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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter XXI



HE first physician to attend a case in Ryegate was Dr. Gideon Smith of Newbury, as there is an item in the Company’s book to to that effect, March 10, 1774. There was no educated physician here till Dr. Perry came, at least for any length of time, although there were one or two who claimed some acquaintance with the healing art, and practised to a small extent, but the town was dependent upon its neighbors for medical service. Dr. Samuel White settled in Newbury as a physician in 1773, and continued in practice till near his death, Jan. 25, 1848, in his 98th year. Dr. White was for many years the principal physician in this region, and had a large number of patients in Ryegate. He lived most of the time, after 1806, on Jefferson Hill, and is buried there. He was a surgeon in the revolutionary war, and had twelve children, none of whom ever married, and the family is extinct. Two of his account books which are owned by Mrs. Z. A. Richardson of St. Johns-bury, begin in 1773, and end in 1782. These give us some idea of the state of medical science during the early days of Ryegate’s settlement. His charge for a visit in this town was from three to five shillings, medicine being extra. In these two books about one hundred and forty remedial agents are mentioned. Physic stands first, same sort being used over fifteen hundred times. Bleeding was common. Scarcely a dozen surgical operations are mentioned, and these were simple fractures of arms or legs. The oldest people in town remember Dr. White very well. He was a very genial man, inspiring confidence. Some one has said that "more people were cured by their faith in Dr. White’s skill than by the skill itself!"

Mr. Goodwin said that a Dr. Franklin, the same who is mentioned as a schoolmaster on p. 159, was in practice in this town about 1829, but went away and became eminent in the profession.

Dr. Perry began practice about 1825, and since that date there has always been an educated physician in Ryegate. Dr. Darling and son have been in practice here since 1861. Several doctors from other towns had many patients in Ryegate, among them Dr. John McNab, at McIndoes and Wells River, Dr. Nelson at Barnet, and his son Dr. James R. Nelson at Wells River.

It would be interesting if we had the space, to say somewhat of the changes in the study and practice of medicine in the past century. In early days there were no medical colleges where the science was taught, or hospitals where the student might acquire experience. A young candidate for medical practice "studied" with a physician; that is, he read his books, took care of his horse, rode about with him on his rounds, and gradually became intrusted with his simpler cases. It was not till about 1795 that the first medical school in this part of the country was established in connection with Dartmouth College, by Dr. Nathan Smith. For several years Dr. Smith was the entire faculty and a very capable one too, one of the most eminent physicians of his time. He was once sent for to conduct a very difficult surgical operation in Barnet, which he performed successfully in the presence of several physicians. After the operation the father of the boy who had been treated, asked the amount of the fee. Dr. Smith said "Mr. — I want you to tell me, as nearly as you can, how much you are worth." The reply was given. "Then sir, I shall charge you fifty dollars." [This anecdote was related to the editor many years ago by a person who Was present. ] A biography of Dr. Smith was published several years ago.

Ryegate seems to have been remarkably free from epidemics of all kinds, and when the spotted fever raged with great virulence in 1815, Mr. Mason says that there were only a few scattered cases here. But in other towns, especially in Warren, N. H., its visitation was severe, whole neighborhoods were almost depopulated, and entire families disappeared. In Bradford there were six deaths in one day. Nothing could check the disease, and people who were well in the morning died before night. It seemed finally to die out of its own accord. Dr. Wellman of Piermont, called to attend a patient in Warren, was himself taken sick and died before morning.

The beneficent progress of medical science is shown in the alleviated condition of the insane, and those who were born mentally or physically defective. The condition of the hopelessly insane was terrible, as there were then no asylums for treatment or safe keeping. Mr. Miller mentions the case of a man in Ryegate of a family now extinct here, who became violently insane, and was confined for several years in an outbuilding, where he was secured like a wild beast by a chain around his body. A similar case occurred in Topsham. In Piermont a son of the Dr. Weilman whom we have just mentioned, was brought home from Boston a raving maniac. He was confined for more than twenty terrible years in a strong cage constructed in one of the chambers of his mother’s house. About an hour before his death his reason returned to him. "He remembered only in the vaguest possible manner the long span of darkness through which he had passed, with the trouble he had caused and begged his mother to forgive."

The condition of those who were blind or deaf from birth, or who lost the sense of sight or that of hearing at an early age was pitiable. Until about the middle of the century there were no schools where either could he taught, and acquire training which made them self-supporting.

Physicians of the olden time, when the country was new, made their rounds on foot or horseback and in winter on snow shoes. Their labors were arduous, their pay was small, but in general, they were very superior men, their influence was wide and enduring.

The records in this volume show that several natives of Ryegate became physicians, and each, it is believed, practised with a fair degree of success.

The town has not been a fertile field for lawyers, and with the exception of Mr. Dunnett, whose practice began here, it is not believed that any one, regularly admitted to the bar ever was settled in the profession in Ryegate. In early years there was more litigation than now, and a better field for lawyers. When one consults the formidable list of lawyers in Haverhill, Bath and Peacham a century ago, and for many years before and after, the wonder grows how so many could have got a living

—much more how many of them became wealthy. The disputes over land titles, now long settled, were a fruitful source of revenue for the legal profession, and in many cases when the ownership of land was the subject of litigation, the successful litigant found himself obliged to turn the property over to his lawyer in payment of his fees. It also seems that people went to law on less provocation than they do now. Mr. Miller mentions a case in which two men, one of them living in Ryegate, got into a dispute about a pound of tea and each spent several hundred dollars before the case was decided. There were men who were never happy unless they were in law with some one and seldom failed to have a case in court. Rev. David Sutherland says that when he came to Bath in 1804, Esq. Buck held a justice court at the village every Monday and was seldom without cases to try. Strong drink was at the bottom of the trouble in many cases. There is about one law suit now where there were five eighty years ago.

Mr. Mason says that John Cameron started the first store in Rye-gate although neither he or Mr. Miller mention the year, but the town had been settled nearly forty years before a store was opened. Mr. Mason says that Alexander McDonald brought a small stock of goods and sold them at his house, where James R. Hunter now lives, the year before Cameron opened his store, which was where Mr. Thompson resides at the Corner. Mr. Cameron, who was usually called Judge Cameron, carried on a very extensive business along several lines, being a drover, an occupation in early days very important, requiring great sagacity, energy and capital. Capt. Wm. Page in 1879 told Mr. Miller that in 1817 Nutter and Wiggin opened a store at the Corner, which they conducted for some time. Mr. Nutter married a daughter of Andrew Brock and the store was in the Red Tavern.

Alexander Harvey was first a clerk for Mattocks & Newell of Peacham, and was sent by them to open a branch store at Ryegate Corner, in which he succeeded so well that he bought the goods and went into business on his own account, in 1818 or 1819, keeping a general country store, buying stock and produce, making frequent trips to Boston. He built the "old Corner Store" about 1818, Mr. Miller believed, but Mr. Goodwin thought it to have been built in 1816. The old store, one of the landmarks of Caledonia County, has thus been in constant mercantile use for nearly a century, and is almost unchanged without and within. The desk and counters are the original ones and this long low room has held several generations of Ryegate customers. In early days rum was sold as freely as anything else and "liquor enough was sold there to float a ship."

Mr. Harvey continued in business till January, 1835, when he sold to George Cowles. Mr. Cowles conducted the store alone till January, 1838, when he took his brother James into partnership, and the firm continued in business till October, 1844, when James retired, and removed from Ryegate. In 1865, Alexander Cochran bought Mr. Cowles out, and carried on business in the old store till 1889, when he sold out to John A. McLam, the present proprietor.

Mr. Mason says that in 1832 Pease & Bailey kept store in the Peters building, and, later, about 1837, John Morrill, and after him William Morrill kept store in the brick house.

The Morrills were merchants, inn-keepers, owned the stage line between Haverhill N. H., and Stanstead, and were mail contractors. Andrew J. Morrill’s name should be added to the list of postmasters at the Corner, as he held the office in 1841 and before. A receipted bill owned by Alfred Morrill of Benton, N. H., shows that the amount due from the office was $13. 58 3/4 for the quarter ending Dec. 31, 1840. The Morrills kept store at one time in a house which stood where Wm. McCanna now lives and which was burned in the fire of 1899. The post office was in that house.

This seems to conclude the list of merchants at the Corner in early days. In 1894 J. R. W. Beattie erected a two story building on the lot next south of the Reformed Presbyterian Meeting house, and fitted up a store in modern style, in which he conducted a successful business. On Aug. 16, 1899, the store took fire and was burned, the church also being destroyed. Since that date the Old Corner Store has held the entire mercantile business at the Corner, and the merchant who first occupied that building would find modern business methods as strange as the faces which he would see there now. The merchant of a century ago, and for long afterwards, was a trader, and was called such in general speech. Very little money was in circulation and he took his pay in farm produce, lumber, shingles or whatever the farmer had to spare. "All was fish that came to his net." If his credit was good the customer was allowed to run up a bill, which was balanced by a promissory note, by labor or by a "head or two of fat cattle." The latter were collected from time to time, and driven to market, as the merchant was often a cattle buyer as well. The "back room," cellar, and all available storage room were filled with the articles taken in trade, waiting to be sent to market. The butter brought in by a score of farmer’s wives was worked over and packed in tubs for market. Upon his skill in disposing of the produce collected in the way of trade the prosperity of the merchant depended. If he was shrewd in bargains with his customers at home, and fortunate in his sales "down country," he grew rich. There were some traders with a genius for "swapping," and a keen eye for the best end of a bargain. His temptation was to attempt to carry too many lines of business, leaving too much to others. Mr. Goodwin said that Judge Cameron left the management of his store in charge of his clerk, while he pursued his other schemes, financial and political, a division of interests which brought about his ultimate failure. But others by assiduity, by an honesty and a kindness which won public confidence, laid the foundation of the modest fortunes of those days.

The principal merchants in this part of the country kept teams constantly on the road between here and Boston, to bring the lighter and most valuable goods, while the heavier merchandise was brought to Wells River by boat. But the Ryegate merchants never carried on such extensive business as some in Danville and Peacham.

The names of all who have been in trade at South Ryegate cannot be recalled, but those who were in business for some time appear to have been as follows: The first store was opened by Charles Stuart about 1848, and was conducted by him till he went west in 1853. The second merchant in the place seems to have been Archibald Renfrew, from Nov. 1851 to Feb. 1853, when he sold to West Darling and Calvin Clark, who conducted business a few months. Mr. Stuart sold his store to John Peach and James White. Robert Nelson bought out Peach & White in the fall of 1855, and a year later, sold to George L. Hall. Mr. White who had been in business alone, and was postmaster, sold a half interest in his store to Mr. Hall, and they were in company till 1868, after which the latter continued in trade till 1886.

The opening of the "Swamp Road," in 1860, from South Ryegate to the Lime Kiln neighborhood in Newbury, brought more trade to the place. About 1863 Dr. John B. Darling opened a store at the corner of the road leading to Jefferson Hill, where he with his sons carried on an extensive business for many years. They bought also the Wilson store at West Newbury, a Mr. Adams who had been a clerk in the store of A. T. Stewart in New York City being their manager, at that place. This store was burned Feb. 21, 1888.

In 1891, William Terry, who had been engaged in peddling goods nearly twenty years, and resided just over the Newbury line, formed a partnership with Wm. T. George and A. T. Gay, under the firm name of Terry, George & Gay, who bought the stock of goods of J. B. Darling & Son, continuing business at the Darling stand for three years, when Mr. Gay sold his interest to the partners, and the firm became Terry & George. About seven years later Mr. Terry bought out the interest of Mr. George, conducting the business under his own name, Charles B. F. Miller owning a half interest, being a silent partner, this association continuing about six and a half years. In the meantime M. H. Gibson had erected the brick block, and put in a large stock of goods, while Mr. Terry, whose sons had grown up with him in the old Darling store desired larger quarters for his trade and the firm bought out Mr. Gibson’s stock of goods and moved into the new store in June, 1906. They had been nearly sixteen years in the Darling store, and being the only general merchant in the place, their business during the last year amounted to above $36,000. When the firm moved into the brick block, Mr. Terry feeling the need of change, sold his interest to his son, B. L. Terry, retaining the stove and farm machinery part of the business. Mr. Miller is still a silent partner in this concern.

Sly and Darling were also merchants in the village in its early days.

The opening of the railroad and the development of the granite business attracted other merchants, and R. F. Carter set up a store and also a hotel in connection with the Ryegate Granite Works.

In 1892 Mr. Pringle Gibson, who had sold his farm near the Corner, erected a large building near the depot, and opened a general store, later taking his son into partnership, the firm name being P. Gibson & Son. They were succeeded by Harry W. Hibbard, who carried on the business. along the same lines until burned out in the fire of 1898.

In 1902 Martin H. Gibson erected the present brick block in the "burned district," which contains the store of B. L. Terry and the post-office.

After the Terrys left the Darling building it was repaired, and A. T. Gay conducted a store there for some time, and was succeeded by Mr. Simpson. A Mr. Doten was in South Ryegate for some years in the watch, clock and fancy goods business and Mr. A. T. Gay conducted a similar one till burned out in the fire of 1898.

A. F. Mulliken operated a store for the sale of hardware in connection with his establishment at Wells River.

On the morning of Oct. 20, 1898, fire broke out in the livery stable of Charles Oakley whieh destroyed all the buildings between the railroad and the main street, from the depot to the road leading across the river. The general store of H. W. Hibbard, the stores of A. F. Mulliken and A. T. Gay, were burned together with the post office, a dwelling house occupied by Thos. McGuckin, and a stable owned by the Ryegate Granite Works. The loss, about $30,000, was a severe blow to the place.

During the civil war, under the stimulus of an inflated currency, prices rose rapidly, and it was many years after its close that they resumed their normal rate. Flour sold at $20 per barrel, print cloth could hardly be had at any price, woo1 brought $1.00 a pound, butter fifty cents and most other articles in proportion.

We have not the space to enter into any detailed account of the weather here in Ryegate during the period of its history, but a few prominent occasions may be mentioned, which were landmarks in people’s memories as long as they lived.

In the year 1788 it rained every day from the 27th of June till the 26th of August, and much hay and grain rotted on the ground. The following spring was late and cold, and it was not till the end of May. that cattle got their living at pasture. But the rest of the year was fine and the season fruitful.

The history of Haverhill, Mass., says that the winter of 1779-’80, was remarkably long and cold, and for forty successive days, including the entire month of March, the snow did not thaw on the south sides of houses, as far south as that place. President Dwight, in relating the journey which we have mentioned in the opening sentence to this volume, says that on the 17th of February, 1802, a snow storm began which lasted a week, and it was estimated that more than four feet fell. On the other hand there were periods of remarkably warm weather in winter. In the month of December, 1794, the ground froze only once, and people kept on with their plowing and other fall work till after Christmas. The seasons from 1812 to 1816 were very cold and the times were hard, the second war with England occurring during that period. The year 1816 was long known as the "cold year" and the "famine year." The season was early and warm, and people hoped that brighter days had come. But the summer was very cold, there was frost in every month, and Moosilauke was white twice in July and three times in August. "On the 5th of June some masons who were building a brick house at Bath Upper Village were compelled to abandon their work until the 10th, as the mortar froze in the open air." The corn was entirely destroyed in that year—only a few saved enough for seed by building fires in their corn fields. Even the wheat did not fill, and had it not been for the remarkably heavy crop of oats many must have perished. Thousands of people subsisted on oatmeal who had never tasted it before; and the mill at Boltonville had to run night and day to grind the oats which were brought to it from every quarter, and then it was that people blessed the Scotch for having invented oatmeal. Money was very scarce and provisions were dear. There was much suffering from hunger, and even the well-to-do were hard pressed. Potatoes were an entire failure. Mrs. Eleanor Knight of Newbury, who could in 1908, remember that time very well, said that there were people who boiled potato tops and other greens for food, and would go long distances to get even them. "Children would talk about being good, for perhaps they would die when winter came, and would have nothing to eat." On the 15th of June about a foot of snow fell. On the 28th of August there was a frost which destroyed all vegetation, and the leaves on the trees. The next year was somewhat more genial but five inches of snow fell in Ryegate on the 15th of May, and on the 16th of June there was a hard frost which froze potatoes to the ground.

Much has been written about these famine years, but no adequate explanation of their cause can be found. There has been no recurrence of such a period. It must not seem strange that some became discouraged, and, selling what they had in Ryegate, sought a more genial clime. Some of these prospered, others made their way back, poorer than they went.

On May 15th, 1834, came the great snow storm, from which old people dated the events of years before and after. The season was an early one, plum and apple trees were in full bloom, and much corn had been planted. Trees were in full leaf. On the 13th in the afternoon, it suddenly began to grow cold, the next day was cold and about daylight on the 15th it began to snow, and continued till ten o’clock, gathering at the rate of an inch in each ten minutes for two hours. Hon. John Bailey says that on Jefferson Hill in Newbury three feet fell, and there could hardly have been less on the Ryegate hills. Mr. Mason mentions a number of instances where people who went out to get horses, cattle and sheep from the hills became bewildered in the storm, and were rescued with difficulty. The next day was so cold that water froze in the houses, and it was not till the 17th that bare ground appeared. We should naturally suppose that all the apple and plum blossoms would have been killed, yet all the old people said that 1834 was a great fruit year. How little we understand the laws of vegetation -?

Mr. Whitelaw, writing to Scotland on the 25th of June, 1780, made no mention of the "Dark Day," which was on the 19th, by which we may suppose that the phenomenon was not so remarkable in this part of the country as to cause him to write about it. We could wish he had observed, and given us some account of it in his precise and graphic man ner, as it was observed and commented on in Newbury and Haverhill. The darkness was here supposed to he caused by smokes from clearing land, and it was not very dark at any time. Mr. Mason only says that people could not see to read in the houses without candles. In this locality the morning was fair with a light shower, and the day was very still. About ten o’clock it began to grow dark, and remained dark till evening.

In southern New England at noon it was too dark to see to read in the open air, and at four o’clock it was as dark as it usually is at midnight when there is no moon. Birds went to their nests, and some species flew into the houses, as if seeking human protection, while cattle came home from the pastures, uttering strange cries of distress. People thought that the end of the world had come, and in places where there were churches, people gathered in them and held services. It was the night of the full moon, but it was intensely dark, while all lights burned with great brilliancy. With sun rise the darkness passed away.

Scientific men have differed as to the cause of this strange occurrence. It has been thought that some meteor, or other wanderer through space came between the earth and the sun. The darkness was not observed west of the Hudson. In his poem of Abraham Davenport, the poet Whittier has embalmed in literature an incident of that day.

The "Yellow Day," of September 6, 1881, will not be forgotten by those who are old enough to remember it.

The metoric shower of Nov. 13, 1833, when thousands of meteors, some of them of dazzling brilliancy, fell in a few hours, was a wonderful occurrence and seen in all parts of the country.

Several buildings have been burned by lightning in this town, but it is believed that only one person has ever been killed by it. Elizabeth, daughter of Wm. McKindley, was killed by lightning Aug. 1, 1857, while raking hay. Some years ago a horse in the barn of Y. D. Nelson was killed by lightning, and a man who was caring for it was severely shocked, and injured by the horse falling upon him. Many years ago the barn of Wm. N. Gibson was struck and burned, after it was filled with hay and grain, a heavy loss. Thunder storms in winter are rare, but such have been. On the 18th of January, 1817, there was a thunder storm in the night which lasted two hours, and buildings were struck and burned in different parts of New England. While this chapter was being revised for the press, on the 2d of February, 1911, at 7.30 in the morning, with the mercury at 10°, there was brilliant lightning and heavy thunder, but no rain or snow. Buildings were struck in various places and a large barn was burned at Haverhill Corner.

We have mentioned in an early chapter that on the 14th of May, 1776, the inhabitants met to choose their military officers and chose James Henderson, Captain; Robert Brock, Lieutenant; and Bartholemew Somers, Ensign. This was the beginning of the old militia service in Ryegate, which lasted more than seventy years. We have no further information regarding this company, which comprised all the able-bodied men between the ages of sixteen and fifty, but the men were probably drilled regularly during the revolutionary war.

Military service in the colonies was necessary on account of the frequent Indian wars, and especially along the frontiers which were posts of danger, where it was desirable that all the people should have some acquaintance with military tactics. Militia service in Scotland was also compulsory, so that our colonists were doing no more than had been their custom at home.

The Ryegate company eventually became a part of the Fourth Regiment of the militia. Among the Johnson papers in the library at Newbury, is a petition to Governor Chittenden, written about 1785, which bears the signatures of the officers in this vicinity and which gives a little of its history.

It was organized in 1763, when there were scarcely any settlements in what is now Vermont, under the colony of New Hampshire, embracing the settlements on both sides of the river. In 1766 the Grants came under the authority of the colony of New York, and the few settlers on the west side of the river became part of the New York militia. In 1777 Vermont declared its independence, and the militia came under the authority of the new state. In 1785 the regiment comprised the companies in all the towns north of Thetford, in which there were settlers enough to form a company. The names of the companies in this petition indicate the progress of settlements in 1785; Fairlee, Moortown alias Salem, (Bradford), Newbury, Ryegate, Barnet, Littleton (Waterford) Lunenburg, Guildhall Peacham, Corinth and Vershire. The staff officers of the regiment were, Thomas Johnson, Colonel; Frye Bayley, Lieut. -Col.; John Taplin, Major; Thomas Smith, Quartermaster. The commissioned officers of the companies in this vicinity were, Néwbury—Remembrance Chamberlain, Capt., Joshua Bayley, Lieut., Moses Chamberlain, Ensign. Corinth—Abner Fowler, Capt., Mansfield Taplin, Lieut., Jonathan Lovewell, Ensign. Ryegate—John Gray, Capt., William Neilson, Lieut., Willoughby Goodwin, Ensign. Barnet—James Stuart, Capt., James Cross, Lieut., Moses Hall, Ensign. Peacham—Abiel Blanchard, Capt., John Skeels, Lieut., Jonathan Elkins, Ensign. The regiment was afterward commanded by Col. William Wallace of Newbury.

The old militia service was a great institution in its day, and had its political aspect also, and its social side. A captain in the militia was a great man in those days, and the title was a life estate, which he bore as long as he lived. All the able-bodied men, with, few exceptions were enrolled and their only compensation for their time, travel and equipment, was exemption from poll tax. The state militia numbered about 25,000 from 1815 and was divided into four divisions, ten brigades, and thirty-five regiments, with from eight to twelve companies each. Most of the regiments had also a company of artillery, one of cavalry, one of light infantry, and sometimes more than one of each. "Each division was commanded by a major-general, with a division inspector, division quarter-master and two aids; each brigade by a brigadier general with a brigade inspector, quarter-master and one aid; each regiment by a colonel, lieutenant-colonel, and major with the customary staff, and each company by the captain, lieutenants and ensign, with the usual noncommissioned officers."

It will be seen that taking the state through there were a good many men bearing military titles—indeed in those days when you met a smart, enterprising stranger it would be the proper thing to address him as "Captain;" if he had a military air you made your obeisance to the "Colonel"; if he "surveyed the field with eagle eye," you bowed down before the "General!"

Each regiment had its band, and each company a drum corps. Every man must be enrolled in the militia, but those who had time and money to spare formed themselves into independent companies, which were uniformed, and their equipments were of superior quality, while the regular companies were not uniformed, and were derisively styled "floodwood companies." The cavalry was spoken of as "The Troop," and its members as "troopers." These select companies usually bore some fine name like the "Lafayette Guards." They were very exclusive and as they drilled often, they were the crack companies, and held the places of honor at general muster. In the month of June the company met for "June training," and after haying came the "brigade muster," a great day indeed, when the entire brigade assembled for inspection, evolution and review by the governor and staff.

As a matter of curiosity we reproduce from the North Star of August 26, 1828, the regimental orders for the muster of that year:

Head Quarters.
St. Johnsbury, Aug. 18, 1828.

The Field Officers and Regimental Staff, the commissioned, non-commissioned officers and music of the First Regiment in the Second Brigade in the Fourth Division of the Militia of this State, are hereby ordered to rendezvous with the men under their command, armed and equipped as the Law directs for Military exercise at Maj. J. Kelsey’s Inn, in Danville, on Friday the 12th of September next at 9 o’clock, A. M. After the inspection of arms and standing and passing reviews, the following manoeuvres will be executed: For an explanation of which the officers are directed to the discipline established by law.

1st Passage of Lines.
2d Charge forward 1st company.
3d Change front to rear on 1st company.
4th Change front on 5th company, the left being thrown forward.
5th Column of attack.
6th Column of attack from line to front.
7th Close column of companies and deploy them.
8th By grand division and deploy them.
9th The line will advance in direct echelons of companies from the right flank with a parallel distance of six paces between the echelons.
10th Columns form line faced to the rear.

By order of,


By G. W. WARE, Aid-dc-Camp.

Mr. Miller has preserved many particulars regarding the old militia some of which we can use:

"Capt. John Gray was one of the earliest militia captains, and if I remember rightly the name "Capt. John Gray, 1779," was on the flag formerly used in Ryegate. William Nelson was probably made a captain of militia at some time."

The captains of the old militia company as near as can be ascertained were: James Henderson, John Gray, John Nelson, James Nelson, John Miller, George Nelson, Abraham Page, Andrew Warden, Robert Symes, Moses White, John Bigelow, W. M. Brock, Wm. G. Nelson, Win. P. Page, John J. Nelson, Thos. Nelson, John Buchanan, Amos Noyes, William Hall, and John Cameron. Some of these served several years. Alexander Harvey was captain in the cavalry.

At the brigade muster held at Sutton in 1825, the Ryegate company was one of the largest and best drilled. In the following year an independent company of light infantry was organized, with Robert Symes, captain. It was called the Grenadier Company, and Mr. Miller says:

"The Light Infantry Company dressed in uniform, with glazed high leather caps, blue coats with bullet shaped buttons and white pantaloons, and composed of the choicest soldiers of the town, made a fine appearance on parade. For the four or five last years of its existence they had ‘Pioneers’ in it, dressed to resemble Indians, who were each armed with a large horseman’s pistol, and a tomahawk. They generally marched in the front of the company, or on the wings, or next to the music, and often went scouting about. They began with about six pio neers, and afterwards increased to ten or twelve. About 1837 the Grenadiers were dissolved and the members had to return to the old flood-wood militia. Its captains were: 1826, Robert Symes; 1827-’28, John Cameron, Jun.; 1829-’30, William Hall; 1831-’32, John Bigelow; 1833-‘34, William Page; 1835, Robert Gibson 3d; 1836, Robert Cochran." About forty-five men were enrolled in this crack company.

John Cameron, Jun., Josiah Page and perhaps one or two more, were colonels. But Ryegate was never conspicuous in the old militia, none of the higher officers ever living here. The reason was that the early and more prominent commands in the militia were held by men who had been officers in the revolutionary war. Ryegate was not settled by revolutionary soldiers, while in other towns, Peacham and Danville for example, most of the early settlers had seen military service, and the officers of the war becoming prominent in the militia, their sons succeeded them in the possession of military titles. The Covenanters also, while not evading military service, would not take oaths, and were thus excluded from commands. But the records will show that when the country was in danger the men of this town did their part, but it was mainly in the rank and file, where hard work had to be done, rather than in conspicuous positions where they might have achieved fame.

Not many years after the Light Infantry was disbanded the militia system began to come into disfavor, and at last became unpopular. A new generation with new ideas and different views of life had come upon the stage, and cared less for the military display which had charmed the fathers. It had outlived its usefulness, and militia service was felt to be a burden both useless and harmful. Farmers and laboring men rebelled against being called away from their own affairs for several days in each year, and undergo long marches and absence from home, at their own expense, and apparently without any good coming from it. The temperance reform, beginning in the early ‘40’s to make itself felt, attacked the musters and trainings as schools of vice of all kinds. These great assemblages which drew all the inhabitants of a wide circuit together to witness the manceuvers of the militia, and hear the music of the bands, had an irresistable fascination for all the rough elements within reach. It was the custom for the men to meet at the captain’s house and fire a salute, when the captain appeared and treated the men, and the mere drop thus imbibed in the early morning required frequent repetition during the day. Boys and young men learned there their first lessons in intemperance, and wise parents regarded the June training and annual muster with well grounded apprehension. Liquor of all kinds was more than free, it was even pressed upon boys hardly in their teens. The evolutions of the troops were usually concluded with a sham fight, in which several melancholy accidents resulted from the careless use of firearms in the hands of drunken men; and the disorderly scenes which closed the day disgusted sensible people. Mr. Miller mentions several instances of this character and the session records of both Ryegate and Barnet indicate how the churches were affected by the evils which accompanied the occasions of military display.

Prudent people devised expedients for evading military service, and in the last years of the system many openly defied the law compelling attendance. Mr. Miller says that the last training held in this town was in 1844, when only about one-half of those liable to do duty were in evidence. In the following year, the captain had urgent business out of the state at the time of June training, the men were not summoned, and a year or two later, all the militia laws were repealed. So passed ignominiously away one of the great institutions of old days.

After the St. Albans raid in 1864, a regiment of militia, composed mainly of veterans, was organized for the defense of the northern frontier, and Wm. J. Henderson of Ryegate was appointed Major. This organization was not long needed. After the war a militia system was again organized, and eight regiments of 500 men in each were provided for, in which service was voluntary, but the men were equipped by the state, and paid for their time. A company was made up from Ryegate, Groton and Peacham, in which Albert M. Whitelaw was captain, and A. Park Renfrew, lieutenant. This company was soon disbanded, the law having been repealed.

So far as can be ascertained, although there have always been members of the Masonic fraternity in Ryegate, there has never been a lodge of Masons in this town. General Whitelaw was a Mason in Scotland and some others as well, but they were connected here with lodges in other towns. An attempt, however, to make Ryegate the scene of the earliest exemplification of Masonry in this state has been made known to us by the kindness of Dr. J. M. Currier. We will give and analyze the statement.

In an address delivered by Hon. Henry Clark at the dedication of Hiram Lodge at West Rutland, May 28, 1879, he stated that Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, "President of the Scotch-American Land Company which settled the town of Ryegate," visited that place in May, 1774, and remained until July of that year. He professes to quote from a diary of Dr. Witherspoon’s as follows, respecting this visit: "I have been on a "visit to my possessions in New Connecticut or New Hampshire Grants, "in the town of Ryegate, and there I convened my Masonic brethren in "informal Lodge and held a delightful re-union. There were present "brothers James Whitelaw, John Gray, Hugh Laughlin, Archibald Park, "William Gibson, James Nelson, John Cameron, Jonathan Coburn, and "my beloved brother in the ministry, Brother David Goodwillie." Mr. Clark says that "these were undoubtedly Scottish Masons as they were all emigrants from Scotland and this was probably the first assemblage of Masons, although not in organized form, held in this jurisdiction. It indicates at least their love of Masonry, whose mysteries they had received in their early home. In June, 1782 Dr. Witherspoon again visited this section of country and made the following memorandum in his diary: "June 24, 1782, my Masonic brethren assembled at the tavern, ‘and without working tools or aprons, marched to the Presbyterian ‘church, where I endeavored to portray the tenets of the Masonic order, ‘as exemplified in the life of our great patron, St. John the Baptist. The ‘Masons marched back to the tavern, where we all sat down to dinner.’"

This is a very interesting statement, which if true, is a most valuable contribution to the history of this town; if not true it is no history at all. This address was printed in pamphlet form, and this statement went the rounds of the press at the time. Let us look into this matter a little.

First. Dr. Witherspoon was never President of the Scotch-American Company, or even a member of it. He owned land which he sold to the Company.

Second. Mr. Whitelaw’s letters to Scotland during the period named, make no mention of Dr. Witherspoon’s visit, but speak of receiving letters from him. There were only a few settlers here in 1774 and they had just begun to clear land.

Third. Of the brethren whose names he gives as participators in these Masonic observances in 1774:—Hugh Laughlin came here from Ireland in 1799, Archibald Park was not born till 1780, William Gibson came here from Scotland in 1802, and Rev. William Gibson from Ireland in 1798. John Cameron came here in 1782, Rev. David Goodwillie did not leave Scotland till 1788, Jonathan Coburn was not born till a year later. It is a singular co-incidence, however, that these nine men mentioned are the subjects of brief biographies in the article upon Ryegate in Miss Hemenway’s Gazetteer of Vermont and the veracious narrator of this event seems to have assumed their presence upon an occasion which happened before the birth of two of them.

Fourth. In regard to Dr. Witherspoon’s visit in 1782, there was no church building in Ryegate at that time, or within many miles of it except the one at Newbury.

Fifth. The officials of the Boston Public Library know nothing of any diary of Rev. Dr. Witherspoon.

Taking all these facts into consideration the entire statement appears a little doubtful. Of the position of Ryegate in the Anti-Masonic controversy, we shall have occasion to speak later.

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