INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER. 
By Rev. Silas McKeen, D. D.

     During a period of some 30 or 40 years, intervening between the commencement of any considerable settlements on the tract of country now included within the limits of Vermont and the virtual acknowledgement of its asserted independence as a sovereign State, the inhabitants were grievously harrassed by the conflicting claims of New Hampshire and New York; both assuming, and endeavoring to exercise, absolute authority of the entire domain and its enterprising occupants.  During this state of things the legislature of New York, about the year 1765, or '66, divided the territory which they thus claimed into four counties; which, in general terms, may be described as the four quarters, or corners of the same.  The Southwestern quarter was called the County of Albany; the Northwestern, the County of Charlotte; the Southeastern, the County of Cumberland; and the Northeastern, the County of Gloucester.  As the settlers increased in numbers and strength; and in determination to be independent, the New Hampshire gradually yielded her claims; and New York, in 1790, Oct. 28, became pacified by the promise of the Vermont legislature to pay her $30,000 as a small consideration for the privilege of freedom. 

     By a general convention of delegates from both sides of the Green Mountains, which met at Westminster in January, 1777, the independence of Vermont was duly declared, on the 15th day of that month; but the State ws not formally received into the Union till Feb. 18, 1791, when the act of reception was passed by Congress with entire unanimity. 

     At the first session of the Vermont legislature, March, 1778, they divided the whole State into two counties, separated, rather indefinitely, by the range of the Green Mountains.  The Western division they called Bennington County; and the Eastern, Cumberland County.  The Legislature of 1781, divided this Cumberland County into three; namely, Windham and Windsor Counties, whose limits were nearly the same as at present, and all the Northeastern quarter of the State, extending from Windsor County to the Canada line, was Orange County.  This was the same tract which was originally denominated Gloucester County.  From this large County, Caledonia and Essex Counties, and a portion of Orleans, were taken, by act of the legislature, March 2, 1792. 

     By the same authority, March 2, 1797, the whole State was divided into eleven counties, namely, Bennington, Windham, Windsor, Rutland, Orange, Addison, Chittenden, Caledonia, Franklin, Essex, and Orleans; and the boundaries of each definitely stated.  Grand Isle, Lamoille, and Washington, have since been added, making in all fourteen. 

     Orange County, as established by the act above named, was bounded as follows: "Beginning at the Northeast corner of Windsor County; from thence Northerly, on the East line of this State to the Northeast corner of Newbury; from thence Westerly, on the NOrth line of Newbury, Topsham, Orange, Barre and Berlin, to the Northwest corner of Berlin; from thence Southerly, on the West lines of the towns of Berlin, Northfield, Roxbury and Braintree; so as to include those towns, to the North line of Windsor County; from thence Easterly, on the North line of Windsor County to the place of beginning;" which would be where the line between Norwich and Thetford touches Connecticut river. 

     On the formation of Jefferson county, Dec. 1, 1810, the name of which was changed to Washington Co., Nov. 8, 1814, the towns of Barre, Berlin, Northfield and Roxbury were cut off from Orange County and incorporated into the new one, which includes Montpelier, the State Capital.  By these various excisions the formerly large County of Orange has been reduced to its present comparatively narrow limits.  The towns at present belonging to this County are seventeen; namely, Thetford, Fairlee, Bradford, Newbury, Topsham, Corinth, West Fairlee, Vershire, Strafford, Tunbridge, Chelsea, Washington, Orange, Williamstown, Brookfield, Randolph, and Braintree.  Chelsea, in the central part of the County, containing a suitable Court-house and jail, is, and from the present organization of the county has been its shire-town. 

     This County, bounded on the East by Connecticut river, occupies  middle ground between the North and South lines of the State and is  situated between lat. 43º, 46', and 44º, 13' N., and lon.  4º, 11', and  4º,  53' E. from Washington.  It extends 28 miles from north to south; and  34 from east to west.  Its shape is somewhat irregular; and its area is  estimated at about 650 square miles

     As to the first laying out of most of the towns, not only in this County but through the Connecticut valley, above the south line of Windsor County, I have found the following account, in a manuscript prepared originally for Thompson's Gazetteer, by the late John McDuffee, Esqu. of Bradford, a distinguished surveyor, and uncommonly well informed in regard to all these matters.  Mr. McDuffee, in substance, says, the old French war being over, the Governor of New Hampshire, in the winter of 1760, concluded to extend his survey of Conecticut river above No. 4, as Charlestown, N. H. was then called, and commissioned Joseph Blanchard of Dunstable, to make the survey from the Northwestern corner of said No. 4 to the upper end of the Great Meadows, then known by the Indian name of the Co-os, --the lower Coos.  Blanchard made his survey, mainly on the ice, in the month of March, of that year.  Proceeding up the Connecticut, at the end of every 6 miles on a straight line, he marked a tree, on each side of the river, and numbered it for the corner of a township thereafter to be granted; and thus continued till he came to the extreme limit assigned him, which was at, or opposite to, the mouth of the Great, or as it is now called the Lower Ammonoosuck.  Newbury, the last town on the West side of the Connecticut, got, as the survey came out, 7 miles, instead of 6, along the river; and subsequently obtained an additional strip, about one mile in width, on its Southern border, from what should have belonged to Bradford. 

     In 1761, the Governor of New Hampshire, commissioned Hughbastis Neel as surveyor, toextend the survey from Blanchard's northern boudary to the northern limit of another Great meadow, called the upper Coos.  Neel, assisted by Capt. Jacob Bailey of Newbury, beginning where Blanchard had ended, followed his example of keeping as near as he well could to the river, and at the end of every 6 miels, on each side of it, marked a corner, for a township, at some future day, and finished his undertaking at what is now the N. E. corner of Lemington, in the County of Essex. 

     From these surveys, returned to head quarters at Portsmouth, a plan of Connecticut river was drawn, and three tiers of townships protracted on each side of the river, so far as these surveys had extended; and from that plan in the land office at Portsmouth, for several years afterward, the several towns chartered in the Connecticut valley were described, by distances and courses taken therefrom; and not from any actual survey on the ground. 

     It may not be amiss here to remark that, the term Co-os in the language of the Aborigines of the northern section of the Connecticut valley, is said to signify The Pines : and this name they gave to the great meadows below the fifteen mile falls, above Newbury; and also to similar meadows above those falls, about Lunenburg; on account of the great forests of pine trees in those places.  When they added the termination suck to that term, the signifciation was the river at the pines--as the word suck denoted a river.  The Indians inhabiting these places, were sometimes denominated the Coossucks. 

     Orange County, though full of hills and valleys, has no high mountains.  The eastern range of the Green mountains extends through the northwestern part of the County, constituting what is called the Height of Land; from the east of which the waters flow into the Connecticut river; and from the west, into the Winooski and lake Champlain.  Knox mountain, in the town of Orange, is a considerable elevatio, and affords an inexhaustible supply of granite, of excellent quality, for mill-stones, monuments and buildings.  Wright's Mountain in Bradford, which rises about 1700 feet above the Connecticut river near it on the east, consists mainly of argillaceous slate, similar to that of the ledges so common in the Connecticut valley.  The soil is generally of good quality, not only along the streams, but the hills, to a great extent, are mellow, and fit for grazing or of more thorough cultivation, even to their summits.  The whole County is remarkably well watered by innumerable springs and rivulets, and dashing brooks, and larger streams, of pure water, which furnish, by their numberous falls, a cheap and excellent power for driving the wheels of mills and other machinery, to almost any extent.  Wells river runs across the northeastern corner of the County.  Wait's river, having its sources in Washington, Orange and Topsham, enters the Connecticut at Bradford; affording, as it passes through the village, some of the finest mill privileges in the State.  Ompompanoosuck, which flows into the Connecticut in Norwich, has its rise in Strafford, Vershire, and West Fairlee; and on its way through Thetford becomes an important stream.  The principal northern affluents of White river, which flows through Windsor County, have their sources in the County of Orange, and on their way refresh the towns of Washington, Chelsea, Tunbridge, Williamstown and Randolph; affording many privileges for manufacturing purposes. 

     Orange county is rich in minerals.  Strafford affords an inexhaustible supply of the sulphuret of iron, from which copperas, in large quantities, has for years been manufactured and transported to distant markets.  More recently, exceedingly valuable mines of the sulphuret of copper have been opened, both in Vershire and Corinth; and the business of getting out the ore, and sending it away to be purified, has been vigorously prosecuted.  From these mines copper, to almost any extent, may be obtained.  The process of excavating, refining, and turning to the best account these mineral productions, is worthy of a chapter from the pen of an experienced geologist. 

     The principal business of the County is agricultural; though merchandizing, manufacturing, and the various mechanical employments, called for in every community, are pursued to a very considerable extent.  In almost every town is, at least, one pleasant village.  Those in Bradford, Chelsea, Newbury, Strafford and West Randolph, are the largest and most flourishing. 

     According to the United States' census for 1860, the number of inhabitants in this county was 25,455; of whom 12,766 were males, and 12,689 were females.  The number of colored people was but 24.  This would give an average population, to each town, of 1497; though some have more and others less.  In the year 1840, the population of this County was 27,873; in 1860, as above stated; showing a decrease, in 20 years, of 2,418. 

     In regard to the farms, live stock and various productions of this county, the following abstract from the United States' census for 1860, affords the best information which can here be given : Improved land, 263,954 acres; unimproved, 112,837 acres; cash value of farms, $7,314,686; value of farming implements and machinery, $386,794; number of horses, 7,171; milch cows, 12,001; working oxen, 4,892; other cattle, 15, 048; sheep, 84,189; swine, 3,678; value of live stock, $1,490,908; bushels of wheat, 43,207; of rye, 8,803; of Indian corn, 123,532; oats, 297,825; peas and beans, 5,474; potatoes, 536,014; barley, 4,278; buck wheat, 38,266; value of orchard productions, $10,416; of wine, 1,060 gals.; value of garden productions, $1,375; butter, 1,007,250 lbs.; cheese, 291,176 lbs.; tons of hay, 81,337; clover seed, 181 bus.; grass seed, 363; hops, 81,132 lbs.; flax, 350 lbs., flax seed, 32 bush.; maple sugar, 978,650 lbs., that is 489 tons and 650 lbs.; maple molasses, 1,992 gals.; honey, 20,464 lbs.; beeswax, 274 lbs.; wool, 312,525 lbs.; value of home manufactures, $6,982; value of animals slaughtered, $210,985.  It is believed that the amount of wheat raised, and of sugar manufactured, increased considerably between 1860 and 1870. 
 
 

     The Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad traveling from White River Junction in Windsor County to Canada line, passes through Thetford, Fairlee, Bradford and Newbury, in Orange County, affording a convenien highway to market, for the productions of these and the adjoining towns; and, especially, for the rich and abundant mineral productions of Corinth, Vershire and Strafford.  The Vermont Central Railroad passes through West Randolph and Braintree, bringing manifold facilities for travel and commerce, near to several towns in the south-western part of the County. 

     The children and young people of this county are well supplied with advantages for obtaining a good education, as schools, both in summer and winter, are taught in almost every neighborhood, and in several of the towns respectable academies have long been established; particularly, in Bradford, Chelsea, Corinth, Thetford, and Randolph.  The Newbury Seminary has recently been moved to Montpelier; but the buildings remain, and it is hoped will be usefully occupied.  Commodious houses for public worship are, also, within the reach of all, and generally supplied with preaching; though, in some localities, these edifices stand, for most of the time, in a great measure, neglected, and the ways of Zion mourn.

     The inhabitants of Orange County, like the Green Mountaineers generally, are eminently patriotic, as their promptness to rally around the standard of their country, in its late fearful peril, most plainly evinced; and, with respect to material prosperity, health, intelligence, morality, home-comforts, and the observance of religious worship, are, at least, on a level with their fellow citizens in other parts of the State; though there is still room for essential improvement. 

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Source:  The Vermont Historical Gazetteer:  A Magazine Embracing a History of Each Town, Civil, Ecclesiastical, Biographical and Military.  Vol. II.  Abby Maria Hemenway.  (Editor).  "Orange County,"  Rev. Silas McKeen, D. D.  (Author).  Burlington, Vt. :  Miss Abby Maria Hemenway, 1871. 

 

 

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