1. Bennington: In the Beginning
By Hiland Hall
Written in 1841
Up to the close of the French war, which terminated in September 1760 by the surrender to the British forces of Montreal and the whole province of Canada, the territory now composing the state of Vermont was an uncultivated wilderness. The only settlement within its limits was at Fort Dummer, now Brattleborough, which fort had been built under the authority of Massachusetts in 1724, and gave protection to a few families in its immediate vicinity.
This state is not known to have been the permanent habitation of any of the tribes of savages, but was occasionally traversed by them in their hunting excursions, and in their warlike expeditions to the settlements in the adjoining provinces of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The routes taken by the Indians in their expeditions were usually along the course of rivers, and at an early day one of their route was up the Hoosic River toward its source, and across the mountain to Deerfield and the settlements on the Connecticut River below that place.
To prevent the unwelcome incursions of the Indians, and give protection to the frontier settlements, the government as early as 1745 had built Fort Hoosic, the site of which is now between the villages of Williamstown and North Adams. For a series of years before 1759, the French had held possession of the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and their vicinity had been the scene of most bloody and destructive warfare between them and their Indian allies on the one part, and the English and Anglo-American forces on the other. In these warlike operations, as well as in the incursions of the savages before mentioned, much of the best blood of New England had been spilt.
In their expeditions to the lakes, the people of the old New England states often passed over the lands in Vermont, and believing them fertile and susceptible of profitable cultivations, a desire to emigrate to them had been created, which, however, was prevented from being carried into effect by their frontier position until after the conquest of Canada.
About the year 1741 the jurisdictional line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which had long been in dispute, was surveyed and established as it now exists. It was extended from Connecticut near westwardly to within twenty miles of the Hudson, and it was found that Fort Dummer, which had been built and supported by Massachusetts, was within the claim of New Hampshire. The latter province was accordingly directed by the King to maintain the fort in the future. From this order, and from the acknowledged western limits of Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as from other facts and circumstances not now necessary to be stated, it was universally believed in New England that the province of New Hampshire extended westwardly to within twenty miles of the Hudson River.
Benning Wentworth, then His Majesty's governor of New Hampshire, under the date of January 3, 1749, granted the charter of a township six miles square, lying six miles north of the Massachusetts province line, and 20 miles east of the Hudson River, which township in allusion to his own name he called Bennington. The charter, though dated January 3, 1749, was not issued by the Governor and Council until March 1750.
The township was described in conformity to a survey made by order of the governor in November 1749 by Matthew Clesson, surveyor, whose survey was as follows, viz. "Beginning at a crotched hemlock tree marked W.W. six miles due north, or at a right angle from said province line, said angle commencing at a white oak tree in said line marked M.==O.J.T., which tree is twenty-four miles east from Hudson's river, allowing one chain in thirty for sway (which allowance is made through the whole following survey) and from said hemlock tree west ten degrees north, four miles to a stake and stones; and from said stake and stones north ten degrees east six miles to a stake and stones; from thence east ten degrees south six miles to a stake and stones; and from thence south ten degrees west six miles to a stake and stones; and from thence west ten degrees north two miles to the hemlock first mentioned."
Charters of other towns now included in Bennington County were subsequently granted by the governor of New Hampshire as follows:
Woodford March 6 1753
Stamford March 6 1753
Pownal January 8 1760
Arlington July 28 1761
Sunderland July 29 1761
Manchester August 11 1761
Sandgate August 11 1761
Dorset August 20 1761
Rupert August 20 1761
Shaftsbury August 20 1761
Glastenbury August 20 1761
Winhall September 15 1761
Bromley (now Peru) October 13 1761
The charter of Landgrove was granted November 8, 1780, by the legislature of Vermont; and that of Searsburg on February 23, 1781, by the same authority. The charter of Readsboro is believed to have been granted by New Hampshire, but the date is not known to the writer.
In the next chapter some account will be given of the first settlement of Bennington and its vicinity.