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The First Town Meeting and the Early Years

(This is the third in a series of articles about Fairfax and its times.

This article focuses on those years from the first Town Meeting up to the War of 1812. The Books FAIRFAX: ITS TIMES AND DEVELOPMENT 1773 TO 1976 by the Fairfax Bicentennial Committee,1980; THE VERMONT POLICTICAL TRADITION: AND THOSE WHO HELPED MAKE IT by William Doyle,1984; THE VERMONT OF TODAY WITH ITS HISTORIC BACKGROUND, ATTRACTIONS AND PEOPLE , Volume I, by Arthur F. Stone, 1929 and VERMONT; A HISTORY, by Charles T. Morrissey, 1981 continued to be used as primary sources. The author of this third article is Ed Nuttall.)

After a legal warning was issued, the first Town meeting was held on March 22, 1787 at the home of Captain Broadstreet Spafford. Only six voters were present, including: Broadstreet Spafford, Robert and Jose Barnett, Thomas Russell, Nathan Spafford, and Asa Spafford. All these men took the Freeman’s Oath, and Broadstreet Spafford was elected Moderator; Thomas Russell, Town Clerk; Nathan Spafford, Constable; Broadstreet Spafford, First Selectman; Robert Barnett, Second Selectman; and Thomas Russell, Third Selectman.

In conjunction with this meeting Thomas Russell was elected the first Town Representative. He also served as the first Town Clerk from 1787 to 1795. Being that Mr. Russell was an energetic and involved individual, he also found time to serve as the Justice of the Peace and as schoolteacher in the village.

The 1788 Town Meeting showed a large increase in population and in the number of offices. At this meeting Broadstreet Spafford was reelected Moderator; Nathan Spafford was chosen Constable; Thomas Russell, Town Clerk; Broadstreet Spafford, Thomas Richards and Silas Squires, Selectmen; Thomas Russell, Town Treasurer; Thomas Fullington, Levi Andrus, Broadstreet Spafford, Thomas Richards and Silas Squires as Listers; Francis Fullington, Grand Juror; Asa Spafford and Leicaster Grosevenor, Surveyor of Highways.

At the Town Meeting of 1789 roads were considered. It was voted at that time that all roads be laid out eight rods wide, though it is doubtful that this was actually done, as many roads were somewhat narrower than eight rods. Also at this time, a committee was elected to petition the General Assembly for a grant of part of the highway in the town to build a mill or mills on the Great Brook as they should think best for the interests of the town.

In 1796, three trustees were appointed to take charge of school money, with trustees showing school districts maintaining schools that year. It was also felt that there had to be some public place on which to post public notices for town and Freeman’s meetings; so it was voted to erect a signpost on which all notices would be posted.

Also that year, it was noted to build a pound, with Jessie Barnett to be pound keeper. The Selectmen were to fix a place for this, but it was never recorded done. Moses Flood was elected Hayward in 1796, and Thomas Richards and Joseph Thurston were elected Fence Viewers.

Finally, there was also a vote passed on swine. Swine were no longer to run on the common, but owners must have their swine well ringed and yoked.

We find that many new names appeared in town in the first few years following the first Town Meeting. These included Thomas Richards, Silas Squires, Levi Andrus, Francis Fullington, Leicestes Grosevenor, Moses Flood, Joseph Thruston, William Maxfield, and John Andrus.

So there you have it! The Town Meetings begin and business is conducted. Representation is effected and people become involved. Property ownership is documented and the Town coffers begin to fill with taxes. Some residents are more involved than others are, but being involved is paramount to survival to a small village where life is still difficult.

Of prime importance after building their shelters, new settlers in the Town of Fairfax found themselves occupied clearing land for food crops in an effort to become self-sufficient as quickly as humanly possible.

Travelling was a hardship and, at times, almost prohibitive, so that it naturally followed that small industry sprung alive to meet the requirements of the people. That these needs became necessary is evident from an excerpt from the minutes of a Town meeting in 1789, at which time it was voted to elect a committee to petition the General Assembly at its October session for a grant of part of the highway to the Town, by the side of which to build a saw-mill on Grant Brook. New homes were being built so fast that it was difficult to hand-hew all of the required lumber.

Prior to this, James Everts made a survey at Great Falls in 1791. This holding, the original right of Joseph Sackett, was considered the most attractive spot in Town and also the most valuable source of waterpower in the State of Vermont. Mr. Sackett made no improvements on, nor did he ever visit his rights. Having failed to pay the taxes on said rights, they were sold at public venue to a Mr. James Everts. The following year this purchase was once again surveyed by a Mr. James Hawley, at which time the taxes were assessed at the rate of 10 pence per 100 acres.

In 1791, Judge Amos Fassett of Cambridge, raised the first building at the Falls and the inhabitants of North Fairfax, Cambridge, Buck Hollow and Westford turned out to help with the raising. The building contained a saw and gristmill. Prior to this folks had gone to Burlington and/or Vergennes for their milling. Felix Stearnes purchased the mill; later sold it to Asa Wilkins who passed the property to his son, Daniel Wilkins.

In 1792 a man named Bidwell built a log building on Great Brook (Mill Brook) with a fulling mill and linter-bars for fulling and dying cloth which was spun and woven by the women of the respective settlements. This mill, on the spot where Henry Stearns later had a tannery, contained the first machinery brought to, and installed in, Fairfax.

In 1806, Joseph Beeman, Jr., built a mill for grinding on a spot where the chair factory later stood. Mr. Beeman also erected a sawmill.

In the Vermont Gazetteer, Vol. 11 is recorded the following:

On Great Brook which rises on the Fairfield border and runs south

to the Lamoille River, was nearest its source a sawmill built on the

farm owned by Elijah Story, and further down was a sawmill owned

by Nathan Buck, and a saw and gristmill owned by Damon Howard.

A short distance south of this was a starch factory and a chair factory.

Below this was a carriage shop owned by Weaver and Hunt and Henry

Stearns’ tannery.

Shepardson’s Hollow is the name given to a scenic valley through which Stone Brook winds its way to the Lamoille River, just below the falls. Ansel Sheppardson settled there with his family in 1805. By 1810 Ansel, Jr. had built and was operating a sawmill there.

By 1800, Fairfax was a rapidly growing settlement with a population of 778. The center of town was developing on the plains, a sand area south of the Lamoille River where routes 104 and 128 meet today.

But all was not quiet in the countryside or the country. As a result of conflicts with France and England and in a war-like atmosphere, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition acts in 1798, which were purported to provide for national security in the event of war. In reality they were a muzzle on political opposition. The Alien Laws restricted citizenship and rights of aliens, while the Sedition laws made it a criminal offense to "write, publish or utter anything of a false, scandalous or malicious nature against the government, Congress or the President of the United States". The punishment was a fine up to $2000 and two years imprisonment. The president at the time was Adams who was a Federalist. These Acts polarized America into two political camps—the Federalists and the Jeffersonians—resulting in Adams being defeated and Thomas Jefferson being elected President.

In 1807 Jefferson halted trade with England. The fact the state shared a border with British Canada made Vermont more sensitive to the young nation’s foreign policy decisions than many other states. When Jefferson called for an embargo on trade between the United States and Britain (and its colonies), many Vermonters were outraged. The young state shipped a considerable amount of its products north to Canada and received goods from the country. To have the trade cut off was an economic hardship. Many defied the ban, skirting marshals patrolling the trade routes Smuggler’s Notch received its name in this period because the remote mountain gap was used as a pathway north. It was reported that in 1809, there were as many as 700 sleighs carrying oak and pork on the road from Middlebury to Montreal. (Nicholas Muller, "Smuggling into Canada: How the Champlain Valley Defied Jefferson’s Embargo," Vermont History, Volume 38, No 1 (Winter, 1970), pp. 5-12).

Vermont’s violations of the Embargo Act were so numerous that President Jefferson’s response was to direct the customs collector to arm and equip vessels to prevent illegal trade. If this were not successful, the United States Marshal was authorized to raise a group of men "to aid in suppressing the insurrection or combination". Jefferson’s orders enraged many Vermonters, "who resented imputations of treason." As a result of a town meeting, St Albans wrote the President denying the charge of insurrection. (Governor and Council, volume 5, p. 474).

As a result of the embargo, the elections of 1808 brought about a change in Presidents. James Madison was in and Thomas Jefferson was out.

The War of 1812 was about to begin and Vermont and Fairfax were going to be right in the middle!!

(Anyone having comment or input to this or future articles on Fairfax can contact Ed Nuttall as 849-2753 or e-mail ednhelga@together.net.)