Norwich Vermont in the Controversy with New York

The contest with New York in regard to land titles was the first of a series of political commotions that arose to disquiet and vex the settlers on the New Hampshire Grants, to turn their thoughts and energies away from the improvement of their little properties, and check their growing prosperity. In this contest the inhabitants of the upper valley of the Connecticut in general took no active part.

They all held their lands under New Hampshire Grants, and as New York never re-granted the same lands to other parties, or attempted to dispossess them or molest them in any manner in the quiet enjoyment thereof, they had personally no cause for controversy with the authorities of that province. The town records of Norwich contain no allusion to the vexed questions that occupy so large a space in contemporary history on the west of the Green Mountains, nor do the words “New York” once occur on these records, except in conveyances of land from one person to another, where the property is described as lying in the “Province of New York.” The authority and jurisdiction of New York were for the most part quietly ignored. No active partisans of her claims are known to have resided in town, nor did the town “in apprehension of future loss of their landed property,” procure at a heavy expense a new charter from the New York government confirming them in possession, as was the case with a large proportion of the towns in what is now Windsor County. The farthest that the town went in apparent recognition of New York jurisdiction, was in the election of sundry town officers under their New York names, as supervisors instead of selectmen, assessors for listers, three commissioners of highways (whose business was to lay out and alter highways), three overseers of the poor, two or more constables, and in 1775 and 1776, a board of three trustees. This fashion prevailed from 1770 to 1776, when they finally disappear from the records, and the good old New England names of town officers, selectmen, listers, constable, etc., were promptly restored, and the other offices of tithing men, haywards, grand jurymen, etc., unknown to municipal government in New York, were filled again. It is worthy of remark, too, that Norwich never changed the time of holding the annual town meeting from March to May, in conformity to New York law and usage, as was done in most of the neighboring towns during the period of New York ascendancy. Soon after Vermont came into being as a State, in 1778, these towns by common consent returned to the ancient practice of March meetings, which they had derived from New Hampshire with their first charters, and which is still preserved in both states.

The influence of New York probably reached its height east of the Green Mountains about 1772 or 73. This was before the arbitrary policy of that province towards the New Hampshire settlers west of the mountains was fully developed, and its actions of ejectment and proclamations of outlawry against the leaders of the Green Mountain Boys had everywhere created a feeling of disaffection and dislike to its authority. It was about this time that Peter Olcott emigrated to Norwich and Joseph Marsh to Hartford. Both of these men at once took leading positions in their respective towns, became large land holders, and, there is reason to believe, were at first inclined to look with favor upon the claims of New York to rightful jurisdiction over the New Hampshire Grants.

About this time (May 10, 1772) John Hatch of Norwich was commissioned a justice of the peace by New York and acted as such for several years so far as to take acknowledgment of deeds and authenticate legal papers. Mr. Hatch was the first person to hold the office of magistrate in town, and the only inhabitant who is known to have held civil office under New York appointment. He was ever after familiarly known as Esquire John Hatch. 1

In 1772 the town of Hartford took out a charter under New York, as either the same year or earlier did Windsor, Woodstock, Chester, Springfield, Wethersfield, Cavendish, Reading and Plymouth. In all of these towns the forms of government of New York were much in vogue for several years. The fees paid to New York officials for these charters were generally $2,000, or upwards, against about $300 originally paid to New Hampshire for a like service; and a quit rent of 2s 9d sterling on each 100 acres was demanded in place of the 9d provided for in the New Hampshire charters. 2 The records of deeds in Norwich witness that there existed for several years, perhaps, some nervousness in the minds of real estate owners, as to the validity of title under New Hampshire grants, inasmuch as in the conveyance of land by deed, the grantor did not usually give an absolute warranty of title, but limited his warrant only against persons claiming by, through or under himself, or the original New Hampshire grantee.

At the first organization of the counties of Cumberland and Gloucester by New York in 1766, out of the territory lying east of the Green Mountain range, Norwich was included in Cumberland County; but a new division was made in 1772, which placed the town, with Sharon and Royalton, within the limits of Gloucester County. The census of the previous year had shown the latter county to contain a population of only 722, while Cumberland County returned 3944, more than one-half the population of Vermont at that time. Newbury, Mooretown 3, Thetford, and Strafford were the only towns in Gloucester County then containing any considerable population.

Earnest efforts were early made by New York to set up the machinery of county government in Gloucester County, but with very indifferent success, though there were some decided partisans of that jurisdiction living in the north part of the county. Appointments of judges, sheriff, and other county officers were made, and the county seat was located at the present town of Washington, in Orange County, which had been granted previous to 1770, by New York to the corporation of King’s College, in the city of New York, under the name of Kingsland. The county buildings here consisted of a log jail built at the center of the town some time before it had any permanent inhabitants, and which stood for many years afterwards to be pointed out by the curious as an interesting monument of our early history. Only a single instance is remembered in which this jail was used as a prison. In this case the prisoner had taken along with him a few potatoes for sustenance during his confinement. Finding imprisonment intolerable in that lonely place in the woods, he soon broke jail, but with rare forethought or benevolence he planted the potatoes he had left, for the benefit of future occupants, in front of the jail, where, it is added, they grew spontaneously for years afterwards.

The great distance from the seat of government in New York, and the scanty and scattered population in Gloucester County, probably delayed a complete organization of county affairs, so prominent in the New York system of government, such as prevailed for many years in the more populous southern county of Cumberland. There is no evidence that Gloucester County was ever represented in the New York legislative body, either in colonial times or after the rupture with Great Britain. Jacob Bagley of Newbury was chosen a delegate to the New York Congress in 1775, but did not take his seat.

Aside from the town of Kingsland, above mentioned, the only grants of land made by New York in Gloucester County, known to the writer, were the town of Bradford, under the name of Mooretown, in 1770, and the town of Royalton, under the name of Lintfield. Both these townships covered grants previously made by New Hampshire, but for some reason the original grantees in each case seem not to have availed themselves of their grants for the purpose of settlement, and the same had therefore lapsed, so that no controversy arose concerning the title to lands. 4

The dealings of the New York authorities in general with the New Hampshire settlers east of the mountains, appear to have been much more temperate and conciliatory from the beginning than with their brethren on the west side, and there is much to support the belief, which has been widely entertained, that such was the studied policy of the New York officials. With this view, separate county governments were erected on the east side, officered from its own people, while the whole western section was annexed to the existing New York counties of Albany and Charlotte, and harassed by writs of ejectment, sheriffs, bosses, and other oppressive measures. And while it is probable that the leading men of Norwich, in common with many in Cumberland and Gloucester Counties, did not exactly approve all the doings of the “Bennington Mob,” as the New York officials styled those most active in resisting them, yet when the hour was ripe for a final separation from that justly hated government, and for the erection of the whole of the New Hampshire Grants into a new State, we find Jacob Burton and Thomas Murdock, two influential citizens of the town, sitting as delegates in the General Convention at Westminster January 15-17, 1777, and among the most prominent and active members of that body.

At this convention the decisive step was taken of renouncing at once and forever all political connection with New York, and it was further unanimously “Voted, that the district of land commonly called and known by the name of New Hampshire Grants be a new and separate State.” A formal Declaration of Independence was drawn up by a committee of five of which Thomas Chittenden and Jacob Burton were members. This committee made report to the convention on the 16th, in the following terms: “Your committee, to whom was referred the form of a declaration setting forth the right the inhabitants of the New Hampshire Grants have to form themselves into a separate and independent state or government, beg leave to report, viz:

  1. That whenever protection is withheld, no allegiance is due, or can of right be demanded.
  2. That whenever the lives and properties of a part of a community have been manifestly aimed at by either the legislative or executive authority of such community, necessity requires a separation. Your committee is of opinion that the foregoing has, for many years past, been the conduct of the monopolizing land-traders of the colony of New York, and that they have been not only countenanced, but encouraged, by the legislative and executive authorities of said state or colony. Many overt acts, in evidence of this truth, are so fresh in the minds of members, that it would be needless to name them. ,,

After referring to a resolution of Congress of May 15, 1776, in support of their action, they proceed as follows: “Your committee, having duly deliberated on the continued conduct of the authority of New York, before recited, and considering that a just right exists in this people to adopt measures for their own security, not only to enable them to secure their rights against the usurpations of Great Britain, but also against that of New York, and the several other governments claiming jurisdiction of this territory, do offer the following Declaration:

“This convention, whose members are duly chosen by the free voice of their constituents, in the several towns on the New Hampshire Grants, in public meeting assembled, in our own names, and in behalf of our constituents, do hereby proclaim and publicly declare that the district of territory comprehending and usually known by the name and description of the New Hampshire Grants, of right ought to be, and is hereby declared forever hereafter to be considered as a separate, free and independent jurisdiction or state. * * * * Furthermore, we declare by all the ties held sacred among men that we will firmly stand by and support one another in this our declaration of a state, and in endeavoring as much as in us lies to suppress all unlawful routs and disturbances whatever. Also, we will endeavor to secure to every individual his life, peace and property against all unlawful invaders of the same.”

Twelve towns east of the Green Mountains were represented in this convention, the first occasion at which delegates from all parts of the Grants were present, and the men of Gloucester and Cumberland here first joined hands in a common cause with the Green Mountain boys of the western section who had so resolutely resisted from the first the arbitrary and unjust measures of the New York government, and whose determined attitude had doubtless saved them from the consequences of a violent collision with the authorities of that government. The spirited action of the convention at Westminster led to the calling of another convention which met the following July at Windsor, where a constitution and frame of government were established for the new State of Vermont, 5 whose independence though’ assailed by powerful foes from many quarters, was maintained through fifteen years of controversy and struggle with a courage and sagacity on the part of its supporters rarely equaled, until on the 4th of March, 1791, “the star that never sets” finally took its place in the constellation of states forming the American Union.Citations:

  1. Samuel Partridge held a military commission issued by New York.[]
  2. For specimen of a town charter by New York, see Vermont History Magazine, Vol. II, pp. 808-11.[]
  3. Bradford[]
  4. An amusing account of an attempt to hold court at this shire town in the month of February, 1771, by John Peters, clerk, and John Taplin, and John Taplin, Jr., judge and sheriff of the court of common pleas of the county of Gloucester, is found in Volume I, p. 268 of ” Government and Council,” copied from the Documentary History of New York, wherein it appears as an official record. It reads as follows:

    Feb. 25, 1771. Set out from Mooretown for Kingsland, traveled until night. There being no road and the snow very deep, we traveled on snowshoes or rackets. On the 26th we travelled some ways and held a council, when it was concluded it was best to open court. As we saw no line, it was not known whether in Kingsland or not. But we concluded we were far in the woods; we did not expect to see any house unless we marched three miles within Kingsland, and no one lived there, when the court was ordered to be opened on the spot.”

    Ten years later the town was regranted (Aug. 8, 1781) to Elisha Burton of Norwich and others, by the legislature of Vermont, under the name of Washington. []

  5. Peter Olcott and Jacob Burton were delegates from Norwich to this Convention. []

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