Jay, VT

Town History:

From the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hemenway. Orleans County – Jay Chapter. Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co, 1877. Pgs 265- 269.



 By Rev. Pliny H. White

The territory constituting the town of Jay was originally granted, as a township, by the name of Carthage, March 13, 1780. No settlements were made under that grant, nor was the township surveyed till 1789, when it was surveyed by James Whitelaw. The conditions of the grant not being complied with, the land reverted to the State; and the legislature, by a resolution, adopted Nov. 7, 1792, which recited,


“That the tract called Carthage is found to be an uncommonly good one,” and that 7000 acres of it had been granted to Thomas Chittenden, requested the Governor to issue a charter to John Jay for fourteen sixteenths of two thirds of it, and to John Cozine for the other two sixteenths, and “that the same should be erected into a township by the name of Jay.”


Deming, in his Gazetteer, inquires:- “As the east part of the town is good land and the west part all mountain, would a shrewd Yankee be at a loss to guess which was the division line ran?” Our fathers, however, were honest, as well as shrewd; and the division line between the tract granted to Gov. Chittenden and that granted to Messrs. Jay and Cozine, did not run north and south, as Deming suggests, but east and west, giving Gov. Chittenden his full proportion of the mountain, no less than of the low lands.


John Jay, to whom a large part of the town was granted, and in honor in whom it was named, was an eminent lawyer and statesmen of New York, and not long before the grant, had been appointed by Washington, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. During the protracted controversy between New York and Vermont, he had exerted his influence in favor of the latter; and, among other things, had signed as many as four petitions to the Legislature of New York, praying for an amicable and equitable adjustment of the difficulties between the two States. A part of the land granted to him descended to his son, and was sold by him about 1840; but much the larger part of it became early in the present century, the property of the Hon. Azarias Williams, of Concord, by whom it was given to the University of Vermont. It was not till after 1830, that any considerable part of the land went into the possession of actual settlers.


Notwithstanding the opinion of the legislature of 1792, that the tract called Carthage was “an uncommonly good one,” its superior excellence was speculative, rather than real. The “small mountain” mentioned in the chapter is that part of the Green Mountain range which culminates in one of its highest summits- Jay Peak. The whole western part of the town in on the mountain, nearly all the west line is on the western slope. The eastern part is comparatively level, and is of good quality for cultivation. It is watered by numerous rivulets, the most of which are collected in Jay branch, which is one of the tributaries of the Missisquoi. These streams afford several good mill-privileges.


The rock of that part of the Green Mountains which lies in Jay, is nearly all talcose slate. Intercalated with these, there are beds of steatite (or soapstone), and veins of serpentine. The serpentine contains large quantities of chromic iron, of excellent quality, which is found in veins, somewhat irregular, of which the largest is from one to two feet wide. An early use of this ore was made by Prof. A. C. Twining, of Middlebury College; who obtained 180 grains of chrome yellow from 100 grains of the ore, without exhausting the chromic oxide of the latter. Small specimens of gold have been found in Jay, but not of much value.


The first settler of Jay was a Mr. Barter, who began the settlement in 1809. A few families followed him within two or three years, but the war of 1812 filled them with such dear of danger from Canada, that they abandoned the settlement. Barter, however, remained, populated the town with his own sons and daughters to the number of 20, and died at the advanced age of 90. The early settlers experienced all the hardships incident to frontier life, and suffered the usual disadvantages of poor roads, or none at all, distance from mill and market, and the entire lack of social, educational, and religious privileges. The population increased very slowly. In 1810, the number of inhabitants was 28; in 1820, it was 52; in 1830, 196; in 1840, 308; in 1850, 371; 1860, 474; 1870, 553.


The town was organized, March 29, 1828, at the house of Jehu Young. Asa Wilson was chosen moderator; Abner Whicher, clerk; Nathan Hunt, first constable; Elisha Upton and Joseph Hadlock, overseers of the poor; Abel Alton, Joseph Hadlock and Madison Keith, selectmen; Joseph Hadlock, Madison Keith and Abner Whicher, listers. Madison Keith was the first representative, and the first justice of the peace.


The first-born child was Jay English. The first marriage, of which there is any record, was that of William Williams and Martha Sanborn, March 22, 1832.


During the war of 1861-’65 Jay furnished, for the Army of the Union, 39 volunteers on its own quota, and many others to apply on the quotas of other towns, in which money was more abundant than patriotism.


Jay Peak

By Elisha Harrington, pgs 267-269


A section of the mountainous belt that circumscribes the earth, adorns the easten part of North America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and is named Alleghany Mountains. It consists of several ridges, and the altitude of the highest pinnacle is about 6000 feet. The northern part of the range is wide, comprising New England and a part of the State of New York, and is divided longitudinally into three principal ridges, the White Mountains eastward, the Adirondack Mountains westward, and the Green Mountains between them, which, with the name of Notre Dame Mountains extend into Canada. Appurtenent [sic] to these ridges are insulated mountains, as Katahdin in Maine, Yamaska in Canada and many others. The rivers emanating from these picturesque elevations and coursing through their deep valleys run to the Atlantic ocean in various directions; the Hudson and Connecticut southward; the Richelieu, out of Lake Champlain, and the Saint Francis, out of Lake Memphremagog and other sources northward; and the streams of New Hampshire and Main, southward and eastward.


The Green Mountain range extends north and south centrally through the State of Vermont, and northward of the middle of the State, it is divided into two ridges with the beautiful valley of Lake Memphremagog between them. Jay Peak is the most conspicuous feature of the western ridge, and, from whatever standpoint it is viewed, whether near or distant, it is the most beautiful feature of the region. It is the sharpest and bleakest of the high tops of the Green Mountain range, and only three of them are higher. It is not far from midway between the Connecticut river and Lake Champlain; is 6 miles south from the boundary line of Canada; its altitude from the ocean is 4,018 feet; and it has ever been one of the chief guides of the Indian in his journeyings through the sublime forest.


The first explorers of Vermont, and contiguous parts of Canada, found all the mountains covered to the top with trees and shrubs, and were awed with their beauteous grandeur. But devastation of the forest has occurred upon many of them, denuding their rocky crowns, damaging the climate and marring the loveliness of the landscape. It is not known when and how Jay Peak was first deprived of its vegetation. At the beginning of the present century only a few insulated settlements had been made in the upper valley of the Missisquoi river and on the shore of Lake Memphremagog; and as the openings that the settlers made in the forest for tillage and roads expanded so that they sometimes had glimpses of Jay Peak, it was observed that a small spot on the pinnacle was a bare rock. The slopes of the mountains are heavily timbered, but it is not probable that it ever had much vegetation at the top except moss and bushes; and it may have been burnt by lightning, or by forest rangers for a clear lookout, or by a hunter’s campfire.

In the dry summers of latter years fire has several times been either purposely or unavoidably communicated to the upper part of the mountain and several acres of it are divested of soil, and no vegetation remains except in the crevices of the rock. Its majestic crown, generally but not invariably, wears a glittering wreath of hoar-frost or snow, from about the 20th of September to about the middle of May or first of June. But the tillers of the land at its base plant their corn- nearly if not quite as early as it is planted in the valley’s of the same region, and the product id about equal in quality and quantity and as early ripe. Several mountains in Canada westward of Lake Memphremagog, were uncapped by fire from 1819 to 1826; and several in Vermont southward of Jay Peak in 1841. For some of this wasteful and damaging havoc, the people are not blamable; but in some instances it has been done heedlessly or sportively by pestiferous idlers regardless of the rights of property or the good of the country. Governments should protect the forest from needless destruction.


The chief constituent of Jay Mountain is talcose slate rock, and the soil covering it is strong and fertile, as is shown in the herbage, shrubs and trees. The corner of the township of Jay, Richford, Westfield and Montgomery is near the pinnacle. They are 6 miles square, and about half of Jay and large portions of the others are now covered with the primitive forest. In 1860, the number of inhabitants in Jay was 474, Westfield 618, Montgomery 1262, Richford 1338. The town of Jay and the mountain peak, were named with the grateful intention of perpetuating the memory of John Jay as American statesman.


In pursuance of the Ashburton-Webster treaty of 1842, when the commissioners were establishing the boundary line between the United States of America and British America, in 1845, some of the engineers were, for several days, encamped near the top of Jay Mountain, and, in furtherance of their surveying operations, sent up signal rockets from the peak at night, in exchange with the others of the corps stationed at Barnston Mountain about 30 miles eastward, and others on an eminence west of Lake Champlain.


July 8, 1862, two men led a horse up the Westfield side of the mountain to the top of it.


In the history of the people around the base of the mountain, there is one extraordinary, mysterious and sorrowful event, suitable to be noted in this orographic sketch. The mountains being too steep for roads over them, the road from Jay to Richford curves with the Missisquoi river round through a gap in the mountain in Canada, elongating the distance to 20 miles. In the Summer of 1863 an old man, living in Jay, undertook to return from Richford through the forest over the mountain. He passed the night at the last house up the mountain slope from East Richford, and the children guided him into the unfrequented forest path, by which the distance to the nearest clearings in Jay is about 3 miles. In some directions it is a day’s journey to any clearings. It is supposed he deviated from the path, became bewildered, could find no way out, and died.


Far up the eastern slope of the mountain the little rills gather into a brook that is two of three yards wide a mile and a half below the peak, and further down presents sites for saw-mills; and for this reason in connection with agricultural purposes, a few families have extended settlements from the older part of the town a mile or two up the stream into the forest, with a road for their accommodation. In 1867, a joint-stock company completed an extension of this road, as far toward the top of the mountain as it is practicable to make a road on that side of it. The company also built a log-house on the road a mile and a half below the top of the mountain, for the convenience of visitors, and it was opened as a hotel June 25, 1867. It is easily accessible to tourists, and the road is good and safe to a point half a mile above the house.


Jay Peak is a very good stand point for far distant views, and near views too, and the public will be glad that, by facilities for ascending it, it is brought within the line of the line of the [sic] tourists’ routes. There is nothing, but the distant mountains, to intercept the view in any direction. The base is surrounded with a broad tract of forest, covering the valleys, glens and mountains. A little beyond the forest are rivers, ponds, groves, farms, roads and villages. Further off, looking in all directions near and remote, the observer may see Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, and other dignitaries of the Green Mountain range; the White Mountains; Mount Hor, Mount Pisgah, Westmore Mountain, Mount John; the mountains about the head waters of the Connecticut, the Chaudiere and the Androscoggin, Barnston Mountain, Owl’s Head, Sutton Mountain, Victoria Mountain and many others with them; the great plateau of the Saint Lawrence, Richelieu and Yamaska rivers, adorned with the insulated mountains, Shefford, Gale, Brome, Yamaska, Rougemont, Boloeil, Johnson, Boucherville, Pinnacle, Covey Hill and Mount Royal; the Laurentides range beyond the Saint Lawrence, and Lake Champlain, where the view beyond is bounded by the bold outline of the Adirondacks.


This field of observance is broad enough for frequent study, not only by the travelers from foreign lands, but by the inhabitants of the country; and the young men and women of Vermont should not consider their education complete till they have stood upon some of the lofty eminences of the Green Mountains and beheld and studied their scenic beauty and sublimity.


Coventry, January 1, 1869.