3. The 1753 Charter and the First Settlers
Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1753, the town of Brattleboro was chartered by the Province of New Hampshire.
Our next map is a copy of the original map from the charter preserved at the New Hampshire Archives. The charter itself is reprinted on page 70 at the end of this book*.
In two respects this is the original map of Brattleboro: the New Hampshire charter both created the present boundaries and gave the town its name.
The grantees- the first landowners – were required to put some effort into their new land – cultivating land, building a church, etc. The grantees, it was assumed, would either settle on this land themselves, or would sell tracts to others who would in turn make the required improvements.
At this time this territory is still part of New Hampshire, though most of the residents – those living in Fort Dummer – are soldiers on the Massachusetts payroll.
The map shows Fort Dummer on the Connecticut River a short distance above Venters Brook.
The second map on this page shows the adjoining town of Hinsdale (then including Vernon) where there was second fort – Hinsdale’s Garrison – across the river. Venters Brook and Broad Brook (not labelled) are shown.
This map is part of the Hinsdale charter map, also made in 1753, and was probably drawn by the same person who drew the Brattleboro map.
The Hinsdale fort was a reinforced house, not as substantial as Fort Dummer. There were other fortified houses on the Brattleboro side of the river, known as Bridgeman’s and Sartwell’s Forts.
When the Brattleboro charter was issued, there was relative peace on the frontier, but it would not last. War broke out again between France and England in 1756, and the Brattleboro area became very unsafe. An early settler, Benjamin Moor, who had a rude cabin on present Route 30 near the Retreat farm, was killed by Indians in 1758. His wife and children were taken as captives to Canada. Settlers in Putney, Westmoreland and Keene were killed in this same year. The danger limited settlement, and the Brattleboro grantees failed to make the required improvements under the 1753 Charter. They asked for and received a second charter – an extension – in 1761.
The next map shows the situation on the northwest frontier about 1760. This is an excerpt from an important early map, the Blanchard & Langdon map of New Hampshire.
The map was printed at the behest of the Provincial governor and shows the New Hampshire townships recently created. Most of what is now Vermont is uncharted territory except for Brattleboro and a few other towns along the Massachusetts border and the Connecticut River. On the west bank of the river are the new towns of Brattleborough, Guilford, Fulham (Dummerston), Putney, Westminster and Rockingham. These towns were all chartered by New Hampshire in 1753.
On the east side of the river, charters and new names were given to towns which were now to be called Chesterfield, Swanzey and Keene – also about 1753. The towns on the west side of the river soon came to be known as the “New Hampshire Grants”. This flurry of activity by New Hampshire was related to a dispute with the Province of New York, which held a competing claim to the lands on the west bank of the Connecticut River. The dashed line on the left side of the map, a projection northward of the New York / Massachusetts boundary, was the western limit of New Hampshire as claimed by Governor Wentworth.
There was still no Vermont.
At this time there were a few settlers in towns along the river. Brattleboro’s residents were mostly the soldiers at Fort Dummer, some of whom had families. A few settlers had started homesteads in the towns above Fort Dummer which had better farm land.
Westmoreland, Walpole, Putney, and Westminster each had perhaps a half-dozen familes in the mid 1750s. Most of these farms were abandoned by the end of the decade due to the danger. Note the route labelled “this way Captives have been carried by the Indians”. Many of the Indian attacks in this period were by Indians from French Canada. The French authorities frequently paid ransoms to the Indians for English hostages, who would then be exchanged for French prisoners held by British forces.
Peace came to this area permanently in 1760, when the French city of Montreal was captured by English forces. Settlers moved into Brattleboro and the surrounding towns in large numbers almost immediately after the fall of Montreal.
As noted earlier, Brattleboro’s charter was renewed in 1761, with its requirement that the lands be improved. A year later, John Arms and Samuel Wells began their homesteads. John Arms settled on present-day Route 30 near the Brattleboro Retreat, where he soon built the first tavern in Brattleboro. Samuel Wells built on a site nearby along the same road. Samuel Wells was the most eminent of Brattleboro’s early citizens; he was the lead grantee under the New York grants and became the first judge in Brattleboro.
Meanwhile, the New Hampshire / New York dispute boundary dispute was coming to its climax. In 1764, King George III ruled in favor of New York and made the Connecticut River’s west bank the new Province boundary.
An interesting footnote to history is that the King was 26 years old when he made this decision which determined today’s Vermont / New Hampshire boundary line. The King’s ruling was not very precise however, and the boundary was in dispute in the 20th century. A United States Supreme Court decision in 1936 was necessary to make certain this ancient boundary.