Biography of Thomas Sawyer

Thomas (4), son of Thomas (3) Sawyer, was born in Bolton, February 6, 1739-40. He followed the trade of his father, that of a millwright, and settled in Templeton soon after his marriage. He removed from there to Winchendon in 1771, where he was a constable in 1772-74. He served in the revolutionary war, the first service being at the Lexington alarm. April 19, 1775, when he appeared as sergeant on the roll of Captain Abel Wilder’s company, Colonel Ephraim Doolittle’s regiment. They marched from Winchendon to Cambridge, April 20, 1775, and served sixteen days. He was a private on the muster and pay roll of Captain Abraham Foster’s company. Colonel Samuel Bullard’s regiment, which marched August 18, 1777, to reinforce the northern army, and he was discharged November 30, 1777. after serving three months and twenty-four days. The northern army was a body of troops from Massachusetts and Connecticut. about Lake Champlain and southward, for defense of the frontier under command of General Schuyler.

On the day of Burgoyne’s surrender, October 17, 1777, although not formally discharged from the Massachusetts regiment, and off duty, he served for six days as a volunteer in a Vermont military company, raised by Captain Abraham Salisbury in Clarendon, by the authority of the committee of safety and the principal inhabitants of Wallingford. Clarendon, Rutland and Pittsford. on being alarmed by the enemy’s taking prisoners and plundering houses in Pittsburg. Soon after this Thomas Sawyer returned to Massachusetts and was discharged the following November. He moved with his family to Clarendon, Vermont, where he was chosen captain by his neighbors and the council of safety. During this period he built himself a house and grist mill, the first ever erected in Clarendon.

In 1778 the dangers of the war around Clarendon were removed, because of parties of British and Indians from Canada. Captain Sawyer’s first expedition was to Shelburne, on the then northern frontier. Whitfield Walker, a grandson of Captain Sawyer, wrote an account of the trip in 1847, having learned the facts of it from his mother, Prudence Sawyer, as follows


“A man by the name of Moses Pierson emigrated from the State of New Jersey to Shelburne, Vt., in 1777, and built a block-house, which was in an unfinished condition, for the security of his family. That section of the state being infested by Tories and Indians, and being unprotected by any military force, he was made acquainted with an expected incursion of Tories and Indians from Canada. A message was sent to Clarendon for assistance. Captain Sawyer heard the call and his action was prompt. He called his company together and beat tip for followers. L. Barnum and fifteen others caught their Commander’s spirit and turned out at the tap of the drum. Capt. Sawyer had a wife and six children, the oldest of which was a son twelve years of age, whose business it was to chop and draw the wood, and assist his mother in tending the gristmill. These he left and took up the line of march with seventeen volunteers on the 20th of January. 1778. Their pathway was a trackless forest, except by the Indian, wolf and panther. The season was inclement and the snow (1910) deep. The march was tedious and their suffering and privations intense; the last ten miles of their march the party came near perishing.

“On their arrival at Mr. Pierson’s block-house, the place of destination, a distance of sixty-six miles, late in the evening and nearly frozen, they found Pierson and family in a state of anxious solicitude for their safety, and that of a few other hardy pioneers. They were hospitably received and shared with them a frugal meal of hominy ground in a steel handmill, brought by Pierson from New Jersey. Glad were they to share his shelter, and to camp about his ample fire.

“When morning came the volunteers set about repairing the defenses by putting the block-house in better repair. The doors and windows were insecure and required to be barricaded. Operations were at once commenced and they had nearly completed the defense, all except securing one window, when they found the block-house surrounded by Tories and Indians, the first notice of which was the discharge of a volley of musketry through the insecure window, by which three persons were killed. named Barnum, Woodward, and Daniels, the latter two of whom were not of the party. but only came in for protection during the night.

“The battle then commenced in good earnest. The guns of the assailed were pointed with deadly aim at the enemy. Numbers fell, reaping a rich reward for their temerity, till at length they became desperate and set fire to the house in several places. What was to be done was the question, as there was no water at hand and the flames were rapidly spreading. Captain Sanger ordered the contents of a barrel of beer to be used, and one of the number sallied out under a shower of bullets and fortunately extinguished the fire. A second attempt was made to fire it. but our little band became in turn the assailants. The enemy was driven from the field carrying off their wounded, and as was supposed a portion of their dead, leaving seven on the field, together with four prisoners taken.

“At morning’s early dawn they surveyed the battle-field. Pursuing the track of the enemy to Lake Champlain, about half a mile distant from the scene of action, tracing it by the bloody snow (1910) which was deeply tinged, they passed down the banks of Bloody Brook, so called from the battle. They found. in the lake, holes cut through the ice, the edges of which were bloody, and into which it was evident some of the slain Indians had been plunged.

“Among the killed was an Indian Chief with ear and nose jewels. These jewels, also a powder born, belt and bullet pouch, were trophies kept by the Captain as long as he lived, as mementoes of an illustrious deed, achieved by* hiram and his followers, on the 12th of March. 1778.

“Three days previous to the battle, a Tory by the name of Philo left the vicinity on skates for St. Johns, to give the British notice that a patroling party were at Shelburne, and they projected the plan of their capture, and the extirpation of these devoted friends of liberty. The assailants came on skates that the surprise might be complete, but the cowardly miscreant, Philo, did not return, but stayed behind. They doubtless congratulated themselves with certain prospects of a bloodless triumph, so far as they were concerned, and that the scalps of this hand of heroes would entitle them to a liberal bounty from the British government. But they learned to their sorrow the Sons of Liberty were awake. and ready to pour out their blood like water, in defense of their homes and fireside altars.

“From the preceding facts it was believed by the victors that the number killed far exceeded what were found on the field, but nothing certain was ever known. Captain Sawyer, as a reward for the heroism of the soldier who extinguished the flames of the burning block-house with the contents of the beer barrel, presented him with his watch.”

A letter sent to Captain Ebenezer Allen at that time says : “Gentlemen: By the express, this moment received the account of Capt. Sawyer’s late signal victory over the enemy at Shelburne. By order of the Council of Safety. Thomas Chandler Jr. Secretary.” In 1777 all the continental troops were taken from the state and the people left to their own resources. In the spring of 1778 Rutland became the centre of the military forces of the state, and a fort was built, called “Fort Ranger,” and Captain Sawyer was placed in command of the fort, holding the responsible position for two years and rendering distinguished service. The forts at Castleton and at Pittsford were under his supervision also. During his military service Captain Sawyer lived in Clarendon until 1783, when he moved to Salisbury, Addison county, New York, and erected the first sawmill and gristmill in the region. Later he built there a forge for the working of iron, and in 1786 he kept the first flock of sheep in Addison county. He was chosen the first representative of the town of Leicester, Vermont, to the legislature, an office which he held for three years. Salisbury at that time was supposed to be part of Leicester, but later Captain Sawyer’s place was included in the town of Salisbury. In 1794 he moved to Manchester, Ontario county, New York, where he died March 12, 1796, aged fifty-five. He was a man of stalwart frame and iron mould, and had a fine moral and intellectual character.

He married Prudence Carter, who was born in Bolton in 1747, daughter of and Prudence (Sawyer) Carter. Prudence Sawyer was a cousin of Captain Sawyer’s father. They were married in Harvard, a part of the original town of Lancaster, September 13, 1762. She died in 1818, in Manchester. The intention was dated August 7, 1762. He was of Templeton at the time of marriage. Children, born at Templeton: Stephen, October 4, 1764; Prudence, January 14, 1767; children, born at Winchendon: Eunice, Tuesday, May 2, 1769; Hooker, June 11, 1771; Lucy, February 25, 1774; Joseph, May 30, 1777, mentioned elsewhere; Olive, at Clarendon, October 14, 1779; Thusebe, June 3, 1783, at Clarendon, died August 27. 1790; Luke, July 8, 1785, at Leicester; Mark, February 25, 1788, at Leicester, died July 27, 1790.



Ontario County NY,

Milliken, Charles F. The History of Ontario County, New York, and Its People Lewis Historical Publishing Co., New York. 1911.

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