HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF

SOMERSET

      SOMERSET is a small town located in the western part of the county, in lat. 42° 58' and long. 4° 8', bounded north by Stratton, east by Stratton and Dover, south by Searsburg, in Bennington county, and west by Glastenbury, of the same mentioned county. The township was chartered by Gov. Benning Wentworth, of New Hampshire, September 9, 1761, containing an area of 23,040 acres, or a tract of six miles square. But November 5, 1838, a part of its territory was annexed to Wardsboro, and again, November 11, 1854, an act of the legislature set off a tract about two miles in width extending the whole length of the eastern portion of the town, four miles of which, in length, was set to Wilmington, and since annexed to Dover, while the other two miles of land were annexed to Stratton. Thus the township's area has been curtailed until it is now only about four miles by six, embracing a territory of 15,360 acres.

      The surface of the town is not very uneven, except in the eastern part, where there is a range of high hills or mountains, the highest point being Mac. mountain, and the highest part of that lying in Dover. The soil is mostly a black loam, producing excellent crops of grass, oats and potatoes, and affording fine grazing farms. The original growth of timber is spruce, hemlock, fir, birch, beech and maple, interspersed with black cherry, black ash and white ash. There are many streams, affording good mill privileges, the principal being the east and west forks of Deerfield river, which flow a southerly course into Searsburg. Gneiss is the principal rock entering into the geological structure of the territory, though quite a bed of granite exists in the central part of the town. Traces of gold have been found in the western part of the town, and there is said to be a good marble quarry on Mac. mountain, though it has not been opened, owning to its distance from railroads.

      In 1880 Somerset had a population of sixty-seven, and in 1882 had two school districts, and two common schools, employing two female teachers. There were sixteen pupils attending common school, while the entire cost of the schools for the year ending October 31st, was $87.00, with J. W. RICE, superintendent.

      SOMERSET, the postoffice of the town, is located in the dwelling of Hollis Town, on road 2, there being no settlement in the township worthy of the title of village.

      F. D. CHASE's saw-mill and chair-stock factory, located on road 2, was built by the present proprietor in 1881. The mill is operated by water-power, is furnished with a circular saw and a rotary bed planer, and turns out about 300,000 feet of lumber and a large amount of chair-stock per annum.

      Reuben B. GROUT's saw-mill, located on road 6, was built by Hollis TOWN, in 1870, and now manufactures about 250.000 feet of lumber per annum.

      The TUDOR saw-mill, located on road 6, was built by CLARK HARRIS and George HARTWELL, about sixteen years ago, and is now owned by S. T. DAVENPORT, of Wilmington, though now operated by William and John TUDOR, under lease of eight years from 1882, who now manufacture about 250,000 feet of lumber per annum.

      The first settlement in Somerset was made by Daniel RICE, in June, 1776. He located in the eastern part of the town, in the portion now belonging to Dover. Mr. RICE built a log house here and occupied it alone for about three years. He was the first representative of the town in the general assembly, and the first justice of the peace, being elected to both offices in 1799. On the 15th of August, 1777, Mr. RICE, while in Wilmington, heard that there was a battle raging at Bennington. Hastening home he procured his rifle and started off through the wilderness for the scene of the conflict, arriving in time to take an honorable part in the strife. Some years after, having gotten his farm cleared and well enclosed, Mr. RICE purchased another tract of land, for which he was to pay -in neat stock. But a rabid dog, or fox, having gotten among his cattle, he lost a large part of them and was thus unable to meet the obligation. A warrant was issued against his body, which the sheriff attempted to serve. The hardy pioneer, however, took to the mountains, where he was supplied with food, from time to time, by members of his family, while the sheriff remained in the vicinity of the premises, watching for the refugee's return. Tiring of this siege at length, a son of Mr. RICE donned some garments belonging to his father, and started on a run across the fields, as if endeavoring to escape. The sheriff, supposing it was his coveted prisoner, started in pursuit. The young man, however, managed to keep a long, deep mire-hole between himself and the minion of the law, who, at last, in attempting to cross the same, became hopelessly mired, and at the same time discovered the ruse that had been played on him. Extricating himself from the mud-hole as best he could, the discomfited sheriff took himself off, never to return. Mr. RICE soon after effected a settlement for the land, and thenceforward enjoyed peaceable possession. Mr. RICE, after a long and useful life, died August 28, 1831.

      Ephraim RICE, son of Daniel, was born here February 20, 1792, married Virtue JOHNSON, of Dover, September 11, 1814, and reared a family of eleven children, only one of whom, George E., occupying the old homestead, is living. Mr. RICE was an active, influential man; he represented the town in the legislature a number of terms, was town clerk eleven years, a justice of the peace many years, and held many other of the town trusts.

      In 1779 the settlement was increased by the arrival of Zera PALMER, John KELLEY and others, and in 1791 the population had increased to 111 souls. The warning for the first town meeting reads as follows:

"Whereas, Application hath been made to me, as the law directs, to warn a meeting of all the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of Somerset, for the purpose of choosing officers; These are, therefore, to notify and warn said inhabitants of Somerset to meet at the dwelling house of Oliver KIMPTON, in said Somerset, on Monday, the 19th day of instant November, at ten o'clock in the forenoon, to act as follow, viz: 1st, To choose a moderator to govern said meeting. 2d, To choose a clerk. 3d, To choose selectmen of said town. 4th, To choose a treasurer. 5th, To choose one or more constables. 6th, To choose listers, if found necessary, and to transact all other business for the proper organization of said town.

"WILMINGTON, November 1, 1792.
ISAAC WHEELER, Justice of the Peace."

      This meeting duly met, as warned, when James PARMELEE was elected town clerk; John PARMELEE, Perez RICE and Bezaleel WASTE, selectmen; James PARMELEE, town treasurer; Perez RICE, constable; William LAWTON, grand juror; Daniel RICE, tythingman; Silas CROSBY, Jacob WELLMAN, and Jonathan RICHARDSON, surveyors of, highways; John PARMELEE, sealer of weights and measures; and Ephraim HODGE, Joel WELLMAN and Daniel RICE, petit jurors. No further business seems to have been transacted at this meeting. The first freemen's meeting on record was held at the house of Daniel RICE, on the first Tuesday in September, 1799, when Daniel RICE was elected to represent the town in the general assembly. The vote for governor was unanimous for Isaac TICHNOR, there being eleven votes cast. The first church erected in the town was a log structure, built in 1785, and was located on land belonging to Daniel RICE. The first services were conducted by Elder CLARK, a Baptist clergyman, from Halifax, and later were conducted by Elder MANN, of Dover. There is now, however, no church building in the township. The first saw and grist-mill was erected by Daniel RICE, near what is known as Somerset great meadows. This mill did not prove a great success, however. The first birth is said to have been that of Gale COBB, November 28, 1787.

      Hollis TOWN came to Somerset about the year 1828 or 1829. He married Louisa PIKE, October 27, 1830, and reared a family of four children, only one of whom, Hollis, Jr., residing on road 2, is living. Mr. TOWN represented Somerset in the legislature more times than has any other man, except Ephraim RICE, was town clerk thirty-one years, justice of the peace a much longer period, and, in addition, held the offices of selectman, lister, constable, and many other of the town trusts. He built, at different places, as many as three saw-mills, and was ever ready to lend his aid and influence to any measure that was likely to prove of public benefit, or lead to the improvement of his town. He died October 20, 1881, aged seventy-three years.

      Mr. TOWN, when a young man, was fond of hunting, and many were the stories he related of his adventures with bears and other wild animals. One of his adventures is related as follows: Arising before daybreak, one autumn morning, he started for the enclosure where his cattle were corralled about half a mile distant from his dwelling. As he neared the enclosure he became aware of an intense excitement existing among his cattle, and heard one of the calves bleating as though in mortal terror. Mr. RICE immediately surmised that the unfortunate bovine was in the clutches of some beast of prey, and so immediately returned to the house for his rifle. On his return, the bleatings of the calf and the excitement among the cattle seemed to have increased during his absence; but within the thick shade of the forest, it was still impossible to make out more than the outlines of the animals. Creeping up to a slash fence that divided the clearing from the forest, however, he raised his rifle and fired at the dimly discernible form of the intruder. Up to this time he had taken no thought of the danger his own person might be in; but now, the thought that he had fired at a ferocious beast that was only a few feet distant, together with the plaintive and terrified bellows of the unfortunate calf, and the weird shadows cast by the surrounding brush and forest trees, in that dim light that immediately precedes the break of day, ill combined in striking a terror to his heart that his nerves were unable to control. At least his nerves failed to control his legs, for he fled, with the speed that terror lends, to his nearest neighbor's, Mr. Prentiss PUTNAM's. Arriving there, his evident agitation and incoherent explanation thereof only succeeding in tickling the mirth of the neighbor, who, laughingly, told him that had he `fired at the side of a barn, he could not have hit it, he was so terribly frightened.' They started for the corral in company, however, and there, in the gathering light, found an immense bear, pierced through the heart by the ball from Mr. TOWN's rifle.

      During the late war of the Union, Somerset furnished the following list of fourteen soldiers, while two of its citizens were drafted and paid commutation: John M. PIKE, Otis H. PIKE, Ahiz P. PIKE, Edward LINCOLN, William PIKE, Sordis C. STONE, Timothy O. VEGUS, Deliverance PIKE, Asa BURNAP, Oscar PIKE, Lewis CORSE, Edward RICE, Daniel BENNETT, and Eli HOLT. All of these, except Daniel BENNETT, lived to return to their homes. 

Gazetteer and Business Directory of 
Windham County, Vt., 1724-1884.
Compiled and Published By Hamilton Child,
Printed At The Journal Office, Syracuse, N. Y., July, 1884.
Page 304 [15]-304 [18]

Transcribed by Karima Allison ~2004