Return to VTGenWeb for Franklin County, Vermont
History of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, Vermont, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, Syracuse, N. Y. : D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1891.
The civil and political history of any county naturally begins with its organization, and separation from the territory or jurisdiction of which it was formerly a part. Therefore, were the scope of this volume limited alone to the counties of Franklin and Grand Isle, since the former was set off from Chittenden county, much that is of historic interest would necessarily be omitted from the present work. To properly narrate the early events of this region it will be necessary to refer frequently to the older county on the south--Chittenden--which surrendered its territory to the erection of Franklin on the 5th of November, of the year 1792. Chittenden county was brought into existence by legislative enactment of the 22nd of October, 1787, being then organized from the territory of Addison county, which latter was formerly a part of Rutland, and set off therefrom on the 18th of October, 1785. Rutland county, the immediate parent of Addison county, was itself formerly a part of the ancient jurisdiction of Bennington county, and was separated from it by an act passed by the General Assembly, and concurred in by the Council, on the 8th of November, 1780, and its name therein given was Washington county. This act was printed, but not put upon the record, and in that situation remained until the next session of the Assembly holden at Windsor, in 1781. Then, on February 13th, a new and slightly modified bill was passed, and by it the new jurisdiction was named Rutland. The old county of Bennington was created by the independent government of Vermont, through the medium of an act passed at the March session of the Assembly of the year 1778, although its boundary lines were not defined until February 11, 1779. This county--Bennington--comprehended all that region of Vermont that lay to the westward of the main chain of the Green Mountains, and therefore included all that now comprises the counties of Franklin and Grand Isle. The western boundary of the old county was by the act declared to be the center of the deepest channel of Lake Champlain; which was followed to the south line of the province of Quebec.
All of the foregoing county erections and organizations, except those the subject of this work, the reader will understand, were made under the authority of the then independent jurisdiction of Vermont; a jurisdiction and authority not then recognized by the Federal government, nor was it until the year 1791. Therefore the only exception to be made to the statement above is that the territory now comprising the counties of Franklin and Grand Isle, or nearly all of it, was organized into the county of Franklin after the statehood of Vermont had been recognized by the general government of the United States. In the same manner, as will be shown more at length in succeeding chapters, the territory now comprising Franklin and Grand Isle counties was organized into counties or parts of them at least, under the authority of the provincial government of New York, and as a part of that jurisdiction. The first county organization under New York that included this particular region was known by the name of Albany, and this country west of the mountains was brought into annexation with it in 1766; but Albany county was divided in 1772, and the northern part west of the Green Mountains was erected into a county by the name of Charlotte, having its shire town at Skeenesborough, now the site of the village of Whitehall.
Thus, from what has been said, the reader will understand that the proper and intelligent narrative of events concerning the region calls for frequent reference to the older counties from which Franklin and Grand Isle are descended. In fact, the early history of these counties, the special subject of this volume, is part of the history of the entire state; auxiliary to but not co-extensive with it.
But before going at length into the subject of the early civil and political history, the attention of the reader may first be properly directed to a general geographical and topographical view of the counties; and as the configuration of the surface has not materially changed during the last hundred years, this description may be given in the present tense.
The physical features of Franklin county are not unlike those of the other civil divisions of the State bordering upon Lake Champlain, except that, perhaps, between the lake on the west, and the Green Mountains on the east, there appears to be a greater extent of level lands than are to be found in some of the counties to the southward. These comparatively smooth areas prevail more particularly in the towns of Georgia, St. Albans, Swanton and Highgate, but none of these can be said to be entirely free from mountainous localities, for they do exist, however limited in extent, especially in the east parts of the towns named. And even among the inland towns, such as Fairfax, Sheldon, Enosburg, and Richford, there are extensive level areas, exempt from untillable mountain peaks, and the lands are susceptible of a high degree of cultivation. These desirable lands prevail throughout the valley of the Missisquoi River; and it may be said as an undeniable fact, that the region of this valley has the best and most productive farming lands in the entire county. And the farms bordering on this stream are occupied, improved and enjoyed to as great an extent as any in the whole State, and there appears to be no occasion, in this locality at least, for the Commissioner of Agriculture to colonize the lands with foreign importations, as has been found necessary in some towns in other counties.
The more mountainous towns of the county are Fletcher, Bakersfield and Montgomery; to which, perhaps, may be added the small unorganized district called Avery's Gore. This last named division--Avery's Gore--is one of a number of small tracts of land which were granted to Samuel Avery, under the above name, and is annexed to Franklin county. It contains 9,723 acres of land, and never had to exceed forty-eight in population, and not sufficient polls to warrant its organization. The census of 1880 gave it but sixteen inhabitants. It is subject to the authority of Franklin county. No further record, except an occasional mention, will be made concerning this district in this volume.
A preceding chapter of this volume has already mentioned the fact of the division of the territory of Vermont into counties under the authority of New York. This action was first taken soon after the king's order of July 20, 1764, had decreed the territory of this state to be a part of the province of New York, although the right of jurisdiction had been previously claimed and contended for. But, as there were then no settlements in this northern part of the state, there were no contentions nor controversies regarding the lands hereabouts, except as the grantees of the French seigniories sought to have their titles confirmed by New York, which was scarcely ever done, as the English government had no affection for the French, and when the New York representatives were disposed to resist the French claims, which they invariably did, the mother country had no option other than deny the applications for confirmations. Therefore, in the present chapter it will not be necessary to refer again, except incidentally perhaps, to the French possessions in this region, as under them it is understood that no settlements were made and continued after the extinction of the French dominion in America by the treaty of 1763.
At that time in which the king's order decree was made, and even before that, the jurisdiction of Albany county included all that now comprises Vermont, but when that decree was promulgated, that there might be no doubt on the subject, the jurisdiction was formally extended over this territory by New York's governor. The county seat was at Albany. In 1766, on the 3d of July, the district of the so-called New Hampshire grants was erected by New York into one county, by the name of Cumberland and its county seat was fixed at Chester, now in Windsor coutny, Vermont, in which locality there was less resistance to the authority of New York than in the towns west of the mountains; but even there the opposition was such as induced the removal of the county seat to Westminster, the latter being the stronghold of New York in the district. But this plan seems not to have operated to the entire satisfaction of the Yorkers, and was continued in existence only until 1772. And in 1770, by a proceeding had March 7th, New York erected Gloucester county, comprising all the district east of the mountains and north of the south line of the towns of Tunbridge, Strafford and Thetford. In 1772 New York made a change in the county organizations west of the mountains for the purpose, as the act recited "that offenders may be brought to justice, and careditors may recover their just dues." By this act, which was adopted March 12th, the county of Charlotte was created, compising the district of the state west of the mountains and north of the north lines of Sunderland and Arlington. Within the jurisdiction of this county was of course included all the territory that now comprises Franklin and Grand Isle counties. The county seat was fixed at Skeenesborough, now Whitehall, a place concededly within the province of New York, and so fixed that "justice," as understood by New York, might be administered with less interruption than would have characterized the proceedings of the court had the shire town been located east of the twenty-mile line. The remaining portion of the district of the grants, west of the mountains, was at the same time annexed to Albany county, with Albany as the county seat, and for the same reasons that moved the authorities to designate Skeenesborough as the shire town of Chalotte county. As thus created, these four county erections were continued without material alteration so long as New York exercised or attempted to maintain jurisdiction over the district of the grants; and they passed out of existence when that state ceased to oppose the separate statehood of Vermont, just before the independence of the latter was recognized by Congress, in 1791.
In 1777 the convention of delegates representing the several towns of this district declared the independence of Vermont; and in pursuance of the plan of government soon afterward adopted by her authorities, the territory was divided into two counties--Bennington, west of the mountains, and Unity, afterward changed to Cumberland, on the east. This division into counties was made in March, 1778, although the act establishing the dividing lines or boundaries of the counties was not passed until February, 1779. Each county was granted shire towns, those of Bennington being fixed at Bennington and Rutland, respectively, while the shires of Cumberland were located at Westminster and Newbury, respectively. The first division of Bennington county was made on the 8th of November, 1780, by the passage of an act, but not recorded, which created the county of Washington, but which act was re-passed on February 13, 1781, and the name Rutland given the county. Rutland county embraced all the lands of the state that lay north of the present north line of Bennington county, and of course included what is now Franklin and Grand Isle counties.
During the years immediately following this division of Bennington county, the war was ended, the independence of America was established, and the hostile Indians had generally withdrawn to a more congenial locality than was offered by longer inhabiting northern Vermont. And during the same time, too, the government of the state had made extensive grants of unchartered lands in this region, for the purpose of replenishing the state exchequer, which had become exhausted on account of the events of the war and the controversy with New York. These grants by the state were generally made on condition that the land should be occupied and settled within a certain time after settlement could be made with safety. The ending of the war and withdrawal of the Indians made settlement possible, and, as a result, the lands in the northern region of the state were rapidly taken up and occupied. To such an extent had the population increased that by 1785 the organization of a new county west of the mountains became necessary; therefore, by an act of Assembly, passed October 18th of that year, Addison county was created, taking all the territory west of the mountains and north of the present north line of Rutland county. (It may be stated, however, that a slight change was afterwards made in the southern boundary of Addison county.) The towns of Addison and Colchester were designated half shires of the county.
Only two years later, by an act of Assembly passed the 22d of October, 1787, Addison county was, in turn, divided and its northern portion erected into Chittenden county. This last creation embraced all the territory between the north lines of Ferrisburgh, Monkton, Bristol, Lincoln and Warren, and the Canada line; was bounded on the west by the west line of the state, which line followed the deepest channel of the lake, passing east of the Four Brothers and west of Grand Isle and Isle La Motte.
On the 5th day of November, 1792, the General Assembly passed an act by which Chittenden county was divided, and out of its territory Franklin county was created. The descriptive part of that act was as follows: "Beginning at the northwest corner of Chittenden county, (meaning the contemplated northwest corner,) thence easterly on the northerly line of Chittenden county to the southeast corner of Sterling; from thence northerly on the easterly line of the towns Sterling, Johnson, Belvidere, Avery's Gore, Montgomery and Richford, to the north line of the state; from thence westerly on the line of the state, to the west line thereof; from thence southerly on the west line of the state, to the place of beginning." The above description, although purporting to be according to the original act, is taken from the act that was passed by the Assembly in 1797, at which time the bounds of the several counties were particularly defined.
According to the foregoing description, and as a matter of fact, the towns now known as South Hero and Grand Isle were not included within Franklin county as created by the act of 1792, nor did they or either of them ever form a part of that county, but remained integral parts of Chittenden county until the erection of Grand Isle county, in 1802.
In the course of events Franklin county has twice been called upon to surrender of its towns to new county formations; first, by an act passed November 9, 1802, that took the towns of Alburgh, Isle La Motte and North Hero, which, with South Hero and the present town of Grand Isle, they being taken from Chittenden county, were erected into Grand Isle county; and second, by an act passed October 26, 1835, which took the towns of Belvidere, Cambridge, Johnson and Sterling, and constituted them a part of Lamoille county.
[Other changes which were later made did not substantially change the boundaries of Franklin county. Among such changes were the following: In 1817, the town of Huntsburg was renamed Franklin. In 1896, the city of St. Albans was established, and, in 1963, Avery's Gore was divided between the towns of Bakersfield and Montgomery.]
Now, having erected the counties of which this work is designed to treat, the attention of the reader is briefly called to the several towns that comprise the counties, for the purpose of learning by what power they were brought into existence. Of the fourteen towns that now comprise Franklin county, only eight were created under the so-called New Hampshire charters. These were St. Albans, Swanton, Highgate, Georgia, Fairfax, Fairfield, Smithfield [became part of Bakersfield and Fairfield] and Hungerford [later named Sheldon]. The first mentioned four were granted by Governor Wentworth on the 17th of August, 1763, and the others on the 18th following. Six of these, and all except Smithfield and Hungerford, are known to the county by the names originally given to them, but of those excepted the latter was changed to Sheldon, while the former, both in name and territory, subsequentlybecame materially changed. Smithfield and Fairfield were chartered on the same day, August 18, 1763, of the same size in acres, and to the same persons, Samuel Hungerford and others; but in 1792 the Legislature passed an act, approved October 25th, by which the territory of both townships, together with Knowlton's Gore, so-called, were formed into two towns and called Fairfield and Bakersfield. The other townships of both counties were created by virtue of grants and charters issued under the authority of the state of Vermont.
The town of BAKERSFIELD is understood as having been, in the main, granted by Vermont February 27, 1787, to Luke Knowlton, containing 10,000 acres of land, and called Knowlton's Gore; and the grant was confirmed by charter from the same source, of date January 25, 1791. By the proceeding referred to in the preceding paragraph this gore, with part of Smithfield, was erected into a town, and called Bakersfield. On October 31, 1798, Knight's Gore was annexed to the town, and at the same time a part of Bakersfield was set off to Enosburgh. Again, on the 26th of October, 1799, a part of Coit's Gore was annexed to Bakersfield, giving to it a total of about 26,000 acres. The town was organized March 30, 1795. [A 1795 Map of Vermont, from Carey's American Atlas, published in Philadelphia, shows a portion of the area included within Bakersfield was called Kelleysburgh.]
BERKSHIRE, one of the towns bordering on the Canada line, was granted on the 13th of March, 1781, which grant was confirmed by charter dated June 22, 1781, and issued to William Goodrich and his associates, fifty-nine in number. The town was intended to contain the usual area of thirty-six square miles, or its equivalent of 23,040 acres, but by an error in surveying the east boundary, the east and west measurement was increased, so that the town actually has about 25,040 acres. Berkshire was organized March 7, 1796.
ENOSBURGH was granted March 12, 1780, and chartered May 15th following, to General Roger Enos and fifty-nine associates. The town was named in honor of its chief proprietor, General Enos, the faithful friend of Vermont and Governor Chittenden. On the 31st of October, 1798, a part of Bakersfield was annexed to the town. Enosburgh was organized September 8, 1795.
FAIRFAX, as has been stated, was chartered by Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire, on the 18th of August, 1763, with an area of 23,040 acres. The town was organized March 22, 1787.
FAIRFIELD, one of the towns already referred to, was chartered August 18, 1763, with, as originally contemplated, 23,040 acres, but by the annexation of Smithfield its area was increased to 38,000 acres, thus making it the largest town of the county. Fairfield was organized in March, 1790.
FLETCHER was granted November 7, 1780, by Vermont to Moses Robinson and sixty-four others, having an area of thirty-six square miles, or 23,040 acres; but an act of the State Legislature passed November 1, 1841, took of the town's lands and annexed them to Cambridge. The charter of the town was dated August 20, 1781. Fletcher was organized March 16, 1790.
FRANKLIN was granted October 24, 1787, and chartered March 19, 1789, to Jonathan Hunt and five others, under the name of Huntsburgh, and so called in honor of its chief proprietor, but which was changed to Franklin, in pursuance of an act of the Legislature passed October 25, 1817. Organized 1792.
GEORGIA was one of the original towns of the county of Franklin, having been granted by Governor Wentworth on the 17th of August, 1763. The first town meeting was held and the town organized on March 31, 1788.
HIGHGATE, also one of the towns chartered by Governor Wentworth, was brought into existence on the 17th of August, 1763, the original grantees being Samuel Hunt and sixty-four associates. The town was organized March 31, 1791. A part of the town of Alburgh was annexed to Highgate by virtue of an act of the Legislature passed November 1, 1792. Also Marvin's Gore was annexed by a similar act passed October 23, 1806. Highgate surrendered part of its territory to Swanton in pursuance of an act passed November 3, 1836.
MONTGOMERY was granted under Vermont authority on the 13th of March, 1780, but does not appear ot have been chartered until October 8, 1789. The town contained originally 23,040 acres, but in 1859, an act of Legislature added to its area some 7,000 acres, which were taken from Avery's Gore and the town of Lowell. Montgomery was not given a town organization until March 12, 1802.
RICHFORD, the northeast corner town of the county, was granted March 13, 1780, and chartered on the 21st of August following, to Jonathan Wells and his associates, fifty-nine in number. The town was organized March 30, 1799.
ST. ALBANS, the shire town of Franklin county, was the creation of Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire, and was chartered August 17, 1763. Johnson's Island, afterward known as Potter's Island, was annexed to St. Albans on the 28th of October, 1842, and Wood's Island on the 27th of October, 1845, both by acts of the State Legislature. St. Albans was organized July 28, 1788.
SHELDON, under the original name of Hungerford, was chartered by Governor Wentworth on the 18th of August, 1763. Samuel Hungerford was its principal grantee and in his honor the town was first named. The name was changed to Sheldon by act of the State Legislature, passed November 8, 1792. The town was organized in 1791.
SWANTON was chartered under the New Hampshire authority on the 17th
of August, 1763, to Josiah Goodrich and others, proprietors, having an area of
23,040 acres, or thirty-six square miles of land. On the 3d of November,
1836, the area of the town was increased by annexation of a part of
Highgate. The town was organized on the 23d of March, 1790.
Return to VTGenWeb for Franklin County, Vermont
Return to Vermont History <-> Genealogy Main Page.