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Norwich Vermont in the Revolutionary War
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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 pay bounties” (forty shillings to each man). Probably Norwich contributed more or less to fill the ranks of each of the above named military bodies, though their names and number cannot now be ascertained. At this time and during most of the Revolutionary War, the New Hampshire Grants seem to have been a general recruiting ground for officers from the New England states in quest of soldiers. As no organized state government existed at that time on the territory west of the river, the town received no credit for these scattering enlistments and no local records remain to show their number or term of service.
The first alarm from an apprehended attack upon the inhabitants of the upper Connecticut followed immediately the hasty and disastrous retreat of the American army from Canada in the early summer of 1776, leaving the northern frontiers exposed to the inroads of the British and their Indian allies. Naturally, quite a panic ensued, and many of the settlements most exposed were partially abandoned. But there was immediate organization for mutual defense through the Committees of Safety of the several towns on both sides of the river. To show the prompt and businesslike way in which the Revolutionary fathers met the crisis, we transcribe the proceedings of a meeting held at Hanover, July 5th, 1776:
“At a meeting of several adjacent towns, viz.: Lyme, Hanover, Lebanon, Thetford, Norwich, and Hartford, at the College Hall, on Friday the fifth day of July, 1776
“Chose Amos Robinson [of Hartford] Clerk.
“Chose Dea. Nehemiah Estabrook, [Lebanon], Moderator.
“Voted, To raise fifty men exclusive of officers to repair to Royalton, to fortify that Town and scout from thence to Onion River and Newbury.
“Voted, To appoint one Captain and two Subalterns.
“Voted, To appoint Mr. David Woodward [of Hanover] Capt.
“Voted, To appoint Mr. Joshua Hazen [of Hartford] 1st Lieut.
“Voted, To appoint Mr. Abel Lyman 2nd Lieut.
“Voted, To appoint a Committee of three men to direct the building of the Fort at Royalton, and furnish sd fort with all necessary supplies.
“Chose Esq. Joel Marsh (Hartford), Mr. Isaac Morgan, (Sharon) and Maj. John Slapp (Lebanon) to be sd Committee.
“Voted, to raise 250 men exclusive of officers to go to Newbury to fortify, scout and guard there for three months unless sooner discharged.
“Voted, To appoint Capt. Abner Seeley [of Thetford] Majr of the last mentioned Department.
“Voted, To divide s d 250 into four Companies.
“Voted, To appoint Mr. Levi Willard,((Levi Willard was a graduate of Dartmouth College of that year (1776), in the same class with Abel Curtis of Norwich, and undoubtedly the same person to whom Mr. Curtis addressed the letter quoted in Governor and Council, Vol. VIII, pp. 208-300, shortly after said Willard had deserted to the enemy in the summer of 1777. The letter is curious and well worth reading. Levi Willard served with the British army in Canada, returned to Vermont some time after the close of the Revolutionary War, and died in obscurity and disgrace at Sheldon, Vt., in 1839, in the eightieth year or his age. )) Mr. Oliver Ashley and Mr. Samuel Paine [Lyme] to be Captains.
“Voted, That the Captains appoint their Subalterns.
“Voted, To appoint a Committee of three men to direct and order the affairs of the Newbury Department.
“Voted, That Col. [Jacob] Bayley, Col. [Chas.] Johnson and Col. [Peter] Olcott be sd Committee.
“Voted, That this Committee engage that the officers and soldiers in both the afore mentioned Departments be honorably paid for their services.
“Voted, To dismiss this meeting, it is accordingly dismissed.
“Amos Robinson, Clerk.”
We give an intercepted letter from a prominent Tory in Thetford to Benjamin Brooks of Claremont, showing the views and expectations of the Loyalists in the upper valley of the Connecticut at the time of Burgoyne’s invasion:
“Thetford, June 17, 1777.
“Sir I would inform you that I have just received Intelligence from Canada, and they are a making all preparations to come down, and I would have you all stand in readiness to help; your arms are all ready for you and will be sent to some secure Place, so that you may have them, and I will let you know where in a few days you may expect to receive them. I would have you encourage all friends for Government not to give back, and let everything be kept as a profound secret, for our Lives depend upon it; for if the plan should be discovered, we are gone, and if there are any more that have sworn allegiance to the King since I talked with you, I should be glad to know it, for I must make a return how many men we can raise. I hear that Captain Sumner,2 is laid under Bonds since I saw you there; I hope he won’t be discouraged, and if he made any Progress I should be glad to know it. I hope in six weeks we shall be able to clear all our friends from Bonds and Imprisonment; For God’s sake let everything be carried on with secrecy, and I doubt not thro’ the justness of our cause we shall overcome the Dammed Rebels.
“So I remain a true friend to Government.”
To Captain Benjamin Brooks.”3
No signature is appended to the same, and it is probable that from prudential reasons none was affixed by the writer. The disquieting effect upon the patriots of the discovery of such persons in their midst, can easily be imagined; and if their identity was shown, it is probable they were waited upon by the local Committee of Safety without much delay. There is considerable reason to believe, however, that the above letter was written by Thomas Sumner, Esq., of Thetford.
From “Vermont State Papers” we learn that the “General Assembly of the Freemen of Vermont, at a session of that body held previous to April 30, 1778, ordered the confiscation of the estates of “the enemies of this State and the United States living within this State, who have distinguished themselves by repairing to the enemy, or other treasonable conduct,” etc. The same Act provided for one or more Courts of Confiscation to carry into effect the provisions of that order. As a result of this enactment the following order by a Court of Confiscation sitting at Norwich, was issued:
“Norwich, May, 1775.
“By the Governor and Council of the State of Vermont.
“The Court appointed to confiscate and make sale of the estates of such as are gone, and have been to the enemy, having attended to that business, and advised all persons to appear and show cause, if any they had, why the estates hereafter named, should not be confiscated to the use of this State; and whereas no reasons do appear, and on the contrary, evidences appearing which clearly set forth their criminality: Therefore,
In consequence of the depositions, and by our knowledge of many circumstances concurring therewith, whereby it appears to this Court
that the estates of _____ ______ _____ ought to be, and they hereby are confiscated to the use of this State; and we do accordingly appoint, and authorize Ensign Hosford and Samuel Smith, commissioners to make sale of said estates (except so much as is hereinafter excepted) and audit the accounts which may be brought against the several estates, under the direction of the Judge of Probate of the district in which said estates lie, who is hereby directed to make return, both of the money received and the accounts exhibited, to the Council of said State, under oath of office, and to administer the oath of office to the said commissioners; and either of said commissioners are hereby empowered to administer oaths to any person who shall offer said accounts for settlement; and also to give deeds in behalf of this State, to the purchasers of said forfeited estates.
“The estates to be excepted, are, first, the hundred acre lot on which _____ _____ _____ now lives; and, secondly, the hundred acre lot now in the possession of the wife of; _____ ______ _____
And the judge of probate, together with the said commissioners, are hereby authorized to grant relief to any person or persons, suffering on account of the above forfeitures, as they, in their wisdom, shall see fit.
“By order of Court,
“Paul Spooner, Clerk.”
By courtesy of the late Honorable Hiram A. Huse, former State Librarian of Vermont, we are in possession of a copy of Account Current between Abel [Ensign] Hosford and Samuel Smith (the commissioners appointed by the foregoing order of the Court), and the state of Vermont. The persons named in the account were, with one exception, residents of Thetford, and that one not of Norwich. It is an interesting document, though not connected with the early history or town save from the fact that it was the outcome of an order of a Court of Confiscation in session in Norwich. We will give it a place in the latter part of this volume.
The following is a copy of an order for draft of the militia:
“Norwich, 22nd Sept., 1777
“Pursuant to your orders of 21st Inst., I have called the Militia of this town together and drafted a part of the same, to march without loss of time as they shall be directed. . . . Their names as follow:
- John Slaughter,
- Adjt, John Wright,
- Sargt, Israel Brown,
- Joseph Bartlett,
- Samuel Wright,
- John Reccord,
- Seth Johnson,
- Elisha Baxter,
- Elisha Waterman,
- Joseph Ball,
- Samuel Partridge,
- Elias Partridge,
- Dole Johnson,
- Samuel Curtiss,
- Asahel Moredock,
- John Hopson,
- Elijah Baldwin,
- Elisha Brown,
- Gersham Bartlett, Jur,
- Samuel Brown, Jur.
“Certified by Solomon Cushman, Lieut.
“To Colo Peter Olcott.”
I Commissioned Officers
II Enlisted Men
The deaths of fifty-four (all that are known) of the above Revolutionary soldiers, that occurred after the year 1800, show an average longevity of over eighty years. The last to die was Deacon Israel Newton, 1856, 93 years.
Samuel Coit, 1851, 89 years; James Crary, 1849, 86 years; Jerome Hutchinson, 1848, 86 years; Joseph Tucker, 1840, 89 years; Joseph Cushman, 1848, 89 years; Hezr Goodrich, 1848, 91 years; Benjamin Burton, 1847, 92 years; Daniel Nye, 1844, 84 years.
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