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...Read More
Collection: History of Norwich VT
A small Episcopal church was organized at Norwich as early as 1835, chiefly through the exertions of Doctor Ira Davis. Between 1846 and 1850, services were held occasionally in different parts of the town, conducted by Professor Hill of Dartmouth College, and others. In 1851 Doctor Edward Bourne, an Episcopal clergyman, became president of Norwich University, and from that time regular services were held in the village until the removal of the University to Northfield in 1866, first in the chapel of the University, and after 1863 in a small church building erected that year just south of the parade ground of the University. This edifice was provided largely by the efforts of Mrs. Charlotte Rogers, daughter of Colonel William Barron, and from contributions obtained by her abroad. 1For several years services have been held regularly up to the present time — 1905. Since the removal of the University, Episcopal services have been held but occasionally in Norwich, the completion of an elegant and commodious church edifice at Hanover in 1874, within one mile of the village, rendering it easy for the small society still existing here to attend worship there. Footnotes: [ + ] 1. ↩ For several years services have been held regularly up to the present time —...Read More
In Norwich, as elsewhere, the Baptists were the first of the dissenting sects to contest the ground with the dominant New England orthodoxy. Soon after the settlement of the town we find mention made of Baptists here, and it is probable that a few of the very earliest settlers were of that faith. The following documents are transcribed from the town records: Willington [Ct.] October ye 6, 1780. “This may Certify all Persons whom it may Concern that Calvin Johnsen of Wellington is of the Baptist Persuasion and is one of the society of the Baptist Church in said Willington and is ready to help to support the gospel in that order. “Andrew Main, Clerk” “Willington, September 24, 1784. This may certify that James Johnsen belonged to the Baptist society and his father and mother are Baptist. Signed in behalf of the Church, “Andrew Main, Church Clerk” The above certificates were doubtless procured and lodged in the town clerk’s office by the persons whose names they bear, with a view to exempt themselves from taxation for the support of the Rev. Mr. Potter, the settled minister of “the standing order” in the town at that time, as well as to relieve them from expenses for the building of the first meeting-house then in progress. A law of the state early made taxation for these purposes compulsory on all taxpayers...Read More
Prior to the year 1800, Methodism had scarcely gained a foothold in Vermont. The first Methodist society in the State is said to have been formed at Vershire by Nicholas Suethen in 1796. Two years later, only one hundred church members were returned as residents in the Vershire Circuit, then including the whole of eastern Vermont. Zadock Thompson, in the first edition of his Gazetteer of Vermont, published in 1824, gives the number of preachers, traveling and local, at that time as about one hundred, and the number of societies much greater. Probably no religious body ever made so...Read More
The Congregational Church of Norwich is among the oldest of the Congregational churches of Vermont, only four others having preceded it in the date of their organization, viz.: those of Bennington, Newbury, Westminster, and Windsor. It was the earliest and for many years the only ecclesiastical organization in town. Some of the first settlers had been members of this church in Connecticut before settling here. These would naturally associate themselves for public worship, and as early as June, 1770, by the aid, it is said, of Reverend Peter Powers, the pioneer minister of Newbury, the nucleus of a church...Read More
The present meeting house at Norwich Plain 1The writer is informed that the architect of the building was Ammi B. Young, who planned the additions to the White House at Washington, D. C. was built in 1817, and dedicated November 20th of the same year. On the following day, Reverend R. W. Bailey was ordained pastor and continued as such till November, 1823, when he was dismissed. The ordination sermon was preached by Nathan Perkins, Jr., A. M., pastor of the Second Church in Amherst, Mass., from Isaiah LXII, 6-7. — “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night; ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” Mr. Bailey was afterwards settled in Pittsfield, Mass., and later became president of Austin College, Texas. The church, which consisted at its organization of only eleven members, was quite small at the outset, increased during the ministry of Mr. Bailey to an aggregate of forty-seven members. After the dismissal of Mr. Bailey, the pulpit was supplied by Reverends James W. Woodward and J. R. Wheelock, and by Reverend Doctor Roswell Shurtleff till December, 1831, when Reverend Thomas Hall was installed pastor and continued with the church about three years. Under the ministry of...Read More
“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...Read More
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...Read More
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.Read More
In this chapter are recorded the proceedings looking towards a union of the towns of Newbury, Moretown, Norwich and Hartford with the State of New Hampshire after the failure of the Second Vermont Union with New Hampshire towns in 1782. The facts here subjoined are from New Hampshire State Papers.Read More
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...Read More
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. 1In the first organization of eastern Vermont into counties by New York, Norwich belonged to Cumberland County. In March, 1772, a change of boundary was made which placed the town in Gloucester County. In the new division, which was thenceforth maintained, the north line of the county of Cumberland began at the southwest corner of Royalton, and ran thence on a course of South 60 degrees East to Connecticut River. 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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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