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EARLY SETTLERS

by Ed Nuttall

 

(This second article about the History of Fairfax focuses on the early settlers and the events leading up to settlement and Vermont statehood. The Book Fairfax Its Creation and Development, 1980 continues to be drawn upon. Additional references The Vermont Political Tradition: And Those Who Helped Make It written by William Dolye, 1984 and

Vermont a History written by Charles T. Morrissey, 1981 are introduced. Editing and comments within the articles are by Ed Nuttall.)

 

If anyone has researched the history of Fairfax since its charter, it becomes obvious that there exists a void of time in which settlement did not occur between 1763-1782. Why? After all there were sixty-four individuals listed in the charter among which 23,040 acres was to be divided into seventy equal shares!

The answer lies with Benning Wentworth himself. It started on January 3, 1750 when Wentworth granted a township six miles square to relations, friends, and political henchmen--none of whom planned to settle there (Vermont A History, 1981, Charles T Morrissey). The precedent had been set.

He continued to grant townships in the region totaling 138 towns by 1764. He sold to cronies and to speculators ignoring the kingís orders that grants in the colonies be made solely to groups of fifty families or more who intended to settle the land themselves. Complicating future settlement was the issue of these Wentworth grants overlapping New York grants made to New York settlers, and the Hampshire holders might have to move from the fields they had cleared and planted and the homes they had built.

Given those circumstances, wouldnít you think twice before committing yourself to settlement? During this same period Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys organized themselves into a regiment with several local companies. Committees of safety were formed resolving no surveyors from New York would be allowed onto any land in the Grants, nor could Yorker sheriffs remove anybody from the Grants without first receiving permission from the committee, nor could any Wentworth grantee accept confirmation of title from New York.

Wow! What a mess! Who owns what? Itís no wonder those 64 grantees designated by Wentworth to own Fairfax never came to settle.

On top of that there was the American Revolution consuming everybodyís resources, time and energies. With the Windsor Convention of 1777 came the association of the New Hampshire Grants which pledged support of the new American nation. Those who spurned the invitation to join the association were deemed enemies to the common cause of the New Hamsphire Grants.

From 1777 to 1791 Vermont was an independent republic, striving at various times to become admitted to the Union but always finding the great State of New York opposed to this plan. She encouraged colonization and the sale of lands even at less than ten cents an acre.

The first Federal census was taken in 1790, and Vermont then had six counties--Addison, Bennington, Chittenden, Orange, Rutland, Windham and Windsor. Their total population was 85,425.

Itís now 1783. Captain Broadstreet Spafford arrives with his sons Nathan and Asa. They traveled down the Lamoille River, settling on the north bank in the vicinity of Goose Pond Road. There they built a log cabin, covered the roof with elm bark and using split basswood logs for their floor. The door consisted of a blanket hung on pegs.

The Spaffords returned to Piedmont, NH for the winter and returned with their families the following spring. The Hemenway Gazetteer mentions a Mr. Eastman and his wife who traveled with the Spaffords on their return trip in 1784. Mr. Eastman, however, died along the way and was buried in Johnson, Vermont.

That summer, these pioneers were the only inhabitants in Fairfax. Their nearest neighbors were in Cambridge, seven miles away.

In 1785, two years after Captain Spafford arrived, Robert and Jose Barnett came and settled on the south bank of the Lamoille, not far from the Spafford settlement.

Stephen England came to Fairfax from Massachusetts in 1785 or 1794. He initially settled on a farm which was later owned by Isaac Wilson, and later built and managed the first hotel in Fairfax Village on the claim first settled by Joseph Belcher.

Thomas Russell cleared land settled in town in 1786. At a tax sale, he was able to purchase some other tracts, and he was at one time, there, the owner of quite a large area.

In 1786 Joseph Beeman, Sr. and Joseph Beeman Jr. arrived in town, settling in the northern part of town on the road to St Albans, about ten miles from the Spafford settlement. They came on foot from Bennington, carrying provisions and tools. That summer they built a cabin with basswood floors, cleared a small piece of land for growing corn and turnips, and returned to Bennington in the fall. The following year they returned, bringing their families, a cow, and 300-400 pounds of flour.

In 1787, Levi Farnsworth came to town with only an axe and a gun and started to build a log cabin on the Plains just below the falls. It is said that Capt. Spafford, on his way to Burlington, noticed smoke across the river, forded the river below the falls to investigate, and discovered Mr. Farnsworth building his cabin. It turned out that they were acquaintances from New Hampshire.

Hampton Lovegrove and his wife, Seviah (Story) came to Fairfax in 1788, boarding with the Beemans in the northern part of town while they settled their own home. Jacob Story accompanied the Lovegroves boarding with he Beemans while he settled his home.

Gould Buck, who gave his name to the area of Fairfax now known as Buck Hollow, arrived in Fairfax sometime between 1787-1790. He and Abijah Hawley arrived with ox teams in the north part of town and transported their families and goods on sled to Buck Hollow, where they settled. They were followed the next year by Gouldís brothers Jesse, George, Nathan, Zaddock and Joseph Buck.

Abijah Hawley was the son of Jehiel Hawley of Arlington. He settled in the extreme north part of Buck Hollow, the first farm settled in that part of town. It is said that he was an industrious and useful citizen, who was prominent in town affairs and very much respected in the community. The farm he settled was later owned by Lyan and Cyrus Hawley, thus staying in the family for three generations.

Josiah Safford came to Fairfax in 1788 and became the first settler in the Safford Neighborhood. Captain Erastus Safford, son of Josiah, came to Fairfax in 1789, built a log house and cleared a small piece of land. The horse on which he arrived had strayed, so he returned to Bennington on foot in the winter of 1791. He returned later by traveling over the ice of Lake Champlain through Georgia blazing a trail to their new home.

The first settlement where the Village now is located was made by Joseph Belcher in 1787. Mr. Belcher was a hunter and trapper who owned several dogs and guns. He staked his claim approximately where the old Fairfax House later stood (in the vicinity of the stone house known as Stone Haven which still stands). He built a log cabin for himself, one for each of his two sons, and one for each of his dogs. Because his settlement was located near the track connecting the River settlements with the northern part of town, it was noticed by all who passed. As a matter of ridicule, people gave the collection of huts the title of "The City" which it carried for several years.

Gideon Orton and his wife, Phoebe, came to Fairfax from Farmington, Connecticut in 1789 and settled at the head of Beaver Pond. It appears that the Ortons boarded with Thomas Russell three miles away from their new farm, while they were developing it. The farm was later owned by Ortonís son, Aaron, and by his grandson, Gardner.

Stores Ufford and his son Samuel arrived in town from Litchfield, Connecticut in 1791.

Joseph Grout came to Fairfax in 1795, made some improvements on a farm on the Lamoille River, returned to New Hampshire, and was married there early in 1797. He then returned to Fairfax to farm.

Joseph Brush came from Castleton, VT in 1796 and operated a hotel in North Fairfax. He later settled on a farm near the present-day Berthiaume farm on Route 104.

Thomas Story came to Fairfax from Bennington in 1796 and settled on a farm near Buck Hollow. His son, A.M. Story, was still living on the farm in 1891.

John Lawton, a veteran of the French and Indian War, settled in town in 1796 on what is now the Giddings Farm.

Ansel Shepardson came to Fairfax from Middletown, Connecticut in 1797 and settled on a farm later owned by Curtis Wilson.

Asa Wilkins and his son, Asa, Jr., came to Fairfax from Reading, VT in 1797. The house and barn he built were still standing in 1891.

James Bellows made the first settlement on the farm which was later owned by his grandson, James.

So there you have it! The original settlers of Fairfax. They came here from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the disputed territory claimed by both New Hampshire and New York known later on as Vermont.

Their era saw the birth of our nation in 1776 and the creation of the Constitution of Vermont in 1777. Following in the fall of 1778 the Vermont General Assembly voted to annex 16 New Hampshire towns east of the Connecticut River.

In 1780 New Hampshire, angry over the annexation of the sixteen towns, decided to lay claim to the whole state of Vermont and applied to Congress for a favorable decision. New York, still upset over Vermontís Declaration of Independence, asked Congress to uphold its claim to the territory known as Vermont. Finally, Massachusetts now laid claim to parts of Vermont. Congress, too busy fighting the War of Independence, refused to get involved in conflicting land claims by these competing states. They turned a deaf ear to Vermontís appeals and in June 1780 resolved that the proceedings of Vermont were "highly unwarrantable and subversive of the peace and welfare of the United States; and that they be strictly required to forbear from acts of authority civil and military over those of the people who profess allegiance to another state". (William Slade, Vermont State Papers, p.17).

In 1781 the Vermont General Assembly admitted 35 New Hampshire towns and 14 New York towns. "By this bold and decisive policy, Vermont had augmented her resources, compelled the respect of her enemies, gained upon the confidence of her friends, quieted disaffection at home, invited emigration, and thus laid the foundation for a large and powerful state". (Slade, Vermont State Papers, p. 141.).

In 1782 General Washington replied to Governor Chittendenís request for state admission: "It appears, therefore, to me, that the dispute of the boundary, is the only one that exists, and that being removed, all other difficulties would be removed also,...You have nothing to do but withdraw your jurisdiction to the confines of your own limits, and obtain an acknowledgement of independence and sovereignty, ...for so much territory as does not interfere with the ancient established bounds of New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts." (Slade, Vermont State Papers, p. 167.)

History tells us that the General Assembly took the advice of Washington and formerly gave up its claims to territory in New Hamsphire and New York.

Another attempt in 1784 for admission to the Union failed.

Between the years 1779 to 1791 the Vermont General Assembly chartered over 100 new towns and incorporated 7 counties. During this period there was a significant migration to Vermont and by 1791 the population totaled over 85,000.

In 1787 the Vermont General Assembly passed an act making livestock and grain legal tender making it much easier for debtors to pay off their creditors and avoid foreclosure.

Finally, by an Act of Congress on March 4, 1791, Vermont was admitted to the Union as the fourteenth state, the first state to join the union.

(If anyone wishes to add to the content of this series, please feel free to write, call or send e-mail. My telephone number is 849-2753 and my e-mail is ednhelga@together.net.)