(The forthcoming articles about the history of Fairfax are based upon the book Fairfax, Vermont: Its creation and Development written by the Bicentennial Committee consisting of Giles Boissoneault, Rev. Louis Drew, Dorothy King, Marge Ellsworth, Richard Ketcham and Diane Morrissette in 1980. Editing and comments within the articles are by Ed Nuttall, Chair of the Fairfax Selectboard).
The town of Fairfax is changing fast. Just in the last 10 years the town has increased its population 51%. Weíre creeping to the 4000 mark and beyond primarily due to an influx of people who are trying to get away from the heavily populated areas of Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, St Albans and other cities/towns. The newcomers see Fairfax as a quiet town nesttled in the foothills of the Mt Mansfield range on the East and within the Champlain Valley on the West. It is a pretty town and there are many fine folks who call this place home. You wonít find many businesses or an industrial park. Itís home to a few active farmers, many artisans, retired folks and other people who just want peace and quiet.
Because people donít live forever and because of change, people have a tendency to forget the history of this town. We drive to work in places oftentimes outside Fairfax passing by the history which lies before us. Youíve seen them before--itís written on the headstones within our cemeteries, on many of the road signs dotting our byways, around the farmsteads--but itís out there! So, to bring all of this back into perspective, I want to explore the roots of the town we live in.
Yes, this is our town, not his, hers, yours, or theirs. Many of us have come to Fairfax because we believed it to be a pretty place, a peaceful place, a rural getaway if you will. Others of course have been born, lived and died here. Still others have migrated out to seek fortune, fame and a change in lifestyle. Many of us forget that the original settlers came to and left Fairfax for some of the same reasons. Many were seeking freedoms such as owning land, working for themselves, and relief from a myriad of persecutions associated with religion, political beliefs, connotations to race, etc. But they all had one thing in common--they were seeking change. So letís visit the past in order to understand how Fairfax came about and how it has been changing even from the first day!
Chapter I: The Grants, the Proprietors, and the Charter states "...on August 18, 1763, the Honorable Benning Wentworth, Governor and Commander in Chief of the Province of New Hampshire, granted to Edward Berling and sixty-three others, a parcel containing 23,040 acreas or six square miles of land for the purpose of the settlement of a new plantation to be called Fairfax". So there you have it, the creation of Fairfax! But where did Wentworth get his authority to grant as he did? According to The Vermont of Today: With Its Historic Background, Attractions and People Volume I published in 1929, there were some strange land manipulations going on in what is now known as New England. It seems Massachusetts built the first outpost in Vermont. It was known as Fort Dummer and erected in what is now Brattleboro. The Bay State used this outpost as a right to claim jurisdiction of land as far as within twenty miles of the Hudson River. New Hampshire claimed sovereignty of this same land in the vicinity of Fort Dummer. To decide the question peacefully, George II issued a royal decree March 5, 1740 declaring "that the northern boundary of the Province of Massachusetts be a similar curve line, pursuing the course of the Merrimac River, at three miles distant on the northside thereof, beginning at the Atlantic Ocean and ending at a point due north of Patucket Falls, and a straight line drawn fromthence due west until it meets His Majestyís other governments". So acting under the assumption that New Hampshire extended as far west as did Massachusssetts, the King recommended the control of the new settlements to the New Hampshire Assemply. So until the long-drawn-out controversy between New York and New Hampshire over the dominion of the territory between the connecticut River and Lake Champlain was resolved, Fairfax, New Hampshire was born.
As further stated in the Bicentennial Committee findings "This grant, like all other early charters granted by Gov. Wentworth in Vermont, required that meetings of inhabitants and proprietors be held to conduct the same business and to choose the same officers such as moderator, town clerk and selectman, as was the custom in New Hampshire; and that the first meeting for this purpose shall be held on the 13th day of September next, that it be moderated by Edward Berling who was to Govern it agreeable with the laws and customs of the province of New Hampshire, and that the annual meetings forever hereafter be held on the second Tuesday of March". For those of you who have wondered why we have annual town meetings on the second Tuesday of March, you now have your answer.
Now to the details of the Charter. It was issued August 18th 1763 by George the IIIrd, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland upon the advice of Benning Wentworth, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of New Hampshire in New England. 23,040 acres was to be granted to 64 individuals to be divided into seventy equal shares.
There were 34 family names recorded: Ager, Armstrong, Arnold, Barrel, Burling, Darlington, Deall, Dean, Doughty, Drake, Field, Gallandit, Gilchrist, Hevaland, Haviland, Hungerford, Leageraft, Lee, Lester, , Mackiney, Mccaraty, Miller, More, Newton, Newmark, Phanber, Proctor, Sackett, Seymore, Toten, Warner, Wibird, Willmot, Wilson.
The tract of land was to contain six miles square and no more, out of which an allowance of one thousand forty acres was to be made for highways and unimprovable lands by rocks, ponds, mountains and rivers.
The Towns of Westford and Georgia will form boundaries around Fairfax.
As soon as fifty families become residents and settled, the Town wouldl have the liberty of holding two fairs and a market which could be opened and kept one or more days in each week.
The first meeting was to be held on the 13th day of September with the next meeting announced by Edward Burling who was appointed moderator. The annual meeting forever hereafter for the choice of officers for the Town shall be on the second Tuesday of March.
The following conditions were set:
(1) Every grantee is to plant and cultivate 5 acres of land within 5 years for every 50 acres land owned and continue to improve and settle the same by additional cultivation under penalty of land and rights forfeiture.
(2) All white and other pine trees within the Town fit for masting the Royal Navy will be carefully preserved for this purpose only, under penalty of land and rights forfeiture.
(3) Before land is subdivided, a tract of land as near the center of the township as the land will permit shall be reserved and marked for Town Lots, one of which shall be allotted to each grantee of the contents of one acre.
(4) Over the space of 10 years the rent of an ear of Indian Corn only, on the 25th day of December, if lawfully demanded.
(5) Every proprietor, settler or inhabitant shall yield and pay an ear of Indian Corn every year on the 26th of December forever from and after the expiration of the first 10 years.
(6) On the 25th day of December 1773, one shilling is to be paid for every 100 acres to appointed officers.
So there you have it! Fairfax was conceived from the minds of foreigners, if you will, in a land disputed by New York and New Hampshire. Farming will be hazardous as the men in the fields had to have their guns handy to kill prowling wolves, lynxes, and bears that came to feed on their livestock, or to defend themselves and their firesides against hostile Indian raids. The next fourteen years will be unsteady until Vermont becomes a Republic in 1777.
Who were these people who originally settled Fairfax? Where did they come? What was life like in those early years? The next article in the sequence will answer these questions and more.
(If anyone wishes to add to the content of this series, please feel free to write, call or send e-mail. My address is 109 Tabor Hill Road; my telephone number is 849-2753 and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.)