2. First Settlement of Bennington
The disturbed condition of the New England frontier prevented any occupation of the land under the charter of Bennington until the spring of 1761. The most advanced posts at this time, west of the Green Mountains, were two small forts, called East and West Hoosic, the one situated about a mile west of the present village of North Adams, Massachusetts, and the other a few rods northwest of the site of the meeting house in Williamstown. These forts for several years had given partial protection to some families in their immediate neighborhood, but afforded insufficient security against the French and Indians to induce any extensive settlements. There were also to the west of Bennington, along the banks of the Hoosic, a few Dutch families, four of which had gone as far up the river as Pownal.
The charter of Bennington had been granted in 64 equal shares, or rights of 260 acres each, to different individuals, residing principally if not wholly at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, none of whom are believed ever to have settled in this town. The first settlers of the town were purchasers under the original proprietors, and came from Massachusetts.
Samuel Robinson of Hardwick, Mass., who had been a captain for several years during the French war, on his return from Lake George to Fort Hoosic, while proceeding up the Hoosic River, mistook the Walloomsac for that stream and followed it up to the tract of country now known as Bennington. Here he found he had missed his way, and directed his course to the fort. He was much pleased with the country, and returned to his family with a determination to begin a settlement upon it. He accordingly repaired to New Hampshire, made purchases of a considerable portion of the rights and then sought out other settlers. These were readily found; and the settlement of the town was commenced in the spring of 1761.
The first emigration to Bennington consisted of the families of Peter Harwood, Eleazer Harwood, Leonard Robinson and Samuel Robinson Jr. from Hardwick, and of Samuel Pratt and Timothy Pratt from Amherst. They came on horseback across the mountain by the Hoosic forts and through Pownal, bringing on their horses all their household goods, and arrived in town on June 18.
Benjamin Harwood, now living in Bennington, son of Peter Harwood, was the first person born in town, January 12, 1762. During the summer and fall of 1761, other families numbering forty or fifty moved into town, among whom were those of Samuel Robinson Sr., John Fassett, James Breakenridge, Ebenezer Wood, Elisha Field, Samuel and Oliver Scott, Joseph Safford, John Smith, Joseph Wickwire and Samuel Atwood. The families of Clark, Fay, Hubbell, Henderson, Walbridge, Dewey, Warner, and Harmon were early settlers but are believed not to have arrived in town the first year.
The first settlers of Bennington encountered the usual dangers and privations attendant at that early period on the pioneers in a new country; and it is related that many of the emigrants arrived so late in the fall, that but for the uncommon mildness of the season, which seemed providentially to postpone the settling in of winter to a late period, preparations could not have been completed, and extreme suffering must have been the consequence.
The first Bennington town meeting was held on March 31, 1762, at which town officers were chosen but no other business of importance was transacted. The most important public business of the settlers seems to have been taken for two or three of the first years under the jurisdiction of the proprietors of the town, who held separate meetings from the inhabitants.
The first proprietors' meetings of which a record has been preserved was held February 11, 1762, when a committee was appointed "to look out a place for a meeting house;" and on the 26th of the same month the committee reported and the site was agreed upon. The house was built partly by individual contributions and partly by a tax on the proprietors of the town, and was completed in 1763 or 1764. It was a wooden building, without a steeple, and stood on "the town plot" between the site of the present meetinghouse and Hicks' Hotel [later, the Walloomsac Inn], the north and south road passing each side of it. It was taken down about the year 1804, after the present meetinghouse had been finished.
The subject of schools also received the early attention of the proprietors, who in 1763 voted a tax for building a schoolhouse, and the same year the town voted to raise twelve pounds toward supporting a school "to be kept in these parts of the town."