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Norwich Vermont in the Revolutionary War

The sources of information in regard to the part taken by the town in the Revolutionary struggle are few and scanty. The earliest allusion in the town records to this important epoch of the country’s history is found in the election of a Committee of Safety at the annual town meeting, March 11, 1777. This committee was five in number: Deacon Joseph Smalley, Samuel Hutchinson, John Hatch, Captain Hezekiah Johnson and John Hopson. There is much reason to believe, however, that this was not the first Committee of Safety that acted for the town; but was a new committee selected to conform to a recommendation made to the towns in Cumberland and Gloucester Counties by the Convention at Westminster which declared the independence of Vermont the preceding January.1 It is pretty certain that a company of militia was organized in Norwich as early as the year 1774 or 1775. Of this company Peter Olcott was chosen Captain and Thomas Murdock, Ensign, doubtless by the votes of the men enrolled in the same. The company was probably a purely voluntary organization of patriotic young men, in Colonel Seth Warner‘s regiment of Rangers in 1775, in the continental service. Colonel Timothy Bedell, of Haverhill, N. H., also raised a regiment the same year for service in Canada. Fresh regiments were enlisted early in the spring of 1776, by both Colonel Bedell and Colonel Warner. Again on the 7th of March Colonel Morey writes to the New Hampshire Committee of Safety: “Some recruiting officers from Colonel Warner‘s party [regiment] have enlisted a considerable number of fine men, they had the money to...

Church History of Norwich Vermont

The great achievement of the first generation of Norwich settlers was the building of a meeting house. More than any other event of the time, with the possible exception of the accomplishment of the national independence, this was an undertaking that enlisted the energies and taxed the resources of our forefathers. The building of a meeting house in a New England frontier settlement a century ago was regarded a matter of public concern, to be supported by the whole community without regard to sect or party, like the opening of roads or any other public charge. In less than ten years from the time the first clearing was made in Norwich, the preliminary steps were taken to provide a meeting house to be used for the accommodation of the whole people in the public worship of God. The question of the location of this building was sharply agitated, re-resulting in a keen competition between different sections of the town for the coveted distinction, inasmuch as the location of the house was supposed to fix the site of a possible future village where much of the business of the town would be transacted. When it became apparent that no agreement could be reached, a locating committee of three men from out of town was chosen and summoned upon the ground to decide where the meeting house should stand. The formal report of this Committee as made at the time has recently been found among the papers of the late W. H. Duncan, Esq., of Hanover, N. H., and by the kindness of Honorable Frederick Chase has been furnished to the...

The Ministerial Act of Vermont

“The Ministerial Act,” as it was called, for the building of meeting houses and the support of preaching by a tax upon the property and polls of the inhabitants of towns, was passed by the legislature of Vermont at its session at Westminster, in October, 1783. The Norwich meeting house had been built, as we have seen, wholly by the voluntary contributions of the people. It was decided, however, in the fall of 1785, that the cost of the building should be assumed by the town, under the provisions of this law, and so become the town’s property. At a special town meeting held for that purpose, on the first Tuesday of October, it was accordingly voted: “That the sum of £694, Lawful Money, be raised by a Tax on the Polls and Rateable Estates of the inhabitants of the town of Norwich, upon the List of 1784 (excepting those who are of a Different Sentiment from those who meet at this House for Public Worship); which Tax as aforesaid shall be paid in hard money, wheat at five shillings per bushel or other grain equivalent, pork or beef at the market price, or certificates from the Committee who have had the care of building the Meeting house, that they have paid such sums as are specified in s d certificates, for pews and seats in said House which certificates shall be taken by the collectors for his, her or their rates.” In the impoverished condition of the country at that time, such a tax must have been a serious matter to those persons who had not contributed to...

History of the Bridges Between Hanover NH and Norwich VT

The earliest form of transportation across the Connecticut River between Norwich and Hanover of which we have any information was the canoe of Nathan Messenger, who sometime in the summer of the year 1765 established a hunting camp near the bank of the river, a few rods south of where the west end of Hanover bridge now is. In this canoe the family and household goods of John Hutchinson were brought over from the Hanover side in the late fall of the same year, at the completion of their long journey from Ashford, Conn., to their new home. This family with that of Mr. Messenger, were the first white persons known to have passed the winter in Norwich, occupying together the log hut of Mr. Messenger. Jerome Hutchinson, a son of John, then a child of about three years, was fond in his old age of recounting his recollections of crossing the river on that occasion, some incidents of which never faded from his memory. The grotesque appearance in the water of an old white-faced cow (which the family had driven from Connecticut) as she swam behind the canoe during the passage of the river, was indelibly fixed in his mind. Mrs. Messenger, at her home on the Norwich side of the river, was first made aware of the arrival of the Hutchinsons by hearing the cry of their baby from the opposite bank, which she afterwards declared was “the sweetest music she ever heard, ”breaking thus unexpectedly the stillness of her solitary life in the woods. After the founding of Dartmouth College and the settlement of adjacent parts...

Norwich Vermont and Dartmouth College

Notwithstanding the fact that Norwich had for many years within its borders a collegiate institution of its own, founded and directed by its most distinguished son, the relations of their people towards Dartmouth College on the opposite bank of the Connecticut were always intimate and friendly.

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...

List of the Principal Pioneer Settlers in Norwich Vermont

The counties of Cumberland and Gloucester had been organized by New York in 1766, out of the territory lying between the Green Mountains and Connecticut River. In the year 1771 a census of these counties was made under the authority of that province. All the towns in Windham and Windsor Counties, as now constituted, belonged to Cumberland County; the remaining portion of the state to the north-ward, then mostly unsettled, was called the county of Gloucester.1 By the census of 1771, the population of the two counties of Cumberland and Gloucester was returned as 4669, (Cumberland, 3947; Gloucester, 722). Norwich was found to contain 206 people distributed among forty families. In this enumeration the inhabitants were classified as to age and sex only. The number of males above sixteen years of age was found to be 66, the number of females 48. The number of males under sixteen was 53, the number of females 39. The number of children or young people under sixteen (92 out of a total of 206) is remarkable. Beckoning forty families in town, there would remain twenty-six unmarried men and eight unmarried women over sixteen years old in the new settlement. Using the results of this census in connection with the list of subscribers to the 1770 fund for the founding of Dartmouth College and with some help from the town records, we are able to ascertain with considerable certainty the names of each of the forty men, heads of families, living in Norwich in the year 1771. These are the names of the principal pioneer settlers of the town, and they may properly...

The Founding of Dartmouth College

The founding of Dartmouth College at Hanover in 1769 was an event of great interest and importance to the early settlers of Norwich. Besides the advantages it promised for the convenient higher education of their children, advantages to which they were fully alive, as shown by their liberal subscriptions in land and money to its endowment, the building up of such an institution in the immediate neighborhood created an instant demand for labor and supplies of every kind. The president, Doctor Wheelock, through his Indian pupil, Samson Occum, and other agents, had collected in England and Scotland several thousand pounds to be expended in the establishment and support of a new college in the wilderness. The effect of this expenditure could not fail to make money more plenty and to contribute in various ways to the material prosperity of the vicinage. The conversion and education of the Indians was the leading purpose that animated Doctor Wheelock in thus setting up his college on the very borders of civilization. And surely no pious brotherhood of priests, no lonely mission of French or Spanish Jesuits, by western lake or river, ever planted an institution of learning or religion into wilder scenes and surroundings. The location of the college at Hanover was decided upon early in the summer of 1770, after Doctor Wheelock and two of the trustees from Connecticut had made a tour of several weeks exploration along the river and through the northern part of New Hampshire. A tradition in the Burton family asserts that the location was finally fixed at a conference held at the house of Jacob Burton...

First Settlements in Norwich Vermont

Having glanced thus briefly at the action of the Norwich proprietors in opening a way to reach their new township in the wilderness, and in dividing up a portion of its surface into lots suitable to become the homesteads of future settlers, let us pause a moment and see what had meantime been done in the work of actual settlement. I am indebted to Rev. Edmund F. Slafter of Boston for an interesting account of what was unquestionably the first attempt at settlement made within the limits of the town. I quote from the Slafter Memorial: “Samuel Slafter [of Mansfield, Connecticut], the father of John Slafter, being an original proprietor, and being at the first meeting chosen treasurer of the corporation, took a deep interest in the settlement of the town. At his suggestion, his son John made a journey through the forests of New Hampshire in 1762, to examine the territory and report upon the advantages it might offer as a place of settlement. He found it pleasantly situated on the western banks of the Connecticut, with a good soil, but for the most part of an uneven, hilly surface. He reported it well watered, not only by the Connecticut but by several small, clear streams, and by one more important one called the Ompompanoosuc, an Indian name signifying ‘the place of very white stones’ whose waters emptied themselves into the Connecticut at the northeastern part of the town. As he was inclined to engage in the settlement of the new town, the next year (June 7, 1763) his father transferred to him as ‘a token of his...

The Proprietors of Norwich Vermont

The larger part of the names of the grantees of Norwich are names of Connecticut men then resident in Mansfield and neighboring towns. Captain Hezekiah Johnson, Samuel Slafter, Joseph Storrs, and William Johnson 3rd, are known to have lived in Mansfield; Amos Fellows, James West, Adoniram Grant, and Samuel Cobb were of Tolland; Ebenezar Heath, Captain Abner Barker and William Johnson of Willington, towns adjacent to Mansfield on the north. The last nine names are those of New Hampshire and Massachusetts men, several of them members of the provincial government in the former province. Major Joseph Blanchard was of Dunstable, Mass. He had executed in 1760, by direction of Governor Wentworth, the first survey of the townships lying along the river from Charlestown to Newbury. His name appears as proprietor in many town charters about this time. But few of the original grantees ever came personally to Norwich to settle. Many of them, it is probable, were people of considerable property, well advanced in life, whose years unfitted them to endure the hard-ships of pioneers in a new settlement. Such would naturally transfer their rights to their sons, or to the young and enterprising among their friends and neighbors. This is known to have been the case in several instances. But Jacob Fenton and Ebenezar Smith, both proprietors, were here in 1763. The former died on the 15th of July of that year, and was thus the first white man known to have died within the township. Captain Hezekiah Johnson emigrated to the town very early and settled near the mouth of Ompompanoosuc River. He was long a leading...
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