9. Ethan Allen Offers a ‘Vindication’
Actions of ejectment against settlers of the New Hampshire Grants continued to be brought before the Albany courts, but the defendants despairing of success, did not appear in defence, or give themselves any more trouble in the matter.
Next came sheriffs and civil magistrates to execute the writs of possession, and remove the occupants from the land. This was found to be a different affair from that of making out briefs and entering up records of judgments at Albany. It was a kind of trial in which a hardy settler could make an argument as forcible and effective as the King's attorney general.
The attempts to execute these writs of possession produced many striking, if not interesting incidents, some of which may be related hereafter.
The following account of the trials at Albany, and of some subsequent proceedings connected with the attempt of New York to enforce the judgments, is extracted from a work entitled "A vindication of the opposition of the inhabitants of Vermont to the government of New York, and of their right to form into an independent State, humbly submitted to an impartial world, by Ethan Allen -- Printed by Alden Spooner, 1779, Printer to the State of Vermont."
In the year 1769, the claimants under the subsequent grants from New York, and not residing on the controverted premises, brought actions of ejectment in their Supreme Court held at Albany, against sundry actual settlers who claimed the soil by virtue of prior grants from New Hampshire. But most if not all the judges and attorneys, particularly Messrs. Duane and Kemp which attended the court, were patentees under New York; and some of them interested in the very patents then on trial.
The plaintiffs appearing in great state and magnificence, which together with their junto of land thieves, made a brilliant appearance; but the defendants appearing in but ordinary fashion, having been greatly fatigued by hard labor wrought on the disputed premises, and their cash much exhausted, made a very disproportionate figure at court. In the end, the interest, conviction, and grandeur, being all on one side, easily turned the scale against the honest defendants, and judgment without mercy in favor of the claimants under New York, was given against them.
In the course of the trial, a grant of the township from New Hampshire, under which the defendants claimed, being produced in court, and also a certificate from the governor of New Hampshire and his secretary, that the said grant was legally executed to the grantees whose names were mentioned on the back of the charter, it was nevertheless ruled that the same should not be read in court.
Soon after, writs of possession were issued in form of law against the vanquished defendants, and new actions of ejectment were commenced against other of the inhabitants; but their spirit was too great to bear such insults any longer; they therefore resisted and defeated the officers in their attempts to gain possession.
Directly after these tumults, the legislature of New York passed a law annexing a penalty of thirty pounds fine and six months imprisonment, on any of their subjects who should refuse to assist the sheriff when legally requested, to carry into execution those writs of possession.
The inhabitants were thus driven to the extremity of either quitting their possessions or resisting the sheriff and his posse. In this state of desperation they showed their fortitude and chose the latter expedient and managed bravely to defend their possessions; and the sheriff with his posse returned to their own land without any bloodshed on the occasion.
But it should be confessed that this event was not altogether owing to the valor of the Green Mountain Boys, for the militia were most generally persuaded that the cause of those inhabitants was just, and that the New York patentees were oppressive and unjust, and therefore they would not hazard their lives to assist them in such usurpation of the rights of their fellow men; and in any event there would be no gainers no matter which way it would turn.
After this ineffectual muster of the militia, the land schemers adopted different measures to accomplish their designs, perceiving that the militia would not fight for their subsequent and exorbitant claims; and as to themselves, the Yorkers were a jesuitical and cowardly junto of schemers, not inured to danger, hardships or the horrors of war, durst not fight for their own claims — their accustomed way to carry points being to deceive, cheat and overreach the commonality of their species, under pretext of law, justice and good government. These are the horns of iron with which they do push.
They were therefore obliged to follow their old and beaten road of politics; and by their influence caused a number of the leading men among those inhabitants to be indicted as rioters, designing to have made such an example of them, as to fright the inhabitants in general to a tame compliance with the decisions of their courts of law, or which is the same thing, to yield up their property to them and become their tenants and slaves . . .