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As on former occasions, the towns of Chester and Dummerston were foremnost in responding to the call. On the 7th of February, delegates from twelve towns assembled at Westminster, and the convention was organized by the choice of Col. John Hazeltine as chairman, and Dr. Paul Spooner as clerk. The session lasted three days. A standing committee of correspondence, composed of persons from twenty-one towns, was chosen, that the county might be kept well informed as to the doings of the friends of liberty in the different colonies. Its members were Joshua Webb, Nathaniel Robinson, and Abijah Lovejoy, of Westminster; Capt. Samuel Minott, of Putney ; Dr. Solomon Harvey, of Dummerston ; Nathaniel French, of Brattleborough ; William Bullock and Hezekiah Stowell, of Guilford; Lieut. Eleazer Patterson, of Hinsdale, now Vernon; Edward Harris, of Halifax; Charles Phelps and Capt. Francis Whitmore, of Marlborough; Elijah Alvord, of Draper, now Wilmington; Samuel Robertson, of Newfane; Col. John Hazeltine and Samuel Fletcher, of Townshend; James Rogers, of Kent, now Londonderry; Moses Gile, of Chester; Moses Wright and Jonathan Burt, of Rockingham; Simon Stevens, of Springfield; Hezekiah Grout and Oliver Rider, of Weathersfield; Benjamin Wait, of Windsor; Dr. Paul Spooner, of Hertford, now Hartland; “Esquire” Jonathan Burk, of Hartford; Jacob Hazeltine, of Woodstock; and John Winchester Dana, of Pomfret. Col. Hazeltine was chosen chairman of the committe. Dr. Spooner, Joshua Webb, Abijah Lovejoy, Dr. Harvey, and Capt. Whitmore were appointed to “serve as monitors to the committee of correspondence" and were directed to transmit all letters of public importance, and convey all intelligence of general interest of which they might become possessed to Col. Hazeltine. To avoid any misrepresentation of the objects for which the delegates had assembled, Charles Phelps and Dr. Harvey were instructed to prepare for publication, such extracts from the doings of the convention as they should deem advisable, and to add a short account of the proceedings which had taken place at the meetings which had been previously held. Power was given to the chairman to call a general meeting of the town committees in cases of great emergency, or on application of the committees of three towns; and he was directed to notify a meeting without delay when the application should proceed from the committees of five towns.* 1775.]
* MS. Pingry Papers.
PETITION TO THE LEGISLATURE.
One of the main objects for which this convention was assembled, was to obtain, if possible, from the Legislature of New York, the passage of such laws as would tend to improve the mode of administering justice in the county courts, and effect a change in several of the preliminaries in judicial proceedings. A formal petition, drawn by Charles Phelps, was in consequence addressed to Lientenant-Governor Cadwallader Colden, and probably received the sanction of the convention before its adjournment. In this document the delegates, in behalf of their constituents, represented the great expense and heavy burdens” that had been imposed on the county by the additional courts which had been lately established. As the result of this change, they stated that lawsuits had increased, chargès had been multiplied, and families nearly beggared. They further declared that their hard-earned money had been appropriated in fulfilling the conditions of their charters, in clearing their heavy timbered lands, in cultivating their fields, in supporting their “numerous and very indigent families,” and in building the court-house and jail, which had been located at Westminster. Among their other hardships, they mentioned the inconveniences attending the “calling off from their business” of more than seventy farmers at each of the quarterly sessions of the court to act as grand and petit jurors, for which service they did not receive enough to defray their expenses; the wages which they were obliged to pay their representatives in the Colonial Legislature, and the high fees charged by attorneys for their work. These and other inflictions of a similar nature they pronounced“ very burthensome and grievous," and stated that unless they were redressed the further settlement of the county would be greatly obstructed.
In view of this representation, they prayed that the number of the terms of the inferior court of Common Pleas, and of the court of General Sessions of the Peace, might be reduced to two of each annually, and further, that such an arrangement might be continued for seven years. They also asked for the reduction of the number of grand and petit jurors to eighteen each, for each of the court terms ; for the lessening of the retaining fee taxed by the court in bills of costs, to ten shillings; for a regulation by which all deeds and conveyances of lands should for the future be recorded in the office of the clerk of the town in which the lands might lie; for the establishment of a probate office in the county; for the passage of an act by
which all processes issuing from justices of the peace, under “the restriction of the five pound, act,” should be served by constables and not by the under sheriff or his deputies; for the repeal of the law by which such processes were served by the sheriff, and for the passage of another act by which grand jurors should be paid for their services from the fines collected of criminals. Such were the changes prayed for by the convention. Through some inadvertence, those who were charged with the care of the petition delayed so long to send it to the Colonial Legislature, that when they would fain have retrieved their neglect, they found that that body had held its last session, and declared its final adjournment. Another circumstance had also occurred which rendered the contemplated reforms unnecessary. The courts of Cumberland county had been stopped by violence, and Providence had effected the desired changes in a manner far different from that which had been contemplated by man.
* The petition, of which a synopsis is given in the text, was sent by Elijah Grout of Windsor, to Samuel Wells, Noah Sabin, Nathan Stone, Benjamin Butterfield, Samuel Gale, Samuel Knight, and Jonathan Stearns, who, previous to March 13th, 1776, were the principal officers in the courts of the county. Grout's letter accompanying the petition, was dated April 15th, 1776, and at that time, those whom he addressed had just reached New York, after having been detained in prison nearly a month.—Brattleborough Semi-Weekly Eagle, Thurs day, December 6th, 1849.
An Ante-Revolution Event-Westminster-The “Street”—The Old Meeting.
house–The Pulpit The Sounding-board—The Powder-hole-The Whips The Collection-box-The Choir_The Foot-stove The Burying-ground-The Grave of William French-The Epitaph-Condition of the Colonies before the Revolution—The Feeling in Cumberland County-Distrust of the Courts-Remonstrance with Judge Chandler-The Whigs assemble at Westminster Scenes of the Night of March 13th—Norton's Tavern–The Sheriff's Posse—The Attempt to enter the Court-house–The“ Massacre”—The Frolic—The State ment of Facts-Couriers The Gathering—Appearance of the Court-houseInhuman Suggestions—Excitement of the Yeomanry-Robert Cockran—Treatment of the Tories
Sketches of the Liberty-men-William French-His Character-Reminiscences concerning him—His Death—The Inquest-The Burial—Daniel Houghton-Jonathan Knight-Philip Safford—Tory Depositions Weapons of the Whigs-Incidents connected with the “Massacre"Joseph Temple-John Hooker-John Arms, the Poet-The “ Massacre" in Rhyme-Thomas Chandler, Jr.—The Punishment of the Court Officers—Their Imprisonment—Their Release-Action of the Legislature of New York—Lieutenant-Governor Colden's Message Appropriation of £1,000—Colden to Lord Dartmouth—The Influence of Massachusetts Bay in producing the “ Massacre" -What justifies an Insurrection |--Claims of William French to the title of the
Proto-martyr of the Revolution. AMONG the important events immediately preceding and connected with the war of the Revolution, which served to show the feelings of the great mass of the American people, and prognosticated the impending struggle, none has been buried in deeper obscurity than that which occurred at Westminster, on the night of the 13th of March, 1775. In some minds, the words “Westminster Massacre" may perchance awaken recollections of the venerable grandsire, who, with his descendants gathered around him,
“Wept o'er his wounds, and tales of sorrow done,
Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won;"
or who, during the long winter evenings, was wont to depict, in his own expressive language, to the listening group, the scenes of the battles of Bennington or Saratoga, or, it may be, those of the night to which allusion has been made. The descendants of a revolutionary ancestry who have been thus favored, will not forget the glow which burned on the countenance of the old patriot, nor the enthusiasm with which he referred to these and similar events, as the greatest eras in his own life and in the history of his country. To the minds of others, these words may convey but little meaning beyond their etymological signification.
When we consider the hardy character of the early settlers on the western banks of the Connecticut, their uncompromising hatred of oppression, and their holy love of freedom—which principles, originating in Massachusetts and Connecticut, had, among the hills of the adopted province, attained their full strength and reached their complete proportions—when we reflect on these considerations, we need look no further for the cause which obtained for Vermont the honor—though late accorded, yet none the less real on that account—of being the State which gave to the American States the proto-martyrs of American independence.
The most casual observer, as he passes through the towns in the south-eastern part of Vermont that border the shores of the Connecticut, cannot but notice the picturesque beanty which distinguishes, in so marked a degree, the location of Westminster. The east village, to which particular reference is made, stands principally on an elevated plain, nearly a mile in extent, divided by a broad and beautiful avenue, along whose sides are built the comfortable and commodious dwellings of the inhabitants, back of which to the hills on the one side, and the river on the other, extend rich farms and fertile meadows. Seldom is there any noise on the “ Street” at Westminster. It does not resemble Broadway, nor does it find its representative on State street at Boston. The schoolboy, it is true, shouts at noon-time and even-tide, and the shrill whistle of the engine 'screams through the neighboring valley, a reminder of the whoop of earlier days. But these appertain to almost every place, and tell of the universality of steam and the schoolmaster.
Of those objects in this quiet village which would most naturally attract the attention of an admirer of the infant cialization of the past century, none is more prominent than