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BRIDPORT lies upon the lake shore, the center one of the county’s western tier of towns. It is bounded on the north by Addison; on the east by Weybridge and Cornwall; south by Shoreham, and west “by the center of the deepest channel of Lake Champlain.” The charter deed which brought the township into existence was signed by Benning Wentworth, the royal governor of New Hampshire under King George III, October 9, 1761, granting to Ebenezer Wiswall and sixty-three others “a tract of land six miles long, from north to south, and seven miles broad from east to west, bounded on the west by the waters of ‘Wood Creek'”; for such was the early name of this part of Lake Champlain. This charter gave these sixty-four grantees, most of whom were residents of Worcester county, Mass., 25,000 acres of land, the same that makes up the area of the Bridport of today, for no material changes have been made in the town’s original boundary lines.
The surface of this tract which England’s erratic king granted to “his loving subjects,” for the “due encouragement of settling a new plantation in our said province,” is generally level, with perhaps just hills and rolling land enough to lend a pleasing landscape contour. The soil is principally a brittle marl, or clay, with loam upon the higher land. The timber in the eastern part of the township is mostly maple and beech, and in the western part oak, with some white and Norway pine along the border of the lake. Few streams or springs of importance are afforded, while the water, except that of a few good wells, is somewhat distasteful for drinking or domestic purposes in some parts of the town on account of a strong impregnation of epsom salts, making it taste brackish; for this reason rain-water is extensively used. The streams are low and sluggish, affording no good mill facilities; on this account manufacturing has never been carried on here, the inhabitants being almost entirely devoted to farming and stock and sheep-raising, the latter occupation latterly, and for many years taking precedence. Lemon Fair River is the largest stream. It crosses a portion of the southeastern part of the town, where it flows through a heavy, swamp and is joined by Birchard’s Creek. It is also swelled by one or two other small tributaries. Two streams rise in the southern part of the town, called East and West Branches, respectively, flowing north into Addison, where they unite to form Dead Creek. These, with the exception of several small brooks which empty into the lake, are the only streams in the township.
Settlement and 0rganization.–The first deed of land recorded in Bridport bears date May 20, 1766. It was given by Colonel Ephraim Doolittle, and reads as follows:
“For six pounds to me in hand paid by Daniel Hemenway, of Shrewsbury, Worcester county, Mass., to six rights of land granted by his Majesty King George III, under seal of the province of New Hampshire, situate on Wood Creek or South Bay Waters, on the east side thereof, near Crown Point and Ticonderoga forts. The rights granted to Nathan Baldwin, Samuel Crawford, Nahum Willard, Samuel Brewer, Noah Jones and Jacob Hemenway, which I, Ephraim Doolittle, have received deeds of release from the original proprietors, which township of lands are now in the province of New York, set my hand and seal, May 20, 1766, in the sixth year of his Majesty’s reign.
This deed, it seems, was the initiatory step in a scheme formulated by Colonel Doolittle to colonize the town on something after the co-operative plan. He succeeded in inducing a number to locate in the southwestern part of the town, where they began improvements, holding all things in common, but not bringing their families to the new territory. This plan, however, proved abortive. Fever and ague prevailed extensively, and after a time all had left except the colonel, who spent several seasons in this vicinity and in Shoreham. It will be noticed, also, that in this, the first deed recorded in the newly-granted township, intimation is given of the pending land-title troubles between New York and the “New Hampshire Grants,” or Vermont.
In 1798, two years after the failure of the plan above noted, the first permanent settlement was begun. Philip Stone, afterwards colonel, then twentyone years of age, came from Groton, Mass., and commenced improvements on the lot of land he had purchased. Soon after, two families, Richardson and Smith, settled upon land held under the New York titles, and three, Towner, Chipman and Plumer, under New Hampshire titles.
The second permanent settler was Samuel Smith. In the autumn of 1770 he started from New Jersey with his family and effects in a “Jersey wagon,” drawn by a yoke of oxen. This conveyance they used until they arrived at Skenesboro (now Whitehall, N. Y.), where they disposed of the land-conveyance and took passage in a bateau. Journeying down the lake until they reached the township of Panton, they landed and located upon the land subsequently owned by Nathan Spaulding, November 9, 1770. Here they remained until 1773, when they removed to Bridport.
Not long after Mr. Smith and his family took up their residence here, such uncertainty, disquietude and unsafely arose among the settlers, in consequence of the quarrel between the government of the province of New York and the people of the “Grants,” and especially upon the reception of the news of the approach of Burgoyne’s army, in 1777, that most of the families in the town, especially those who had settled on or near the shore of the lake, left their homes and moved to more quiet localities. A few remained, however, and among the number was the family of Mr. Smith. Although frequently annoyed by the impertinent demands and hostile demonstrations of the “York State men,” they succeeded in maintaining full possession of their domicile, living in peaceful and friendly relations with the Indians, who frequently visited the settlement, until a short time previous to Carleton’s raid in 1778. On receipt of the news of the approach of that irregular and destructive band, Mr. Smith’s family, with the exception of Nathan and Marshall, after selecting what articles could be best carried on their backs and in their arms, the bundles being apportioned according to the age and strength of each, left their home and started through the forest to the stockade forts at Pittsford, in Rutland county. Nathan and Marshall remained for the purpose of securing, if possible, and secreting the fall crops which were then on the ground. The family left in September, though the hostile party did not actually arrive until the 1st of November. On the 4th of that month Nathan and Marshall, with a man by the name of Ward, were captured and taken to Quebec, while improvements and buildings erected in the settlement were destroyed by fire, one dwelling only in town escaping the general disaster. After a weary period of nineteen months’ imprisonment in Canada, the young men succeeded in making their escape, and, after being once recaptured, finally reached the forts at Pittsford. On their long journey thither they stopped one night in Bridport, staying in the abandoned house of Asa Hemenway, the only one that had escaped the ravages of the enemy. Nathan spent some three years in the neighborhood of Tinmouth, and in the spring of 1784 married Mrs. Wait Trask, formerly Miss Wait Allen, and immediately came on and settled upon the farm in Bridport, where he died about fifty years after. Soon after Nathan settled here he invited his father and mother to reside with him, where they remained during their life, the death of the former occurring on the 11th of November, 1798, aged seventy-eight years; and the latter on December 22, 1800, aged seventy-four years.
On the day that Mr. Smith took up his residence in Bridport, November 25, 1773, occurred the first marriage in the township, that of Philip Stone, the early settler, to a Miss Ward, of Addison, whose parents had recently moved into that town from Dover, N. Y. Miss Ward was a brave woman, even if viewed in the light of those heroic times, as was more than once evinced in the following few years of danger and trial. It seems that all the settlers’ families did not suffer the same as that of Mr. Smith from malicious mischief at the hands of predatory bands of savages, and among the unfortunate ones was that of Mr. Stone. At one time Mrs. Stone discovered one of these plundering parties “creeping up the bank towards the house, just in season to throw some things which she knew they would be sure to carry off, if found, out of a back window into the yard, and, concealing some valuables in her bosom, sat down to carding before they came prowling in. The Indians, not satisfied with what they found on the premises, drew near Mrs. Stone, who had been sitting during the visitation with her children around her, carding all the while, apparently as unconcerned as though surrounded by friends, instead of Indians and thieves. One young savage, suspecting she had some things concealed about her person, attempted to run his hand into her bosom, whereupon she so dexterously cuffed him in the face with the teeth-side of her card, that he quickly recoiled from the invasion. Another young Indian flourished his tomahawk over her head; but an old Indian, struck with admiration at the coolness and bravery of the woman, laughing in derision at the defeat of his companion, ejaculated heartily, ‘Good squaw! good squaw!’ when he interfered and led off the predatory party, and Mrs. Stone kept quietly carding on, until quite sure they had made good their departure.”
At another time the house of Mr. Stone was thus visited, giving him just time to escape violence by flying into the woods. The savages first stripped the house of everything of value, then their leader, “Sanhoop,” put on a frock, the best shirt he could find, and led his party to the pig-sty, where he selected the best, and officiated as chief butcher; and while his followers, whooping and dancing, carried off the butchered pig to their canoe, he stood flourishing his bloody sleeves.
In the winter following the marriage of Mr. Stone, a Mr. Victory came into the township with his family and located near the lake shore. The following is a touching account of his death, which occurred soon afterward:
“Taking his son, a lad of fourteen years, with him, he had gone up Lake George in a skiff, where, seized with an inflammatory fever, too sick to lift and ply a homeward oar, he landed on a solitary island, and, alone with this young son, who could only bathe his fever-parched lips with cool water from the lake and sorrowfully hold his dying head, he fainted by the way, was stricken in the wilderness, and died on the lonely isle of the lake. The affectionate son could not leave his dead father, perchance to some beast of prey, but stayed by the lifeless form till providentially a boat came so near he hailed it. The men landed, drew near, and, touched by the sight they saw, buried the body tenderly and decently as they could, without coffin or shroud, and took the fatherless boy off from the island.
In 1775 began in Bridport in earnest the War of the Revolution. “A Tory, who was a tenant in the house of a Mr. Prindle, set fire to the house and left, implicating Mr. Stone in the robbery and burning. Mr. Stone, anticipating mischief, secreted himself among the bushes on the bank near his house, where he was discovered by the British, who fired upon him; but the volley of grape-shot struck among the trees above him. They also fired upon his house and some of the balls entered the room where his family were. They then sent a boat on shore, captured Mr. Stone, and took him to Ticonderoga, where he remained three weeks. Mrs. Stone, expecting he would be sent to Quebec, that she might again see her husband before his departure, shut up her two little children alone in their cabin, bidding the elder, which was but four years of age, to take good care of the baby till mother came back, who was going to take poor papa his clothes, went in a canoe to carry them, a distance of twelve miles, accompanied only by her brother, a lad of ten years. After she arrived, in order to gain admittance to her husband, she must remain over night. The mother thought of her babes alone in the cottage in the woods through all the long night; but could she turn from the door of her husband’s prison, and perhaps see him no more? No, her babes the tender mother committed, in her heart, to the Good Father and tarried till the morning; and upon her return found her little children safe, the elder having understood enough of her directions to feed and take care of the younger.”
After the close of the war in 1781, and the final peace ratification in 1783, immunity against rapine and plunder was once more assured the pioneers of Vermont’s wilderness. In most of the new townships the ruined habitations were once more taking on the garb of civilization, the Green Mountains echoing the strokes of the woodman’s axe. In Bridport the settlers began to arrive in 1783, and it was not long before most of them had rebuilt their homes, and their numbers were augmented by the arrival of others.
During this year (1783) the proprietors of Bridport and Shoreham (nearly the same persons were proprietors of both towns) met at the house of Elisha Smith, esq., in Clarendon, Vt., when Colonel Ephraim Doolittle was chosen moderator; Nathan Smith, clerk; Daniel Hemenway, treasurer; Samuel Benton, Philip Stone and Nathan Manly, assessors; and Marshall Smith, collector of proprietors’ taxes. Their business was to devise means to survey the town, and to raise money for the purpose. The meeting was adjourned to convene at the house of Philip Stone, and from that time forward the meetings were held in Bridport.
Four divisions of land were made in Bridport, in which each proprietor drew by lottery his right or share. The first division was of eighty hundred acre lots. The second division was of two hundred acres to each share, “surveyed adjoining to the aforesaid center lots and with parallel lines with the first division.” In 1783 the third division was made, it being voted “that the common land in said town on the lake shore be laid out into fifty-acre lots, and land laid out back as much as to make up one hundred acres to each number.”
The fourth division was the “village plot,” one hundred acres being divided into sixty-eight acre lots and the “common.” In this year, also, it was voted that “Marshall Smith be appointed a committee to provide for the State surveyor to run the town lines.”
In 1785, on the 28th of March, occurred an important event in the history of Bridport–the legal organization of the town by the election of proper civil officers. The list chosen was as follows: John N. Bennett, clerk; Marshall Smith, constable; and John Barber, Moses Johnson, Daniel Haskins, Isaac Barrows and Marshall Smith, selectmen. A committee was also appointed, consisting of Philip Stone, Nathan Smith and Abijah Dunning, “to lay out a highway through the lake lots, from the north line to the south line of the said town.” This was without doubt the first highway laid out in the township. John Barber, Asa Hemenway and John N. Bennett were also appointed a committee “to lay out a road through the town from east to west.”
In the mean time, while these affairs were in progress, new settlers were constantly arriving. In 1786 fourteen families started out from Morris county, N. J., to make for themselves a new home in the “Hampshire Grants.” Among them were Benjamin Miner and his five sons. He was an ex-soldier of the Revolution, and located upon the farm lately occupied by Champlin C. Miner, where he died in 1835, aged ninety-three years. The eldest of the sons, Benjamin, jr., was destined to take an important part in the administration of the public affairs of the town. He was born in Stonington, Conn., in 1767, and held the office of justice of the peace here from 1809 until his death in 1851. He also represented the town in the General Assembly during the years 1820, 1821, 1822 and 1825, and also in the Constitutional Convention of 1828. In connection with his duties as justice he married nearly one hundred couples, and always made a custom of giving the fee to the bride. He located upon the farm now owned by his grandson, E. Ladd Miner. Benjamin, jr., assisted in clearing away the brush to make way for digging the first grave in the township, in what is now the village cemetery. This was for the burial of Isaac Richman, who died April 28, 1786. About a week later a Mr. Mosher, who died of consumption, was also buried here.