Daniel Buck came to Norwich in 1784 or ’85, and opened the first lawyer’s office in town, on the hill near the old center meeting house, then just being completed and there continued to live and transact business for twenty-five years, or until he removed to Chelsea in 1809. Norwich then contained probably about one thousand inhabitants, but no village, there being at that time not over three or four dwellings where Norwich village now stands.
But little is known of Mr. Buck previous to his coming to Norwich. He was born at Hebron, Conn., November 9, 1753, and was the second son and child of Thomas and Jane Buck of that town. He had been a soldier in the Revolution, and had lost an arm at the battle of Bennington. He had also lived some time in Thetford, which was settled largely by people from Hebron, and perhaps also in Hanover, N. H. He acted as secretary to the council in June, 1785, when the Vermont legislature assembled at Norwich, having been assistant secretary of the same body during their session at Rutland the preceding October. He seems to have been a householder at Norwich at this time, as by a resolution of the council on June 17, the treasurer of the State was directed “to pay Daniel Buck twenty shillings hard money for the use of his house, etc.”
For several years the young attorney does not appear to have made much headway in his profession, the townspeople sharing in the ancient dislike to lawyers so prevalent in the early days of New England. The town records show that he was willing to make himself useful at this period by accepting such offices as highway surveyor and key keeper of the town pound. But he grew steadily in the confidence of his townsmen, and was soon in possession of a lucrative practice. His first important public service was to represent the town in the convention that met at Bennington in January, 1791, to adopt the constitution of the United States preliminary to the admission of Vermont into the Federal Union. Here Mr. Buck appears as the champion and principal spokesman of that portion of the convention, a decided minority, who believed it to be inexpedient, for the present at least, for Vermont to enter into a union with the original thirteen states. The arguments of this party appear, at this distance of time, rather puerile and provincial, it must be confessed, though their objections to union from the size of the country and diversity of interests were not without some weight. Mr. Buck, however, with most of the other objectors, finally voted in favor of immediate union, which was carried in the convention after several days’ discussion, by nearly a unanimous vote. 1
In 1793 and ’94, the town sent Mr. Buck to the legislature, and he was each year chosen speaker of the house. In 1794, he was elected to represent the eastern district of Vermont in the fourth Congress of the United States, which assembled at Philadelphia December 7, 1795. In this position he succeeded Nathaniel Niles of Fairlee, who had held the place two terms, or since the admission of the State into the Union. Mr. Buck served but one term in Congress, being himself succeeded by Lewis R. Morris of Springfield, (1797-1803). At the September election in 1796, there seems to have been no choice for representative to Congress. Mr. Buck was candidate for re-election at this time, and received every vote but one (sixty-four out of sixty-five votes cast in Norwich. He probably received a minority of votes in the district, as at a second election held May 22, 1797, he does not appear as a candidate, Lewis R. Morris receiving twenty-two votes in Norwich to twenty for Scott Hall and sixteen scattering. Mr. Buck was again elected to the legislature in 1806 and ’07, and is said to have rendered valuable services to the town on these occasions in securing certain changes in the location of the turnpike road then recently laid from Hanover bridge through Norwich to Chelsea court house. In 1809 Mr. Buck was again a candidate for the legislature, but was defeated by Pierce Burton (Burton ninety-six, Buck seventy-three, scattering thirteen). Other offices held by him during his residence in Norwich were, member of the Council of Censors, 1792; Attorney General of the State, 1794; State’s Attorney of Windsor County, 1802 and 1803, Dartmouth College gave him the honorary degree of A. M. in 1799.
Mr. Buck took high rank as a lawyer, and as an advocate was often pitted against the best legal talent of his time in the Vermont courts. He acted as counsel for Ira Allen in 1792, in an investigation ordered by the legislature into his accounts and official conduct as treasurer and surveyor general of the State. John A. Graham, in his “Descriptive Sketch of Vermont” published in 1797, speaks of him as possessing legal abilities of a high order. During his residence in Norwich the following well known gentlemen, among others, were law students in his office: Ebenezar Brown, Aaron Loveland, William Baxter of Brownington, and Hon. William A. Palmer of Danville. The present aspect and surroundings of the place where these young men imbibed the first principles of the law would now be thought fully as extraordinary for the location of a law school, as Rev. Dr. Asa Burton‘s old parsonage in Thetford would be as the site for a theological seminary.
The fourth Congress met at Philadelphia, December 7, 1795, and Mr. Buck made the journey to the capital on horseback from his Vermont home. The story is still current among the older people of the town, that on the day of his departure for that distant city, more distant in point of time and fatigue to the traveler than the trip to San Francisco is now the inhabitants of Norwich in large numbers assembled and accompanied him on his way as far as the Hartford town line, where they wished their honored townsman a prosperous journey, and bade him farewell with manifestations of feeling not unlike those now attending the departure of friends on an extended journey in foreign lands. As to his services in Congress, but little can here be said. He seems to have participated considerably in the current debates, among the most exciting of which was that relating to Jay’s treaty with Great Britain. Mr. Buck strongly favored the treaty. He spoke against a resolution of inquiry calling on the president to furnish the house a copy of the instructions to Mr. Jay, under which the treaty was negotiated, with correspondence and documents. He was opposed, it appears, to discussing the constitutionality of the treaty or to the legislative department assuming an attitude of hostility to the executive. He supported a bill providing for an increase of compensation to public officers and stated, incidentally, that he had diminished his income $1,000 a year while serving as a representative. In this connection he alluded to having ”shed his blood” for his country and to his ”mutilated frame.” 2
He favored direct taxation by Congress, voting for a tax on land and its improvements, and also for increasing the duties on foreign goods. His votes and speeches show him to have been a high Federalist in politics.
Mr. Buck was at one time quite an extensive owner of landed property in town. The house built by him and used as a residence was taken down a few years since and was last occupied by Henry Goddard. The large orchard a short distance east of the house and adjoining the highway was planted by him, and is still familiarly known as the ”Buck orchard. ”
In his later years he seems to have become embarrassed in his pecuniary circumstances, and he finally died poor. A fatal habit of intemperance hastened his downfall and probably brought him to a premature grave. The occasion of his removal to Chelsea in 1809 has been variously related. C. W. Clark, Esq., the historian of that town, says that Mr. Buck was committed to Chelsea jail for debt, and obtaining the freedom of the prison (jail limits) took up his residence there and remained until his death, practicing his profession for the most part until that event. Another informant gives a somewhat different account. He says that Mr. Buck sold his farm in Norwich and borrowed money extensively there, and then removed to Chelsea and there built a house with the borrowed money; soon he made over his property to his son, D. Azro A. Buck, was discovered by his Norwich creditors to be insolvent, and was imprisoned in jail; his son became his bondsman, and he was given the freedom of the jail limits, and died in that condition; that he practiced his profession but little after removing to Chelsea, and was deranged during his last years. The house that he built in Chelsea is still standing, and is one of the old substantial houses of the village.
Mr. Buck was married to Content Ashley, of a respectable family of Norwich, September 22, 1786. Of this union eleven children were born previous to 1809, of whom seven (four sons and three daughters) were then living. The graves of the other four may be found in the old graveyard close by the family home. Mr. Buck himself died at Chelsea August 16, 1816. His remains sleep in the village cemetery there, marked only by a plain slab, giving simply name, age, and date. His age was sixty-two years.
- It is a noteworthy fact that the opposition to Vermont joining the Union in 1791, so far as appears in the proceedings of the convention itself was entirely confined to this section of the state. The four delegates (out of a total of 109) who on the final vote withheld their assent to the measure, were all from Windsor county, being Messrs. Moses Warner of Andover, Daniel Heald of Chester, Benjamin Perkins of Bridgewater, and Enoch Emerson of Rochester. See Governor and Council Vol. Ill, pp. 467-482, for a brief report of the proceedings and debates of the Convention.
- As early as 1787, Mr. Buck had petitioned the legislature of Vermont for a pension of $5 per month, “in consequence of the loss of his arm in the battle near Bennington, August 16, 1777.” In the year 1807, Mr. Buck was a petitioner to the Congress of the United States for an increase of pension, alleging that the pension he was receiving as an invalid was insufficient. He stated in his petition that he served in the Revolutionary army in 1775 and ’76, and was wounded at Bennington in 1777.