The Massacre at Westminster, Vermont

 

The village of Westminster, Vt., located four miles south of Bellows Falls, is one of the most delightful and historic of the villages of this section of the Connecticut River Valley. Located upon one of the higher river terraces, which are so common in the course of the winding river, it can be seen from long distances as one goes through the valley, either by train or by automobile.

The village has what is termed an "upper" and a "lower" street. The most northerly is located upon the meadow level and called the upper, while the southerly end, although upon a much higher terrace, is denominated the lower street, because it is down the river and south. From the north to the south end of these main streets, the distance is nearly two miles. The terrace formations here are continuations of those that are so prominent at Bellows Falls. The heights of the terraces at Westminster correspond with those on the opposite side of the river, in the town of Walpole, N. H., and they are four in number. The lowest extends along the riverbank, twenty-four feet above the river bed, and forms the broad alluvial plain crossed by the upper street. The second, ninety feet above the river's bed, extends about a mile each way, being narrowed somewhat at the lower end, and is crossed by the lower street, the central part of the village. The third and fourth are visible on the western elevations and above the village.

This is all historic ground. Located in this broad and beautiful valley of the Connecticut, and girded by a semi-circle of rounded hills that, with those on the New Hampshire side, forms a natural amphitheatre, is the stage on which was played the first act in the drama of the Revolution. On the northerly end of the lower street, on the brow of the terrace overlooking the upper street, occurred the first organized resistance to the oppression of King George's tyrannical courts, and here was shed the first blood of the Revolution, March 13, 1775. The story has often been told, how a few determined men met there and took possession of the courthouse to prevent the session of next day's court, and the officers of the court attacked them, and that one man was killed and another fatally injured. The attempt of the sturdy citizens was successful, for the session of court was not held, nor was it ever held again in this county under the rule of the king.

Today, as the visitor passes down the rural upper street of the village, he can see on the west side of the highway, the site of the farm home of Capt. Azariah Wright, the eccentric old patriot at whose house the Liberty men met, and, after organizing, they there armed themselves with sticks of wood from his capacious wood pile, in the absence of more effective weapons. Also the site of the old

"Tory Tavern," which was the headquarters of the court officials at that time, and the cellar hole, which marks the site of the home of Gen. Stephen R. Bradley, where Ethan Allen wooed and wedded his second wife.

Ascending the abrupt hill to the terrace, upon which the lower street is located, on the left, is the site of the old courthouse, the storm center of those early days, in which, in addition to the massacre of March 13, 1775, were later held many of the exciting meetings and conventions that resulted in the formation of the State of Vermont. Across the street, in the quiet cemetery, repose the remains of the two martyrs, William French and Daniel Houghton. The Vermont legislature, in 1873, authorized the erection of a handsome monument, with tablets commemorating the event.

Within a stone's throw of the cemetery, is the site of the home of Crean Brush, the noted Tory, and, at the street corner, the old mansion and office building of Hon. William C. Bradley, who was a Vermont senator in Congress in 1812, when the British partially burned the capitol building, and an important part of the city itself. A little further south, was the old "Whig Tavern" of John Gould, which was standing only a few years ago.

On the terraces, west of, and high above, the lower street today stand the extensive buildings of the Burn Hattin Homes, which for nearly a half century have exercised a most beneficial influence over homeless boys, and are today caring for about 100 of them. Near the railroad station on the lower street is now one of the largest canning factories in New England, that of the Baxter Brothers. The town itself is largely devoted to the farming industry.

 

Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.

 

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