Indian Occupation -- The Iroquois and Abenakis -- Claims of the Indians to Lands -- Evidences of Iroquois Occupation -- Rutland County Before the Revolution -- First Records of ExplorationCross and Melvin's Expeditions -- Vermont Debatable Ground in the French War -- Military Roads -- The Road from Charlestown, N. H., to Crown Point -- Elias Hall's Statement.

     In the preliminary chapter of this work considerable allusion has been made to the colonial history of this region; this fact, and the no less important one that the details of that period have passed into general history and are inscribed in hundreds of brilliant pages, must be an excuse for the comparatively brief space which we here devote to the subject.

      The rich alluvial lands along the Otter Creek and other streams of this region offered the most favorable fields for hunting and fishing, and some of the Indian tribes doubtless made this country a place of residence or resort. At the time of the first discovery of Vermont by the French nobleman, Samuel CHAMPLAIN, in 1609, the powerful Iroquois were its nominal possessors; they were probably trespassers on the territory of the Abenakis, or Canadian Indians, by whom they were eventually expelled. Evidence of its original populousness does not rest entirely on tradition. Indian mounds, tombstones and various memorials of aboriginal life and death were found on the territory occupied by them. Along the valleys and over the mountains doubtless passed successive generations of aboriginal inhabitants, with no chronicler to note their comings and goings. In this district of the country they planted their corn, hunted, lighted their council fires, planned their tribal wars, wooed, wed and wasted away in age and death, as much unheeded and unknown by the civilized world as the successive growths of the dark and gloomy forests they inhabited.

      Frequent petitions have been made to the Legislature by the descendants of the Iroquois asking remuneration for lands once owned by their nation. The first petition was presented in 1798, a second in 1812, and renewed in 1853. A commissioner was appointed who made a full report upon the Indian claims, and they were registered. This territory has also been claimed by the Caughnawagas, a branch of the Mohawks, whose principal seat was at Albany, though they had temporary residences here, to which they annually repaired for the purpose of hunting and fishing. Their descendants now exist in tribes at St. Regis, in Franklin county, N. Y., and at Sault St. Louis, near Montreal. They claimed a conveyance of a tract of territory, the boundaries of which are thus described: "Beginning on the east side of Ticonderoga, from thence to the great falls on the Otter Creek, and continues the same course to the height of land that divides the streams between Lake Champlain and the River Connecticut, from thence along the height of land opposite Missique, and thence to the bay."

      There are evidences that every year large numbers of these tribes were seen in their canoes ascending the Otter Creek to their favorite hunting grounds, wherein they constructed small huts and there took up their abode during the season favorable for the prosecution of their usual employment. The question what Indian nation first occupied and owned western Vermont has not to this day been fully settled, and still remains an historical problem. 

      Notwithstanding the patient investigation of the subject of the original Indian occupation, much that is unreliable has doubtless been handed down in tradition from generation, to generation, especially in respect to the earlier dates; but in regard to the origin of the Iroquois, the localities of .their residence, and their principal wars and conquests, the successive transmitters of their history could hardly fail of being essentially correct. We may, therefore, confirmed as it is by many circumstances found to exist on the advent of the Europeans, set it down as an established fact that the Iroquois originated in the northwest and gradually extended themselves over the southeastern portions of New York to the upper parts of the Hudson and finally to Lake Champlain, and some distance at least into the country east of it. The conclusion is also established that they could not have reached and become possessed of western Vermont much before the French found their way into the St. Lawrence in 1535, since their conquest of the Mohegans did not take place till about the time North America was discovered by the whites, and it may be reasonably supposed that many years elapsed after their conquest and possession of the rich and extensive Mohegan territory southeast of the upper Hudson before they pushed northerly on to Lake Champlain to engage in a new war with the Abenakis, which should wrest from them their territory in the Champlain and Otter Creek valleys. It is equally evident they relinquished their possessions between 1740 and 1760 or about the period of the settlement of the State.

      Rutland county prior to the Revolution was unsettled and was predatory ground. Up to 1760 the territory was almost an unbroken wilderness. A few men from Massachusetts had located at "Dummer's Meadows," on the Connecticut River, near Brattleboro; others had built a few block-houses and commenced clearings at several points farther north. Some French Canadians had built temporary residences at Chimney Point, on the shore of Lake Champlain, in the present town of Addison. But till the commencement of the French War a large proportion of this region was little known to civilized men, few of whom had ever penetrated its mountain fastnesses. Such was the condition of this section of the country and such were its inhabitants at the first approaches of civilization. The only known and authentic records of the explorations of the territory embraced in this county were the diaries kept by James CROSS and Eleazer MELVIN. The former made his journey in April and May, 1730, and the latter in May, 1748, but this region of country did not begin to be generally known till 1754, when a series of operations began which eventually changed its whole physical aspect and brought a hardy race of civilized men to settle and open the territory.

      Mr. CROSS made his tour of observation, starting from Fort Dummer, April 27, 1730; he traveled up the banks of the Connecticut to Bellow's Falls, to the falls in the Black River at Springfield, and thence by Ludlow and Plymouth Ponds, until Arthur's Creek - Otter Creek - was reached, on Sunday, the 30th. The party then made canoes and sailed down the creek to Gookin's Falls, at Center Rutland, and thence to Sutherland Falls and onward down the creek until Lake Champlain was reached. The canoes were carried around all the falls.

      The MELVIN expedition, composed of eighteen men, passed through this territory eighteen years afterward, and followed nearly the same route; he started on a military expedition May 13, 1748, from Fort Dummer, continued up the Connecticut to Number Four (Charlestown), and then followed the Black River. On the 19th the party "crossed several large streams, being branches of the Otter Creek." Saw many signs of the enemy, both old and new, such as camps, trees girdled, etc. On the 20th they marched over the Otter Creek and around the Sutherland Falls. Further along they found several camps of the previous winter and beaten paths made by the enemy. On the 24th they came upon a camp fenced in with a very thick fence, where was found a keg of about four gallons which appeared to be newly emptied of wine, as plainly appeared by the smell, and about twelve pounds of good French bread. They reached Lake Champlain and this point on the 28th, and had a skirmish with a party of Indians. They then began a retreat, being pursued by about one hundred and fifty of the enemy. They again came to the banks of the Otter Creek, in Pittsford, about a mile below Sutherland Falls and marched to Center Rutland where they camped. Thence they followed up the Otter Creek to the head of one of its branches. Before arriving at Fort Dummer Captain MELVIN's party had another skirmish with the enemy, and his party was scattered and four men killed, one wounded and one taken prisoner.

      During the struggle between France and England for territorial possession the settlements of the French were separated from the colonies of New York and New England; Vermont only separated them. Its territory was, therefore, frequently passed over by military expeditions to Canada, the American soldiers traveling the wilderness by means of paths indicated by marked trees. Army supplies could only be transported in packs on horseback, and even this was accomplished with much difficulty. The route from Canada to the Connecticut was by the way of Lake Champlain and Black River. There was an old path which was called Indian Road. 

      Massachusetts, feeling the necessity of a road for facilitating the military operations of the government, in 1756 considered the feasibility of constructing a military road between the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain opposite Crown Point, and the Legislature of that State made provision for a survey to ascertain "the distance and practicability of a communication between Number Four, on the Connecticut River, and Crown Point by the way of Otter Creek," and that the course of the creek, its depth of water, its falls, the nature of the soil and the growth of woods near it, should be reported. A fort was also projected on the height of land between the Black River and the Otter Creek, the surveys were made to the top of the Green Mountains, but there was no attempt to build either the road or the fort, the pending hostilities rendering it hazardous. In 1759, however, a military road was laid out by General AMHERST, from what is now Charlestown, N. H., to Crown Point. The enlisted men of New Hampshire and Massachusetts were quartered at Crown Point, and the object of building the road was for transporting troops and baggage between the two localities named. Two hundred men, under the command of Captain John STARK, entered upon the construction of the road. The work began at Crown Point and a good wagon road was first constructed to the Otter Creek. Lieutenant-Colonel HAWKS then cut a bridle path over the mountain, but did not complete the work; the reason for his abandoning his purpose has never been explained. In 1760 New Hampshire soldiers constructed a new road from Number Four to Ludlow where the bridle path of Colonel HAWKS ended. They followed the bridle path to Otter Creek and thence on to Crown Point. They could transport the military stores in wagons to Ludlow and thence by bridle on horses. There were two branches, and the first branch was only in use prior to 1759, passing through Rutland, from what was called the Little Falls, and Center Rutland. The second branch ran north from what is now Main street in Rutland, going north and intersecting the first branch in Pittsford.

      Mr. Elias HALL, whose father was in the army of General AMHERST, made some years ago substantially the following statement: When nineteen years of age he accompanied his father to look over the scenes of his father's military service. Crown Point and Chimney Point being only half a mile apart, the old French road starting on the Vermont shore of the lake, his father traveled the route on his way home from the fort in 1759, and passed through East Shoreham and Whiting. Fort Mott, at Pittsford, was on the line of his route and near the road from Pittsford to the corner of Main and West streets in Rutland, where another fort is understood to have been located; thence the route ran through Clarendon, Shrewsbury, and Mount Holly, Ludlow, Cavendish and on to Number Four, (or Charlestown, N. H.) This is a description in brief of the route of the old French or military road connecting Crown Point with the Connecticut River. The details of this route along the various points it passed and its boundaries will receive further attention in subsequent pages. Many towns, however, have claimed to have been on the line through which it did not go, especially in the western section of the county.

"History of Rutland County Vermont with Illustrations & 
Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men & Pioneers"
Edited by H. Y. Smith & W. S. Rann, Syracuse, N. Y.
D. Mason & Co., Publishers  1886
History of Rutland County
Chapter III.
(pages  46-50)

Transcribed by Karima, 2002