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History of Ryegate, Vermont

Many hands have contributed to this history of Ryegate. In one sense General James Whitelaw, the founder of the town, was also its historian. To his journals and correspondence we owe our acquaintance with its earlier years. The towns and session records are our authorities for the events which they record. The records and personal sketches collected by Mr. George Mason during several years are a mine of information concerning its families and the events of its first century. He began about 1855 and continued during several years, the collection of such data from the oldest people of Ryegate and Barnet, hoping to publish them. But his death found the projected work not yet attempted, and the collections of years were in a fair way to be scattered and lost.

In fact they were about to be burned, when, fortunately for us, they were rescued and purchased by Mr. Edward Miller who was well qualified to complete the work for which Mr. Mason had left abundant materials. Mr. Miller knew Ryegate thoroughly. His entire life had been spent here, and under his shrewd observation had passed several generations of its people. As a school master he had known its families; as a town officer he knew its business affairs, and as a member of one of the churches he was familiar with its religious history. It was his aim and hope to prepare, as the crowning work of his life, a history of his native town. It was a labor of love with him to collect the materials for the work and to this end he devoted all the time he could spare. He published from time to time in various newspapers of the county sketches of families and of persons which are noteworthy for their graphic style, their racy idioms, and the personal sympathy with which they are filled.

But Mr. Miller was a very busy man, and could spare but a small part of his time to the task, and failing health compelled him to relinquish the work before he had begun to arrange his collections in suitable form for publication. It was his regret, as it must be of every reader of this volume, that he had not laid everything else aside, and completed his work while he had health and strength to do it.

I\ii. Miller had followed no system of arrangement, nor had he yet classified his collections, and his records and memoranda, scattered through a score of manuscript volumes, diaries, scrap-books and loose sheets of paper, presented a formidable task to the present editor. Of the historical part of his work he had not written out any, there were many families whose records he had not yet secured; and of his collections much was unavailable for the present purpose. It has been no light task to select from such a quantity of material the portions which should be used in this work, to supply omissions, to verify statements, collect additional data, and bring the whole down to date.

The full value and effect of what he accomplished historically, cannot be easily measured; but, unquestionably, without it, there would not now be published any history of the town. Unlimited use of all the Mason and Miller records was relinquished for this history by Mr. Millerís family withoutíremuneration. Such an opportunity rarely comes, and that was a vital factor in at length securing favorable action by the town.

Others besides Mr. Miller and Mr. Mason have written about the early history of the town, but a very important part of that history was entirely lacking. No one knew anything about the relations between the managers of

the Company in Scotland and their agents in Ryegate subsequent to the purchase of the south half of the town by Whitelaw and Allan, and there seemed no way of supplying the deficiency. But the unexpected discovery by the editor among the Whitelaw papers of the original correspondence between Mr. Whitelaw and the officers of the Company, the original Journal of Proceedings, the account books and much other important matter, more than supplied what was lacking, but greatly increased the labor of preparation. The Henderson papers also gave much needed information, some manuscripts owned by the Vt. Historical Society, and the Johnson papers at Newbury add to our knowledge of early days.

Apparently no one knew or even as yet suspected that all this material existed. Few towns have such a mine of information waitiflg to be explored as Ryegate had. The editorís task has been one of selection, rejection and condensation. It was at first supposed that the historical part of the work would be covered in a hundred pages. But all this additional matter rendered double that space necessary, and more than doubled the labor of preparing it.

The call for data to complete the volume brought forth an immense amount of new material, and hundreds of persons, both in Ryegate and wherever Ryegate people have gone have most gladly lent their aid to the work which should preserve the memory of the sons and daughters of the town. It has been no small task to condense the proffered data within the limits of a single volume.

The glory of Ryegate is in the men and women whom it has produced or who have descended from its early families. A sturdy race were those Scotchmen in Yankee-land who subdued the wilderness, covered the hills with fruitful farms and planted there the church and the school. Many of their children have scattered to distant states. But they have carried with them the principles which they were taught in the family and the Sabbath ministrations. The group of Scotch Presbyterian churches in this part of New England has spread far and wide the truths handed down from the days of the reformation in Scotland. In Barnet Rev. David Goodwillie and his son and successor filled the pulpit of the Associate church for the long period of seventy-four years, and their influence will be felt for a century to come.

Our neighboring town of Topsham has sent into the world a number of men who became very eminent, and with one or two exceptions they all came from families which sat under the ministry of Revís. James Milligan, William Sloane, or N. R. Johnston. This volume tries to show what Ryegate and its people have been and are, and to preserve in accessible form the records of its families. That there has been evil mingled with the good it were idle to deny. But the good has far surpassed the evil, and these pages will preserve the memory of many noble men and women whose names would otherwise pass into oblivion.

It has been an honorable task to prepare this history, and complete, however imperfectly, the work which Mr. Miller so nobly began. In its preparation the editor has made many friendships which lie hopes to retain, and expresses the wish that he has given some degree of satisfaction.

The editor returns his thanks to the committee and to all those of Ryegate or of Ryegate ancestry who have contributed to this work. The thanks of the town are due to the librarian and assistants of the Boston Public Library; the New England Historic-Genealogical Society; the N. H. State Library; the N. H. Historical Society; to the librarian and assistants of the Vt. State Library and the Vt. Historical Society, and to the librarian and trustees of the Tenney Memorial Library of Newbury for the use of its valuable manuscripts.

Attention is called to the appendix for corrections and for much valuable matter which came too late for insertion in its proper place.


NEWBURY, VT., Jan. 20, 1913.


For some years after Mr. Millerís death his collections remained untouched and in danger of possible destruction by fire or accident. There was a general wish that his work should be completed if a way could be opened, and it was thought best by those interested to bring the matter before the town. The annual town meeting in March, 1903, dismissed an article "To see if the town will publish a history," and nothing more was done for three years. But the desire for the work took assured form in the March meeting for 1906, when a committee of 27 was chosen "to investigate and report in regard to the matter of a Town History."

This committee met at the town house on March 20th when Mr. George Cochran was made chairman, and Mr. Wm. N. Gilfillan, secretary. Messrs. Hermon Miller, A. M. Whitelaw and Q. A. Whitehill were chosen an executive committee, the chairman and secretary of the general committee to act as members ex-officio.

"This committee to have charge of preparing a history of the town, and to report from time to time to the general committee which is to meet at the call of the chairman." Six meetings of the general committee were held, and many of the executive committee.

The report of the general committee was made to the town on March 5, 1907. They recommended that vacancies he filled by vote of the committee, and that the selectmen be authorized to act with the four members, and that they be authorized to draw orders for $1,000, to defray the expense of preparing and publishing a history of the town "on condition that the general committee guarantee sales of the work to the amount of $500 to be paid to the town treasurer within one year after the history is published." This vote was accepted and adopted with but one vote in opposition.

Mr. F. P. Wells of Newbury was secured to compile and arrange material for the work. A committee of ten, one from each school district, was chosen to canvass for subscribers and to secure promises for sketches from their families.

This committee reported on Sept. 21st to the general committee, and after free discussion it was voted to guarantee the sale of books to the amount of $500 "to the satisfaction of the selectmen." On Oct. 10th a contract was made with Mr. Wells to prepare the work.

On May 26, 1909, a contract was made with The Caledonian Co., of St. Johnsbury to print the history. Soon after this the publishing company changed hands, and subsequently many delays have resulted to the disappointment of all concerned. Yet the delay has given more time to collect material for the work, much additional data and many records were secured, the work will be much more complete, cost more, be worth more and the delay be justified in the end.

A full report has been rendered to the town at each annual meeting. More funds being necessary to complete the history, the town by a unanimous vote authorized $1,000 additional at the annual meeting of 1912.

There has been an earnest effort to secure a complete history down to date. The people here have been urged to prepare family records, and every one has been welcomed to a place in the work.

The committee believed that the pioneers of the town and their direct descendants should have preference in illustrations. This has been a difficult matter to adjust and do justice to all. Most of the original settlers are represented but only a few of the present generation appear. It has been the sincere wish of the committee to make the history a credit to the town, and helpful to every citizen.



RYEGATE, Jan. 20, 1913.

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