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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter VII


THE experiment of a colony among the Vermont hills, whose affairs were to be regulated by an association in Scotland, between which, under the most favorable conditions, communication must be a matter of several months, was not likely to continue long without Considerable change. In America, at that time, such a colony could hardly have been established any where, and the plan indicates the small amount of information which even the more intelligent people in Scotland possessed concerning actual conditions in the backwoods of North America.

The idea of a "town," which should contain the public buildings, and where the land owners should reside while their tenants occupied the outlying farms, would never have been indulged had the projectors realized what trials, privations and dangers the pioneers in a new country must undergo before they can even obtain a comfortable support—enough to eat, shelter, and protection from cold and storm.

It was not long before the settlers found that it would be useless to attempt to carry out these stipulations. The colonists would have enough to do to clear their land, build their rude cabins, defend themselves and their cattle from the wild beasts of the wilderness, build roads and undertake as best they could the heavy task before them, without attempting a communistic experiment.

In a letter [Whitelaw Papers.] to the company, dated Dec. 11, 1780, Mr. Whitelaw states the situation very sensibly :— "As for building a town here to have a house on every lot will never answer, as the town will never have any inhabitants, at least, only a very small part of them, so it will be foolish, and even ridiculous to build them. And to carry on a public farm here will be no advantage to the Company, and those who think to live in Scotland and live on the Incomes of farms in this country, will find themselves mistaken. The reason is this :—that land is so cheap and so plenty here, that there is no person but will rather improve a farm of his own, than to carry on one for another man."

Consequently the "town spot," and the "Common Land," fell into the state of neglect which is the proverbial condition of that which is everybody’s business, until, in 1780, the managers were glad to relieve themseves of them, by leasing them to John Scott for a term of ten years, on condition that he should finish the house and barn, and the clearing of what had been cut down. He seems to have wearied of his task, as he soon removed to Newbury. The ‘ "town spot," by purchase from its several owners, passed into one or two hands, and the "common land," by permission of the company in Scotland, was sold, piece by piece. The "city," with its streets and squares, building lots, market places, sites for churches, storehouses, schools and the like, never got beyond the carefully drawn plan which has long since disappeared. The only street in the "town" which was ever laid out, is the public road which ascends the long slope of the "town hill."

The letters which were written home to Scotland by the emigrants who arrived in Ryegate the first year, gave, generally, such a favorable account of the place, and of New England in general, that many persons and families in the neighborhood of Renfrew and Paisley made preparation to set out for the new colony, and, had not the revolutionary war broken out just at that time, it is probable that all the land in Ryegate would have been taken up by members of the company and their friends. At that time, in Scotland, the movement for emigration was so general, and influenced by so many considerations, as to cause much alarm among the landed proprietors of the country. The agitation of the subject among the tenant farmers of the lowlands, tended, if not checked, to deprive the country of great numbers of valuable citizens. Before that period the landed gentry had things much their own way, as there were more people to lease farms than there were farms to rent. Consequently, the tenant farmers had to take such terms as the landlord chose to give. This condition of things, so favorable to the landed classes, was threatened by a movement which might, if not checked. produce a scarcity of tenants. Consequently, when there should be more farms to let than there were desirable tenants seeking them, rents must fall. The landed classes also feared that the further settlement of America would supply the markets of Great Britain with grain and flour, which could be produced there so much more cheaply than upon British soil.

The movement for emigration was strongest among the most desirable class of tenants, and men whose ancestors had cultivated the same "tacks," as the leased farms were called, for centuries, were giving them up, all over Scotland, and emigrating to America, mainly to the Middle Colonies and the Carolinas. Consequently the landed gentry, generally, opposed emigration, and tried, by every means, legal and illegal, to check a movement which threatened them, both in reducing their income by lowering the rents of farms, and still more by supplying the great staples of food, of which they had previously held a monopoly.

This will explain the position of the landed classes in supporting all the measures taken by the government for putting down the rebellion in America, while the letters received by James Whitelaw from his friends in Scotland, show that the tenant farmers of Stirlingshire and Renfrewshire, were, in general, favorable to the American cause, although very cautious about expressing their sentiments.

Among those who held the selfish views before mentioned was Lord Blantyre, whose hereditary possessions included the greater part of the parish of Renfrew, in which originated some of the best Ryegate families. This nobleman had not favored the Association, which threatened to deprive him of some valuable tenants, and had begun legal proceedings against certain persons in whom he suspected an intention of joining the emigration, and against whom he had, or pretended so have, some claim.

He also seized every opportunity which offered, to injure the association, and a weapon was provided for him. Among those who arrived in Ryegate on the 24th of May, 1774, were John Wilson and Hugh Semple. These had taken offence at some things which had been done, and both sent letters home to Scotland by David Allan, who seems to have known nothing of their contents. The letter written by John Wilson, in particular, in which he drew a rather dark picture of what he had seen in America, and of the situation and prospects of the colony in Ryegate, fell into the hands of this nobleman. William Hamilton, writing from Renfrew to James Whitelaw under date of Dec. 27, 1774, presents the matter thus:—" The Right Honorable Lord Blantyre and some of his Sycophants has got John Wilson’s letter and it gives them such joy that they propose to publish it to the world from the press. It is very galling to all who are friends to America, and we wish that who ever writes from Ryegate to their friends may be enabled from truth itself to send more comfortable news, or, at least, such as will not give our many enemies such cause to triumph."

But, generally, the stockholders of the company in Scotland placed more dependence upon the representations of James Whitelaw and other settlers, and upon the oral testimony of David Allan, a man of sagacity and good judgment, than upon the letters of Wilson and "the sensible Hugh Semple," and were well satisfied with the prospects of the colony. But the unsettled state of the country, and the troubles with America made people very cautious about investing in enterprises so far from home.

Mr. Houston, in the letters from which we have cited, states the financial situation of the Company. It will be remembered that the stock

of the Scotch-American Company was divided into four hundred shares, having a par value of £2,10s. Each entitled the holder to one lot of land in the south division of Ryegate, a house lot in the "town spot," and an undivided share in the common land. But at the date of the letter, the subscribers to about eighty shares had not paid for them, and some never would. The Company had expended about £400, in the expenses of the Commissioners, the first payment for the land, and the cost of the work which had been done upon it, and had only £400 to its credit in the bank at Glasgow to finish the payment, erect buildings, clear the land and pay for the building of the mills at Boltonville, to which we shall presently advert. This deficit of £200 considerably hampered the company, a temporary loan was secured upon the responsibility of the wealthier members, an assessment was voted upon the stock, and the forfeiture of all the shares not paid by a certain date was also voted. The troublous times also increased the rate of exchange, so that in 1774, a discount of 20 per cent. was charged upon the bills drawn by Mr. Whitelaw on the company. At that time there was not a bank in North America, and funds were transmitted by Bills of Exchange which were honored by certain merchants in the seaport towns.

By the opening of spring in 1775, clearings had been begun on several farms in different parts of the town, and something had been done toward making a road which could be traveled on horseback, which took the general course of the present highway from Wells River to Ryegate Corner, past the Gray farm, and the east side of Blue Mountain to the Harvey Tract in Barnet, and the few settlers who had begun to clear the dense woods of Peacham. Considerable wheat had been sown among the stumps and logs of the new clearings, and the next enterprise which the settlers planned, was the building of a saw mill and a grist mill.

Mr. Whitelaw sums up the enterprise in his journal thus:—

"About the beginning of January, 1775, James Whitelaw purchased the part of Lot No. 120 in Newbury, that lies on the north side of Wells River (which contains the great falls,) with one-half the privilege of the river for the purpose of building mills for the company. About which time James Henderson began to block out wood for building them."

The selection of the falls at Boltonville as a site for the mills of the Ryegate colonists, was not decided upon without some opposition which is fully set forth in Mr. Whitelaw’s letters to the Company. Some of the settlers wanted the mills built in the town, and have them placed at the outlet of the pond, contending that there was sufficient water to run them at all times of the year. Mr. Whitelaw was almost alone in opposition to this scheme, and it was not until several persons of experience in building and operating mills had examined the location, and decided that a sufficient head of water could only be generated by the erection of an expensive dam, and a long race-way, that the matter was settled. It was made clear that there would be water to run the mills only two or three months in the year, but the site on Wells-River was not decided upon without some ill feeling, which, happily, did not last long.

At that time Wells River poured its floods over the precipices at Boltonville in the midst of a dense forest, in solitary grandeur, a wild and secluded spot. It was a very enterprising thing for the few colonists of Ryegate to harness the wild stream to grind grain and saw logs for their use.

On the 30th of May Mr. Whitelaw wrote the company as follows: [Original among Whitelaw papers.]


I received your favor of the 27th of December, about the 15th instant, wherein you have given orders for the building of a saw and grist miln for the benefit of the inhabitants of Ryegate. On the 22d we had a meeting of all the members of the company who are here, when I read your letter, and they all unanimously signed an obligation to bear their proportional share of whatever assessment may be found necessary for completing the milns, and likewise have promised us as much work, gratis, among themselves, as makes 50 days of one man, and as the people were determined to have milns built, we got all the iron work done in winter, and now have all the running gear finished, and expect to have it running some time in July."

The obligation is as follows:"Ryegate, May 22, 1775. We, the under subscribers hereby bond and oblige ourselves to pay our proportional shares of what assessment may be found necessary for completing a grist and saw miln for the benefit of the inhabitants of Ryegate, which assessment we are to pay in labour at the ordinary rate of the country."

James Whitelaw, David Ferrie, Robert Gemmel, John Shaw, Patrick Lang, James Henderson, John Waddel, Robert Brock, Alexander Symmes, Robert Twadle, John Gray, Archibald Taylor, John Orr, William Neilson, James Neilson and Thomas McKeith.

Mr. Whitelaw’s account shows that the mill irons cost nearly £20 sterling, does not say where they were made, but that they were bought of Josiah Little. The first saw mill crank in Newbury, still preserved, was drawn from Concord, N. H., on a hand sled by several men, a feat which came near costing all their lives. But by the year 1775, several saw mills had been built in the Coos country, and it was, probably, a much easier task to procure the necessary equipment.

The timber for the mills was cut on the spot, and also for a house for the miller. Both frames were raised on the same day, the saw mill being where the mill shed now is. James Henderson, with the aids of the other settlers, hewed and framed the timber. The water wheels and other wooden machinery were made by John Waddel, and a blacksmith from Haverhill set up a forge, and made nails and the necessary iron work. The mill stones were cut from a rock in the field a little below where the late Granville Meader long lived, and were drawn to the mill by John Scott, for 12 shillings. The mill irons were brought from Newbury by John G. Bayley. There is an account of "provision for the miln raising of 10s," and of "rum used at the saw miln £2, 14.0," by which it appears that the workmen did not always slake their thirst with river water. The nails and spikes used in the work cost 4s. per 100. The grist mill was set running about the middle of August, and "performed its part very well." The saw mill began operations about a month before. There was little grain to grind at first, but the mill was there, and a valuable asset to the town.

For some years they were carried on by the managers, but in 1785 the mills were leased to Ezra Currier for 51½ bush. of wheat, who also received $18 for keeping them in repair. In that year a new flume was built by Andrew Brock for eighty bushels of wheat. [Company Records.]

But the erection of the mills proved an embarassment to the Company, as Mr. Whitelaw’s bill of exchange for £100 sterling, drawn Feb. 17, 1776, upon William Houston & Co., maltsters in Renfrew, in favor of Josiah Little of Newbury Port, was protested at Renfrew on the 10th of August in that year.

As a matter of curiosity we give the bill, with its indorsements.

"Newburyport, Feb. 17, 1776.

Thirty days after sight of this my first of exchange, (my second and third of the same date and tenor being unpaid) pay to the order of Josiah Little the sum of one hundred Pounds sterling money, and place the same to the account of the Scots American Company of Farmers, for value received here to their use, with or without further advice from me.


To WILLIAM HOUSTON & Co., Maltsters in Renfrew, near Glasgow. -Indorsed:—" Pay Messrs. Lee & Jones, or Order, Josiah Little."

"Pay to Mr. Stephen Higginson or Order for account. Lee & Jones." Pay unto the Order of Messrs. Exercaitie cel Rio & Com. value on Account. Bilboa, June 12, 1776. STEPHEN HIGGINS0N."

The protest was based upon the claim that Mr. Whitelaw had overdrawn his account, and had exceeded his powers, acting in a manner contrary to a letter of instruction (not preserved) and that he had neglected to account satisfactorily to the Company for his expenditure of the Company’s funds.

The revolutionary war was then raging, and communication between the company at home, and their colony in Ryegate was often interrupted, so that Whitelaw’s letter of explanation was long delayed, and the colonists were left to manage their own affairs.

It would appear that the holder of the protested bill waited patiently for his pay; probably nothing could be settled till the war was over; and in February 1783, the debt with the interest and charges, amounting to £159 sterling, Mr. Whitelaw by vote of the members of the Company in Ryegate, sold to Josiah Little of Newburyport, all the land south of Wells River, and the two "westernmost" ranges of lots from the river north to the division line., and with the proceeds paid the debt." [Ryegate Land Records.] This entire tract, soon conveyed to John C. Jones of Boston, was sold in 1794 to John Cameron, and now comprises several valuable farms.

This transaction was ratified at a meeting of the Company at Inchinnan in August, 1783, by a vote of twenty seven to four. Permission was also given the colonists to sell the mills if considered best, as the Company was considerably hindered in its operation by a heavy debt incurred in paying for the land. [Houston to Whitelaw, Sept. 26. 1783.]

It would seem that a suitable purchaser did not appear till 1791, when they were sold to Robert Brock on the 25th of September for £125 sterling. Mr. Brock, who was father of Andrew Brock of Ryegate and Robert Brock of Barnet, had been a miller in Scotland, and had considerable property, came to America in 1786, carried on the mill a year or two and seeing that the property could be greatly developed, purchased it outright. The deed is signed by James Whitelaw, James Henderson, John Gray, William Craig, John Orr, Josiah Page, Alexander Miller, William Neilson, James Nelson and John Ritchie. [Newbury Land Records, Vol. II, p. 458.]

The hamlet, now called Boltonville, was first known as "Whitelaw’s Mills," and, after its sale, as "Brock’s Mills," or "Brock’s Falls," until the mills passed out of the Brock family. [Mr. Miller, in a paper upon Boltonville, in the Verrnont Union, accepting Mr. Mason’s statement, says that the mills were sold to Dea. Andrew Brock. But the Whitelaw papers, the Newbury town records, and the company’s journal, Show that the sale was to his father. In the journal he is called "Old Mr. Brock." He lived near the mill, about where Mr. Tucker’s house stands. At his death, in 1796, the mills passed into the hands of his son. He also purchased a large tract of land between Boltonville and the Corner.]

The years which followed the close of the revolutionary war were, in the main, prosperous ones for the settlers in the Coos country, and the Ryegate colonists shared in the general improvement. The country north and west began to be opened up, and the Hazen Road furnished an avenue of approach to the fertile lands of the Lamoille Valley, and further north. There was an increasing demand for provisions, grain and live stock, and the settlers found a ready market for all the products of their farms which they could spare, and several of the older settlers began to increase their holdings of real estate. In 1782, Archibald Taylor, James Henderson, John Scot, Robert Orr and William Neilson applied to the managers in Scotland for leave to purchase those lots which had been forfeited to the company. [Whitelaw to Houston.] This was granted, and William Neilson began about that time the purchase of land in Ryegate and elsewhere, which afterward made him very wealthy.

The abilities of James Whitelaw were not destined to be confined to the town of Ryegate, or to be expended in discharging the duties of manager for a company in Scotland. On the 24th of February, 1782, he was appointed by Gen. Ira Allen a commissioner to survey and lay out towns on the Connecticut River, from the mouth of the Passumpsic to Canada, mark the boundaries and make plans of them, and make a map of the river from its source to the mouth of the Amonoosuc. This trust was executed with such fidelity that upon the retirement of Gen. Allen, in 1784, he became Surveyor General, an office, at that time, of great prominence and responsibility, resigning his position as Manager for the Scotch American Company. He had discharged its duties with faithful-. ness and discretion for eleven years, and appears to have had very little friction with the colonists.

On one or two occasions, he had been provoked into severe language at the unreasonableness of some of his associates, and there were those in Scotland, as well, who were disposed to make trouble. Houston and Allan, writing to him, from Renfrew, August 10, 1781, allude to this, by saying—" We are not wanting those who find fault, and they are chiefly those who have failed to keep their agreements with the company." Human nature in Scotland and Ryegate, in 1781, was very much as it is now.

His compensation as manager, during which time he was also clerk, treasurer and purchasing agent, was £25 sterling per annum, from Feb. 1, 1773 to Aug. 1, 1775. For his services he charged but £10 sterling during each of the following years and from August, 1777, to August, 1784, the nominal sum of £5 per annum. "It is not supposed," says Mr. Miller, "that he received anything like adequate compensation for his services." His last entry in the treasurer’s book is as follows:

"RYEGATE, Aug. 23, 1784.

Settled all Accounts with the Company preceding this date, and I owe them £0, 12, 4½, L. M.


By previous arrangement with the Company in Sotland, William Nelson, James Henderson and Hugh Gardner were appointed managers in his stead. The titles to the Company’s lands, which had before been held in Whitelaw’s name were transferred to the new managers, who conducted its affairs with great discretion and ability.

In 1815, Hugh Gardner died, and the surviving members conducted their trust until all the lands of the Scotch American Company had passed into private hands, all the trusts committed to its care had been discharged, and the Company dissolved. The last entries in the journal are only at intervals during the final years. Up to Jan. 1, 1815, they had sold 121 lots in the south division, receiving for them. $4045.71. They had paid all the debts of the Company contracted in Ryegate, made considerable expenditures, and between 1801 and 1815, had remitted to Scotland $2274.52 and had taken up Bills of Exchange drawn by the managers in Scotland, upon those in Ryegate, of above $1000. [Company Records. ] This money came from the sale of land to settlers, others than members of the Company, the proceeds of the mills, rent of Company lands, and the profits of the mills. The managers in Scotland, as appears from the accounts of the managers in Ryegate, purchased merchandise in Scotland for the use of colonists, and some of it was sold to people in other towns. Among other things mentioned are suits of broadcloth made in Scotland for prominent men in Newbury and elsewhere. In 1782 the managers purchased and shipped "two cases of china ware," to James Whitelaw to be sold. Doubtless many articles from these identical consignments, are among the treasured heirlooms of the old families of Ryegate and Barnet.

The "Scots American Company of Farmers," considered as a corporation, was of great value to the early settlers of Ryegate, and it is easy to discern its influence even to this day. It had a financial standing which was of great value in those early days. The managers in Scotland took a deep interest in the affairs of the colony, and made special inducements to desirable families to go there and settle. It loaned money to emigrants for their expenses on the journey; it sold them lands on liberal terms of payment, and by the excellent management of its affairs secured to the community a very high standing.

To its care were committed minor children in several cases, and money was paid to the company in Scotland to be transmitted to America for the benefit of particular persons, as in the case of Elizabeth Todd who married James Henderson, Junior. In her behalf through the company, as the channel of communication, between 1808 and 1822 nearly $1200 was thus .transmitted. In another case, the minor children of one John Paterson, it became the trustee, under his will, of a considerable sum, to be paid them when they came of age. It was entirely independent of the town organization, and never meddled with its ecclesiastical affairs.

For the last ten years of its existence the entries in the Company’s book are few and at longer intervals, and the final entry is as follows:

"Ryegate, 1820. Then William Neilson and James Henderson examining all the Company’s Books and Accounts and having paid to all their just dues, there Remains a small sum of Bad Debts that cannot be easily collected, which we have taken for the Reward of our Services.


Thus ended this singular organization, which had existed nearly fifty years, and whose affairs, on both sides of the sea, had been conducted with wisdom and fidelity. It is to its wisdom in the selection of colonists that Ryegate owes the happy circumstance that its inhabitants were, until recent years, nearly all of the Scottish race. The present inhabitants of Ryegate know very little indeed of this association, and it is fortunate that its records and much of the correspondence came to light just in time for its history to find a place in this volume. At the time of its dissolution few were living who signed the Articles of Copartnership at Inchinnan in 1772. It is not known that any memorial of the. Company is in existence in Scotland.

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