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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter VI


NOTE. When the present editor took charge of this work, he supposed that nothing could be said regarding the early history of the town, beyond the data collected by Mr. Mason and Mr. Miller. But the unexpected discovery among the Whitelaw papers of much of the original correspondence, records, etc., not known by Mr. Miller to be in existence, rendered an entirely different treatment necessary. The editor has endeavored to prepare the work as nearly as possible as he believes Mr. Miller would have done, had he lived to complete his task, and had access to the same sources of information.

WHILE waiting at Newbury for Mr. Church to come up, Mr. Whitelaw [Whitelaw's letter to the Company, Nov. 17th, 1763.—Whitelaw papers.] made a report of the expenses of the commissioners to that date, which he transmitted to Scotland.  He credited the Company with £100 sterling in cash and bills of exchange, which they had expended as follows:

He concluded his report with some observations which are of value:

"The ground here produces Indian Corn, and all kinds of English grain to perfection, likewise all garden vegetables in great plenty, and they have very promising orchards of excellent fruit. Many things grow here in the open fields which the climate of Scotland will not produce, such as melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and the like. Salmon and trout and a great many other kinds of fish are caught in plenty in Connecticut river. Sugar can be made here in abundance in March and April from the maple tree which grows in great plenty. In short, no place which we have seen is better furnished with food and the necessaries of life, and even some of its luxuries, or where the people live more comfortably than here. There is a good market of all the produce of the ground at the following prices: Wheat from 3/6 to 4/6 {Three shillings, sixpence, to four shillings, sixpence.} the English bushel. Oats and Indian corn from 1/6 to 2 shill. Butter 6 d. the English pound. Cheese 4½ d. Beef 2d Pork 4½ d. all sterling money. The country produceth excellent flax, which sells when swingled, from 4½ to 6d. the pound. Considering the newness of the country the people here are very prosperous, and we think that any who come here, and are steady and industrious, may be in very comfortable circumstances within a few years. Clearing land seems to be no great hardship as it is commonly done for from 5 to 6 dollars per acre."

Mr. Whitelaw closes his letter to the Company with some instructions to intending emigrants, as to the best manner of reaching Ryegate, which are of interest in showing what the roads were to this part of the country just before the revolutionary war. He advises people to come to Newburyport, rather than to Portsmouth or Boston, as he says there was a very good wagon road all the way, and the country more settled. "When you come there you will enquire for Capt. Moses Little, Merchant, and he will give you directions for conveying yourselves and your chests hither." Mr. Little, for whom the town of Littleton is named, was a brother-in-law of Gen. Jacob Bayley of Newbury, and had large interests in this part of New England. On the arrival of Mr. Church at Gen. Jacob Bayley’s in Newbury, the following agreement was drawn up to secure the purchase till a proper title-deed could be given, which, for reasons yet to appear, was delayed for a time.

NEWBURY, Nov. 19th, 1773.

The agreement between John Church, Esq., of Charlestown in Newhampshire, and taking burden upon him for John Witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey, and John Pagan, Merchant in Glasgow, and William Pagan, Merchant in New York, on the one part, and David Allan and James Whitelaw, Commissioners for the Scotch American Company of Farmers, is as follows:

After surveying the township of Ryegate, and making out a plan thereof we found the Contents to he twenty-one thousand one hundred and sixty-four acres, including the public lots, viz.: Five hundred acres for the Governor, eight hundred and forty-two acres for the Glebe, first settled minister, school, and for the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and after running a Centrical line, to divide the Township into two equal parts in quantity, it was mutually agreed between the above-mentioned parties that the aforesaid David Allan and James Whitelaw in consequence of their agreement with John Wither-Spoon, President of the College, is to have the half south of the Centrical line, Which line begins at Connecticut river near the falls and runs north sixty-five degrees west till it strikes the west line of the the town, which half is bordered with the Governor’s five hundred acres lying as it is planned on the Patent, and one share and one-half of the public right which by computation amounts to about three hundred and fifteen acres, and a hundred acres to Aaron Hosmer covering his improvements and extending not above one hundred rods on the river and half a mile back, and likewise one hundred acres to John Hyndman lined off in regular form to which agreement we have interchangeably set our hand and seal in the presence of


The actual deed for the south half of Ryegate was not given for nearly a year from the above date, but this agreement was sufficient to secure the possession of the land. This delay is explained by the following letter:

New YORK, 23d. Feb. 1774.


Herewith you have five letters which came to my hand, and which I have not before had an opportunity of conveying to you.

Mr. Church on his coming to town informed me that he had come into a division of Ryegate with you, which I have seen and agreed to; he likewise mentioned that you was anxious to have the deeds completed, which both doctor Witherspoon and myself would with pleasure do, but find that we cannot give a more firm title than you already have, till such time as it is Decided what Province Ryegate falls under, as a deed in the present situation would answer no better purpose than the Instrument you have, under the doctor’s hand, which, I am willing in every respect to confirm, and will join in a Warrantee deed as soon as the controversary is determined between the two provinces which must soon now be determined, as both our Governor and that of New Hampshire goes home this spring in order to have the Controversary finally settled before His Majesty in Council. Whatever Province Ryegate falls under, we are entirely safe, having a Patent under the one and an Order in Council under the other. You need not be in the least uneasy, but go on with your settlement as if you had the most firm deed now in your possession.

I am, Gentlemen,

Your very humble servant


AND                                                            Ryegate.

The settlement of Ryegate may be dated from the month of November, 1773, when James Whitelaw and David Allan came into possession of the south half of the town, in behalf of the Scotch American Company. It will be remembered that Aaron Hosmer and Daniel Hunt were living there, and had lived there for some time, but they were merely squatters, and had no title to any of the land on which they lived.

John Hyndman had also been settled there, through the agency of Dr. Witherspoon, and had "pitched" upon land which afterward became the farm of William Nelson. Both Hosmer and Hyndman were given grants of land.

It is now a suitable place to speak of the distinguished man to whom the choice of Ryegate, as a place of settlement, was mainly due. Rev. Dr. WithersPoon was born at Gifford, Haddingtonshire, Scotland, Feb. 5, 1722, the son of a minister of the church of Scotland, and, through his mother, a descendant of John Knox. He entered the University of Edinburgh at the age of 14, and at 22, was ordained over the Congregation of Beith, in the west of Scotland, and married Elizabeth Montgomery. He was a spectator of the battle of Falkirk, Jan. 17, 1746, was taken prisoner by the rebels, and confined in Doune Castle till after the battle of Culloden. His health never fully recovered from the confinement. He was called to become pastor of the church at Paisley, and installed there, Jan. 16, 1757. Some theological and metaphysical works of his attracted great attention, and he received the degree of D. D., in 1764, from the University of Aberdeen. In 1766 he declined the call to become president of Princeton College, in New Jersey, but on its renewal in 1768, he accepted it, and removed to America. Under his administration the college prospered greatly, until the revolutionary war. He was an early advocate of the freedom of the colonies, and was a member of the Provincial Congress of New Jersey. In June, 1776, he took his seat in the Continental Congress, was one of the most prominent advocates of independence, and a signer of the Declaration. [A statue of John Witherspoon, now unveiled in Washington, represents the Revolutionary sire of Princeton University, whose president he was during the Period of the American Revolution. Witherspoon was Scotch and Presbyterian. In the debate over the Declaration of Independence, which he signed, the college President said: "For my own part, of property I have some, of reputation I have more: that reputation is staked, that property is pledged, on the issue of this contest. And although these gray hairs must soon descend into the sepulcher, I would infinitely rather that they descend thither by the hand of the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country." That was the serious Scotch way of stating the case. Benjamin Franklin, with immortal Wit, on the same occasion, remarked: "If we don’t hang together we’ll hang separately." - (Springfield Republican, May, 1909.)] He died Nov. 15, 1794. Dr. Witherspoon invested quite extensively in lands in Vermont, especially in Ryegate and Newbury, which, ultimately, owing partly to the war, proved a financial loss to him.

He visited Ryegate and Barnet several times where he preached and baptized children. His oldest son, John, came to Ryegate about 1775, and settled on what is still called the "Witherspoon tract" of 600 acres, in the northwest corner of the town, where he began to clear land, and erected some kind of habitation. He entered the Continental Army, became an aid to General Washington, and fell at the battle of Germantown. This tract, about 1800, was bought by James and Abraham Whitehill, at which time the land cleared by Major Witherspoon was covered by a second growth of trees. The spot where this unfortunate gentleman lived is still pointed out. [In the historical sketch of Caledonia Co., written by Rev. Thomas Goodwillie, he says. "On one of his visits to Ryegate Dr. Witherspoon rode the saddle on which his son sat at the battle of Germantown, and which bore the mark of the ball which killed him.]

It seems strange that Ryegate possesses no memorial of Dr. Witherspoon, who was thus connected with its early history, and who had so much to do with shaping the religious course of the town. To the end of his life he manifested an interest in the affairs of the colony, and was a correspondent of Rev. David Good willie in the early days of the Associate Presbyterian church. It has been proposed to give his eminent name to that beautiful sheet of water, which, embosomed among the hills of Ryegate, has always borne an undignified appellation, in no way associated with Indian traditions or local history.

Of John Church very little can be ascertained. He lived in Charles-town, and the history of that town says that he died in 1785, leaving several children.

One of the chief reasons for the selection of Ryegate as a place of settlement was undoubtedly the fact that the commissioners liked the people of Newbury better than those they had met anywhere in the south. In his letters to Scotland, Mr. Whitelaw speaks of them and of their cordial reception of them in the highest terms. "They are," he wrote, "very strict about keeping the Sabbath." The first settlers also were congenial in their religious views, Rev. Peter Powers their minister being a Presbyterian, and the church at Newbury was organized upon a Presbyterian platform. Mr. Whitelaw himself found at Newbury, a personal attraction, which later, he transferred to the new township.

Newbury, at that time, contained about 400 white inhabitants, most of whom dwelt along the river road from the Ox-bow to Bradford line, (although there were settlements at West Newbury and at Wells River), the most thickly settled portion being near the Great Ox-bow. The meeting house of that day, which was also used for a court house, stood across the road from the cemetery. Haverhill had about as many people, and its center of population was at what we now call North Haverhill. Among the settlers in both towns, according to the statement of Timothy Clark in 1850, [Arthur Livermore’s diary.] were about twenty Indian families, who lived by hunting and fishing, the remnants of several tribes. These settlements were known as the Coos Country, and together, formed the strongest community in this part of New England. There were several men in Newbury at that early day who were widely known, and who left their mark upon the community. One of them was Col. William Wallace, who came from Scotland before 1774, and opened a store. He had great influence in Ryegate. To mention no others Col. (afterwards Gen.) Jacob Bayley, was a tower of strength to the whole region in the trying times of the revolutionary war.

Of the first days in Ryegate we will let Mr. Whitelaw tell the tale, supplementing the narrative with such other information as has come down to us.

"When we came here John Hyndman was building his house so we helped him up with it both for the conveniency of lodging with him till we built one of our own2 and had it finished about the beginning of January, 1774. Nothing worth noticing happened till the spring, only we cut down as much wood as we could, and James Henderson made what wooden utensils we had occasion for, and James White-law went down to Newburyport and Portsmouth and brought a sled load of such necesarys as we wanted. In the month of April we made about 60 lbs. of sugar, after which we began the surveying of the town, and first ran lines from north to south (and vice versa) at every forty rods distance, which lines are above three miles long, and upwards of 40 in number, one half of which we marked for the ends of the lots and the other half we did not mark but only run them to know the quality of the ground."

Writing home to Scotland on the 7th of Feb., 1774, Mr. Whitelaw says:

"We have now built a house and live very comfortably, though we are not troubled much with our neighbors, having one family about half a mile from us, another a mile and a half, and two about two miles and a half—one above and the other below us. In the township above us (Barnet) there are about fifteen families, and there are a few settlers sixty miles above us on the river.

There is a road now begun to be cut from Connecticut River to Lake Champlain, which goes through the middle of our purchase, and is reasoned to be considerable advantage to us, as it will be the chief post road to Canada. [It stood a few rods southeast of A. M. Whitelaw’s.]

Gen. Whitelaw’s map of Ryegate shows there were 400 lots, equal to the number of shares in the Company’s stock, varying in size, according to their estimated value, from ten to fifty acres, a few lots exceeding the latter quantity. Reference to the map will show the size of the lots, and the manner of numbering them. This did not include the Governor’s lot, or the common land. A map of the projected "town," with streets and house-lots, sites for churches, schools, markets and other features of a Scotch town in the 18th century, which was expected to occupy the long slope of the hill from "Fair-View" to the pond, in existence a few years ago, cannot now be found. [Since this was written a part of this map has come to light.]

Mr. Whitelaw and Mr. Allan appear to have spent the winter with John Hyndman and his family, and cleared about four acres of land, probably on the farm now owned by W. T. McLam. They probably had some hired help, as there are bills for clearing land still possessed. They seem to have varied the monotony by frequent visits to Newbury, and waited for spring, and the coming of their friends from Scotland. In April they sowed some wheat, and raised from it the first grain grown in Ryegate.

"On Monday, the 23d of May, arrived here from Scotland, David Ferry, Alexander Sym (Symes) and family, Andrew and Robert Brock, John and Robert Orr, John Wilson, John Gray, John Shaw and Hugh Semple, and as we had not finished the surveying, Alexander Sym went to work with Col Bayley, and all the rest with the managers for the company where they continued till the 1st of July, when we got their lots laid off for them, and David Ferry took possession of Lot No. 1; Hugh Semple of Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5; John Orr and his brother of Nos. 6 and 7 for themselves and Nos. 8 and 9 for William Black wood; John Gray of No. 10 for himself, and No. 11 for John Barr; John Wilson of Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17; Andrew and Robert Brock of Nos. 21st-28th, Alexander Sym of Nos. 29 and 30, and John Shaw of Nos. 31 and 32 for himself, and of 33, 34, 35 and 36, for William Warden, and of Nos. 37, 38, 39 and 40 for James Laird."

Reference to the map will show that the first corners selected lots as near each other as possible, with the expectation that as new settlers came, the settlement would broaden out into the wilderness.

"July the 5th, we agreed with Archibald Harvie and Robert Orr for one year’s work for the company, and on the 11th we agreed with John Shaw, and on July 30 with David Ferry, all for one year’s work."

These last were not members of the Scotch American company, but young men who had come over to work till they could buy land of their own. Some of the early settlers of Ryegate had been employed in the fishing trade in Scotland, and worked their passage to America as sailors. The passage of some others was paid by the company, and was repaid in work on the company’s land.

"On Monday, the 1st of August, after having determined the quality of the several lots and drawn a map of them, and likewise of the town spot, David Allan set out from this place on his way home to Scotland, when the whole of the Ryegate Colonists attended him to Colonel Bayley’s in Newbury, and James Henderson went along with him to Newburyport, where he took his leave of him."

No finer tribute could have been paid to David Allan than the above paragraph. His descendants may well be proud of their ancestor. The company’s account book shows that James Henderson made quite large purchases for the company. Robert Brock’s watch needing attention, it was taken by him to Newburyport, and "mended" at a cost of three shillings, sixpence.

"On the 1st of October John Waddell, James Neilson, and Thomas McKeach (McKeith) arrived here, and Patrick Lang and family, William Neilson and family, and David Reid and wife. On the 8th, arrived Robert Gemmel and son, Robert Tweedale and wife, and Andrew and James Smith."

Writing home to Scotland, under date of October 14th, Mr. White-law says:

"Robert Gemmel and son, Robert Tweedale and his wife, and Andrew Smith and his brother, all from Douglass, arrived here the 8th inst., all in good health, and are extraordinarily well pleased with the place. They left their homes about the 8th of May, and came to Belfast in Ireland, where they stayed five weeks before they got a ship, when they sailed for New York, where they arrived after a passage of eight weeks and five days of very pleasant weather, and, like the rest of our Colonists, they commended their captain to the utmost. Their freight from Ireland was only fifty shillings, Irish money, and as soon as they agreed with the vessel, which was two weeks before they sailed, they went aboard, and had their provision.

"We shall have a flourishing colony here in a short time, but we are at a loss for young women, as we have here about a dozen young fellows and only one girl, and we shall never multiply and replenish this western world as we ought without help-meets for us, and as this is an excellent flax country, a parcel of your spinners would be the very making of the place. If we had here a good shoemaker that was capable of tanning and currying leather, he might be of good advantage to us, and likewise reap considerable advantage to himself." [Whitelaw Papers.]

A few days later Mr. Whitelaw made an entry of a very different event in his journal:

"On the 22d of Oct., Andrew Smith departed this life. He was the first Scotchman that died in this place. He was in good health on the morning of the 21st, but about 11 o’clock, forenoon, he was seized with a cholic (to which he had formerly been subject) of which he died at 3 o’clock next morning. James Whitelaw with the rest of the new Colonists made choice of a spot near the east side of the common for a burying place where he was decently interred same evening."

There is no record of any religious service at this lonely burial. Indeed, at that time in Scotland, according to Sir Walter Scott, [The Antiquary, Chapt. XXXI.] there was not, usually, any religious service at a funeral. But in the New England colonies, so far as we know, the burial of the dead was always hallowed by prayer, by reading of the Scriptures, and by remarks from some clergyman. The settlers of Ryegate soon adopted this more sacred and impressive observance, as Rev. Peter Powers of Newbury preached a funeral sermon here a few years later.

But these exiles in a strange land must have felt keenly the shock which the sudden death of their associate had caused, and we may be sure that their thoughts often recurred in the coming winter to that lonely grave.

Mr. Miller, following Mr. Whitelaw’s journal, supposes that about forty emigrants from Scotland had reached Ryegate by the beginning of 1775, but it appears from Whitelaw’s letter to the company that a number of persons from Scotland had arrived at Portsmouth in the autumn, and were on their way up the country. At that time Alexander Harvey was bringing settlers from Scotland to his purchase in Barnet, and as some of those whom Mr. Whitelaw mentions soon settled there it is likely that they belonged to the Harvey company.

Some months after this chapter was written the original deed of the south half of Ryegate was discovered, and is given here. The reader will not fail to be struck by the difference between its cumbersome verbiage, and the simpler terms by which real estate is now conveyed. In this instrument the legal phraseology is printed, while the particular description of the town is written.


Made the thirty-first day of October, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-five, BETWEEN John Church of Charlestown, in the Province of New Hampshire, of the first Part, and James Whitelaw of Ryegate, in the County of Gloucester, and Province of New York, of the second Part—Witness, &c.: That the said Party of the first Part, for the Consideration of One thousand one hundred and eighty-six Pounds, Lawful Money of New York, already by him received, and from which he doth release and discharge the said Party of the second Part and his Heirs and Assigns; HATH granted, bargained, aliened, released and confirmed; and hereby DOTH grant, bargain and sell, aliene, release and confirm unto the said Party of the second Part (in his actual Possession now, being by Virtue of an Indenture of Bargain and Sale for a year, dated yesterday, and of the Statute for transferring Uses into Possession) and to His Heirs and Assigns forever: ALL that Tract or Parcel of land lying in the south part of the township of Ryegate in the County of Gloucester and Province of New York, containing Ten thousand acres, by estimation, bounded as follows: Beginning at the N. E. corner of Newbury, thence N. 60° West about six miles and a quarter to a lever wood tree marked with the letters I. W., I. W., T. O. R. O thence N. 2° W. about three miles to a stake near a beech tree marked with the aforesaid letters, and June, 1774, thence S. 65° E. about five miles and three quarters to a small white cedar tree at the head of a fall of Connecticut River, thence down said river, as it winds and turns, to the bounds first mentioned, Excluding within the said bounds the following tracts—viz: three lots Bounded as follows: the first lot of eight hundred and twenty acres begins at the first bounds at the N. E. corner of Newbury, thence along the north line of Newbury, one hundred and fifty chains to a pine marked Gov’r, thence N. 28° E. forty chains, thence north till it meets John Hyndman’s bounds, thence E. about 30 chains to a stake and stones, thence N. 120° W. twenty-five chains, thence N. 98° E. to Connecticut river, then down the river, as it winds and turns to the first bounds; the second lot begins at the S. W. corner of lot 80, and runs forty chains W. to a stake and stones, then W. twenty-five chains to a beech tree marked R. H., T. H., I. W., then E. forty chains to a small beech marked P. H., T. H., thence south to the first bounds; the third lot begins at a cedar tree before mentioned, thence down Connecticut river about twenty chains to a stake and stones, thence N. 35° W. seventy-one chains and seventy-five links to a stake and stones, thence N. 10° E. about forty chains to a line running S. 63° E., thence on said line to the Cedar before mentioned. And all the Edifices thereon, and Advantages to the same now or heretofore belonging; And also the Reversion and Reversions, Remainder and Remainders, Rents and Services of the Premises and the Appurtenances; And also all the Estate, Right, Title, Interest, Claim and Demand of the said Party,. of the first Part, in Law and Equity, of, in and to the same Premises: To HAVE AND TO HOLD all and singular the said Real Estate, Tenements and Premises unto the Party of the second Part, his Heirs and Assigns forever: And the said Party of the first Part, for himself, his Heirs and Assigns, doth covenant and grant to and with the said Party of the second Part, his Heirs and Assigns in Manner and form following: That he, the said Party, of the first Part, stood lawfully seized and possessed of the above Grants, and Estate of Inheritance in Fee Simple in the same Premises, without any Condition, Mortgage, Limitation of, Use and Uses, or any other Matter or Course to change, charge or determine the same, except the Quit Rent Payable to the Crown, and that he has full power and Authority to grant and convey the same in the Manner above mentioned. AND ALSO, That the said Party of the second Part, his Heirs and Assigns, shall and may at all Times forever hereafter, peaceably have, possess and enjoy the same Premises, without the Interruption of any Person or Persons whomsoever, freed from all former other Bargains, Charges, Estates, Rights, Titles, Troubles and Incumbrances whatsoever than above mentioned. AND Also, That the said Party of the first Part, and his Heirs, or any other Person or Persons, and his and their Heirs, having or claiming anything in the Premises, shall and will, upon the Request of the said Party of the second Part, his Heirs and Assigns, do and execute or cause to be done and executed, any Act or Devise in the Law for the better conveying the said Premises, unto the said Party of the second Part, his Heirs and Assigns to his and their own proper Use and Behoof as by him and them, or his and their Counsel learned in the Law, shall be reasonably advised, devised or required

IN WITNESS whereof the Parties to these Presents have hereunto interchangeably set their Hands and Seals the Day and Year above written.


Sealed and Delivered in the Presence of us,


Province of New York,
County of Gloucester

Newbury, Nov. 13th, 1775, then the within subscribed John Church personally appeared and acknowledged the within instrument to be his free Act and Deed, and having examined the same and finding no material Erazures or Interlineations Do Allow the same to be recorded.

Jacob Bayley, one of the Judges of the Inferior Court of Sc. County.

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