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At the first enumeration of the inhabitants of eastern Vermont, as made by the authority of New York in 1771, Norwich was found to be the most populous of all the towns of Windsor County, having forty families and 206 inhabitants. Windsor followed with 203, and Hartford was third with 190. The aggregate population of the county (ten towns reported) was then but 1,205, mostly confined to the first and second tiers of towns west of the Connecticut River. Twenty years later, in 1791, Hartland led all the towns of the county with 1,652 inhabitants, Woodstock and Windsor coming next with 1,605 and 1,542 respectively. Exceptional causes made the little town of Guilford (now numbering scarcely more than one thousand inhabitants), till after the year 1800, the most populous town in the state. In Norwich, the great falling off in the size of families in recent years is seen in the fact, that in the year 1800, the number of children of school age was 604, out of a total population of 1,486, while in 1880 with a nearly equal population (1,471) it was but 390.
In the removal of large numbers of the native-born inhabitants by emigration, we must find the principal cause of the decline of our rural population. Preeminently is this true of Norwich. The outflow of people began very early and now for more than a century there has been one unbroken, living stream of emigration pouring over our borders. Several families that had first located here became, before the close of the Revolutionary War, the pioneer settlers of Royalton, Tunbridge, and Randolph. Some of the captives taken at the burning of Royalton in 1780, among them Mr. Elias Curtis, had previously been residents in Norwich. The families of Seaver, Hutchinson, Parkhurst, Cushman, and Morgan, whose names often appear on the early records of the towns just mentioned, were either derived from or closely connected with Norwich families of the same name. The original proprietors of the town of Randolph mostly belonged in Hanover and Norwich, and their meetings were held here for several years. Abel Curtis was clerk for the Randolph proprietors in 1778. Other Norwich proprietors were John Slafter, Elisha Burton, Simeon Curtis, and William Lewis. In the year 1793, Captain Aaron Storrs, also a proprietor, sold his homestead near the west end of the bridge between Norwich and Hanover, to Doctor Joseph Lewis, to lead a colony of settlers to Randolph. Mr. A. A. Storrs, at the time of present writing representative-elect to the legislature from that town, is a grandson of Captain Aaron Storrs.1 A little later the towns of Brookfield, Orange, Vershire, and Washington, in Orange County, received important accessions to their infant settlements from Norwich. The town of Washington was chartered to Major Elisha Burton of Norwich and others, by the legislature of Vermont, August 8, 1781, Jacob Burton was the first clerk of that town. Prominent citizens of Norwich were also grantees of Orange and Vershire, both chartered the same year, and interested themselves actively in promoting their settlement.
About the beginning of the present century, there was a large migration from Norwich into the then newly organized counties of the northern part of the state. Several young men of marked ability at that time left their native town to become prominent and honored citizens of the newer townships of Washington, Orleans, and Essex counties. Sylvanus and Daniel Baldwin, while quite young men “went to Montpelier then just being established as the permanent capital of Vermont. There the former built the first state house, and in 1810 the first cotton factory in this part of the country, while the latter became a leading merchant, and some time later founded the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance Co. was for many years its president, and the influential promoter of many other public enterprises, wherein he was ably seconded by Joseph Howes, another Norwich boy who followed the Baldwins to Montpelier in 1808. In 1804 Dan Carpenter, having studied law with Ebenezar Brown, Esq., and been admitted to the Windsor County bar, established himself in the new town of Waterbury, where he at once became a leading citizen and spent a long and useful life, filling many positions of honor and trust in the town and county. His brother, Luther Carpenter, had settled three or four years earlier in the town of Orange, with whose public affairs and interests he was closely identified for nearly fifty years, dying in 1861 at the age of eighty-three, having represented the town in the legislature fourteen years, served as justice of the peace thirty-five years, as member of constitutional conventions, council of censors, and holding other important trusts, in all, or nearly all, of which he was succeeded by his son, Carlos Carpenter, now a resident of Barre, at the ripe age of eighty. Besides the offices already mentioned, each of the above named gentlemen, with the single exception of Sylvanus Baldwin, held for several years the position of judge of the county court, and each of them, with the same exception, took for himself a wife from the vicinity of the old home, when ready to start out in life for himself. Luther Carpenter married Sarah Waterman of Norwich in 1803; Dan Carpenter married Betsey, daughter of Elisha Partridge, in 1805; young Howes married Patty, daughter of Abel Wilder, in 1808; and Daniel Baldwin married Emily Wheelock, a grand-daughter of the first president of Dartmouth College.
In 1801, William Baxter, son of Elihu Baxter of Norwich, and law student from the office of Honorable Daniel Buck, settled in the town of Brownington, Orleans County. Beginning married life the same year, with Lydia Ashley, a sister of Mrs. Daniel Buck, and with scarcely a dollar in his pocket, he soon became a leading lawyer and one of the wealthiest men in that section of the state. He secured the location of the Orleans County Grammar School at Brownington, and erected for it a new academy building at his own expense in 1824. Mr. Baxter died in 1826, at the age of forty-nine, leaving to his son, Honorable Portus Baxter of Derby, a munificent estate, and the better inheritance of a high reputation for integrity, business capacity, and public spirit, which never suffered in the keeping of the son.
Two years after the settlement of William Baxter at Brownington, Capt. Benjamin Burton, after a residence of about twenty years in Norwich, removed with a large family of grown-up children to the town of Irasburg in the same county. With him went his brother, Jacob Burton, and quite a colony of Norwich families, who became pioneer settlers in the western part of Irasburg, which soon after took the name of Burton Hill, which it still keeps. One of the young men of this colony was Peter Thatcher, Jr., a great wit and comical genius, but more remarkable for his height, which was six feet, four inches. Captain Burton was a much respected citizen of his adopted town, where he lived to the advanced age of ninety-two, and his wife to the age of ninety-four years. Mrs. Burton‘s maiden name was Hannah Griswold and her home was in Stonington, Conn. Maj. Oliver Griswold Burton and Col. Henry S. Burton, both of the United States Army, were son and grandson respectively of these parents.
Four years before Captain Burton went to Irasburg, in 1799, Dea. David Hibbard, who had come to Norwich from Coventry, Conn., to settle in 1782 or ’83, removed to Concord in Essex County, with a large family of boys and girls. The first work of Deacon Hibbard was to establish a church at Concord, and to this church he ministered regularly, though a layman, until the settlement over it of Rev. Samuel Goddard in 1809. He was town clerk six years, and four years a member of the legislature from Concord. His son, David Hibbard, Jr., a self -made man and a lawyer practiced his profession in Concord for thirty years, holding the offices of judge of the county court, state’s attorney, high sheriff, and town representative, and dying in 1852. Another son, Dyer Hibbard, was also judge and sheriff of the county, as well as representative four years. David Hibbard, 3rd, eldest son of David, Jr., represented Concord in the legislatures of 1838, ’39, ’40, ’43, ’44, ’58, and ’59, and was member of the council of censors in 1856. Asa Hibbard, another descendant, was assist, judge in 1857 and ’58. The second son of David Hibbard, Jr., was Hon. Harry Hibbard of Bath, N. H., late a leading lawyer of the New Hampshire Bar, presiding officer of both branches of the state legislature, and six years (1849-1855) a member of Congress from the third district of New Hampshire. Harry Hibbard was born at Concord, Vt., June 1, 1816, and died at Bath, N. H., in 1872. He graduated at Dartmouth College in the class of 1835.
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Hon. Daniel Buck left Norwich in 1809, removing to Chelsea, where he died in 1816. At the close of the war with Great Britain, his son, Daniel Azro Ashley Buck, resigned his commission in the regular army and commenced the practice of law at Chelsea. Between 1816 and 1836, he represented that town fourteen years in the state legislature, during six of which he served as Speaker of the House. He was also a member of Congress four years previous to 1830.
In the Vermont legislature of 1820 and the years immediately succeeding, there was gathered quite a brilliant galaxy of talent native born in Norwich. At the opening of the session of that year, Lieut. Gov. Paul Brigham, full of years and honors, finally retired from that office and from the presidency of the Council which he had held for twenty-two years. In the Speaker’s chair of the assembly sat the younger Buck, where his honored father had preceded him a generation earlier, executing the duties of the place with a promptness, ease and dignity which has perhaps never been excelled. Before him in their respective seats sat the two Carpenters, Luther of Orange and Dan of Waterbury, both veteran legislators, whose united years of service in that body covered a quarter of a century. There also was the sagacious Baxter from Brownington and one of the public-spirited and versatile Hibbards from Concord; while to represent the mother town was the erratic but gifted and scholarly Aaron Loveland. These men had all grown up as boys and playmates together in old Norwich twenty-five years before. They were a representation of which any town might justly be proud, and which few if any towns in the State have been able to match, I fancy, before or since. Any one of them, if called temporarily to the Speaker’s chair, could have acquitted himself with credit, and the judiciary committee of the House might almost have been made up worthily from the sons of Norwich alone.
While the town was thus giving of its best blood to fill up the vacant places of our own State, the great tide of emigration to the West had already set in, which has known no ebb to this day. In the first year of the nineteenth century, Col. Jasper Murdock, having married Martha, daughter of Rev. Lyman Potter, persuaded his father-in-law to remove with him to Ohio, then the Northwest Territory, where he was interested in extensive land speculations. Two sons of Mr. Potter, both liberally educated at Dartmouth College during the period of their father’s ministry in town, accompanied the family in their long and tiresome journey to the Western Reserve, at that time the very out-post of settlement and civilization. Of these sons, one became a farmer in Trumbull County, the other studied law and settled in New Lisbon, the county seat of Columbiana county. Both afterwards served in the legislature of the new state of Ohio. Colonel Murdock died of malarial fever at Steubenville in 1803, at the age of forty-three. He was a man of superior natural abilities that qualified him for either business or intellectual pursuits. He had popular manners, a handsome face and figure, an excellent education, with a spirit of enterprise and an ambition which, in the wider field of action upon which he had just entered, would have carried him, if his life had been spared, into high public stations in his adopted state, and perhaps into the national Congress.
Representatives of other Norwich families sought new homes in the far West about this time. Alexander Bush, son of Capt. Timothy Bush and a graduate of Dartmouth in 1800, was, two years later, as far west as Franklintown, now Columbus, in central Ohio, where he died the same year. But previous to about the year 1820, the bulk of emigration from Norwich went to central, northern, and western New York, and occasionally to Pennsylvania and to Maine. As early as 1812, however, Thomas and Joseph Emerson had a flourishing mercantile business at Detroit, which was maintained for a considerable “time.
The evidences of depopulation and disappearance of houses in Norwich seems to be especially marked at Beaver Meadow, and along the “turnpike,” which thoroughfare can lay claim to less than one-half the dwellings that were there sixty years ago (so says one who resided there at that time), and the percentage of loss in population is probably greater than the percentage of loss of houses.
Norwich Surnames of Families
Numerous in town before the year 1800 and since become extinct
Surnames of families of the same period still surviving in town
About the year 1789, Captain Asa Story and Christopher Huntington emigrated to Randolph from Norwich with their families. ↩