7. A Confusion of Jurisdictions
The jurisdiction of New York was never fully submitted to by the towns west of the Green Mountains, the inhabitants being governed by committees and by officers appointed and regulations made in their town meetings. In Bennington, the ancient warnings of town meetings, which are recorded on the town books, were signed by the selectmen, and directed to the constable, who gave personal notice to the inhabitants. Up to the year 1770, these warnings are all headed "Province of New Hampshire, ss," &c. showing that the people still claimed to be under that province.
From 1770 until the establishment of the Constitution of Vermont in 1778, the warnings were simply dated at Bennington, indicating that they deemed themselves independent of all authority but their own. It is probable that the records of other towns will show a similar state of things.
The organization of counties, which has been described, continued so long as the government of New York exercised any jurisdiction over any part of the territory of Vermont.
The progress of New York in her efforts to obtain possession of the disputed lands underwent some interruption from the order in council of July 1767. It was, however, soon discovered that the order in its terms only forbade the making of new grants, but did not prohibit the taking possession of such as had already been issued by that province. In October 1769 the Governor's Council advised him that the King's order "Did not extend to prevent the governor from the granting of any lands which had not previously been granted by New Hampshire."
The governor therefore proceeded to issue new grants, and in practice wholly disregarded the King's orders, granting to his favorites and friends, as well those lands that were covered by New Hampshire charters, as well as those of which no grant had been made.
The mission, therefore, of Samuel Robinson to England, though attended with much apparent success, had no other effect upon the New York government than to impose a temporary check upon its operations. It inspired the settlers, however, with new confidence in the justice of their cause, and gave them strong ground to hope that their rights would be eventually acknowledged and protected by the "home government," which was then recognized as the supreme authority that must finally determine the controversy.
In 1769, the efforts of the New York claimants to obtain possession of the disputed lands were again commenced with new vigor. In October of that year, several inhabitants of Bennington were assembled on the farm of James Breakenridge in the western part of the town, assisting him in harvesting his corn. While they were thus employed, a number of men with surveying instruments came upon the farm and appeared to be running a line across it. Breakenridge, with Samuel Robinson (afterwards known as Colonel Samuel Robinson) left their work and entered into conversation with them. The intruders declared they were acting under the authority of New York, and were surveying and dividing among the proprietors the patent of Wallumschaik. (The orthography of this name is given in the text as it is found in all of the New York records. It was pronounced Walloomskoik, or by abbreviation, Loomskoik. It is a genuine Dutch name, and the original pronunciation is still preserved by our old men, though by some sort of legerdemain it has come to be written Walloomsack. This modernization of the name makes it neither Dutch, Yankee nor Indian, and ought to be abandoned.)
Breakenridge and Robinson forbade their proceeding further, stating at the same time that they did not design to threaten them, but merely to protest against the act for the purpose of preserving their legal rights. Much conversation took place, and finally the party desisted from their survey and retired. It seems probable it was the intention of Breakenridge and his friends to prevent the survey, and that force might have been used by some of them had force been found necessary. They doubtless desired, if possible, to keep within the pale of the law.
Force was not used, but the party retired, and Abraham Ten Brook, one of the proprietors of the patent, petitioned the Governor and Council of New York on the subject, stating that the commissioners and surveyors for dividing the patent of Wallumschaik had been "riotously opposed by sundry persons, and prevented by their threats from executing the trusts reposed in them."
A proclamation was then issued by the Governor "for apprehending and securing the principals and ringleaders." And at the following January term of the Albany courts, several persons who were present were indicted as rioters. Among those indicted were the Rev. Jedediah Dewey, Joseph Robinson, Elijah Fay, Thomas Henderson, Ebenezer Robinson, and John Stewart. These facts have been ascertained from records and papers on file at Albany, and are given as specimens of the occurrences of that day. None of the persons indicted was arrested or brought to trial.
There were other attempts of a similar character, which were generally attended with the like results. Actions of ejectment were also brought against the settlers by the New York grantees. To rid themselves of these annoyances, and to secure their property from future seizure, the settlers still sought the protection of the parent government. To strengthen their interest in England, they petitioned the Governor and Council of New Hampshire to interpose with the Crown in their behalf.
In a petition to the governor of New Hampshire, signed by about four hundred of the settlers on the west side of the mountain, dated October 13, 1769, (a copy of which is in the possession of the writer) it is stated that they were molested by several writs of ejectment in various townships, and threatened with many more, and that the grantees under New York, "were running out the lands in the possession of the petitioners," as they declared, by order of the government of New York. Similar facts are also set forth in another petition to the governor of New Hampshire, dated October 24, 1769, signed by Samuel Safford, agent for Bennington; Benjamin Gardner, agent for Pownal; Jehiel Hawley, agent for Arlington; Benjamin Purdy, agent for Manchester; Thomas Barney, agent for Sunderland; and Benjamin Colvin, agent for Shaftsbury.