rate of exchange was two acres of the Nova Scotia land for one in Newbury and Cavendish, and four acres for one in Ryegate. [Ryegate Land Records, Vol. II., pp. 142-149.] It would thus appear that an acre of Ryegate Land was worth two in Newbury. But the Pagan land in Newbury lay in the hilly region between the Limekiln neighborhood and the Centre, so the difference is easily accounted for. This exchange gave the Doctor 1597 acres in Ryegate, and the remainder he purchased outright. [Deed now owned by Vermont Historical Society, Ryegate Land Records, Vol. II., pp. 107-112.] In 1774, he had purchased for his son James a tract of 600 acres, in the northwest corner of the town, of which a further account will be given in the annals of the Whitehill family.

On the 16th of February, 1792, he conveyed to Robert Hunter of the City of New York, 2,075 3/4 acres, and on Dec. 24th of the next year all his remaining land in Ryegate, "described on a map of Ryegate Township made by William Hammond, surveyor of lands in October and November, 1775, on a scale of 60 chains to an inch," to William Neilson, [Many early deeds of land in the north part of the town are signed by this William Neilson.. From "Old Merchants of New York" we learn that he came from the north of Ireland before the Revolutionary War, and became very wealthy. After the war he took his sons into partnership and the firm name was "William Neilson & Sons." They founded a Marine insurance Company, of which Mr. Neilson was first president, and which was very successful. This was the first company in America to keep a complete register of all vessels trading at American ports. He had a country seat near Greenwich, now covered with buildings. Mr. Neilson was an elder in the Second Presbyterian church, and at his death left a large sum to it. Many of his letters are among the Whitelaw papers.] merchant, of New York. These with some minor transfers complete the ownership of land to those by whom it was sold to actual settlers.

We will now consider the circumstances which led to the formation of the Company under whose auspices the town was settled, and the condition of the classes in Scotland from which the first settlers came.

The country had been in a state of profound peace since the suppression of the rebellion of 1745, and probably for a longer time than ever before in the history of Scotland, and with the happiest results. With peace came prosperity, the accumulation of wealth, and an improvement in the condition of all classes. The increase in general inteligence was great; schools were multiplied and the facilities for obtaining a university education had never been so good. People read more, and the desire of every Scotchman for knowledge was gratified and increased by the extension of the means of obtaining it. In 1740, there were but seventeen newspapers published in all Scotland. In 1774, the number had increased to fifty-six, and the circulation of one of them, the Caledonian Mercury, exceeded the entire circulation of all the newspapers in Scotland in 1740 combined. People learned about foreign lands, and the opportunities for advancement which were offered in the colonies of North America. The return to Scotland of several regiments which had seen service in the colonies during the late war, still further spread the knowledge of the country, and awakened a condition of unrest. In thousands of homes, the subject of emigration, its cost and its advantages, was the constant topic of conversation. Every true Scotchman desires to better his condition, and to secure advantages for his children, which he has not had for himself, and they felt also, that the small farmers and artizans were not receiving their share of the increased prosperity of the country. The wealth of Scotland was mostly in the hands of the nobility and the landed proprietors, while the common people were poor. The condition of the laboring classes is nowhere more clearly set forth than in the writings of Burns. At best, with most people it was a hard struggle to keep the wolf from the door. The wages of an unskilled laborer were so low and his work so uncertain, that it was rare that any one of their class accumulated enough to make himself and his wife even barely comfortable in old age. It required only a little misfortune to bring a laboring man and his wife who had toiled all the days of their lives to poverty and want The wages of skilled laborers, in the few trades which were then pursued, were higher, and their condition a little better. Carpenters and masons, according to so good an authority as Adam Smith, received in 1770, about twice the wages of a plowman or a reaper and the family of a carpenter or a mason, with good health and steady employment for all old enough to work, might have a little left over at the year’s end.

More prosperous than these were skilled husbandmen, who were often large tenant farmers, or were employed as managers of the estates of merchants or the nobility. The tenant farmers of the Scottish lowlands were excellent managers and usually accumulated some property. The first settlers of Ryegate and Barnet were drawn from all three of these classes. Sir Walter Scott has left us pictures of all classes in Scotland whose fidelity is attested by the memories of those who could, fifty years ago, recall the conditions which prevailed in the latter half of the 18th century.

Another reason which induced the desire to leave the country, was the growing unrest over class distinctions in Scotland. The hereditary aristocracy considered themselves made of better clay than farmers and mechanics, and between these classes there was a great gulf fixed. All the land was in the hands of the aristocracy; all the offices in the kingdom were held by them; no poor man could aspire to own a little land all his own. In America all this would be changed. In America a man would be his his own "laird," and there the toil and frugality which in Scotland would secure only the means to live, would be rewarded by competence and even wealth. In America too, the Presbyterian faith, and manner of worship, could be enjoyed as well as at home. In America there would be no landed aristocracy to lord it over them, and the poor man’s son had an equal chance with the rich man’s. These were some of the considerations which led hundreds of families and individuals to break all the ties that bound them to their native land; to brave the terrors of an ocean voyage; to incur the hardships and unknown conditions of settlement in the wilderness.

Not only were there emigrations of families and individuals, but associations were formed in various parts of Scotland to purchase land for settlement in America, and there form communities whose members would be bound together by ties of previous acquaintance or relationship. Many towns in Nova Scotia, New York, Pennsylvania and the southern states were settled by colonies so organized. Sometimes these associations were assisted by some nobleman or wealthy merchant, but generally they were joint stock companies, in which the adventurers, as they were called, took shares. Such an association, called the Scotch-American Company, was organized at Inchinnan in Renfrewshire, Scotland, on the 5th day of February, 1773, and articles of agreement drawn up by Robert Nairns, a "writer" of Port Glasgow, were signed by 137 persons.

From the circumstance that Inchinnan was chosen as the meeting place of the members of the society, the association is often called the "Inchinnan Company," to distinguish it from other Scotch colonies in America, notably that which settled Barnet under the leadership of Col. Alexander Harvey.

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