Orleans County History

Settlements and Legislature

The War of 1812

The Year Without a Summer, 1816

Railroads and Population

Academies and Schools

Settlements and Legislature

The first white native of the County was William Scott Shepard, who was born in Greensboro, 25th March, 1790- the son of Ashbel Shepard. The first marriage was that of Joseph Stanley of Greensboro, and Mary Gerould of Craftsbury, which was solemnized at Greensboro, July 25, 1793 by Timothy Stanley, Esq.The first town organized was Craftsbury. The organization took place March 15, 1792. Greensboro was organized March 29, 1793. The inhabitants increased but slowly. In 1791, 19 persons in Greensboro, and 18 in Craftsbury, were the entire population of the county. Before the year 1800 settlements began in all the towns except Charleston, Coventry, Holland, Jay, Lowell, Morgan and Westmore; and in the spring of that year settlements were begun in several of those towns. The population of the county in 1800 was 1004, more than half of which was Craftsbury and Greensboro.

In 1792 and 1793, Ebenezer Crafts of Craftsbury was the first and only representative from Orleans County in the legislature. In 1794 Joseph Scott of Craftsbury, was the only representative; and in 1795 Timothy Stanley of Greensboro, also bore the sole burden and honor. In 1796 Samuel C. Crafts of C., and Aaron Shepard of G., shared the responsibility. In 1797 Joseph Scott and Timothy Stanley were again sent from their respective towns, to look after the budding interests of the young county. In 1798 the same men were elected, and were reinforced by Timothy Hinman of Derby. In 1799 Scott and Hinman has as associates John Ellsworth of Greensboro, and Elijah Strong of Brownington. In 1800 Samuel C. Crafts, Elijah Strong, Timothy Hinman and Timothy Stanley were returned from their respective towns, and with them appeared, for the first time, Luther Chapin of Newport.

All of these were men of intelligence and sound judgment, and actively engaged in promoting the interests of their towns and of the county. With perhaps one exception, their names are still held in lively and grateful remembrances. There was not a useless nor an indifferent person among them- not one who was not justly honored for ability, integrity, and private as well as public virtues.

In 1799 the legislature established courts in Orleans county, and the county began its independent existence. Brow[n]ington and Craftsbury were made half-shire towns. John Ellsworth was the first chief judge of the county court, and Timothy Hinman and Elijah Strong were the assistant judges. They met Nov. 20, 1799, at the house of Dr. Samuel Huntington, in Greensboro, and organized the county by electing Timothy Stanley clerk, and Royal Corbin Treasurer.

The first session of the county court was held at Craftsbury, on the 4th Monday in March- (March 24,) 1800, at which time Timothy Hinman was chief judge, and Samuel C. Crafts and Jesse Olds were the assistants. Both the assistants were educated men, and graduates of Harvard college; but they were not educated to the law, nor was the chief Judge; and cases were probably decided in accordance with justice and common sense, rather than with the technicalities of the law. Timothy Stanley, of Greensboro, was the first county clerk; Joseph Scott, of Craftsbury, the first sheriff; Joseph Bradley the first States attorney, and Ebenezer Crafts, of Craftsbury, the first judge of probate. On the second day of the session, Moses Chase was admitted to the bar.

Courts continued to be held* (*It deserves a brief note, that the sessions of courts in this county, as in others, originally began on Monday; and, to prevent the necessity of profaning the Sabbath by travel from remote places, the time was changed to Tuesday, which is now the day of beginning the sessions of the courts, throughout the State.) alternately at Craftsbury and Brownington, in March and August, till August, 1816, when the court was held at Brownington for the last time. By an act of the legislature in 1812, Irasburgh was established as the shire town, as soon as the inhabitants of that town should, within 4 years, build a court-house and jail, to the acceptance of the judges of the supreme court. The conditions having been complied with, courts began in 1817 to be held at Irasburgh, and that has been the shire town to this day, notwithstanding efforts had been made at various times to remove the county seat to Coventry, Barton and Newport.

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The Child’s Assistant to a Knowledge of the Geography and History of Vermont, Samuel Read Hall, 2nd Edition, Page 59.

The War of 1812

The war of 1812 was very injurious to Orleans County; not, indeed, because of any devastation actually suffered, or of any severe draft upon the inhabitants to acts as soldiers. But the fear of evil was in this case almost as great an injury as the actual experience of it would have been. The county was on the extreme northern frontier, and was exposed not only to the ordinary border warfare, but to be penetrated to the very heart by the defenceless[sic] route of Lake Memphremagog, and Black and Barton rivers.

While the war was merely apprehended, the people kept up good courage, and constructed in several places stockade forts by way of defence [sic]. But no sooner had hostilities begun, than a panic seized the settlers. Stories of Indian atrocities were the staple of conversation, and there was a general belief that the tomahawk and scalping-knife would again and at once commence their work of butchery. A general flight took place. Many cultivated farms were abandoned; cattle were driven off, and such portable property as could most easily be removed was carried away.

Some of those who left the county never returned, and those who did eventually come back, were impoverished and discouraged. In almost all of the towns, however, enough of the more courageous inhabitants remained to keep possession of the territory, and to maintain in a small way the institutions of civilization. Parties of United States soldiers were stationed at North Troy, and at Derby line, and a sense of security gradually returned to the people.

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The Year Without a Summer, 1816

The growth of the county experienced another severe check in 1816. That year was memorable as one of extraordinary privations and sufferings. An unusually early spring has created expectations of a fruitful season and an abundant harvest, but on the morning of June 9th there occurred a frost of almost unprecedented severity, followed by a fall of snow, which covered the earth to the depth of nearly a foot, and was blown into drifts 2 or 3 feet deep. All the growing crops were cut don. Even the foliage on the trees was destroyed, and so completed as respected the beeches, that they did not put forth leaves again that year. No hope or possibility of a harvest remained, and the settlers had before them the gloomy prospect of extreme scarcity if not of actual famine.

Their forebodings were more than realized. Not a single crop came to maturity. Wheat alone progressed so far that by harvesting it while yet in the milk, and drying it in the oven, it might be mashed into dough and baked, or boiled like rice. There was neither corn nor rye except what was brought from abroad, sometimes from a great distance, and at an expense of $3.00 a bushel, and sometimes more. Provisions of every kind were very scarce, and very high. Fresh fish and vegetables of every kind that could possibly be used for food were converted to that purpose. There was extreme suffering through the summer and fall, and still greater distress during the winter: but it is not known that any one perished by starvation.

At this time, and in fact for a long time before and after, ashes and salts of ashes were about the only commodities which the settlers could exchange for the necessaries of life. The manufacture of them was a very humble branch of industry, but it was, nevertheless, of great importance.

“The settlers, like the pioneers of all new countries, brought but little with them. Their own strong arms were their main reliance. As soon as a cabin had been erected to shelter their families they commenced the clearing away of the forest and the opening up of the fields from which to gain a subsistence. The trees fell before the repeated strokes of the axe, were cut into convenient lengths, rolled into heaps and consumed into ashes. These were carefully saved, conveyed to the nearest stores, and exchanged for provisions and necessary articles. Many settlers found it expedient to work their ashes into black salts, thus lightening the labor of the transportation. In this form they were conveyed distances of 10 to 20 miles to a market. In some instances, where settlers were too poor to own a team, they have been known to take a bag of salts upon their backs to the nearest store. It was fortunate for these hardy pioneers that pot-ashes always brought a remunerating price in the not remote market of Montreal. Serious inconvenience and probably much actual suffering would have ensued but for this. The little stores in the little country towns each had its ashery, and all were eager to purchase.

Upon the sales of their pot and pearl ashes in Montreal they depended almost entirely for the means of remittance to their creditors in the American cities. So important was the traffic that in most of the interior towns of Vermont, during the greater portion of the year, not a dollar in money could be raised, except from the sale of ashes. Without this, goods or provisions could not have been imported, taxes could not have been collected, and the country must have been greatly impeded in its advance and prosperity.”

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Railroads and Population

The county has advanced steadily in population and in enterprise. In 1800 the population was 1064; in 1810, 4,593; in 1820, 5,457; in ’30, 10,887; in ’40, 13,834; in ’50, 15,707; in ’60, 18,981. During the decennial period from 1850 to 1860, its increase was not only greater than that of any other county in the State, but that that of the whole state, and sufficient to offset an actual decrease in other counties which would have deprived the State of one representative in congress. Its principal business growth has been in the way of farming.

Its numerous water privileges have remained unoccupied till a recent period, and even now only a part of them are put to use. In 1860 there were only 130 manufacturing establishments in the county, and to make up that number, everything was included, from a cooper’s shop to a grist-mill. In these establishments, a little more than $200,000 was invested, and the annual products were worth $308,217. The opening of the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railways to Boston, Oct. 21, 1857; to Newport, October 1862, and to North Derby, May 1, 1867, not only stimulated all the other business of the county, but occasioned a large increase of manufacturing, principally of lumber. The stimulating influence of the road was felt chiefly by the villages of Barton and Newport.

Orleans county has furnished but a comparatively small number of persons to occupy the higher offices of the State. Of these, the most eminent as respects number, length and variety of public services, was Samuel C. Crafts, of Craftsbury. Not to mention minor offices, of which there were almost none which he did not hold: he was a member of congress 8 years, 1817 to 1825; governor 3 years, 1828 to ’31, and senator in congress 1 year, 1842 to ’43. David M. Camp, of Derby, was lieutenant governor 5 years, 1836 to ’41. Portus Baxter, of Derby, was a member of congress 6 years, 1861 to ’67. Isaac F. Redfield, of Derby, was elected a judge of the supreme court in 1836, and by successive annual elections, held the office 24 years, during the last eight of which he was chief justice. Benjamin H. Steele, of Derby, became a judge of the supreme court in 1865, and still remains on the bench.

All proceeding text is from the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hemenway. Orleans County – Introductory Chapter: By Rev. Pliny H. White. Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co, 1877. Pgs 31-33.

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Academies and Schools

At an early period, an academy or County Grammar school was established at Brownington. Of this school Rev. A. L. Twilight was for many years the able and successful principal. Under his able management and efforts, the seminary attained a high character and was highly successful. Many were fitted for college, who have since become eminently useful. Other able teachers, Rev. Mr. Woodward, Judge Porter and Rev. Mr. Scales, conducted the seminary a short time each. But Mr. Twilight conducted it longer than all the others.

A similar institution was established a few years later at Craftsbury. IT attained eminence among the academies of the State. In 1840, Rev. S. R. Hall assumed the charge of it, and aimed to make it a Normal school, or teachers, seminary, of high order, similar to the one he had conducted at Anderson, Mass. As Mr. Hall was pastor of the church, he was lef to resign his connection with the school after a few years. Able and successful teachers have given the school high eminence. It has the richest cabinet and collections for a museum, of any school in Northern Vermont, if not in the State.

For many years, both of these institutions exerted a salutary influence. But after a part of the county funds were given to the other schools, both of these declined. Others however have been commenced at Derby, Glover, Barton, Westfield, Troy and Albany. That at Derby is now eminently prosperous. A new building, highly creditable to that town, has just been completed, another at Craftsbury, is being completed.

In all the other towns mentioned and at Charleston and Irasburg, good buildings have been provided for academies or high schools. No county in the State surpasses Orleans in the efforts made to provide for the education of youth. May these efforts continue and increase.

From the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hemenway. Orleans County – Introductory Chapter: By Rev. S. R. Hall. Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co, 1877. Pg 42.

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